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Travel: Wisconsin’s Cranberry Harvest is a Sign of the Season

    They are one of the first signs of the holiday season: bright red cranberries in a sauce or compote on the Thanksgiving table. Sometimes they’re part of the centerpiece or decorations and they’re there all the way through Christmas. 

 

    It used to be that when the holidays were over, the cranberries were gone. But that was then. In the last decade cranberries have moved out of the holiday-only aisle and into the year-round pantries of most Americans. Now they’re baked into cookies and scones, sprinkled on salads and eaten as a quick, healthy, snack.

 

    Most of us grew up with a kind of Norman Rockwell-inspired image of New England as the only place cranberries grow but that isn’t true. Wisconsin has been growing and harvesting the berries for 140 years and since the mid-1970s has produced more cranberries than any other state. Today, more than half the cranberries grown and consumed around the world come from Wisconsin, with Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington trailing.

 

    In the last few years a new industry has grown up around the Wisconsin cranberry harvest: Agritourism. Now you can tour the marshes and get a glimpse of the unique processes involved in growing and harvesting one of the three fruits that are unique to North America (the others two are blueberries and concord grapes.) 

 

 

    I was curious and joined a tour at two Wisconsin cranberry farms: Glacial Lake Cranberries and Elm Lake Cranberry Company.

 

    At Glacial Lake Cranberries we boarded a bus and drove along the narrow pathways between flooded marshes. The iconic image of cranberry fields is a flooded bog filled with floating berries, but they don’t grow that way and the low-growing vines are perfectly acclimated to the sandy soil acidic soil left behind Wisconsin’s ancient glacial lakes. From June through late September they form and ripen. Then, during harvest the marshes are flooded and red-ripe cranberries are scooped off the vines by special tractors (this used to be back-breaking work done by hand) and, thanks to the four small hollow chambers in each berry, float to the top of the water. 

 

   Like any kind of farming, growing cranberries is hard work, subject to the whims of nature and the ups and downs of volatile markets. It’s easy to forget the hard work behind the berry when in the fall the cranberries ripen and the beds are flooded to create a temporary marsh. 

 

    At Elm Lake Cranberry Company, the rich crimson color of the berries, contrasted against the vivid blue of the sky and the brilliant gold larch trees reflected in the water, was as pretty as a postcard.

 

    With slow, graceful, movements, harvesters dressed in hip-high waders walk the circle of berries corralled by a yellow plastic boom and I watched as a man stretched out his arms, extending the wooden rake in his hands to gather and pull toward him the bright red cranberries while a vacuum swept them up onto a conveyor belt and into the deep bed of a waiting truck.

 

    I know it’s intense and a lot is riding on getting the berries to market without bruising them, but he made it seem like water ballet.

 

    Most of the berries are taken to a nearby processing plant where they will be frozen before being processed into juice, sauce or dried sweetened berries. Only a very small percentage of Wisconsin’s cranberries are packaged fresh for holiday sales.

 

    Like every other behind-the-scenes look I’ve gotten into the heart and soul of any kind of farming—usually thanks to the agritourism movement— I came away with a deeper appreciation for the small red berry that has always been such a big part of my holiday table. And now, in ever increasing ways, a part of my everyday diet.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

Travel: Bring Home the Taste of Tennessee

Every year, usually some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out all the good stuff. I put out an assortment of foods I’ve picked up as I traveled in the months before and brought home to share with my family. 

 

Some years it has been a feast of German chocolates, Wisconsin cheese and Pecans from Texas. Other years I have jams and jellies and sauces from around the country, around the world. 

 

This year when my children come home for the holidays it will be all about the taste of Tennessee. 

 

I spent two autumn weeks in East Tennessee this year and I came home with a suitcase full of tasty souvenirs: two kinds of honey—a raw wildflower honey from Appalachain Bee, a woman-owned artisanal honey company in Ocoee, and a bottle of sourwood honey I picked up on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have rich buttermilk cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farm in Philadelphia, Tennessee and a box of Ole Smoky taffy from Gatlinburg, a sweet treat I remembered from childhood trips to the mountains. And I couldn’t resist a box of mini Moon Pies from Chattanooga, another childhood favorite.

 

But this year I brought home the bacon. It isn’t just any old bacon, it’s Benton’s bacon. Walk into any upscale restaurant, coast to coast, and there’s a good chance Benton’s Smoky Mountain Ham or bacon will be on the menu. It’s sold in gourmet markets and it can be pricy, but when you stop by the smokehouse in Madisonville,Tennessee, they’ll pull it right out of the box and sell it to you for just about the same price the chefs pay.

 

The store is plain and no-nonsense with not much more than a display case and a cash register. And there’s usually a line leading from one to the other. 

From the front, you can see smoked meats hanging on racks in the back of the building and I watched as a woman packed big boxes of bacon to ship out to restaurants across the country. Men were busy, moving meat from the smokehouse to the slicing room.

 

 

The man at the counter told me they sometimes struggle to keep up with demand. but that wasn’t always the case. Allan Benton bought the smokehouse in the late 1970s from the man who started the business in 1947 and he’s been making ham and bacon in the traditional way—dry cured or hickory smoked—since then.

 

The business struggled at times until several years ago when Blackberry Farm placed an order. A few days later Allan Benton got a call from the chef saying he wanted more. Word got out quickly and it wasn’t long before leading chefs around the country had Benton’s on the menu. Suddenly, Smoky Mountain bacon and hams were flying out the door.

 

“We smoke it and ship it, the man behind the counter told me. “And when it’s gone, it’s gone. You just have to wait ‘till we catch up.”

 

I wasn’t taking any chances. I bought three pounds of bacon and put the package in my suitcase. (Benton’s meats are cured so they don’t need to be refrigerated to ship.) If I’d had room for one of their country hams, I would have put one of those in, but I did buy a couple of ham steaks—my husband’s favorite— and brought them home especially for him.

 

So, when we all get together in a week or two, I’ll have delicious things from other places to share with my family—dried cranberries from Wisconsin, a bottle of Champagne I brought home from France, and more—but I have a feeling Mr. Benton’s bacon will steal the show.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

This is what 2,000 calories look like

Buzzfeed created a video that illustrates what 2,000 Calories look like using bagels, chicken McNuggets, carrots, and other foods. The video was inspired by WiseGEEK’s awesome photo collection showing 200 Calories of various foods.
 

United States Of Sustainable Food

I am geeking out on this new series from Grist by Eve Andrews. Writing that we are in the midst of a dietary and environmental crisis, she looked for ways to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in. The solution? Andrews challenged herself to find someone in every state who is breaking the status quo when it comes to production, access to, and education about food – but in a way that is characteristic of, or addresses a particular need, in their home state.

Challenge accepted and she did it well. Throughout the process, she noted “the choices that each of these people are making in terms of how to produce food more sustainably. When there are so many problems, how do you pick which one to tackle first?” The article includes an infographic that allows you to click on each state to see answers to the question: How can we build a more sustainable American food system?

Collectible milk glass is both pretty and practical

I’m not a milk glass collector, although there are many people who are, but I do occasionally pick up a particularly pretty piece when I can put it to some practical use. Living in a small cottage means that what comes into the house must serve some purpose, but I didn’t hesitate when I saw this dish in the shape of a woman’s open hands. I knew it would be perfect for any number of things: rings and other jewelry, after dinner mints, keys, and more.

 

Or, perhaps, for showcasing an object. Like a single ripe cherry.

 

One of the best things about living in this part of the country is access to the dark, sweet, cherries that pour into the markets each summer and cherries are my favorite fruit.

 

We drive to the cherry orchards at Green Bluff and pick them right off the tree and I fill freezer bags with pitted cherries to last us through the winter. And, for as long as they last at the grocery store, I can’t resist bringing them home. They are, to me,  the taste of summer and a sweet benefit of our hot, dry, summers and cold winters. During the season, especially a particularly abundant season like we’ve had this year, there is always a bowl filled with cherries in the refrigerator. At the end of the day or on a lazy Sunday morning, I like nothing better than sitting in a shaded spot in the garden with the cherry bowl and a good book.

 

 

I brought home another bag yesterday and I noticed there were only a few left in the store. I packed a few for our picnic at the Spokane Symphony Soiree on the Edge concert at Arbor Crest Winery last night and I’ve been nibbling on them this morning until there was only one left.

 

I suppose it’s possible this might be the last fresh cherry I’ll have until next summer so I dropped the remaining cherry into the palms of the open hands of the milk glass tray I'd just brought home. Perfect. The cool white glass was a good background for the dark, satiny, fruit.

 

Tomorrow the tray will be on my dressing table, holding my watch and the silver bracelets I pick up on my travels. But this morning the hands frame another favorite thing: the sweet bounty of the a Northwest orchard. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

When The Lights Go Out, The World Eats Junk

Check out this simple, effective heat map that shows, while cultures may all have their own version of junk food, too many manage to dig it up when the sun goes down.

Here's an excerpt from Fast Co Design:

I’ve always found it easy to start my day healthy. Greek yogurt and fresh fruit are incredibly satisfying at 8 a.m., punctuated by a carefully crafted cup of black coffee that revs my brain. But by 8 p.m., everything changes. I’m a ravenous satyr, craving the flesh of fatty charred meats and the comforting toasty bite of calorie-laden IPAs. Melted cheese has a particular flare that would nauseate my 8-a.m. self, and the same could be said about anything fried or coated in buffalo sauce.

Apparently I’m not alone, as this infographic showing 24 hours of eating habits around the world will show. Built by Massive Health, it’s an aggregation of 7.68 million self-reported food ratings over a five-month period. It’s a simple, effective heat map that shows, while cultures may all have their own version of junk food, we all manage to dig it up when the sun goes down. Just focus on North America. Green means good food decisions. Yellow is worse. And red is bad.

For more maps including a slick interactive version, go HERE.

Travel: Explore Ann Arbor

    If I told you I’d gone to the city to see a few shows, listen to some impressive live music, catch a cutting-edge film festival, spend time in world-class museums, and chow down on an astonishingly diverse and multicultural dining scene including Cuban, Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, Asian and Turkish food, you’d probably assume I was talking about a big city. Somewhere like Chicago or Seattle or New York.

 

    When when I tell you I did all that in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you should pay attention. 

 

    Ann Arbor, with a population of around 116,000 and home to sports and academic powerhouse, University of Michigan, rivals big urban destinations in terms of food, entertainment, and culture.

 

    I spent a few days looking, tasting, and exploring. Here’s a roundup of my favorites:

 

Feed Your Mind

    

    Ann Arbor boasts a number of superior museums. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) offers an impressive collection of fine art and artifacts. Two of my favorite pieces were the Samurai armor in the Asian collection and John Stanley’s “Mt. Hood from the Dalles”, a beautiful landscape painted in 1871 with an iconic view of Mt. Hood from the Columbia River. 

    Another fascinating stop is the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. This state-of-the-art facility, housed in an exquisite Victorian-era Romanesque building complete with turret and Tiffany window, is centered around the late-19th Century and early-20th Century collection of it’s namesake, Francis Kelsey. Some highlights of the more than 100,000 artifacts include Roman glassware, Egyptian masks, and an elaborate sarcophagus. The coffin’s owner, the missing Mummy Djehutymose, has his own popular Twitter feed and Facebook page.

    The nearby Gerald Ford Library Museum and archives is also worth a visit. Primarily a holding place for more than 25 million pages of historical documents pertaining to Ford’s political career and the Cold War era, the center offers an intriguing view of the man, including the story of Ford’s birth and childhood.

 

 

 

Taste the World

    My first meal in Ann Arbor, a Cuban burger and batida ( a frozen concoction of mango, pinaeapple, scoop of ice cream and a splash of dark rum) and a basket of what may be the best fries I’ve ever tasted, at Frita Batidas, set the tone for the rest of the week. Everything was delicious and often unexpected. Some of my other favorites were the Ethiopian Injera (soft bread) and Gomen (collard greens cooked with spices, onions and jalapeno peppers) at Blue Nile and lamb-stuffed grape leaves and cold vegetable salads at Ayse’s Turkish Cafe. Of course, no visit to Ann Arbor counts unless you stop by world-famous Zingerman’s Deli. For beer lovers, there are a growing number of microbreweries in the area and you won’t regret a day spent tasting local brews.

 

Always Entertaining

     Football may draw the crowds in the fall, but Ann Arbor hosts large events throughout the year. Seasonal favorites include the winter Folk Festival, a springtime FestiFools puppetry and public art festival, and a three-week summer festival with art, music, food, and film.  

 

Treasure Hunting

    The number of antiques, collectibles and vintage shops within walking distance of Main Street was a nice surprise. Treasure Mart, in the Kerrytown area near the farmer’s market and Zingerman’s Deli, is a rambling historic building full of all kinds of interesting things. Some of the rooms are decorated and arranged like an antiques mall, others are crammed with goodies strewn on tabletops or piled in corners just waiting to be discovered. 

    Located in the Nickles Arcade, a 1918 covered passage lined with unique shops that make the place feel like a bit of Paris in the mid-west, The Arcadian antiques is a jewel box. Crystal and china line the shelves and the store stocks fine antique furniture, but the highlight is a collection of beautiful estate jewelry.  I watched a couple shop for wedding rings, trying to choose from trays of lovely old diamonds and gemstones.

    I did a lot of window shopping but I didn’t come home empty-handed. At Antelope Antiques and Coins, a funky store on the lower level of a downtown building. I plucked an autographed photo of Woody Herman ($10) out of a box of old photos and postcards, and did a little happy dance when I found a Waterford goblet in my (somewhat obscure) "Kylemore" pattern, for only $15.

 

    Like most travelers, I have a fantasy “I could live here” list in my head made up of places I’ve been and couldn’t forget. After this first visit, Ann Arbor moved to the top of the list. A robust arts scene, a vibrant main street, an energetic farm-to-table movement and a cosmopolitan foodie-friendly ethos, paired with a dedication to preserving the past, makes Ann Arbor, Michigan hard to resist. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Popeye would be proud

Fresh spinach shines in hearty penne beef. Cindy Hval photo.

The only spinach I knew as a child came from a small white carton in the deep freezer. Mom would dump the frozen leaves into a pot of boiling water and serve them with lemon juice. I liked the tart juice; the slimy spinach, I hated.

Flash forward 40 years.

I toss a handful of fresh spinach into the slow-cooker and take a deep breath as the fragrance of basil and oregano fills my kitchen. “Yum! Tomato spinach soup!” Sam, 14, shouts when he arrives home from school.

What happened to my loathing of Popeye’s favorite vegetable? Simple. As a young adult I cautiously sampled spinach salad at a local restaurant. I figured anything with bacon in it couldn’t be that bad. It wasn’t! Fresh spinach proved to be delicious. More here. Cindy Hval, SR

Name a food you hated as a child, but love as an adult.

Woman wolfs down 9 lbs of beef

File photo: The Tap House Steak is the signature dish at Manito Tap House.

AMARILLO, Texas – A Nebraska woman celebrated breaking a Texas steakhouse’s speed record for eating a 41/2-pound slab of beef by polishing off another one.

The Amarillo Globe-News and the Big Texan Steak Ranch’s Twitter page said competitive eater Molly Schuyler finished her first steak in 4 minutes and 58 seconds. The previous record was 8 minutes and 52 seconds.

The 5-foot-7, 125-pound mother from Bellevue, Nebraska, ate her second 41/2-pound steak in 9 minutes and 59 seconds.

The restaurant foots the bill for anyone who can eat one of the steaks, a baked potato, shrimp, a salad and bread roll in under an hour, so Schuyler ate those side dishes as well.

I can't even imagine! What's the most you've ever eaten at one sitting?

 

Manito Tap House makes one of “Americas Greenest Restaurant” list


​Props to Manito Tap House for being named one of the most environmentally responsible eateries in the country in the Daily Meal's “America’s Greenest Restaurants of 2014.”

This is the second time Manito Tap House has made the annual list, and the third year it has earned four stars – the highest possible rating – from the Green Restaurant Association. With a mission to create an environmentally sustainable restaurant industry, the non-profit GRA certifies restaurants and food service operations based on seven categories – water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishings and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables and chemical and pollution reduction.

Manito Tap House’s four-star rating began with how it was built. Opened in 2011, reclaimed barn wood from Reardan, WA lines the pub’s walls, and the paint used contains zero volatile organic compounds. The bar and dining room are lit with both LED and compact fluorescent lighting and the restroom counters are made from recycled paper.

Travel: Salinas Agritourism: From field to table

 

    The men walked along the rows of artichokes, following long, straight, ribbons of green that stretched out to the horizon as far as the eye could see. Moving toward the big mobile processing trucks parked on the road that marked the boundary of the field, they harvested artichokes without stopping. As they walked, in one swift motion, they cut and then tossed the artichokes over a shoulder into the strong fabric baskets strapped to their backs. When they reached the truck, the men dumped the contents of the baskets, put them back on, turned around and started again, this time moving in the opposite direction, marching toward another road and another truck.

 

    A few smiled at the crowd gathered along the side of the road watching and taking photos, but most faces were unreadable as they passed us. There was still a lot of work to be done.

 

    On the open trailer, an artichoke processing plant on wheels, men and women wearing hair nets and gloves sat one behind the other in a line of busy hands that didn’t pause as they quickly sorted, washed and packed the fruit. The boxes were filled and taken away. 

 

    The company they worked for, Ocean Mist Farms, has a four-hour “cut to cool” policy. Everything must move from the field to the cooler in that time and an elaborate system of bar codes and time stamps tracks it all along the way as the produce moves from the field to boxes to coolers to tables around the world.

 

    I’d joined a private tour of the artichoke mega-producer’s fields and distribution center and it was an eye-opening experience. 

 

    Like most people, I’m relatively ignorant of the process by which my food arrives on my table. Oh, I read labels and worry about food safety, but beyond that I don’t know much. I like—I need—fresh vegetables all year, even in winter, even though I live in a place where nothing grows in the winter. So I depend, like most consumers, on the good practices of growers and producers in places like Salinas, Castroville and Monterey County, California.

 

    Walking through the distribution center I noticed pallets of produce labeled for its destination, for the stores where it would be sold. Sitting side by side were cases destined for Kroger stores, Trader Joe’s and for Wal Mart. Food democracy in action.

 

    I found this distribution to be a most interesting thing. We put such a negative label on “big.” Big is bad. Big is careless and always looking for a shortcut. Big is for “them,” not for us. We forget it takes a big effort to feed a hungry, demanding, world, even our small corner of the world.

     

    At dinner that night I ordered an artichoke with my meal. Marinated and fire roasted, it was perfectly prepared. As I pulled each leaf from the cluster, dipping it in sauce and then stripping the tender meat with my teeth, I thought about the process that brought it to me. I could see the faces of the men who’d walked past me in the field, the people washing and packing what had been picked or driving the forklifts speeding pallets into coolers or onto trucks. 

 

    My artichoke now had a story. The big company behind it was suddenly small and intimate to me.  

 

    Although the fields are open to the public during the annual Artichoke Festival in Castroville, I had an exclusive look into the Ocean Mist Farms processing center and I came away thinking an occasional public tour might be a good thing. It’s reassuring to see the path our food has followed, that there isn’t always a caste system to quality and the same food really can be available to all of us.

 

    Chances are, unless it was raised in our own backyards or in the fields of an area farmer, our produce was prepared in one of the fields of a company big enough to grow, process and distribute what we desire. To step into the fields, to follow the boxes, to see the safeguards and quality control is a good thing. To put a human face behind an artichoke, brussels sprout or head of iceberg lettuce shrinks even the biggest company profile.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

This Friday, check out the Huntington Park grand opening and First Friday food truck rally

Have you seen all that construction below the southern side of the Monroe St bridge and up to City Hall? Avista and the City of Spokane created a new public plaza that means no more hopping the gate, connecting Riverfront Park to Huntington Park.

There will be a celebration to coincide with First Friday Food Truck Rally Festivities 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Post Street in front of City Hall this Friday. 

Trying to duplicate restaurant dishes

You were dining out and had something you really enjoyed.

So, after asking the waiter a few questions about its preparation, you later tried to make this dish at home.

How did that turn out?

Yard and food waste collection resumes on Monday

Tired of the snow? Well, here's another sign that Spring isn't too far as the City Of Spokane is trying to urge Mother Nature along as it resumes curbside yard and food waste pickup on Monday, March 3rd.

The optional City service runs from March through November. The 96-gallon green yard waste cart can be filled with all manner of yard waste—grass, leaves, pine needles, pine cones, weeds, vines, thatch, plant trimmings, and branches. Customers can even cut up and throw in the old Christmas tree that’s been parked along the side of the house for weeks.

From the City Of Spokane: Customers also can dispose of food scraps and food-soiled paper in the carts. Acceptable scraps include meat, poultry, fish, beans, dairy products, fruit, vegetables, breads, grains, pasta, eggshells, nutshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and leftovers. Acceptable food-soiled papers include greasy pizza boxes, coffee filters, paper towels, paper napkins, uncoated paper plates and cups, paper egg and berry cartons, and paper grocery bags with food scraps.

Travel: Winter is Wine Time in Healdsburg

 

 

Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research. 

 

Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport—look for some familiar faces—has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)

 

 

Eat: The small city  of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding.  How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause. 

 

 

Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.

 

 

Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.

 

Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.

 

 

Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.

 

Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

I’m not McRibbin’ you



I wish the "frozen pig sponge" was a joke. Thank you Gothamist:

The approaching winter can mean only one thing: the return of McRib season at McDonald's! And just in time for this most sacred of food observances, a redditor shared the above photo of a pre-cooked McRib…patty? Is it lunchtime yet?

The photo apparently shows "raw McRib meat" and, judging by the boxes in the back, it's safe to say we're looking at Le McRib Canadien. Wonder if they use the same ratio of "restructured meat product" to "scalded pig stomach" up north? Waste not want not!

  

So long Sriracha?

I love Sriracha - with almost everything. Apparently it's burning more than just mouths as residents of Irwindale, California — where Huy Fong Foods produces the hot sauce — claim they've been experiencing headaches and burning sensations in their eyes and throats because of the odor emanating from the Sriracha-production plant. The city has now filed suit against Huy Fong Foods, claiming the smell is a public nuisance and requesting that the plant cease production until the issue can be resolved.

“The odors are so strong and offensive as to have caused residents to move outdoor activities indoors and even to vacate their residences temporarily to seek relief from the odors,” according to the suit.

Travel: Preserving Heirloom Apples at Arbor Day Farm

 

   When I was a child, you couldn’t have paid me to eat an apple. The bright red picture-perfect fruit was always disappointing. The waxy skin was tough and bitter and the inside was bland. I didn’t like the way the fruit felt in my mouth as I chewed. The Red Delicious apples that were in the grocery store, on my lunch tray at school or in the fruit bowl in the kitchen at home were the Kardashians of fruit: Pretty to look at but not much more than that. 

 

   It wasn’t until years later when I discovered other varieties, the Macintosh, the Gala and Fuji, the Braeburn and Honeycrisp, that I became an apple fan. The exact opposite of the apples I’d hated as a child, they were crisp and sweet and heavy with juice and I kept them in the fruit bowl and packed them in my own children’s lunches. I baked them, and made apple sauce. I sliced them, browned them in butter and sprinkled the caramelized slices with cinnamon before serving them on cool autumn nights. Once in a while I made a pie.

 

   I began to hear more about heirloom apples, varieties that were old and in danger of disappearing completely, and the growers who were working hard to save them.  It was hard to imagine that there had once been so many kinds of apple and some had disappeared completely while we were engineering fruit solely for appearance and durability.

 

   But visiting the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska, I took the  Discovery Ride around the farm, a 45-minute narrated wagon ride behind a tractor. We learned the unique story of the farm, the history of Arbor Day and the work of the Arbor Day Foundation, before stopping in front of the Preservation Orchard. 

 

   “Now, this,” our guide Carol told us, “is a special place.” 

 

   As she showed us the rows of heirloom apple trees, some still heavy with beautiful fruit, she talked about the farm’s dedication to preserving the old, and in some cases endangered, varieties. Some of the trees were marked and I read the names: Wheeler’s Golden Russet, Old Nonpariel, and Raine de Reinette.

 

   There were others: the Wolf River apple, an apple so big one was enough for a pie. The Arkansas Black, with its distinctive purple color, and Esopus Spitzenburg, the orange-colored apple that was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite.

 

   We were invited to choose an apple from any tree and I wanted to choose wisely, so I took my time, walking slowly between the rows of trees. I finally decided on an Opalescent. I liked the tree for it’s toughness, its branches had been damaged but the tree had borne well in spite of the injury, and, to be honest, I was intrigued by the oddly-elegant name. I reached up, let the apple rest lightly in my palm, and twisted it gently. The ripe fruit fell into my hand and I admired it for a moment before I took a bite. 

 

The apple was dense and crisp and the flavor was surprisingly delicate, with just a hint of violets and strawberries. It probably wasn’t the rarest in the Preservation Orchard but it was a good choice for me.

 

Maybe that’s what is most important about places like the Arbor Day Farm Preservation Orchard. These trees and their fruit are part of our history. Our story. They are worth saving and sharing. You shouldn’t have to be all grown up before you taste something so good. 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Feasting on King Crab in Kirkenes, Norway

   When I choose a port excursion while on a cruise, what they’re going to feed us on the excursion is usually not my first priority since food is more than plentiful on most ships. I almost always opt for some kind of unique experience I couldn’t have anywhere else, but the King Crab Safari in Kirkenes, Norway, a small waterfront town only 30 kilometers from the Russian border, offered as a Hurtigruten excursion, was intriguing. And not just  because it promised a feast of fresh crab.


    I was there in August, but the water can still be dangerously cold. First we had to put on heavy insulated suits, designed to protect us from the cold waters of the fjord if we were to fall in. On top of that went a life jacket and we were given gloves to wear.  After we were all suited up we boarded the boat. Instead of seats we straddled benches, holding onto the safety rails in front of us as our guide pulled the boat out onto the fjord and picked up speed.


    While touring the coastline and listening to the history of the area, after skimming swiftly over the surface of the water and moving slowly along the  cliffs where we could see the remains of a Nazi bunker from the German occupation of Norway during World War II, we stopped to check one of the numerous crab baskets that sit on the bottom of the deep fjord. Our guide attached a hook to the basket and used a motor to pull it up from the bottom. As it broke the surface we could immediately see the basket was filled with some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen. (Those that weren’t absolutely massive were thrown back to grow in the cold, dark water.)


    We pulled up to what looked like a small fishing shack on the shore. The small house, just big enough for the long table that ran from one end to another, was the place where we would have our meal. Our guide unloaded the dozen or more giant crabs from the trap and began to prepare our dinner while we settled around the table on benches covered with skins and pelts.


    When they were done, steamed to perfection, the giant crab legs were piled onto platters and placed on the table. The meal was simple: fresh King crab legs and slices of good bread. There was butter for the bread and lemon slices to squeeze over the crab if we wanted it. That was all and it was all we could want. 

   
    We turned on the platters of crab legs like we were starving. For a few minutes all conversation stopped and everyone around the table concentrated on getting to the delicious crabmeat in the shells. We ate until we could not hold another bite.  

   Fresh, simply prepared and served, the meal was good enough to be added to my list of favorites. There was no fancy dining room. No music. No upscale atmosphere. And the view of the fjord through the small windows reminded us with every bite that we weren’t just having a meal, we were feasting on a real Norwegian adventure.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
 

  

Food Forests are Coming to Your Neighborhood


Good news from Philip Small at Spokane Permaculture: It’s no longer a question of if, but when, a community food forest will be established in Spokane. The Inland Northwest Food Forest Council is working with the City of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department to locate favorable park sites and similar City-owned sites to install food forest.

The Education Subcommittee of the Urban Forestry Citizen Advisory Committee reviewed four candidate sites last week: Community Gardens at Grant Park and Peaceful Valley, as well as more native portions of Polly Judd Park, and the Hazel Creek low impact development (LID) site.

Similar to the storied Beacon Hill Food Forest being established in Seattle and the 6th Ward Park Food Forest coming to Helena, Mont., the vision in Spokane is to install public food forests in conjunction with community gardens.

Nine shocking facts about the food industry

9 Shocking Facts About the Food Industry” width=
  


Check out this graphic which takes on how modern farming techniques and government subsidies have changed corn and the health effects. From Take Part:

So where do the corn growers get all of that dough? A lot of it is doled out in the massive $500 billion Farm Bill Congress passes every few years, legislation that greatly influences what goes on our plates and makes it into our grocery stores. Aside from the corn subsidies, find out what else is hidden inside the monster bill.

Travel: Truffle Hunting in Croatia


    Our small group, an assortment of travelers from the US, Canada and Germany,  gathered as Ivan Karlic, our guide, leashed up Blackie, the sweet, specially trained dog who would sniff out truffles buried at the base of oak trees growing in a small grove on a hillside near the village of Buzet. Most of us were visiting the Istrian peninsula of Croatia for the first time and none of us had ever been on a truffle hunt.


    Blackie knew what to do. Nose to the ground, she set out snuffling at the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor. Tail wagging, she moved quickly from one spot to another while Ivan whispered soft words of encouragement. We followed them both, stepping over roots and stones.


    Pigs were once the traditional truffle hunting animals, but as Ivan pointed out, it’s much easier to stop a dog from destroying or eating the truffle than a determined pig. So, these days, most truffle hunters have made the switch.


    Truffles are true buried treasure. Black truffles, the ones we were watching Blackie search for, average 30 to 50 Euros. When they’re in season, white truffles can go for many times that amount. That’s no small thing when you consider most are the size of a walnut or a small apple.


    As we walked behind Blackie, Ivan chatted with us about his family’s business harvesting the truffles from the small wood.  But suddenly he called out to the dog and rushed over to pull her away from where she was pawing at the ground. Using the tool he carried, a flat blade attached to a stick, he sliced into the dirt until the truffle was exposed. Gently, he scraped the dark soil away with his finger until he could gingerly pry the truffle free of the root to which it had been attached. He held up the prize and we cheered. Blackie got a treat for a job well done.


    While we were still admiring the find, Blackie went back to work. Once again we followed her zigzag path, talking quietly as we watched her stop, sniff, sniff again and then move on. When she started pawing at the ground, Ivan ran over to her and again, pulled a hard black truffle from the ground. Blackie moved deeper into the small forest and a few minutes later she hit paydirt again. While Ivan worked to free that truffle the dog started scratching at the base of another tree nearby. He called out for someone to help so I took his place and slipped my fingers into the hole he’d created with his spade. The dirt was cool and moist as I worked it away from the truffle. Like an archaeologist, I worked slowly, gently, scraping away the soil that concealed the truffle until Ivan came back and helped me pull it away from the root. I handed my phone to the woman beside me and asked her to take a photo. In the image, I am a blur. The only thing in focus are my hands, muddy, with dirt-caked fingernails cradling the truffle. It was exactly right.


    We carried the four truffles we’d gathered back to the farmhouse and Ivan’s mother, Radmila, met us at the covered patio. She exclaimed when she saw what we’d found. Apparently, it was a very good truffle hunt. Blackie, after being petted again by everyone in the group, was taken back to the kennel with the family’s other truffle-hunting dogs.


    Radmila broke eggs into a bowl, added thin slices of one of the truffles we’d found and made an omelet of our work.


    She sliced a baguette and topped the slices with butter and another sliver of truffle on top. With savory sausages and bottles of house-made wine, we had a meal so fragrant and delicious I will remember it forever.


    I’d expected the tourist treatment: a field “salted” with truffles that had been planted so we could have the (artificial) pleasure of watching a dog sniff them out. But my experience was just the opposite. I kept the photo and I’m going to frame it for my kitchen. The next time I make an omelet, I’ll think of that day; the feel of the dirt on my fingers and the unmistakable earthy fragrance of delicious buried treasure.
    



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Tasting the Best of Apalachicola, Florida

   I pushed away my plate and picked up my purse to leave The Fisherman’s Wife and move on, but at the last minute I pulled out my phone and took a photo of the only bite left on my plate. One crescent of cornbread was all that remained of a meal of fried shrimp, cheese grits, coleslaw and hushpuppies.

    I took the photo because I’d already made one call to my husband telling him I’d found a place he might want to visit and he might never want to leave and I knew the hushpuppy—the Southern staple of seasoned cornmeal batter, fried crisp and brown—would strike its mark. But I also took it because I’d been trying to think of the best way to describe the unique personality of the north coast of a state that is probably best known for the broad beaches, busy theme parks and bustling cities on the lower half of the peninsula. Looking down at my empty plate, I found my answer. In a lot of ways, the food—the seafood—is the key.
    
    It’s impossible to spend any time in that part of Florida and not be offered a fresh Apalachicola oyster, pulled out of the bay that morning, shucked and served on a saltine cracker and dressed with horseradish and hot sauce. Afternoons become “Oyster Hour” when local restaurants serve up more fresh oysters with laughter, gossip and plenty of cold beer. Dinner might be Grouper or a basket of grilled oysters or fat Gulf shrimp, butterflied, battered and fried or simply boiled and seasoned and then served ready to peel and eat. Life centers around the bounty and it is served up fresh and simply prepared.

    The cluster of small communities in Franklin County, Florida, the largest of which is Apalachicola, or Apalach, as the locals call the small picturesque waterfront town, has shown a unique ability to reinvent itself to fit the times. At various points in its history the county was home to one of the busiest ports on the Gulf of Mexico. It was the site of a thriving sponge market and later an important Southern timber hub. Times and industry have changed but the one constant has been and still is the rich variety of seafood harvested locally by people who are deeply rooted in the community. People like the fisherman married to the fisherman’s wife who’d served up fresh-caught shrimp for my lunch.

    While there, I met people who’ve lived in the county for generations and others who moved to the area to get away from the larger and busier world. I met a few first-time visitors like myself. But I quickly discovered we all have something in common. We love the slow pace of life. We love the natural beauty of the coastline and rivers and estuaries, and all the wildlife that come with them. And we really, really, love the food.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com



  

Break in tradition: Good food in national parks

 
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Chief Jonathan Jarvis held an event on the Lincoln Mall to unveil new healthy food standards for national park concessionaires, with chefs offering free samples of such fare as bison tenderloin, free-range chicken breast, black bean sliders, sweet potato cakes, berry yogurt parfaits and rain forest coffee. — Washington Post
 
What? No hot dogs on a stale white bun?

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits expanded at farmers’ markets

Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon announced expanded eligibility for USDA grants to improve access to fresh produce and healthy foods by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients at America’s farmers’ markets.

As a result of funding provided by Congress through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012, USDA last year announced the availability of $4 million in funding to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment in farmers markets not currently accepting SNAP benefits. Today’s action expands eligibility for grant funds to include direct marketing farmers, as well as farmers markets. Funds may be used to purchase or lease equipment or pay for wireless access. Funds are available to States through September 30, 2013.

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Concannon. “In general, research shows that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pocket of American farmers. Installing wireless technology at farmers markets expands the customer base for markets and increases the share of the SNAP dollar that goes directly back to local farmers and into local economies.”

USDA has made expanding SNAP recipients’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers markets a priority in recent years. In 2008, about 750 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers accepted SNAP. In 2012, over 3,200 participated – a four-fold increase in markets, which was accompanied by a six-fold increase in redemptions at these outlets.

Expanded hours at WIC locations

Good news: Spokane Regional Health District’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program kicked off spring by extending its hours of operations in most of its clinic locations. The following sites will operate from 7:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday (with no closures for lunch):

Downtown – 1101 W. College Avenue, 324-1620
NECC – 4001 N Cook, 323-2828
Valley – 10814 E. Broadway Ave, 323-2800
North – 5901 N. Lidgerwood Street, Ste 224

"We want to be as flexible as we can in supporting Spokane’s nutritionally at-risk women, infants and children,” said Tiffany Schamber, WIC program manager. “Expanding our hours will improve access to our services, which is a win not only for our clients, but also our community. WIC is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective nutrition intervention programs.”

WIC provides families with nutrition as well as healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk and whole grains.

Travel: Home Cooking

   The routine is always the same.

   I walk into our kitchen, a place that is deeply familiar and filled with all the pleasant associations of my family, and I pull out everything I will need. Methodically, listening to the radio or letting my mind wander, I chop onion, celery and carrots into the mirepoix that will form the base of a pot of homemade soup. Sauteing the vegetables, I separate two, three, sometimes four garlic cloves and chop them, tossing the aromatic pieces into the olive oil and butter with the other ingredients. Then I fill the big pot with stock, chicken or vegetable, add seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer. Sometimes I add leftover chicken but usually it is meat-free. In an hour or so our meal is done. I slice the bread, set the table and call out that dinner is ready. We pick up our spoons, take the first sip, and I know I am home.

   Food, as we all learn quickly enough, as newborn babies crying out in hunger and frustration, does more than just feed us. Food comforts. Food connects and unites us. It brings us closer and broadens our tastes. Food carries us forward and, as we get older and years escape us,  reminds us of the past.

   In some elemental way, soup captures all of that for me. It is simple, inexpensive and quickly prepared but it carries so much more than just flavor.

   For years now, after returning home from a trip, especially when no one could get away to come along with me, I’ve made soup when I got back and I’ve come to realized it is more than an act of putting food on the table. Sometimes, when I grabbed a cheap fare and took an impulsive journey, giving in to the temptation to travel, the meal is part apology. Other times, when my work took me away and I was busy and frustrated, it is part recompense, a way to make up for my short absence.

   But always, whether anyone sitting around the table knows or even cares, the act of making and sharing a pot of homemade soup, of gathering over the savory fragrance of simple ingredients, is an act of love. It is a way to say leaving this place and these people always hurts a little. And that coming home to chop and and stir and season a meal to feed them, somehow feeds me more.


For more about travel and homecoming, read Traveling Mothers

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Pine Meadow Farm Center benefit includes auction, Terrible Buttons

Here's a cool event for a great cause: The Pine Meadow Farm Center is having a benefit concert and silent auction on March 8th at the Unitarian Universalist Church from 6:30pm to 10:00pm.

The Pine Meadow Farm Center, a 32-acre non-profit educational farm, is a regional destination for experiential education about nutrition, farming, gardening, food-system literacy and sustainable living skills. The Center has programs for audiences of all ages and depends on community support to keep going.



Terrible Buttons at The MAC. Photo courtesy of it3036 on flickr.

This family-friendly concert will feature Todd Milne & Blake Abyss, Visual Vortex, and Terrible Buttons. The event will include a silent auction with items donated by local businesses. 

Tuesday Video: What if animals ate fast food?

It's time to get a little silly.  This animated clip was brought to life by Flying Stone GbR, a company founded by Kyra Buschor, Constantin Paeplow and Philipp Wolf. It was produced for the 2013 Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film. That's about as much as I know…

 

…except the moral of the story is that animals shouldn’t eat fast food and you shouldn't either.

No matter how much fun it looks!

Travel: Starting the New Year with Edible Souvenirs

We were fortunate again this year, the whole family was together for Christmas. We gathered, exchanged gifts, caught up on one another’s lives and enjoyed one another’s company. And we ate. We ate a lot.

When we weren’t sitting down to our traditional Christmas dinner, we were snacking on things I’d gathered on my travels and brought home to share with my family. That’s come to be one of my travel traditions and now wherever I go I spend time looking for goodies to bring home with me.

This year, while playing board games or working on a jigsaw puzzle we opened a can of Virginia peanuts that traveled back from Roanoke tucked into a corner of my suitcase.

We made pots of good Door County Coffee & Tea Company coffee and nibbled peanut brittle from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.

I passed around a can of delicate and delicious Clear River pecan pralines I bought in Fredericksburg, Texas and hand-carried home. And we cracked pecans I gathered from where they’d fallen from the trees around the same city.

I spread tart cherry jam from, also from Door County, Wisconsin, on our toast at breakfast. In the afternoon I sliced a block of Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to go with the bottle of crisp white wine I brought back from Rhine River valley in Germany.

One night I made a big pot of chili and seasoned it with heritage chili pepper powder I bought at the Chili Pepper Institute in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I made a batch of brownies with brownie mix spiced with the same chilis.

We warmed up with mugs of hot buttered rum, savoring the bottle of Koloa rum I picked up in Kauai and saved especially for this holiday season.

This is the time of my life when I can travel freely and I don’t take it for granted because I know that could change at any time. My children are mostly grown and my work takes me around the world. I can’t always take them with me, but I can bring the world back to the ones I love and share it with them one delicious bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com