Food for the Spirit

Foraging is part of the Oregon lifestyle.  It’s exhilarating to head out on a hike—rain or shine—and return home with enough fresh berries or mushrooms bagged for a special treat.  I like to think I’m walking in the steps of other gatherers—who knows how long ago.

There’s a new cookbook out that’s getting a lot of awards and buzz. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is by Chef Sean Sherman who is resolved to revitalize indigenous foods and cuisine. Sean is a member of the Lakota Tribe, part of the Sioux Nation that was relocated in the last century from homelands in the Dakota and Minnesota territories to the fringe of the South Dakota Badlands. His people left behind powerful traditions and customs only to face misery and misfortune in a barren and foreign landscape.

Sean believes many other tribes have lost their cultural ties to native foods and customs, due to relocation. He and his team are busy creating and adapting new versions of indigenous cuisine based on natural and unprocessed foods, as well as promoting wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship and farming, food preservation and cooking techniques.  His cookbook offers resources and options for a new standard of traditional foods using modern techniques.

Here in the Pacific Northwest the Confederate Tribes of the Grande Ronde is on a similar path promoting their own indigenous food projects.  This past weekend, in tandem with our local community college, we planted 2000 camas bulbs on the campus’s Youth Farm site.

The bulb of camas is greatly prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Locally, the Kalapuya people consider camas their most important  staple which they re-hydrate and grind into flour for breads and cakes.  Common Camas, part of the lily family and related to asparagus, also has a spired stalk plus gorgeous star-like blue flowers.

Some compare the flavor of camas to that of a fig, but it is certainly not as ready to eat. The bulbs are known to contain inulin, a fiber which is indigestible until fully broken down through a long, slow cooking process. It traditionally takes 2 to 3 days of baking in a slow oven before the bulbs are fully blackened and edible; the inulin then turns to fructose and releases its inherent sweetness.

Fellow foragers should beware of Death Camas, which looks much like Common Camas, but displays white rather than blue flowers when in bloom.  Also, when digging camas bulbs remember that an entire plant will be eliminated, and no further bulbs can be produced.  Be selective about the variety and quantity gathered.

I’m with Sean.  I salute his endeavors to improve the health and well-being of his fellow Native Americans. I intend to plant a few of my own bulbs very shortly.  I hope to experiment with my own crop—whenever that happens.  At this point I’ll stay in the research mode gathering cooking ideas and searching for samples. Admittedly, beyond the traditional process of roasting bulbs in a slow fire for three days, I’m open to treating them to a long rest in the slow cooker. Now, that’s a traditional/contemporary twist!

Sweet Camas Spread

From Sweet Camas Cookbook by Madrona Murphy

A mild sweet spread, reminiscent of chestnut jam.  The chocolate addition is lighter and less sweet than chocolate nut spreads like Nutella

Ingredients
¼ cup camas paste (can be made from dried, powdered camas)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon dutched cocoa powder (use for chocolate spread)

Directions

  1. Re-hydrate the dried, powered camas, as needed.
  2. Stir the water, oil and cocoa, if using, into the camas paste until smooth. Add more water if too stiff.
  3. The spread is highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
  4. To serve, thin with more water if unspreadable.  Serve with crackers, toast, or with cheese.

 

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Oatmeal Crisps: Addendum

Perhaps I didn’t fully elaborate on yesterday’s amazingly addictive Oatmeal Crisps.  I woke in the middle of the night thinking of my extended rant which failed to mention much of anything about their real virtues.

Oatmeal Crisps

Did I mention the lacy cookies that clock in at under two minutes baking time per batch are not only ethereal, crisp, and crunchy, but their rich and nutty flavor belies the fact that they have less than 20 calories each?   I didn’t think so.

Did I tell you that they have the added benefit of oatmeal’s nutritional value, fiber, and flavor?  That for the small number and volume of ingredients you receive so much?  I think not.

Did I mention that although these are prepared in the microwave, and there still seems to be some concern about its usage, the convenience and advantages of the microwave in cases such as this, are well worth considering?

Did I mention that their charm lends not only to copious snacking but also that they make a style statement when perched alongside or atop ice cream, sorbet, parfaits, mousse, or nearly anything else you can think of?  Not so much.

Did I mention that even though they take so little time to produce, they make an excellent and thoughtful gift when you would rather not show up empty handed on someone’s doorstep?

No, I didn’t think so.

Magic Moments

It was early evening. An impromptu visit for tapas at La Rambla Restaurant in historic McMinnville turned out to be an utterly magical experience.  Their small plates of brilliantly flavored dishes are aptly described as Northwest inspired cuisine from Spain.

La Rambla is well known for their Wine Spectator award winning regional and Spanish wine list. It’s a thoughtful volume expressly selected to enhance a varied and robust spread of foods. The restaurant is a welcoming place: gorgeous luminary pendants suspended from the high ceiling cast a warm ambiance while guitar music drifts by in the background. It’s all beautifully orchestrated for conversation and fine cuisine.

As you would expect, the seafood is mouth-watering.  Consider Grilled Local Oysters with cava gastrique, truffle snow, and roasted garlic snow, or Fried Calamari served with red aioli, onions, peppers and chives.  There’s even an assortment of paella offerings to mull over (allow 45 minutes lead time).

la-rambla-tapasWe nibbled on house smoked almonds while awaiting the arrival of Pork Migas, a bonanza of house smoked pork, bacon and chorizo, filled in with fried bread and pimenton. The Sautéed Green Beans showcase al dente beans topped with melting Valderón blue cheese and hazelnuts. Both are rich and shoutingly good!

I always appreciate the thoughtful addition of alternative beverages. Offered here, an assortment of lightly sweetened fruit flavored house sodas. I opt for the rhubarb with bitters and soda water, a balanced blend well suited for lively tapas.

Darkness had settled as we left the building and headed out into the rain soaked night. The starlight sky was actually a magical light show amid the profile of historic buildings. Above, a network of twinkling lights dotted the web of tall trees, then the sparkles seemed to dart and dance their way down the street and disappear into the distance.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley named Wine Region of the Year

willamette-valley-vine
Courtesy Travel Oregon

More awards come to the Willamette Valley!

Industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Oregon’s Willamette Valley as their 2016 Wine Region of the Year.  Home to 530 wineries and nearly 20,000 planted acres, much acclaim can be attributed to Oregon’s world class pinot noirs.

Rivaling regions of Champagne, Sonoma, and Provence, these international honors were awarded for “the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments have engendered.”

Read Full article here.

Lost in the Clouds

I dropped by one of my favorite stores today to pick up a few specialty items. It’s always fun to plan a weekend visit, because the folks at Roth’s Market in Silverton go out of their way to feature tastings and innovative offerings.

Out front, they had their usual grill area set up cooking off their notoriously fantastic burgers—the smell is enough to draw you in and seal the deal.  As I skirted past the crowd to make my way into the store entry, I caught a whiff of another oddly familiar smell that jerked me around and took me back outside again.  It made no sense, but clearly, I was downwind from an unmistakeable cloud of roasting hatch chile peppers!

Yes, indeed, behind the tent of barbecuing burgers, a roaster was gyrating about searing and tumbling the elusive, elegant, elongated hatch chile peppers.Hatch roaster  A team of three was busy removing and bagging them as fast as they could for waiting shoppers.Roasted hatch Shades of New Mexico and Austin! How could this happen? The lady ahead of me carried off 10 pounds of peppers; she clearly knew what she was doing.

Hatch box resizedApparently the word is out: that small window of opportunity called hatch chile pepper season is upon us, right here in Silverton, Oregon. fresh hatch resized If you have not experienced these amazing peppers now is the time, and it will not last.  That is why people in the know, freeze enough of the freshly roasted peppers to last them an entire year.

Of course hatch chiles are amazing on burgers, for more information and ideas on these marvels, check out earlier posts:

The Land of Enchantment

Yup, Hatch Pepper Manicotti

Chile-Cheese-in-a-Hole

Tea, from Oregon with love

Minto Island Tea Company stands in a class all its own.  They are leading the way in the specialty production of certified organic, handpicked, small-batch crafted teas in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley.Minto Island Tea

Who knew temperamental, labor intense teas would grow in Oregon—or in the US, for that matter?  First planted back in 1988 as an experimental project, their plants and techniques proved to not only thrive but they have flourished over the years. Minto Island Tea leaves

As small batch growers, this family operation continues to adapt, perfect their art, and gain acclaim along the way for high quality green, oolong and black teas.  For more information their teas can be sourced at their Minto Island Farm Stand in Salem, from their website, or at the Portland State Saturday Market.