Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Greener Pastures

In search of Greener Pastures, or, OR=Oregon.

When I returned from North Carolina I barely had time to unpack before Jim and I were on an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland. I was home on a Tuesday night and we were on a plane on Friday afternoon. Jim is motivated too!

We arrived in Portland, picked up our rental car and headed for downtown. We had a room at the Hilton Executive Towers courtesy of Priceline. While we were on the Morrison Bridge crossing Willamette River, we noticed a bunch of people lined up on both sides of the span. There was a midway/carnival set up along the river, but these folks were obviously waiting for something to happen. It was about 10:00pm. Hmmm. Jim and I tossed around ideas as to what these guys were doing on the bridge. Parade? Movie? Stargazing? Halfway across the bridge we received an answer. The sky suddenly erupted overhead and sounded like we were being bombed. Fireworks! It was the 100 anniversary of the Portland Rose Festival. We were directly under the fireworks. Lucky us. We tried to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible. We were tired and hungry. We followed the network of one way streets around to our hotel, dropped of the car, checked in and headed out again.

We took the advice of the hotel staff and walked up to a couple of late night restaurants. The bar at Higgins has a great reputation for good food. I ate there last year during the American Cheese Society conference. We walked in and walked out almost immediately. The bar was packed, noisy, and no one was ready to vacate any time soon. Plan B: South Park Seafood Grill. A great choice. They feature lots of local items on the menu like Northwest Oysters, local beef, pork, veggies, and a huge wine list. Jim had oysters and a roasted pork loin sandwich. I had the curried zucchini and carrot soup and the onion tart topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. Both were perfectly prepared. We ate quickly and walked the three blocks back to our hotel. We had a full day planned for Saturday.

We were up early and headed over to the Heathman Hotel for a filling breakfast before heading to the farmer's market at Portland State. At 8:45 we were at the Portland Farmers Market looking at a very crowded farmer's market set up amongst the trees on campus. I was focused on the cheese vendors, but there were a lot of really nice looking things for sale. Beautiful strawberries were on many tables, fresh peonies and other flowers, pastries, greens, countless varieties of veggies, pork, beef, and coffee. There are several bakeries selling magificent breads and treats. This is civilized! Some vendors had a line of 30 people waiting to pay. This is a very popular market. There were several cheese vendors. It is good to know what the competition/cheesemaking bretheren are doing. I need to see if there is room for what I want to do.

Jim and I walked around sampling everyone's products and buying something to take to Uncle Wayne and Aunt Linda's. Market analysis is a favorite part of my business plan! I love bringing my cheesemonger skills into play.
-There was an older couple from Washington who raise Nubians. They had some very goaty fresh cheeses and feta for sale. Pretty basic selection. Country Pride Farm.
-Down the aisle was the Willamette Valley Cheese Company. I got to visits their facility with an American Cheese Society tour group. They make goudas from cow's milk. They make their cheese in Polk County, between McMinnville and Salem. The family owns a herd of Jersey cows and make some pretty good goudas. I have no interest in making goudas, so I'm happy someone else nearby makes a tasty one.
-Rogue Creamery has a stand selling their blue cheese. They make some great ones and I really like the owners, David and Cary. They're very active in the American Cheese Society and approach their business with an eye towards sustainability. Echo Mountain is a goat/cow milk blue that is one of my favorite domestic blues.
-Another vendor, Oregon Gourmet Cheese makes soft, bloomy rinded cheese like camembert. Hmmm. The cheese I tried tasted bitter. Bitterness is a flaw in cheesemaking.

-We moved on to try cheese from Ancient Heritage. This was my favorite vendor. They have a herd of sheep and are making some beautiful cheese. Hannah Bridge, the hard, natural rind cheese is nice and nutty with a good finish. Valentine, the soft, bloomy rinded cheese is rich and creamy with buttery notes. We bought a piece of the hard cheese and continued around the market.
-Juniper Grove Farm, a goat dairy has a stand at the Portland State market, too. Their cheese tends to be quite strong and goaty. Not a favorite for me personally even though I love goat cheese. We tried their selection and bought a tub of fresh chevre. Note: when we tried the chevre, I noticed that it tasted smoky. Obviously, the fresh curds were in the same refrigerator with smoked cheese. Smoked cheese is so powerful, it can taint everything else around it. The cheese wasn't bad, I just couldn't get past the smoky flavor. Oh well. Plus, the salesgirl was having a bad day. She never cracked a smile.
-We wrapped up our market research at Fraga Farm. They're an organic goat dairy. Nice fresh chevres and good feta. The enthusiastic cheesemaker's apprentice really helped sell the cheese.

The competition looks good, but I am happy to say that I like the cheese produced at Goat Lady Dairy, Ticklemore and Cowgirl Creamery better than anything I tried at the market. If I can make anything comparable to my mentors, I'd be thrilled. There is room for me here.

We spent part of the afternoon at a dairy goat show in Canby, at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. Woo hoo! Our friends Chris and Elaine drove down to hang out with us and look at goats. We had fun. I met a couple of nice folks and tried to get a feel for who might have milk to sell. I also got to see some beautiful Oberhalsi does. A breed that looks like a deer. Hmmm. Maybe two or three goats would be nice to have around the house.

The rest of the trip was spent in Yamhill County. Jim's Uncle Wayne and his wife Linda live in McMinnville. They're amazing hosts and love showing us around the area. Wayne and Linda seem to know everyone in town. We enjoy spending time with them and sharing our thoughts and plans for the future. They're eager to see us settle nearby and have been so supportive.

We looked at farms all over Yamhill County. We saw some dumps and some amazing places. Nothing felt like "THIS IS IT!" We will continue to look around.

Our next trip to Oregon is this weekend. We're driving around some more and talking to the planning department. I want to make sure I can do what I want to do where I want to do it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On my bookshelf

It is no secret that I love books. I have a house full of them. Every room has shelves overflowing with collections of nature essays, travel guides, bird identification guides, photographic studies of trains, kids books, science fiction and fantasy (I never said I wasn't a geek!), and of course cookbooks.

Everything is organized by category and in the case of large collections (like sci-fi & fantasy) it is alphabetized. Cookbooks are arranged by subject: light fare, international, baking, down-home, and the "go-to" books for general cooking like
Joy of Cooking. I have three copies of the Joy of Cooking. Jim has his old copy 1974© stuffed full of recipes, I have my old copy 1974© stuffed full of recipes and with plenty of notes written all over it. The new edition is located on the bookshelf closest to the stove where I can grab it in a hurry if I need to looks something up.

Other "go-to" books on my bookshelf:
The Settlement Cookbook. This is the cookbook that my mom always used when she wasn't using Joy. The cover of my edition has a picture of a heart with pairs of young women in long skirts, aprons and chef's hats reading cookbooks, walking into the heart. The cover reads: The way to a man's heart The Settlement Cook Book. I inherited my copy from my Grandma Edith. I get misty eyed looking at the recipes for Ragalach a la "Hennie" and Taglach a la "Hennie" written in her distinctive penmanship on green pages of the inside front cover. Settlement was originally published at the dawn of the 20th century in Milwaukee. It was intended as a tool to help new immigrant women learn how to cook like an American. But the cookbook didn't limit the recipes to things like ambrosia salad or fried chicken. It included recipes from the European immigrant community of Milwaukee, many of whom were Jewish. Mrs. Kander, the head of the original editor saw fit to include recipes for Challah, gefilte fish, and jellied veal loaf (sulz.) There are etiquette lessons, guides for feeding invalids (sic.), recipes for diets low in sugar, starch, or free of wheat, eggs, or milk. Amazingly enlightened for my 1945© edition. I also have revised edition from 1991. I used both of them frequently.

The bookshelf with the fastest growing collection are my cheese books. I've been seeking out plenty of reference books as I've been learning all about cheese. My favorites are the guide books to cheese are by Max McCalman's Cheese, Steven Jenkins' Cheese Primer, Laura Werlin's two books, New American Cheese and All American Cheese and Wine Book. For a how to make cheese at home I love Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making. My favorite text book on the science of cheesemaking is by Paul Kindstedt's American Farmstead Cheese. It is the most critical book on my shelf. It answers the questions that I have about why milk reacts the way it does under specific conditions. Very useful.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

cravings and withdrawals

I've been going through withdrawals of sorts. I haven't been getting my daily ration of pork intake. Of course, I can't find any whey-fed pork around here. I had to make do with second best. I went to Guerra's Meats on Taraval, my favorite local butcher and asked for a pork shoulder roast. One big enough for two people and plenty of leftovers. My butcher cut a nice hunk off of a huge roast and wrapped it up for me.

I took it home and pulled out the crock pot. I'm not set up to smoke a pork shoulder for 10 hours on the grill, but I can certainly cook it in the crock pot for 10 to 12 hours. The key to cooking a good pork shoulder is to cook it slow and low. The crock pot does just that. I prepared a rub for the meat to get some flavor into the roast. I rubbed it all over the meat and set the meat in the slow cooker. I turned it on low and walked away.

I actually wound up cooking the shoulder for 16 hours on low. When I checked it in the morning, it was perfect. The rub had cooked into the meat, and the meat just dissolved under my test fork. Oh boy! I let the roast cool for an hour and then put it in the fridge. About two hours before dinner time, I pulled it out of the fridge and reheated it on high in the crock pot again.

I made a batch of coleslaw, hushpuppies, and fried potatoes to go with it. When we were ready to eat, I carefully pulled the roast out of the pot, got my meat cleaver, and began to chop. I was amazed. It looked exactly like the barbecue I ate in North Carolina! I opened up a bottle of barbecue sauce that I carried home from North Carolina and dressed the pulled/chopped pork on the plate. I took a bite. Heaven! I was really pleased with my results. The smoked paprika in the rub was the key. I'll be making this again.

Here's my recipe:

Sarah's Carolina BBQ Pork (crock pot)
Serves 4

2-3# pork shoulder roast (a.k.a. Boston Butt roast)
1 Tbs smoked paprika
1 Tbs brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
* ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Carolina BBQ sauce
to taste(I use D&R Ole Timey Barbecue Sauce, dist. By Rogers Cooking Service, Franklinville, NC 27248. He's known for his excellent Pig Pickin's.)

  • Mix dry ingredients to form rub.
  • Rub blended ingredients into roast.
  • Place roast in crock pot and cook on low for 10-12 hours.
  • Pork is done when fork tender.
  • Remove roast from slow cooker and chop with a cleaver when ready to serve, not ahead of time.
  • Dress chopped pork with North Carolina style barbecue sauce and serve warm with hushpuppies and coleslaw.
  • Can be made ahead and reheated when ready to serve.
  • Can also be served on a hamburger bun topped with coleslaw for a Carolina Barbecue Sandwich. Yum!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Baby steps

{Photo: Fog bank closing in on the San Francisco Airport.}

I am currently experiencing a sense of dislocation at the moment. I've been gone
for three months, wrapped up in the world of cheesemaking and sustainable farm living. I got used to waking up to the sound of goats talking to each other and listening to the roosters crow. It was very dark at night (unless the moon was nearly full).

The first clue I was no longer on the farm was when I was still on the plane, waiting to disembark. I was sitting in the back and the passengers were being slow to leave. The ground crew at SFO opened up the back to start cleaning the rear galley. I suddenly got a blast of fresh air. It flooded the plane with the scent of salt water, fog, dry straw, eucalyptus, and oak trees. It is a smell I find only in coastal California. It is a wonderful fragrance. Goat Lady Dairy had its own smell. Not unpleasant--unless you're near the pigs.

Now I'm trying to adjust life in San Francisco, at least for a little while. I look at the congestion on the streets and know that I don't need this anymore. I walk down the block at night and and know that I can enjoy life elsewhere and don't need to live with the glow of multiple streetlights. I think I can live a slow life now. My three months away from home helped be disentangle my attachments to the nonessential things like sushi, snobby gourmands, and city living in general. I like to keep things "real." I've always been pretty down-to-earth. I just want to make that more of a lifestyle choice. I'm ready for a big change of gears.

I am ready to make my next move. I want to find a patch of land that can sustain my family and make some mighty fine cheese. It will take many baby steps to make it happen, but I've already started walking, so why stop now?

So our next step is onto another plane. We're flying to Portland tonight. We've got a busy schedule planned. Tomorrow we're checking out the competition at the vibrant farmers markets. We're also going to hit the Northwestern Oregon Dairy Goat Show in Canby, Clackamas County (southeast of Portland). Oh boy! Our goal is to make some contacts with some local goat dairies and see who's got milk to sell. Maybe we'll find someone looking for a partnership? So many possibilities!

{Photo: Goats being prepped for showing at the Sonoma County Fair 2006}

You know, my life has taken a very strange turn. I've always enjoyed going to the Sonoma County Fair and watching the 4H kids, and adults show their goats and sheep. A small part of me can't believe I am now seeking these things out, and I am actually excited by the prospect of it. I would have never predicted it. I thought I was going have a career in radio when I graduated from college.

We're also going to check out the local real estate market. My wish list: I want some acreage, a farmhouse, a barn, a good well, a place to build a cheese room and an aging cave, a spring-fed pond, and a paved driveway in a friendly community that wants me as much as I want them. I wish to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the land, the people, and the and the cheese world.

I'll be back home Wednesday night.