In April, I posted my first month tracking fresh produce expenditures—comparing local versus non-local produce. You can download a PDF of May, which is easier to read than the image below. To paraphrase a saying, eat the colors of the rainbow and you’ll be fine. May is already looking more colorful.

Two things I’m struggling with:

Defining local: If I were to use the 100-mile radius rule, then I would have to find out if the Washington apple I buy at grocery store is from a farm within 100 miles. My very loose definition of local is Oregon and Washington. Given that a big percentage of my local produce costs are from the farmers market, I’m fine with my definition.

Including garden costs: This project isn’t about tracking garden costs. Here is an example of a couple who tracked all input costs, labor and output from their garden. This is far too ambitious for me. An excellent read is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her family existed for a year on what they grew or could buy within a 50-mile radius. I am only tracking what I harvest (visually) and the cost of seeds or starts, but not compost or fertilizer. However, I haven’t devised a strategy for tracking every sprig of thyme! I’m a big proponent of having an herb garden. Given the cost of fresh herbs and the flavor boost your cooking, herb gardening is where I would put my effort if I had very little space. See this culinary herb primer  on Culinate.com.

 

Maybe you’re wondering what I do with all this. Here are a few links or suggestions:

Radishes and Fennel went into a Radish, Fennel, Orange Salad. The watermelon radish, if you can find it, is a visual delight—white on the outside, hot pink on the inside. Radishes make my stomach burn but my mother loves them. It was Mother’s Day. What can you do? The sweetness of the fennel and orange balance the peppery radishes. Plus the salad looks kick ass.

• In an earlier post, I wrote about Rabes (Raabs), and offer up a quick way to cook broccoli rabe. You can also download a recipe for Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, a signature dish of the Puglia region in Italy.

• You can read about rhubarb and download a recipe for a Rosemary Rhubarb Galette.

• Chef in the Market, Jeremy Eckel of Bar Avignon in Portland, OR, made a wonderful farro (This has become my favorite grain. Stay tuned for another post.) salad with grilled asparagus and spring sweet onions. Add some olive oil, fresh lemon juice and zest, and chopped hazelnuts for a great Spring BBQ salad.

New Seasons market has a nice kale and carrot salad that I’ve recreated at home. It uses an Asian-inspired dressing of cumin, canola oil, fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesami oil. No need to cook the kale first; the vinegar breaks it down so make it a little ahead. I also use the Italian kale in minestrone soup. Sadly, it is still soup season in Portland!

If you have any questions and comments, let me know! Share some of your favorite seasonal recipe ideas. Cheers!

Google the phrase “Good Fast Cheap Pick Two” and you get over 78 million search results. There are only 1.7 million for “Fountain of Youth.” Apparently people desire good, fast and cheap more than they do the secret to staying young. At the risk of spilling more e-ink on this topic, it seems that there are more and more requests like this. Is it the economy? Is there a growing sense of entitlement? Or is it more benign than that—people don’t realize that a request for good, fast and cheap are not useful descriptors in seeking what they need?

Removing the yuck factor of entitlement, there is a real need behind this request. But it will be overlooked by the people most likely to help you…and do it right. Who would buy a car, build a bridge, hire an electrician or find a mate with these three criteria? Not many.

When you only get two:

Fast and Cheap. With this option, high-quality is likely to suffer in the form of creative output, research time, accuracy, and ability to test and consider options. Make sure you are comfortable accepting some or all of these. Ask questions. See below for defining good.

Good and Fast. To get these, extra time beyond the normal work hours is involved. For a designer, this means nights or weekends which usually carry a rush fee. For a printing company, it might mean paying a premium to bump another job.

Good and Cheap. A designer or printing company reduces a rate for a charity in need. Or it might be a pro bono project. But in order to do good work and keep costs down, this project can’t be made a high priority. It will most likely be done only after commitments to normal-fee jobs are met.

Be wary of those who jump to fulfill a request like good, fast and cheap. If you leave your criteria as open ended as this, you’ll be unhappy with the results. Only through communicating what good, fast and cheap means to you will you get the results you are looking for.

Here are better approaches:

Define good.
Develop the ability to evaluate or describe the good you need. This way, you don’t waste your time or that of another, or worse, find out that your visions of good don’t match after you’ve already invested time. Share printed samples or website links if you’re trying to express your idea of good to a designer. Similarly, request samples if you’re looking for a printing company. Use meaningful, unambiguous words most likely to paint the right picture for the other party. A good printer to one might mean flawless ink coverage, but to another, good means the pages are merely in the right order.

Plan.
This is so often overlooked it needs to be included, even if it is obvious. We need fast when we don’t plan or we are surprised by an opportunity that we want to seize. Transferring our lack of planning onto another party is uncool, but it does happen. Many designers and printers will bend over backwards. Cherish (and reward) that person who is willing to dig you out of your hole. This can be in the form of patience, money, loyalty, appreciation or creative freedom. Or all of the above!

Have a budget.
Second only to planning, budgets are often absent. What many don’t realize is that everyone wants affordable—no matter the actual available funds or the size and caliber of the company. Affordable is meaningless because one person’s affordable is another’s too expensive. The desire for cheap, without definition, leaves you too vulnerable to a mishap. Instead, strive for value—the specific benefit you receive at the specific price you pay.

The more well defined and specific these requirements, the more likely you will end up with a timely and cost-effective end product whose quality you are happy with.

Speaking to a friend, chef and creator of Lovejoy Food, about her first day back at the OHSU farmers market, I asked her how her day went, given the tremendous downpour we’d had. “Were there a lot of people you recognized from last year?” I asked her. There were, and she said it was a bit surreal, seeing all these familiar strangers.

The term was coined by Stanley Milgram in the 1972 paper The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. He is also credited with developing the concept of six degrees of separation.

The true definition of a familiar stranger is someone who is seen regularly (like a person on your morning bus commute) and one with whom you don’t interact. Intel did a study using mobile devices to connect strangers, not necessarily to be friends but, to explore how strangers interact. The concept of familiar strangers is that they are an important link that bridges the gap between friends/family and total strangers. They play an essential role in fixing us in a community and providing us context. We wouldn’t want everyone to be a friend, and nor could we tolerate only strangers and people we know. The familiar strangers act as a buffer.

In my friend’s case, her customers aren’t true familiar strangers. But one friend has been creative with her daily commute (fodder for another post—ways to make the mundane more interesting) by documenting via her iPhone, her fellow commuters’ tattoos, pets, fashion statements and books. She has a non-judgemental, endearing way about her daily documentary. There’s a richness about it because she’s bringing strangers to life and making us look at these people closely, whom none of us know!

An interesting aspect of familiar strangers is that we have an unspoken agreement to not communicate. But we are much more likely to interact if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting, like bumping into the person you see each week at the farmers market while on vacation in Rome.

Has this happened to you? Did you introduce yourself? How long should a familiar stranger remain a stranger? Do you ever want to acknowledge your shared presence, especially if your lives seem to overlap in more than a couple places?

In a city as small as Portland, there are people you see over and over in more than one place you frequent, even if there doesn’t seem to be a significant connection among the locations. Maybe this person should be part of your social or business circle.

People give away advice, time, sex, clothing, brides, secrets, pieces of their soul, professional services, to name a few. But these aren’t all equal. Any of these given away in excess can be a problem. But so can never giving them away (except maybe a bride, in my case).

So, how do you decide when giving something away is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you give the wrong stuff away, say, sex or advice, too easily? And maybe not enough of the good stuff, like your free time or excess veggies from your garden? Does giving away stuff make you feel proud or righteous? Or does giving something away make you feel crummy?

In life, there are few right and wrongs, which guarantees that life stays interesting, if uncertain. Giving away advice is only wrong if it’s unwanted, and if you never take it yourself. But giving away excess garlic presses is nearly always a good thing. Freeing yourself of unused and unwanted items doesn’t create only physical space but psychological space as well. It leaves you with a feeling of lightness of mind that didn’t exist. That space is now a vessel that can be filled with something more nourishing than stuff. It also reminds us that we don’t need as much, not to mention that others may need them more than we do.

Motives play a big role in giving things away. Some of us give pieces of ourselves away too freely and are left resentful. We do that because we’re insecure or fearful. We viewed a gesture as kind or maybe even a sacrifice, only to not get something in return. Is it the recipient’s fault? Or is it ours for giving it away with a motive attached (a motive we may not have realized was there)? A consultant can give away their proprietary services in the hopes of paying work down the road. Is that an act of generosity, a good tactic or a strategy that can backfire because it’s motivated by fear of loss?

Giving something away seems easier when we’re feeling abundant. But spiritual wisdom suggests the reverse—that giving something away creates a feeling of abundance. This is difficult if you operate as though there is not enough love, stuff, time, food or friendship to go around.

Are there things you give away out of fear? Are there things you don’t give away out of fear?

One must embrace irony. There is a lot of it in life, after all. Consider the garden if you will. In an effort to control my food source, I found a place to live where I could (in theory) enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor by having a garden.

Instead, it is a daily practice of surrender to a host of elements out of my control. My plants are gracious hosts to a wide variety of critters from nearly invisible to purring.

No book by the Dalai Lama or Eckhart Tolle will teach an essential lesson in letting go more than having a garden. Tending a garden requires relinquishing the foolish notion that you will reap a product at the end. Each morning, coffee in hand, I make my rounds to the plants like a nurse visiting her ICU patients, inspecting limbs, peering at their wounds, unleashing a few expletives (me, not the nurse most likely).

As a woman said to her husband who complained of flea beetles, “There’s a good way to get rid of the pests. Go to the grocery store and buy eggplant.”

Where’s the fun if you can’t suffer a little? Who learns anything if you can’t experience your hard work wither away one tiny bitefull at a time? The truly strong among us are strong, not for our victories but, for our losses. The truly wise among us are wise, not for the tomato we ate at the end but, for the garden path we walked.

Though a tomato would be nice.

…you better do something with it. Like asparagus, rhubarb does not have long enough a season for one to ponder buying it another day—unlike potatoes, greens or onions, for example. But ask your market vendors. They usually know how much longer something will be available.

One look at these ruby stalks and you think “Making a pie sounds like a lovely idea, doesn’t it?” And then the poor things go limp because your culinary intentions were just that, intentions. But I’ll say this about not only rhubarb: Just cook it while it’s available. Don’t wait for a special occasion or more time or the right mood. The doing of it inspires more of the same. This is true of just about anything.

I say, forget the pie! You can download my Rosemary Rhubarb Galette recipe, which is like pie, only more wabi sabi, and therefore, more fun to make. Not to mention easier.

JeanAnn Van Krevelen of Portland Foodie wrote about her love affair with rhubarb as well as a few ideas on cooking with rhubarb. Splendid Table’s, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, offers a Rhubarbarita recipe for when a regular margarita just won’t do. Now I’ve got a quart of this syrupy garnet goodness in my freezer, ready for the next party.

The easiest thing to do is chop it up and cook it with a little water and sugar (like you would for cranberry sauce), till the rhubarb is tender. Eat it with a pork chop or for breakfast with granola and yogurt. Couldn’t be easier. It freezes well, too. Just chop it up and put it in a freezer bag. It’ll keep for a year.

Having wondered where my food dollars go, specifically local fresh fruits and vegetables, I decided to log a year’s worth of purchases—from the farmers market, local produce at stores and not local at stores. Starting with April, at the end of each month I’ll post a new log.

Numbers on a page don’t appeal to me the way visuals do, so I decided to do a visual log. I have no goal other than to see if I put my money where my mouth is. As a big supporter of our local farmers markets and as a volunteer at Portland Farmers Market, I want a better idea of how my food dollars shake out.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m only logging fresh produce even though bread, eggs, grains, dried beans and nuts can be purchased at the farmers market. Maybe next year! I am logging expenses on seed packets because what comes out of the vegetable garden is a reflection of what I eat. And there are true costs like seeds, fertilizer and compost. As to whether I track what I reap from the garden, we’ll see. As my garden is organic, so will this process be.

In the meantime, here is April. You can also download April as a PDF. I expect future months to be a bit more colorful!

Everything is temporary, so make it beautiful and then make it disappear completely. —Tarin Towers

A recent thought to reflect on, given in yoga class, was to consider three qualities of yoga: discipline, self-study and surrender. We were asked to consider these three qualities in our practice and in our daily lives.

Did we experience them in equal amounts? And if not, did we notice any patterns in their fluctuations?

As often happens with these reflections, I both wince and smirk, as if my hand were caught in the spiritual cookie jar. My inner witness no longer allows me to get away with complacent thinking. These three qualities are woefully out of whack…most of the time. Chief among them is surrender. I need more self-study like I need a hole in the head. Discipline waxes and wanes—I berate myself for its lack, and at other times I fail to recognize my discipline because I take the activity for granted. But it is in surrender that I fall short.

As Eckhart Tolle points out, surrender does not mean giving up, being a door mat or never expressing your opinion. It means not resisting against what is. It’s our resistance that causes suffering, not the thing we are resisting. This all sounds rather lofty. But it’s a simple concept, profoundly difficult to apply. Some of us see surrender as loss of control. Instead, surrender is the embodiment of control (the good kind) because outside forces aren’t able to sway our thoughts and feelings. Often we stay stuck in non-surrender mode because we are righteously attached to a self-image.

For example, a person with a self-image of a caretaker may have difficulty letting go of control over every element of a holiday dinner. They may well be caring, but more likely, there’s an unexamined fear going on in the background—like the loss of their over-identification as a caretaker. Who would they be without the image?

A client, whose project is a rush, fails to reply to your emails. You break a leg before your tropical vacation and are forced watch others frolic. Your outdoor wedding is hampered by a downpour. Your succulent seedlings are attacked by slugs. You can’t sit down to paint or draw because you’re plagued by fears of not good enough. While resisting in these situations can result in frustration and disappointment, true surrender can elicit a sense of freedom. It may even reveal an otherwise missed opportunity.

Many creative types are too attached to results and so, they don’t bother creating. This made me think of the many types of temporary art where surrender is a built-in ingredient. From Andy Goldsworthy‘s work in twigs, sand and ice, sidewalk chalk art, to sand sculptures—they all disappear because of the elements. Some temporary art is deliberately destroyed, like Burning Man sculptures, Tibetan sand mandalas and even gorgeous cakes (I tried to get permission to post a Goldsworthy photo but this is better). Though indulging in this last one doesn’t count as difficult surrender! A high-school friend and artist at heart, with little time to create, is making Daily White Board drawings and erasing the results. When I asked her what was appealing about this process, she said, “Erasing reminds me that life is fleeting… move on, enjoy the moment…” Indeed.

(Clockwise from upper left) Tibetan monk erasing a mandala, a DaVinci sand sculpture, a cake in homage to Andy Goldsworthy, sidewalk art in NY city.

1. Make rhubarb rosemary mini galettes.

2. Draw pictures of yesterday’s farmers market produce.

3. Rethink strategy to keep cats out of garden bed.

4. Harden off seedlings.

5. Deliver galettes and bean starts to friends down the street.

6. Return to garden store for more potting soil. Inquire about plans to reward customers who spend too much money there.

7. Pick up library book to add to the stack.

7. Put the sand paper next to the dining room chairs in the vain hope that the chairs will one day be resanded, repainted and recained.

8. Finish tilling the garden bed.

9. Do yoga because your back hurts from tilling the garden bed.

If time allows, work on business plan.

If you’re lucky enough to have a good farmers market nearby, as we are in Portland, you might see all sorts of raabs (or rabe)—kale raab, collard raab, even Brussels sprout raab. But what are they?

They are, simply, the flowering stems of the plants that fall into the very large family called brassicaceae—the cabbage or mustard family. In this family are vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, turnips, mustards, kholrabi and radishes.

Many are familiar with broccoli rabe (also known as rapini, cime di rapa, broccoli raab, broccoli di rape, among others). But while broccoli raab has been bred as its own distinct plant (and in the same cultivar group as turnips), these other raabs are the flowering stems of the plants—the kales, collards and Brussels sprouts, for example.

Just as herbs bolt, flower and then go to seed, so, too do these plants. For example, Brussels sprout raab are the flowering stems in spring from the fall crop of the vegetable. Jamie from Groundworks Organics said that rabes were considered “farmer food.” These flowering tips were among the few green things still growing in late winter and not considered good for market. The window is also too short to bother having grocery stores sell them.

But times have changed. People are willing to try new things. And we have lots of rabe among us.

The varying textures of the stems, leaves and flowers are appealing, as are their color variations. Each tastes slightly different and most are more mild than broccoli rabe, which can be quite bitter. All are very nutritious—and include vitamins like C, A or K and potassium, calcium and iron. And many have anti-cancer properties and are high in antioxidants.

One of the best ways to cook raab is to boil just til the stems are tender and then drain. Heat some olive oil in a skillet, add some crushed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flake. Add the rabe, tossing with tongs till coated with oil and seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon.

In Southern Italy, broccoli raab is eaten in abundance, and one of the most popular dishes of the region is Orecchiette con cime di rapa. Give the anchovies a try even if you think you won’t like them. Like fish sauce in Vietnamese and Thai cooking, they’re meant to add depth, not impart a fishy taste. Follow this loosely—varying the amount of pepper, anchovies and greens. Rapini cooks down much like spinach because it’s mostly leaves. You can also download the recipe.

Recipe: Orecchiette con cime di rapa
serves 4

1 lb. orecchiette (little ear-shaped pasta)
1 or 2 bunches broccoli rabe (rapini), washed, roughly cut in 2-inch chunks
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 to 6 anchovy fillets
Good pinch red pepper flake
2 T olive oil
Optional: fine bread crumbs
Salt to taste

1. Put a big pot of water on boil with plenty of salt.
2. Lay the whole bunch of rapini on a cutting board and roughly chop into 2-inch (or so) sections—using the greens, stems and buds. It will seem like a lot but it cooks down. Rinse and drain the greens, leaving a bit of water on the leaves (for steaming during saute).
3. In a big skillet, heat the oil and saute the garlic, anchovies and red pepper. Don’t let the garlic burn. Using a wooden spoon, smash up the anchovies till they melt. At the same time, add the pasta to the rapidly boiling water (both the pasta and the rapini take about 10 minutes, so you can do them at the same time).
4. Add the rapini to the skillet and saute over medium heat. You may need to allow some to wilt before adding the rest. Add a little salt (not so much because the anchovies have salt, as does the pasta water). Cook the rapini till the stems are just tender, but not overcooked.
5. Halfway through the pasta cooking, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Cook till just tender, or al dente, and drain.
6. Add the pasta to the skillet with the rapini, stirring to combine well. Add some of the reserved pasta water, the starch of which combines with the olive oil to create a sauce. Add salt if necessary.
7. Serve sprinkled with some fine breadcrumbs. This dish is excellent with a Primativo or Salice Salentino (both hearty reds from Puglia).

Note: You can try boiling rapini first and then sauteing, but I find that sauteing alone is sufficient and the rapini is less soggy (the stems of rapini are less woody than some of the other rabes). Some recipes call for sausage, and some call for parmigiano (a little odd since Italians don’t normally mix cheese with fish). In other words, look for other recipes and experiment. It might seem strange to serve with a hearty red but the dish is hearty, and Puglia is not known for its white wines. An inexpensive Salice Salentino is available at Trader Joes.