Wednesday, May 26, 2010

JOIN - Paying it forward

Yesterday, the Assistant Market Manager and I visited with a new neighbor in the Montavilla neighborhood - JOIN recently relocated their offices from SE Powell and 17th to NE 81st and Halsey, just next to the MAX station. JOIN is a non-profit focused on helping homeless individuals overcome the barriers to stable housing. Emily Nelson, retention worker, gave us a tour of their facilities and explained their mission and how they work within the homeless community to improve people's daily lives. In 2009, they helped 460 people end their homelessness.

Formerly housing a boxing ring and bridge center, JOIN gutted the building this past year and renovated it with reclaimed materials, energy efficient fixtures, and a lush community garden with raised beds and fruit trees espaliered along the sidewalk. Their administrative offices are located in the basement of the building, cozily illuminated with solar light tubes and sporting a staff lounge dubbed "Cafe JOIN", complete with kombucha tea on tap (where can I get me one of those?). The upstairs serves as a day-use center where people can shower, make phone calls, pick up mail and just hang out and socialize with others.

JOIN approached the Montavilla Farmers Market about creating a regular volunteering opportunity for their clients. An important part of JOIN's success are the post-placement support services they offer including help with job finding, navigating social service benefits, transportation to important appointments. As most us can relate, establishing healthy and meaningful relationships is the best way to feel invested and rooted in the neighborhood. JOIN has a strong volunteer program that allows those who have asked for help in the past to give back to their community.

We are excited about working with JOIN in the upcoming season and offer them a warm welcome to the neighborhood!
If YOU want to volunteer for the Montavilla Farmers Market, visit our website or send an email to Kyle, our assistant market manager at

Spring = Bountiful Rain and Greens

These are two things you can rely on during spring in Portland - the early crop of greens and the ever-bearing rain. It discourages me a bit to see my freshly-planted tomatoes drowning in a soggy heap. But it pleases me to dart out in between downpours to grab a handful of greens. Here are a couple of adaptable ideas for recipes that would be good with whatever kind of leafy green you have on hand. Chard, kale, mustard greens - they'd all be great in either.

This is a great recipe for brunch. You can prepare it the day before (it actually tastes better if you do). And if you're the least bit creative, there are endless variations with different ingredients (bacon or sausage, mushrooms, peppers etc, etc.). You can't go wrong....

Spring Greens Strata

several bundles of spring greens
1 1/2 c. finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 T unsalted butter
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
8 c. cubed (1 inch) bread, artisan works best (1/2 lb)
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère, swiss or other favorite white cheese (2 cups)
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
2 3/4 c. milk
9 large eggs
2 T. Dijon mustard

Blanch greens in boiling salted water and drain.
Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop, measuring loosely packed to 1 1/2 cups.
Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.
Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Cooks' note:
• Strata can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

I particularly like having pesto on hand because you can use for an infinite number of purposes. You can put it on your toast and eggs in the morning for a savory breakfast, or use it as a base for your pizza instead of the usual tomato sauce. It makes an otherwise ordinary sandwich something you can write home to mom about. Don't limit yourself to basil-based pesto. I've made it with parsley, kale, even stinging nettles earlier this spring. All different flavor profiles, but all delicious.

Kale Pesto

2 cups (packed) kale, blanched for 2 minutes first in boiling salted water
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
good pinch salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the blanched kale, cheese, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Puree until fairly smooth, then while the motor is running, drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth, loose paste forms (you can add more olive oil if you like, but I found 1/4 cup to give me the consistency I was looking for.) Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chard and other leafy greens

I L-O-V-E greens. I say this as I sit next to my almost-licked-clean breakfast plate of sauteed beet greens with a soft cooked egg oozing over the top, piece of toast underneath to gather up all the juices. I also say this because until the market opens in t-minus 3 weeks and 6 days, I think I would be able to subsist on the crazy amounts of chard that is growing in my garden at the moment. Leaves bigger than the span of my hands. Perfect and unblemished without a single insect nibble to mar the glossy leaves. Deeply crenellated leaves that are begging to hold something in its pockets. It is inspiring me to make some sort of grain-stuffed, rolled dish, something similar to a stuffed grape leaf.

Lately I've been attached at the hip to my Mark Bittman "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" cookbook. Each recipe, delicious in its own right, is followed by a dozen or more variations on the recipes. So I find it an excellent resource for figuring out how to make do with what I have in the kitchen at the given moment and being a bit more improvisational. For example very few people have preserved meyer lemons on hand, but guess what, it might be equally tasty in a version with sauteed onions, celery and carrots and some fresh herbs instead. With this kind of guidance, I'm looking at page 309 "Rolled Kale with Feta and Onions" and thinking that the option with "Quinoa with Caramelized Onions" would be perfect. Some protein from the quinoa, lots of vitamins from the chard, including all you need for the day of vitamin K (good for bone and blood health) and vitamin A (good for eyesight), the tasty sweetness of the onions. Everything on hand so I don't have to make a trip to the grocery store. Sold. I'll report back and let you know how it goes.

I've got a lot of chard to work through, so send me your recipe suggestions!

The update on the chard rolls....they turned out really well, if not entirely photogenic. A perfect size for a bite or two before it fell apart in my hands. The sweet onions complemented the slightly bitter taste of the chard. Good hot, cold or room temperature. I'll definitely try some of the other flavor combinations that Bittman suggests.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What’s growing in your garden?

Only one month to go until the Montavilla Market rings the first bell of the season. I’m already looking forward to saying hello to familiar faces and meeting new vendors and filling my basket with good stuff. In the meantime, I visit our raised beds on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis to see if the seedlings have gotten any bigger overnight. Last season, we figured out that by adding PVC hoops and heavy-gauge plastic over our raised beds that we could extend our growing season. And perhaps more importantly we could keep the squirrels and cats from making a mess of the neatly ordered rows of seeds. The greenhouse effect in practical, useful application. The soil stays warm, the air stays moist, and the result is happy radishes and salad greens in early April. These are the things that keep me happy in spring and help build anticipation until I can ride down to the farmer’s market to fill my bags with a variety of vegetables that I could only dream of growing in my backyard.
A couple of weeks ago, I harvested my first bunch of radishes - Cherry Belles and French Breakfast. As with the first harvest, many of them only got a quick rinse and were eaten directly from the radish top, enjoying the crisp, fresh flavor. But with subsequent weeks, I will save them to be sliced up in salads, grated and added to slaws for a peppery bite.
For those of you who like to get every last bit of usefulness out of your garden, there are even recipes for using the radish greens, though I can’t admit to doing anything but adding them to the compost pile:

Radish Top Soup

6 Tbsp butter

1 cup chopped onions or leeks

8 cups loosely packed radish leaves

2 cups diced peeled potatoes

6 cups liquid (water, chicken stock)


1/2 cup cream (optional)

Freshly ground pepper

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, add onions or leeks, and cook until golden, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in radish tops, cover pan, and cook over low heat until wilted, 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes until soft in liquid along with 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with radish tops and broth, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes to mingle flavors. Puree finely in a food processor. Add cream if desired. Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.

So what is growing in your garden this spring? Or what are you looking forward to buying at the first week of the Montavilla Farmer’s Market?