Food Ain't What It Used to Be

So we sent my oldest off to college and cleaned out her bedroom, discovering dozens of empty junk food wrappers and a few boxes of ultra-processed "healthy" food-like bar products. Apparently, when you have a mom who is super into eating right and writing about eating right, one way you rebel is to sneak nutritionally-empty processed food products. Take that, Mom!

But what happens when "junk" food is the only option? A disturbing article made the rounds this past week, about the declining nutrient levels in crops, as carbon dioxide levels in our air increase.

Smog...it's what's for dinner. [Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

Smog...it's what's for dinner. [Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

Apparently, over the past several decades, 

...across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. 

Nonsense, you counter. It isn't the carbon dioxide levels--it's that we all eat crops bred for beauty and durability, rather than flavor and nutrients. True, we do eat some beautiful, blah food, but that alone can't explain why bang-for-your-buck has gone down across the board, in everything from popular crops like rice, to things we don't even eat, like algae and goldenrod. Plants now contain more sugar and carbohydrates, and less protein and minerals.

An 8% drop in important minerals can have global repercussions. In developing countries, where diets rely more heavily on plants, 

by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

In wealthy America, where we eat a lot more meat and a supposedly more diverse diet (debatable, since much of what we eat are processed corn and soy), the decline in food nutrients and increase in sugar and carbs "could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease."

I wonder if the gap between food haves and have-nots will continue to widen in the future. Those of us who can afford to will not only buy our local, sustainable, pesticide-free, etc. etc. food, but we might see the rise of boutique farms, where food is grown hydroponically, in special, oxygen-rich, smog-free enclosures. China's forays into smog-handling might provide an unexpected global benefit here.

Chinese "smog-drinking" tower [photo by Andy Wong]

Chinese "smog-drinking" tower [photo by Andy Wong]

"Food, the way it used to be!" the ads might read. "Remember when an apple a day kept the doctor away? Well, our apples still do." 

I have no answers for you. We can eat more vegetables, send more food aid abroad, and try to reduce our energy demands (as I type this on my computer, and my words get uploaded to an energy-sucking server farm which stores them and sends them out to your computer). We can plant a heck of a lot more trees to replace all the ones which burned down recently. We can all install a Chinese smog-drinking tower. In short, we can fasten our seatbelts because it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Four Ways to Boost Your Serotonin Levels at the Market

Recently I read this sad/alarming article by Dr. Robert Lustig on our addiction to pleasure. He doesn't really say anything new in it about our tendencies to pursue, and then become addicted, to whatever spikes our dopamine levels and gives us that little flood of pleasure. The "whatever" could be drugs, alcohol, or sugar (his personal bête noir), or it could be video games, pornography, or shopping. We love that dopamine rush, and we do what it takes to feel it repeatedly. Of course, addictions cost money, time, relationships, and life in general, so they tend to get out of hand.

Forget dopamine. The brain chemical we should all be encouraging is serotonin, what Lustig calls the "contentment neurotransmitter." Serotonin makes you feel like you have enough, that life is fine. If you don't have enough of it in your brain, you get depressed. It's great to have both dopamine and serotonin circulating in your brain, but too much dopamine drives down serotonin levels. Too many pleasure spikes, and suddenly our overall happiness declines. You become the addict who derives diminishing pleasure from the substance/activity. Now you need the substance/activity to stave off the bad feelings, not to send you into orbit.

We could use more of this feeling and...

We could use more of this feeling and...

Save this feeling for special occasions (Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash)

Save this feeling for special occasions (Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash)

Fine, you say. But how do we boost our serotonin levels without antidepressants or trips to Maui? Glad you asked.

Here are five boosters of contentment, all to be found at the Bellevue Farmers Market:

  1. Exercise. You walk from the parking lot to the Market. You do a couple loops of the Market. You dance a little to the live music. You go back to your car, hauling several pounds of pastured meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, honey, and a beverage or two.
     
  2. Sunshine. "Exposure to bright light" leads to higher serotonin levels. As the Journal of Psychiatry and Neurosciences puts it, "Even on a cloudy day, the light outside can be greater than 1000 lux, a level never normally achieved indoors." 
     
  3. Positive "mood inductions." Not only are exercise and sunshine natural mood-lifters, but so are being around people, smiling, and expressing gratitude. Go to the Market with a positivity checklist, such as: (1) I will have a positive conversation with at least one person; (2) I will smile at at least one person (hopefully the person I'm conversing with); and (3) I will compliment and thank at least one person. It isn't hard to do, considering the hard work our farmers and food-preparers put in, with such beautiful and delicious results.
     
  4. Diet. It turns out tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods at the Market, increases brain serotonin levels, acting as a mild antidepressant. Even better, "in healthy people with high trait irritability, it increases agreeableness, decreases quarrelsomeness and improves mood" (same article from #2)! In other words, good food can make you happier. Which of these tryptophan-rich foods can you find at the Market?
  • Cage-free eggs;
  • Wild-caught fish;
  • Pastured poultry;
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb;
  • Organic dairy (and raw is great);
  • Beans and legumes; and 
  • Potatoes.

I will note that not all tryptophan in foods crosses the brain-blood barrier, but the article suggests, "the possibility that the mental health of a population could be improved by increasing the dietary intake of tryptophan relative to the dietary intake of other amino acids remains an interesting idea that should be explored."

So get out to the Market this week and increase your contentment levels. And if you have a grouchy friend or family member, take them along too!

World Aflame Post

Cough, cough. Like creatures on an alien planet, we gaze through the murk at the neon orange sun. Not that I recommend this, unless you kept your special, unrecalled eclipse glasses on hand. Apparently, even when shrouded in smoke, the sun still has the power to fry your retina.

Seriously--you may not even want to look at this picture (taken by KUOW)

Seriously--you may not even want to look at this picture (taken by KUOW)

Speaking of the eclipse, our family actually stopped at Multnomah Falls on Eclipse Day, on our twelve-hour sitting-in-traffic odyssey from Salem, Oregon, to Richland, Washington. I'm grateful we did, since, although the Lodge came through, the Gorge in general likely won't look like this again for a while to come:

Multnomah_Falls_on_2_August_2012.jpg

What with fires and floods and hurricanes battering other parts of the world, our little corner of the map can start to feel like a Bruegel painting: a pleasant enough place, if you ignore the guy drowning.

Bruegel's The Fall of Icarus (if you can't find Icarus' legs, that would be part of the problem)

Bruegel's The Fall of Icarus (if you can't find Icarus' legs, that would be part of the problem)

The guy plowing might not be able to reach Icarus in time, but he could still considering donating a few bucks to an organization like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which is working with local congregations in Houston after Harvey and with local organizations around the world, when they face their own catastrophes. (This concludes our public service announcement.)

In the meantime, we still have to eat! (Which is one message of the Bruegel painting, I suppose.) Take a time-out from pondering natural disasters to remember natural wonders. Like this oddly-formed potato found at Alvarez Organic Farms.

Peace, Mother Nature. Stop flipping out.

Peace, Mother Nature. Stop flipping out.

Or the meals we can enjoy with the summer bounty, while we gather at tables with friends and loved ones.

Curried Pork and Potato Soup and a summer chopped salad

Curried Pork and Potato Soup and a summer chopped salad

One heartening sign, post-Harvey, has been all the stories of the community working together. Communities don't just spring up; they are built. And our Bellevue Farmers Market is one brick in that building, where we come together with the farmers and artisans of our state to celebrate good food and good practices. Have you read the Mission Statement? When the world is alternately drowning or aflame, it will make your eyes mist. Which is a good thing, since it will help wash out some of the smoke particulates.

Tomato Heaven

deniz-altindas-38863.jpg

Ripe blackberries everywhere you look and kids going back to school can only mean one thing in the Pacific Northwest: tomato season.

For you visual thinkers, that's:

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

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Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

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Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

We've been among the overgrown hedges, scratching ourselves up and gathering berries, and we've also been enjoying tomato season. This year we have some deer sharing our tomato crop with us (blast them to smithereens!), but there's still enough to go around.

If you didn't grow any tomatoes yourself, the Market is enjoying the bounty, and it's always fun to mix up a tomato salad plate with different colored fruit. The Market also has the basil and baguette you need to make bruschetta. Or the jalapenos and onions and cilantro for pico de gallo. Or the goat cheese to top your Tomato, Goat Cheese and Basil Pizza.

 

Pizza.jpg

But for us, this week we went for fresh, Summer Tomato Soup, courtesy of Deborah Madison's recipe.

Summer Tomato Soup

5 lbs fresh tomatoes, destemmed and cut in chunks (no need to peel if you have a food mill)
1 cup diced shallots
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
Over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the shallots a few minutes. Then add the tomato chunks, water, and salt. Simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. Pass the mixture through a food mill to remove the peel and seeds. Serve!

The soup tastes like pure summer in a bowl. We opted not to accompany it with the traditional grilled cheese sandwiches this time, but rather with Black Bean Tacos. Delicious.

Celebrate back-to-school with a Tomato Hurrah this week. We'll see you at the Market.

Planetary Appreciation Post

Since gratitude is directly tied to health and happiness, let me begin with some thanks to the universe that our wifi is back up, and I can get this post out. Our family is also happy to be home from our little road trip to Salem (eclipse!) and eastern Washington (in-laws!) and that today is Market day.

Homegrown goodness

Homegrown goodness

The fridge and cupboard aren't totally bare, as you can see by the tomatoes and raspberry above, provided by my farming husband, but we're out of nectarines and peaches and apples and all vegetables. Collins Family Orchards reports that Regina peaches will be in this week, for those of you waiting! And I saw the first Red Bartlett pears last week at Amador Farms, for those of you missing fall fruit. And Martin Family Orchards had two kinds of slushies. For this we all give thanks.

If anyone went down to Oregon for the eclipse--and a lot of you did, judging by the return traffic--you know how awesome an event it was. One to give you a new appreciation for the excellent placement of our sun in relation to our earth and our moon in relation to both. Good stuff, with happy results, for those of us who get to enjoy them all for the next umpteen zillion years until the moon tries to fly off into space and the sun burns out

Check out the sharp delineation of light and shadow, shortly after totality:

IMG_1504.JPG

Don't notice anything? Well, compare that picture to one I took a few minutes later, when the eclipse was just about over, and we were back to having loads of sunlight:

Much murkier

Much murkier

Who knew there was so much more to see? Nice to know there's more going on than we realize, even if we can't see it.

Speaking of things going on behind our backs, let's also have a round of applause for the work of bees. We stopped by the Cascade Natural Honey booth last week to pick up a jar and went for a new flavor: Wetlands Wildflower. Lovely and tasty. Interesting to hear that Cascade is no longer trucking their bees down to California to help pollinate the almond crop because it was too stressful for the little guys. Imagine what eclipse traffic would have done to them.

Glass jar 4/5 full

Glass jar 4/5 full

Show a little appreciation for your planet and come enjoy its bounty this afternoon. My salmon-loving brother-in-law is visiting this weekend, and I plan to check out new-to-me vendor Sena Sea for some filets!

A Bottle Labeled "Drink Me"

Remember when Alice goes down the rabbit-hole in Wonderland and comes upon "a little bottle" on a table, "and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed in large letters"?

The wise girl makes sure it isn't poison first, but then does venture to drink from the bottle and discovers the contents had "a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast."

While you may not come upon such an all-encompassing potion at the Bellevue Farmers Market, you certainly will find plenty of tasty beverages, including new vendors Mochila, who make drinkable yogurt.

Available in plain, coffee, mango, and guanabana flavors, this smooth and not-to-sweet yogurt is perfect for breakfast on the go. I've been adding raw oats and sliced almonds to mine and dishing it up, in addition to pushing it on my 18-year-old daughter, who is always running out the door and skipping breakfast. (Sidenote: kudos on going with the Spanish name "guanabana," instead of the marketing-dud English name of "soursop fruit.")

You say soursop, I say guanabana

You say soursop, I say guanabana

But there's more. Last week was a hot one, and my Market-sherpa younger daughter opted for an apple slushy from Martin Family Orchards.

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

But she just as easily could have had another shave ice from La Panaderia or a kombucha from our two kombucharias (if there were such a word).

Adults will know the Market offers wine and cider as well. Finnriver is the vendor with bottles almost too beautiful to open:

and though Finnriver "grows over twenty varieties of traditional and heirloom apples in [their] organic orchard," if you've popped by their table you know they offer plenty of other cider flavors besides apple. The blueberry wine I bought there makes a lovely addition to desserts or as an after-supper liqueur.

We've also got Bunnell Family Cellar of Yakima with their award-winning wines and Melody Lynne Vineyard of Yakima River Valley, both bringing some of the Eastern Washington sunshine to our side of the mountains.

So hit the Market this week and pick up a little "Drink Me" for your stroll around, and another bottle for later.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

We spent the last week in California visiting family, and the drive down I-5 gave us a boots-on-the-ground perspective on this smoke situation. The hazy conditions had drifted all the way down past Mount Shasta, and even Redding was a little gray, but California was throwing in its own wildfires for good measure. By the time we were headed back up yesterday, Redding was definitely in the gray. I don't think Bellevue bears much resemblance to Beijing, air-quality-wise, but maybe we were gone for the worst of it?

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

Since fire is such a bummer for air quality and homeowners in risky areas, I thought it might be helpful to remember the bright side, according to the Pacific Biodiversity Institute:

The ecological benefits of wildland fires often outweigh their negative effects. A regular occurrence of fires can reduce the amount of fuel build-up thereby lowering the likelihood of a potentially large wildland fire. Fires often remove alien plants that compete with native species for nutrients and space, and remove undergrowth, which allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, thereby supporting the growth of native species. The ashes that remain after a fire add nutrients often locked in older vegetation to the soil for trees and other vegetation. Fires can also provide a way for controlling insect pests by killing off the older or diseased trees and leaving the younger, healthier trees. In addition to all of the above-mentioned benefits, burned trees provide habitat for nesting birds, homes for mammals and a nutrient base for new plants. When these trees decay, they return even more nutrients to the soil. Overall, fire is a catalyst for promoting biological diversity and healthy ecosystems. It fosters new plant growth and wildlife populations often expand as a result.

Happy news, as we reach for our inhalers.

But there's more good news. Some plants that love fire are also good in the food department. Think of morel mushrooms, which thrive a year or two after a fire.

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

Or what about the classic fireweed, which we enjoy, after some bee-processing, as fireweed honey?

Nature's food processor, at work on a fireweed blossom

Nature's food processor, at work on a fireweed blossom

And, finally, both blueberries and lingonberries "will readily resprout in less severe burn areas," according to a news article from the Peninsula Clarion.

In the meantime, skip the strenuous outdoor activities that will have you hoovering up pollutants, and keep the exercise mild. A leisurely stroll through the Market this Thursday ought to do it, until the rain comes again.

Pie Time You Showed Up

Pies have a storied past, beginning as savory things before developing their sweeter popularity. In England it was traditional to send a lamprey pie to the monarch, as a coronation celebration. And, while the thought of eel pie may not make your mouth water, clearly the famous pork pie Pip steals from the Christmas dinner in Great Expectations was intended to be the crown of the meal. Maybe it was the rise of Victorian villain Sweeney Todd that led to the marginalization of the savory pie, but, for whatever reason, the most we can hope for in that category is a chicken pot pie every year or two.

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

Sweet pies still abound, however, and they're never out of season. My husband whipped up his seasonal batch of blueberry pies for the freezer, and the freestone peaches are coming in this week and the next! As soon as we get back from vacation, that'll be me carrying a box through the parking lot to be turned into pies and cobbler.

If you're not a pie baker yourself (and it's never too late to start), Adrienne's Cakes and Pies offers a tempting selection every week. Last week my youngest and I got key lime and cherry, respectively, but I forgot to take a picture before this happened:

Adrienne makes some pretty tasty crust, and, since eating pie is often just an excuse to eat crust, it's best to make it worthwhile. 

Eating pie leads to making pie, as the night follows the day, so my fourteen-year-old then whipped up these mini chocolate mud pies for us from the Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook:

 

And since Atlanta baker Sonya Jones' pie crust is pretty tasty too, that's what I'll leave you with. Fill it how you please, with our bounty of summer fruit!

Pie Pastry Dough

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp shortening
1/2 stick butter
1/2 c cold water
To make the pastry dough, mix the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the cold water and mix until the dough is consistently moistened. Shape it into a ball and press flat. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Once the dough is chilled, roll it out on a lightly-floured surface to 1/2" thickness. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie pan and trim the edges.
To prebake a pie shell, preheat the oven to 425F. Using a fork, prick holes in the bottom and sides of the pie shell. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Notes from Bellevue Farmers Market Exile

Summer is the time for travel. And whenever I'm out of town during Market season, I like to check in at other farmers markets if I run across one. Sadly, lately, I haven't been able to travel anywhere more exotic than Federal Way, Washington, where I did find free berries and giant slugs, as I mentioned last week.

This past Saturday found me in Federal Way again for another swim meet, with time to kill between prelims and finals. It was hot, and my son just wanted to park in the shade and nap, but I happened to spot the Federal Way Farmers Market in progress, so he had to settle for a shady parking spot near Sears while I explored. I'd missed the Thursday Bellevue Farmers Market (day one of the meet), so I knew at the very least I wanted fruit.

And there was fruit to be had, along with familiar produce. I even saw one of the BFM berry vendors and Amador Farms. Mission accomplished.

But the point of travel is to see new things, right? Therefore I asked about these curious items:

It turns out those are bitter melons. And what you do with them depends on your culinary tradition. The Asian guy I asked says he removes the seeds and adds them to soup. The Latino farmer said he takes the young ones, leaves the seeds in, and fries it up with an egg! You just know something that looks like that (and that tastes bitter) has got to be good for you.

Then there were these:

I've already forgotten what the farmer called them, but they look like paler versions of the zucchini your neighbor might be trying to force on you this time of year. If I found some of these on my porch, I think I'd try them grated in a baked good or roasted or stir-fried.

Demographically, Federal Way reminds me of Milpitas, California, where I grew up: lots of diversity and strip malls and good food, if you go looking for it. Did you know that almost 80% of the city population is under age 54? And 50% of the population is under 34! Maybe this explains why there were birdhouses for sale at their market that looked like camper trailers. Millenials are the hot new market for RV and camper manufacturers, ya know. I even considered shelling out $30 for the birdhouse/camper, since my 14YO loves birdwatching and also dreams of owning an RV(!).

Every farmers market has its own rules, of course, and Bellevue Farmers Market sticks to food. No crafts, no tie-dye, no stalls that smell of incense. So if you're itching for camper birdhouses or plywood furniture, you'll have to take the 35-minute trip down to Federal Way.

You won't find any wine or kombucha there, but you will see mini donuts, a Filipino food stand with lumpia, and shave ice. Long live farmers markets!

In Praise of Small Things

Why is it that small things seem especially perfect? That perfectly ordinary things, once miniaturized, seem like marvels? Take these potatoes found at the Market last week:

They were so small that, when I added them to curried chicken later in the week, I didn't even have to cut them in chunks. In they went, just like that.

Or take the golden raspberries I came upon, while walking through a strip mall parking lot in Federal Way:

 

Parking lot raspberries are especially sweet--must be all that radiating pavement

Parking lot raspberries are especially sweet--must be all that radiating pavement

Let me say that again: I was walking through a parking lot, carrying my Starbucks iced tea and sandwiches, and I spotted these. They looked like raspberries, but wouldn't it be embarrassing if they weren't, and I accidentally poisoned myself and keeled over on the asphalt? But I couldn't resist the possibility of free food. So I picked one and nibbled one little bump of it and waited to die. When it didn't happen, I tentatively ate more little bumps of it. Then I finished the whole berry. Still nothing.

So I picked about two dozen, ate a dozen on the spot, and squeezed the rest into one compartment of my Starbucks plastic bento box. I am happy to report that both I and my children are still alive. They really were raspberries. And they really were there for the taking. And they really were tasty. I'll be back in Federal Way on Thursday and plan to bring an empty container and pick more.

The berries beat the other not-so-small thing we found in Federal Way, while strolling through the Hylebos Wetlands Park:

 

(with my daughter's foot thrown in, to show the scale of the beast)

(with my daughter's foot thrown in, to show the scale of the beast)

See what I mean about smaller is better? Oversized slugs are nightmares come to life.

Our Market is full of tiny treasures. Not just potatoes or ladybugs...

 

...or tiny bees doing their work by jars of Cascade Honey. I've seen tiny pies. I've seen delicate Persian Cucumbers (only available for a few weeks), with their sweeter flavor and thinner skin. I've seen tiny strawberries and baby greens. Food so darling you just have to eat it.

Get out to the Market this week and start your collection of miniatures. When it comes to food, bigger isn't usually better!

Ain't She a Peach?

So I was watching the Texas Rangers play somebody on ESPN because I was in a baseball mood, and the Mariners had already played (and probably lost). Of course, just the mere fact of me rooting for the Rangers doomed them in this game, too, but at least somebody hit a home run. If you've been to Safeco Field, you know that they shoot off a few fireworks when a Mariner hits a home run, and this has been a pretty small line item in the budget this month. Well, when a Ranger hits a home run, there are not only some fireworks, but also they play the theme song from The NaturalIf you remember the movie, you know young baseball prospect Roy Hobbs impregnates his aw-shucks hometown girlfriend, but then falls for a femme fatale on his way to the big leagues and forgets all about his sweetheart. The movie's worth seeing, if only to see Glenn Close play a non-bizarre role. In fact, she's so non-bizarre in the movie that another character says of her to Roy, "Ain't she a peach?"

No dead rabbits here.

No dead rabbits here.

I think of peachy Glenn Close and baseball whenever peaches come in season because they epitomize summer. The rosy glow, the sweetness that comes with long summer days, the juice running down your chin, that heavenly smell when they ripen.

Peaches are here, people! The first varieties are cling, so not for making pies and cobblers, but just for eating out of hand, after they've developed on the counter a couple days and you can smell the aroma when you draw near.

Strawberries are hanging on, sugar snap peas are getting raggedy and tougher, but peaches and blueberries are just going to get more and more numerous in the coming weeks. The first apricots appeared, too, to my delight. For those of you who like your fruit more compact and not so drippy, there they are, and I sent out the high-alert to my jam-making friend.

And we've still got cherries, in interesting varieties:

 

So we'll see you this week. Summer baseball may be a bust in the Pacific Northwest, but our fruit hasn't failed us yet.

Getting Your Goat

It's amazing what sticks with you through the years. In a couple months I'll be sending my oldest off to college, but I still remember a cultural geography class I took when I was an undergrad, where we not only memorized a zillion place names, but also read papers from the Worldwatch Institute on things like the Green Revolution. It turned out to one of my favorite classes, even though a mischievous teaching assistant meddled with the final, and we students were asked to locate not just Polynesia and Micronesia and Indonesia on the map, but "Amnesia" as well.

One afternoon, the professor waxed eloquent on goats. Goats, he told us, were the perfect domesticated animal. They didn't need the vast grasslands (and grasses) of cows and horses, since they liked to eat just about any kind of weed and thrived even in rocky, unfarmable terrain. They provided milk, like cows, and where there's milk, there's dairy products: butter, yogurt, cheese. And, finally, you could just eat the goats themselves. Perfect little farm animals that would permit a more sustainable world.

Eat your heart out, barnyard. (pic: Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

Eat your heart out, barnyard. (pic: Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

While I haven't gotten around to eating goat meat, I did visit the Harbor Home Farm stand last week. I'd run into another Marketgoer who told me she was going to make a beet-and-goat-cheese salad, and suddenly I needed to have my own beet-and-goat-cheese salad.

Rita and Helen went over the cheese offerings with me, and we settled on the Chevre with Rosemary, rather than the tangier feta:

 

Enough in here for at least two salads

Enough in here for at least two salads

I "roasted" up my beets in the crock pot, tore some spinach, sliced a few strawberries because they were getting overripe, and drizzled fig-balsamic vinaigrette over all.

 

As tasty as it is beautiful

As tasty as it is beautiful

In that bowl, it would have made a lovely 4th of July salad as well, though we had it on the 3rd. With the rest of the goat cheese I have visions of re-creating a luscious DERU Market sandwich I had some weeks ago: roasted chicken, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, aioli.

Make the world a better place and add some goat goodness to your life! Come make the acquaintance this week of Rita, Helen, and their flock of nubians, saanens, and "snubians."

Harping on Your Gut

My oldest recently had to do two successive rounds of antibiotics. Now, given the choice between letting an infection run rampant or downing the antibiotics, there was no contest, but I still wrung my hands over the thought of her gut flora being decimated. Especially since she just graduated high school and spends most of her time and money eating out with friends, where I suspect she isn't eating fruits and vegetables.

She isn't the only one. I've been hearing several gut complaints lately, and if I had a nickel for every time I recommended this book, I think I'd be a dollar-aire by now:

 

Read me!

Read me!

If you've had to do antibiotics, if you suffer from constipation, unruly gut--heck--even constipation, read this book. It might even help with depression, for Pete's sake. Our gut is a big, complicated, symbiotic organ that impacts just about everything, and it deserves better treatment from us.

As this Stanford Medicine blog post recounts, our gut and the flora it hosts impact our weight, brain, immune system, and overall health. And the best way to keep everything A-Okay is to provide all the little buggers with the best food possible: the fiber from a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Too much of any one type of fiber favors microbial strains that can digest it at the expense of the majority that can’t. The result would be reduced microbial diversity, the opposite of what’s desirable. Instead, eat lots of different fruits and vegetables. (Cooking them’s fine. We’ve been doing that for hundreds of thousands of years).

Do probiotics help? According to the book they don't do much to rebuild gut flora, since they largely pass through us. But they do provide spackle between intestinal wall cells, preventing leakage from the gut. As the Sonnenbergs put it, the intestinal wall is "a protective barrier that keeps microbes from getting out of the gut and into the bloodstream, where they emphatically don’t belong." Strong spackle is good.

Therefore, at the Market last week, I checked out one of the vendors of kombucha, otherwise known as fermented tea, otherwise known as a good source of probiotics, as are all fermented foods.

 

ShenZen Tea sells both loose tea leaves in many flavors and several varieties of kombucha.

 

Since I drink tea hot and iced year-round, I'll have to check out some of the many varieties on offer, but this time we got a 16-oz of the "most popular" kombucha, which I think was a lemongrass flavor...?

In any case, it was refreshing and delicious, like mildly carbonated, hardly-sweet-at-all soda. My other daughter and I would gladly have drunk the entire thing on our own, but since it was supposedly for the gut-depleted one, we refrained. But if you're walking through the Market on a warm day and don't want a big sugar rush from the other refreshments, give kombucha a try! Your gut will thank you.

Graduate to Fresh Food

Supposing you have one of these in the family...

pic: Fausten Tuyambaze on Unsplash

pic: Fausten Tuyambaze on Unsplash

And you've been called upon to host an open house. What to serve?

Finding ourselves in exactly this situation,

...her sister and I have come up with the following menu:

  • Crudite platter with green goddess dressing and hummus;
  • Fresh fruit salad;
  • Ye olde crackers, salami, and cheese tray;
  • Homemade ham-and-cheese croissants and pain au chocolat;
  • Lemon cheesecake bars.

We're expecting at least two vegans (hence the hummus and fruits and vegetables), and the last time I served Market sugar snap peas and the dip combo, everyone was quite happy. Why wheel out the supermarket carrots and celery, when you can offer sugar snap peas, snow peas, local carrots and cucumbers, and even hothouse cherry tomatoes from the Bellevue Farmers Market? And why serve those giant, tasteless strawberries in their clamshell container, when the Market is overrun with these:

We've been eating the strawberries plain, sliced in salads and morning cereal. I haven't gotten around to freezing any yet, but it has made me crave fresh strawberry pie. I don't know about you, but I still remember when Marie Callendar's was a tasty little restaurant chain of a few shops, and one of my favorite offerings there was the seasonal fresh strawberry pie. (I don't recommend you order it now because the crust is horrible and the strawberries are the awful clamshell kind, but back in the day...)

Anyhow, if, for your own graduation open house, you opt for fresh strawberry pie instead of lemon cheesecake bars, here's a recipe from a Texas church cookbook that I thought sounded like the pie I remember:

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1-1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp strawberry Jell-O (probably for food coloring and consistency and sugar boost)
1 qt fresh strawberries
1 baked 9" pie shell (I recommend making your own)
Bring the first three ingredients to a boil until liquid is clear. While hot, add strawberry Jell-O. Add fresh strawberries to cooked mixture and pour into pie shell. When serving, topped with generous dollops of whipped cream.

The Market, of course, has all kinds of baked goods, if you don't want to make your own. It's just that my youngest and I happened to take a croissant-making class for her birthday at Whisk in Bellevue. I highly recommend it, and you come home with lots of your handiwork!

Needless to say, the picture doesn't do them justice

Needless to say, the picture doesn't do them justice

So skip the run to Costco this year, and treat friends and family to food worthy of the occasion!

 

pic: Baim Hanif on Unsplash

pic: Baim Hanif on Unsplash

Come Buy Our Fruits, Come Buy

Ah, the wait is over. The shortage is past. Last week there were strawberries galore, multiple varieties at multiple vendors.

Skagit Sun Farm in LaConner, for example, featured both "Honey" and "Alpine" varieties. Once we got them home, we couldn't remember which was which, but both got eaten in a remarkably short amount of time.

Can you tell which is which?

Can you tell which is which?

And there were even cherries! I spotted them at both Amador Farms and Collins Family Orchards . Since my own photos don't seem to want to download from my phone today, I found these ones on Amador's Facebook page:

 

Rainiers on the branch...

Rainiers on the branch...

And Bings!

And Bings!

I think I only got a handful of cherries, out of the couple pounds I bought, since my youngest is a voracious fruit-eater, both openly and on the sly. Amador Farms does not spray its fruit, something I appreciate, having grown up in California, where I always thought I was allergic to cherries. It turns out I was probably just reacting to the pesticide because I can eat Market cherries with no problems.

On Thursdays we're frequently dashing in before heading to a swim meet, so I'm thrilled with all the prepared-food offerings, to go with our fruit. Last week the kids voted on ye olde standby, Veraci Pizza. Two of them chose pepperoni, but one of the joys of adulthood (and a more adventurous palate) is specials like the Green Dahlia:

 

Pesto, onions, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella---mmmm...

Pesto, onions, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella---mmmm...

Who knows what this week will hold? Plenty more to try, so come out rain or shine!

Strawberry FOMO and Market Consolations

Did you arrive at the Market last week to this sign?

 

Yeah, me too. I knew 4:15 p.m. was going to be too late to catch the very first local strawberries of the season, but it was still a blow. This week I plan to get there at opening. And won't it be nice when we reach the part of the season (approaching rapidly) when there are multiple berry farmers with different varieties and we don't have to view our fellow marketgoers as adversaries?

Of course there were consolations for missing the first strawberries. For one thing, Alvarez Organic Farms had the sweetest, crunchiest sugar snap peas, which we've been eating raw in salad or steamed all week. Just try them with a little homemade Green Goddess Dressing!

Green Goddess Dressing

(from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp tarragon or cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp chopped chives or scallion
1-1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (or 3/4 tsp dried)
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/4 tsp salt
Mix everything in a blender until smooth and pale green. You can add a couple tablespoons of water to thin, or leave it thicker and "dip-like."

Other consolations? Well, Martin Family Orchard brought a new batch of Fuji apples and Anjou pears out of cold storage, and they are the best we've had since last fall! I bought a bag of each, but I think I'm going to need another two bags this week to tide us over because it's all downhill on apples and pears until the next crop this fall.

And then, given the heat last week and the line at Seattle Pops (where we bought our treat the week before), we opted for a Shave Ice from new vendor La Panaderia.

La Panaderia by CakeBoxCo.com

La Panaderia by CakeBoxCo.com

I'd put the ice consistence as in between shaved ice and a snow cone

I'd put the ice consistence as in between shaved ice and a snow cone

The proof is in the punch--or the genuine fruit puree and juice, I should say

The proof is in the punch--or the genuine fruit puree and juice, I should say

Not only was the Mango shave ice luscious and refreshing, but La Panaderia also offers giant lemon, cinnamon and orange cookies and tamales. Wowza. They hope to earn money to open a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, possibly near the Olympic Sculpture Park, so I hope we'll all take one for the team and sample the goods this season.

Don't miss out this week on strawberries or other goodies! Hit the Market this week early and often.

Washington: Home of Food, Farmers, and Logical Speed Limits

Give me land, lotsa land

Give me land, lotsa land

Hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day Weekend. I think many of you kicked it off as I did, by sitting in traffic and cursing your fellow citizens, but eventually the tail lights and bumpers gave way to scenes like the above, snapped off Highway 97 in Central Oregon. Actually, this was snapped on Memorial Day Saturday because we finally gave up on reaching our destination Friday and spent the night at a motel in Madras. (Lesson learned: even if you're pulling up at 10 at night, it pays to make your reservation ahead on your phone because they charge you way more when you walk in the door cold.)

Oregon is a lovely state, and their farmers, too, grow some tasty food, but they don't know a thing about speed limits. In any one-mile stretch of Highway 97, the speed limit varied from 45 to 55 to 65 to 50 to 45 again. Murder on the cruise control. There was also something weird going on with the signage because, when we entered 97 from the Washington/Maryhill side, colorful placards announced the highway multiple times as being a "Journey Through Time." Whoopee! we thought. Bring on the dinosaur dioramas and cavemen stalking the rest areas. After all the sitting in traffic, a detour through the highway equivalent of Disney World would be welcome. No such luck. Apart from a few things being named after WWII training camps and such, we're not quite sure what time (other than the present) they thought we were journeying through. Blah.

But enough about Central Oregon travel woes. The other thing about Memorial Day Weekend, or any holiday weekend, is that it throws off our grasp on days of the week. Meaning, the Bellevue Farmers Market is coming right around again!

 

'Tis the season for plant starts

'Tis the season for plant starts

If you're putting in your tomatoes or other produce, Skylight Farms of Snohomish has plant starts for you, besides pastured eggs and fresh asparagus and greens.

And, speaking of fresh-picked, nutty asparagus, I also spotted it at Alvarez Organic Farms:

 

Along with fresh garlic and all kinds of dried chiles. And there was the asparagus at Amador Farms, as well:

 

One fun thing about passing all those farms in Central Oregon was deciding where we'd most like to be a cow. Who had the most access to endless green pasture or shade or even a water feature?

Well, in Washington State, Windy N Ranch invites all comers to their place out in Ellensburg, where their cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens enjoy roam certified organic fields.

 

Come for a tour--seriously.

Come for a tour--seriously.

As the Newhalls put it on their website, "Organize your group or family and come on out to see how clean, nutritional food can be produced in an environmentally sustainable ranching operation with the welfare of the animals as a top priority."

Having driven through Ellensburg regularly on my way to the Tri-Cities and, again, to speed-limit-challenged Oregon, I can attest to "Windy" being an apt word to include in any Ellensburg name. On the other hand, as you drive there, you'll appreciate how Washingtonians know a thing or two about managing speed limits. 70 all the way, baby!

See everyone tomorrow!

The Market is Off and Running!

Ah, glorious almost-summer! And what a joy to know that, for the next five months, we have tasty, fresh, local food on our doorstep every Thursday afternoon.

 

I was excited to see old favorites returning, like Alvarez Organic Farms and Collins and Martin Family Orchards...

 

Sam at Alvarez!

Sam at Alvarez!

And I loved to see new farmers and vendors joining us. There are plenty to be mentioned over the coming weeks, but for starters I hit up Amador Farms from Yakima, lured by their just-picked-that-day asparagus.

 

I also picked up delicious little Honeycrisp apples there, two kinds of potatoes, a red onion, and some tasty pears. All, as advertised, grown with "NO PESTICIDES."

Some of Carl's handiwork [pic from his website]

Some of Carl's handiwork [pic from his website]

Then we needed something to serve with our asparagus, so I hit up Carl's Cutting Board, a new vendor of charcuterie, like sausages and bacon. Carl himself recommended a delicious, "kid-friendly" sausage spiked with a few nuts(!) that was a big hit. Some of us ate it on a bun and others just sliced with sweet-hot mustard.

Check out our resulting meal:

Apart from the pilaf recipe that I got off the internet (too salty), this was a meal worth repeating. Can't wait to see what we put together this week! Even more farmers and vendors will be appearing, so hitting them all over the course of the season will be a great challenge to have.

Market Season Resolutions for 2017

Oh, goody goody! At long last, the Bellevue Farmers Market opens for the season this Thursday, May 18, at 3pm. Let the fresh, local feasting begin, accompanied by live music and friendly faces!

This year I hope you'll join me in making some Market Season Resolutions:

  • Over the course of the season, try something from every single vendor and farmer. I'm actually thinking of making myself a little spreadsheet of our vendors' names. My husband used to frequent the now-closed Tap House in Bellevue, and they offered a punch card listing every single beer they had on tap. I guess even beer lovers need motivation to branch out. I'm betting even the other regulars haven't hit every stand. I'm guessing I regularly buy from about 20% of the offerings. Not this year!
     
  • Try a new variety of something familiar.

 

Yes, that's Jalapeno Tuna, second from the top

Yes, that's Jalapeno Tuna, second from the top

Today I finally opened up a can of the St. Jude's Jalapeno Tuna that I bought last October. How boring I am, that I always make my tuna salad with "Original" variety? Then it occurred to me: instead of making my tuna melts with plain tuna and Pepper Jack cheese, why not use a tuna with kick and a plain (Dubliner) cheddar? St. Jude's doesn't settle for some chemistry-lab "natural jalapeno flavor," either. Inside the can was jalapeno pulp--seeds and all (I scooped out some of the seeds, since my husband doesn't like things too spicy).

 

Ye Newe Jalapeno Tuna Melt with Cucumber

Ye Newe Jalapeno Tuna Melt with Cucumber

Given how tasty this new variety was, I added the "try a new variety" resolution to the list.

  • And lastly, try something entirely entirely new. Is this the year you finally ask how to prepare fiddlehead ferns? Eggplant? That one chile pepper which you don't know the name of? Something pickled? Ask your farmer what to do with it. Or ask that other person reaching for it.

Whatever you do, Market season is upon us--resolve to get yourself there!

Always in Season, at a Price

Last week I was at a wedding. The reception buffet was delicious, including the labeled "Seasonal Fruit Platter." When the person in front of me in line spotted that sign, he nudged me and asked, "In season where?" No kidding! The platter held fresh strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, cantaloupe, and grapes, fruits which are currently in season in California, the tropics, Mexico, California, Central America, and Chile, respectively.

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Now, I enjoy all these fruits, and you'll find grapes, bananas, oranges, and kiwis in my house right now, none of which were grown in Washington (the apples and pears were, however), but enjoying "never out of season" fruit comes at a price, according to author Rob Dunn.

As I mentioned last week, Dunn notes that most of the food eaten worldwide and certainly in America, comes from fewer and fewer plants. Not only does the number of plants we eat shrink with the passing of time, but the variety of the chosen plants has dwindled as well. Most famously we eat the Cavendish banana almost exclusively, but other plants don't fare a heckuva lot better. California mass-produces a few strawberry varieties that they ship all around. Unless you hit the farmers market, you're likely to be offered just two to three kinds of potato at the grocery store, and so on.

So what, you ask? So, this: in winnowing the foods we eat and then growing what are effectively clones of the same few plants all over the world, we make our food supply uniquely vulnerable. Think Irish Potato Famine vulnerable. Plant a whole country with the "lumper" potato, and when potato blight finally hitches a ride to Europe, there goes the food supply. 

Dunn traces a familiar pattern through history: a few seeds get chosen for planting in a whole new environment, they outrun their natural predators and diseases for a time, then the predators and diseases catch up and threaten to wipe out the whole crop. We respond with pesticides, more furious breeding, or moving everything to a "clean slate" to buy more time. If and when we return to the plant's original habitat to look for different varieties to grow or to cross with our familiar ones, the plants and their original habitats increasingly have ceased to exist! Beloved crops like cacao (eek!) and coffee face these threats, by the way, so we all should find this an alarming trend. There are still some botanists and other scientists trying to gather and preserve not only the wonderful variety of plants that have covered the earth, but also some of the places that yielded them, and you can imagine their rate of success (not super promising).

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

What can we do? Unless we're adventurous botanists who want to collect specimens from marginal wildernesses (because we want plants that grow where it's hotter and drier, to prepare for our climate future), Dunn makes the following suggestion:

You can buy diverse varieties of local crops...By increasing the proportion of food that is purchased from locally grown and diverse varieties of crops, we increase the incentives farmers have to plant those varieties. We increase the incentives farmers have to find unusual varieties. And, importantly, we increase the willingness of farmers to experiment, whether with unusual crop varieties or even with the breeding of novel crop varieties...In parts of North America and Europe...local food movements have already increased the diversity of crop varieties available in seed catalogues and stores.

And where best does all this happen? At the farmers market, of course, where we can have an immediate impact with the dollars we spend. Can't wait for Opening Day! We have one more week to go, which is just enough time for you to grab a copy of Never Out of Season and get yourself inspired!