A world of food: What to do with too many cucumbers!

August 16, 2008 § 2 Comments

Every time I plant cucumbers, I am looking forward to crispy crunchy summer cucumber goodness. Spicey Japanese cucumber saladBut when the summer hits, the cucumbers start growing, and growing, and growing, and I find that my limited number of plants has produced a massive simultaneous bounty of cukes! This year,to avoid such a situation, I planted a single plant. Unfortunately, it met an early demise when my boyfriend was preparing part of the garden to plant beans and got a little carried away, straying into already planted territory with his hoe. We planted a few lemon cucumbers to replace our little slicer, but they won’t be ready until September. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my friend had planted an ambitious amount of slicing cucumbers and was already overwhelmed with the harvest — I now have no fear of missing out on cucumbers this summer.

In years past, I have planted pickling cucumbers and found myself in my kitchen at late hours of the evening making a simple spicy, garlic dill pickle. Pickling cucumbers have a bitter flavor that seems to suck the moisture out of your mouth, and are really only good for pickling (a friend won’t even grow them for pickling, her strategy is to use slicing cucumbers for pickling instead). I find that pickling in the evening is best because cucumbers ripen during the hottest part of the year, and the last thing I want to do on a 100-degree day is stand over a pot of boiling water next to a pot of boiling brine. Luckily, I did so much pickling in the past two years that I get to skip it all this year and instead enjoy the cool evenings without the mess and heat of pickling activities.

Slicing cucumbers tend to come on and ripen in an unabated manner, providing loads of cucumbers to deal with all at once. If you grew your own cukes and are feeling overwhelmed, have no fear, there are some tasty things you can do with them that will help you consume your bounty and maybe even look forward to more.

Peeled cucumbers ready for slicing

One of my favorite options is Japanese cucumber salad. I often order this when I go to a sushi restaurant as a starter, and I discovered that it is extremely simple. To spice mine up a bit, I add about a tablespoon of fresh diced ginger, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and about 1 tablespoon of sriracha or diced hot chili peppers (last year we had an abundance of hot peppers, so I froze a gallon bag of them and I am just reaching the end of that supply). I slice my cucumbers after peeling them using cheese-grater slicing blade. My boyfriend has warned me that this blade is highly dangerous, so I pass on that wisdom here: watch your fingers! Cucumber salad ingredients It produces evenly thin-sliced cucumbers that are very easily able to absorb the rice-vinegar and seasoning as they marinate (and it’s easier than getting out the food processor).

Another tasty option is tzatziki, a Greek sauce used as an appetizer or in gyros (see Kalyn’s World’s Best Tzatziki Sauce recipe). My variation on tzatziki is to peel the cucumber and then grate it with the fine side of my cheese grater. Instead of chunky sauce, this produces a “stringy” cucumber consistency in the sauce, but I find that it’s easier to neatly get on a piece of pita bread.

A similar dish is cucumber raita, an Indian salad commonly served at my favorite Indian restaurants (in Eugene, Evergreen and Taste of India). With a minty flavor, this dish is refreshing and pairs well with curries and spicy dishes.

One common trick to using cucumbers is to salt them and let them rest and then squeeze the excess moisture out. This is important in the Japanese salad because it allows the cucumbers to better absorb the vinegar mixture. With the tzatziki, the excess moisture would make the sauce significantly more runny.

Another recipe to consider is the Spanish gazpacho. My mom used to make a version of this using about half cucumbers and half tomato. The cold soup is quite tasty on a summer evening, and I’ve heard many describe it as the perfect “summer” dish.

For more ideas, check out this cucumber recipe page, courtesy of Dr. Barbara Cohen, planetary scientist, and apparent cucumber aficionado. I found that Allrecipes.com had 272 cucumber recipes, so there’s certainly no shortage of ideas. Also, you may want to visit this informative site about the different varieties of cucumbers, or this time line of pickle history.

Late season for blueberries in Eugene area

August 9, 2008 § 9 Comments

So last month when we went to pick cherries at Detering’s Orchard we had intended to Adkins Farms blueberry bucketsalso gather our season’s supply of blueberries. But the late warmth stunted the blueberry crop and when we inspected the bushes available for u-pick there were more green than blue berries. After a few busy weekends recently, we finally had a chance to head out and get our blueberries today.

I drive by River Bend Farms on Highway 58 frequently, and saw their sign advertising blueberries, but I wasn’t sure if they offered u-pick. So I called them this morning (phone: 520-2561) and Annette informed me that while they don’t offer u-pick berries, she could recommend a few nearby farms to check out: McKenzie River Organics, Adkins Farm, and Blondie’s Blooms.

McKenzie River Organics is near Leaburg (Past mile-post 23 on Highway 126, on right. Open 9-6. 896-3928), and that seemed to be a bit too far of a drive, so we opted A morning rain-soaked rose at Blondie's Blooms to check out Blondie’s or Adkins. We searched for a phone number for Adkins and couldn’t find a single reference to the farm, but we figured there would be signage along Seavey Loop (Note: I later found a classified ad in the Register Guard, and Adkins’ phone is 579-5431). Blondie’s is along Cloverdale Road between Pleasant Hill and Creswell. Because of a missed exit at 30th St. on I-5, we decided to first go ahead and check out Blondie’s, which Annette had reported had young berry bushes. We arrived at the nursery and blueberry farm and walked around and inspected the plants (mature nursery stock) and bushes, and even had the chance to listen to the fake predatory bird call. But after 26 minutes with no person in sight, we got in the car and drove over to Adkins (we later saw Blondie hocking her berries at the Saturday Farmer’s Market — so it’s possible that while she left the nursery in the hands of her family, they didn’t take their customer-service role seriously).

We got back in the car and headed west on 58 to Seavey Loop. We immediately saw a little white sign on a telephone pole advertising Adkins Farms blueberries, and we drove along until we saw the sign point to the right down a gravel road (coming from the other direction you would drive straight instead of following Seavey Loop road around a sharp right-hand turn). We drove slowly down the narrow road, passing a couple of philbert and apple orchards, and a small newly planted vineyard. At the end of the road is Adkins Farm, with raspberries, blueberries, and apples. ( 8-5 M-Sat. 579-5431). The farm is a Blueberries at Adkins Farmpicturesque spot, with neatly mowed grass under the apple trees, a picnic table, and straight long rows of mature blueberry bushes. We followed the signs to the u-pick parking near the shed and checked in and got our buckets for picking.

I was directed to take note of an interesting paper wasp nest that had formed on a birdhouse on an oak tree (they observed my camera), and then we were off to pick. The berries were $1.50/lb, and we filled our buckets a little over 3/4 full each and walked away after about forty minutes with $9.50 in berries. We will be rinsing them and freezing some for later and using the rest in some pancakes and perhaps, if boyfriend is lucky, a pie.Paper wasp nest on oak tree and birdhouse at Adkins Farm

The blueberries should remain available for picking at local farms through the end of August. Also, if you go to Adkins, bring a container to take home your fruit in — they just provide the buckets for picking and a scale to weigh them, but no carry-home containers.

Lane County U-pick Blueberry Resources:

As we were searching for a phone number for River Bend Farms we came across this handy list of Oregon roadside farm stands which is a great resource for these kinds of local food excursions!

The Oregon Blueberry Commission provides a listing of member farms in Lane County (and other counties), but it is incomplete. They also provide some interesting blueberry recipes.

Adkins Heritage Farm, Seavey Loop Road (follow the signs); 8-5 M-Sat. 579-5431

The Berry Patch Farm near Leaburg, no spray, open M-Sat, 8-6

McKenzie River Organics, near Leaburg (Past mile-post 23 on Highway 126, on right); open 9-6, 896-3928

Some good friends of mine recommend Green-Hill-Aire’s Organic u-pick operation that is close to Eugene (28794 Hillaire Street); 688-8276. I called, they are going to be open 8/16 and 8/17 from 8-6; but they’ve been closed for two weeks because they had been picked out. Call for availability.

Miller’s in Springfield on Camp Creek Road is also organic; Mon 8-7 Tues-Sat 8-5. 746-1760

Bear Fruit: Mon.-Sat., 9-5 Harrisburg – follow signs. 995-3445

Greenbrier Farm: 83524 Rattlesnake Rd. , Pleasant Hill

Is eating local more ethical?

July 7, 2008 § 1 Comment

Is eating local more ethical? Well, we think so. Animal, Vegetable, MiracleIn fact, that’s why we want to share the “gospel” with others and encourage people to think of eating a bit differently. Where our food comes from has burgeoned in the public consciousness with the Salmonella outbreak, and it has been a repeated theme in media outlets. As I was making a stir-fry last night (from reading my posts you might think that’s all we eat around here… but it’s coincidence, I assure you) I was listening to The Ethics of Eating on Speaking of Faith, an American Public Media radio show.

The host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Barbara Kingsolver — who inspired this blog. The longer, unedited interview is available, but the broadcast version is worth a listen — especially while you prepare a meal for your household.

One point that Kingsolver brought up that seems to be the crux of the problem is that we have become so disconnected with food that we take it for granted. Just two generations ago, eating local and eating seasonal was what everyone did, and had been doing, since the beginning of humankind. But with the advent of the internal combustion engine, domestic highway system, and international shipping infrastructure, our food now can be shipped around the globe and when most people walk into the supermarket they don’t think for a second about where the banana in their cart came from.

One of the goals of this blog is to help people get past the basic difficulty of being a localvore (a term that is new and strange in its inherent meaning — almost as if it is an elite activity vs a means of survival). Simply, eating seasonally requires a different thought process for meal planning and shopping. Instead of thinking of what sounds really great to make for dinner, instead you have to think about what is in season, and what you can make from that. This requires a bit of connectedness to the food seasons in the area you live, and a bit of self-restraint. What we are striving for with this blog is to provide ideas for what you can eat that is local and seasonal, and inspire you to really actively think about it when you shop and plan your meals. Once you gain the active awareness you might take some baby-steps and put down the watermelon that looks tasty but was imported from South America, or hold off on the water chestnuts for your stir fry. But each little step is a step in the right ethical direction.

Luckily for us. because we are in the Willamette Valley, we are privileged to have a bounty of local food available for a relatively long time. A good way to get an idea of what is in season and what is local is to go to the various farmer’s markets in our community and simply find out what’s for sale. Also, while you can’t get fresh berries in the winter here, you can freeze or can them, and have good, nutritious fruit year-round. All of this requires some extra planning and some time-consuming activities during the productive harvest months. Just last weekend my friend put up quarts of freezer-jam that will nourish her for breakfast through the winter. To her it was one night well-spent prepping her berries and putting them up (she went to bed when she ran out of sugar).

Kingsolver also discussed the attitude we have toward food prep. We’re “too busy” to cook for our families in the United States. But Kingsolver pointed out that in many European cities, cooking is so much a part of the culture that it is not seen as a time-taker, but as part of living. Even CEO’s head to the local market after work to pick out the ingredients for dinner every night after work. So if you think time is what’s stopping you, it may be helpful to think about how people live in other parts of the world and evaluate how you live and what you would have to give up, and also what you would gain.

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