Buying Whole Fish plus a Hack for No-Hassle Freezing

If you've been seeing ads from your grocery store or fishmonger offering whole fish for a fraction of the regular retail price but you're not sure how you'd use it, I'm reposting this handy guide.

There is nothing better, or better for you, than fresh-caught, wild, local fish. Fish are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, high in protein and low in saturated fat, and the American Heart Association advises eating fish twice a week. Trouble is, the usual price per pound for fresh fillets in the butcher case puts it out of reach for most budgets. Plus many commercially available ocean species can be high in mercury, and farm-raised fish are usually fed high doses of antibiotics—think of them as factory farms for finned creatures—due to the crowded pens they're raised in. And don't get me started on the effects of these farms on our waterways.

Very few dinners impress guests as much as a whole grilled fillet.

But those of us on the West Coast are fortunate to have access to some of the most delicious wild fish on the planet in our populations of native wild albacore and salmon. This year the fleet of primarily family-owned boats have been pulling in a supply of albacore from the fishery that stretches from Northern California up into British Columbia. Certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, these albacore are young—just three to five years old, low in mercury and weighing in at 12 to 25 pounds—and individually caught with a hook-and-line system. (Want more info? Read my post, Albacore A to Z, for details.)

Wild salmon, particularly from Alaskan waters, are in plentiful supply right now, too, with stores advertising tempting steaks, fillets and roasts. But if you want to get a real deal, look for special sales events featuring whole fish.

"Whole fish?" you say. "I don't even know where to start with a whole fish!"

Buy from reputable fishmongers who buy from local fishing boats.

Well, let's talk about where you buy it. Make sure the fishmonger is reputable—recent studies have found that almost 20% of fish sold to consumers are mislabeled, and fish ordered at restaurants are more likely to be incorrectly labeled than fish bought at markets or grocery stores. I recently bought two whole albacore and two whole Coho salmon at New Seasons Market, a regional chain that buys its whole fish from local boats and has several one or two-day sales events per season. Find more places to buy local seafood with the Oregon Seafood Locator Map and Listings.

When you buy whole fish, you'll need to specify how you want it packaged. The fish are already cleaned, and most stores will butcher your fish at no charge, whether you want steaks or roasts or whole fillets. I always ask for the trimmings to be included, since the head, fins and bones make amazing stock for soups, chowders, risottos and paella, among many other uses. (Here's my technique for using those trimmings.)

Make sure the carcass is included—roast it, pick the meat and use the remainder for stock.

And don't believe those online charts meant for chefs that say the yield from a whole albacore, gutted and without the head, is 50 percent of the weight. From the 17-pound fish (head off) that I bought from the store, my yield was more than 80 percent after removing the loins, roasting the carcass (350° for 30 min.), picking off the meat (nearly 2 lbs.) and then making stock from the bones (2 1/2 qts.). The total weight of bones, fins and detritus that went into the compost bin was only two or three pounds. (Kind of tells you about the food waste that happens in restaurants, though, doesn't it?)

If you're not going to throw the fish on the grill right away—always a good idea, and just one good-sized fillet will feed four to six—you'll need to think about how you want to store it. With a vacuum sealer it's a done deal, since properly packaged fish will keep for as long as a year. The idea is to keep air away from the meat to prevent freezer burn, so if you don't have a vacuum sealer, what do you do?

Albacore loins come four per fish and are a cinch to seal and freeze.

I quizzed the fellow at the fish counter when I bought my salmon, and he said that his dad, an avid fisherman, would put a single fillet in a zip-lock bag and submerge it in a sink full of water, holding the closure just above the water line. The water pressure pushes the air out, making an airtight seal around the fish. Not having a sealing machine myself, a little smoothing of the wrinkles in the bag while it was submerged did almost as good a job as the machine. (I found that a two-gallon zip-lock bag will hold a good-sized fillet quite nicely.)

A note: it's good to go over your fish ahead of freezing to check for pinbones or other bones that the butchers may have missed. First, it makes it easier to just throw it on the grill without worrying about biting down on a bone while you're eating and, second, it keeps those pokey bones from puncturing the bag and letting air in. Just hold the fillet and feel for any bones by running your fingers down the flesh, then use a pair of (clean) needle nose pliers to pull out the bones.

All this is to say that you can have more fresh, local, sustainable fish in your diet without paying dearly for the privilege.

Check out this recipe for to-die-for nicoise salad or this one for gochujang-roasted albacore. These salmon cakes will have your family swooning, or try this easy roasted salmon piccata. And you can't go wrong with a classic miso-glazed grilled salmon fillet.

North Plains Residents Resist Land Grab by City and Developers

In what was being termed one of the biggest threats to Oregon's land use system in 50 years, the City of North Plains, just outside of Hillsboro, attempted to double the size of the city by proposing the biggest-ever Urban Growth Boundary expansion by percentage basis and the largest by acres in the metro counties.

"A single increase of this magnitude to a city’s boundaries is unprecedented in Oregon, and most of the expansion would be for industrial and commercial use, with only about 167 acres set aside for housing," according to a 1000 Friends of Oregon article on the battle between residents, developers, city bureaucrats and state regulators.

The proposed North Plains expansion area (in red).

Local residents and farmers opposed to the land grab banded together under the banner Friends of North Plains Smart Growth, which quickly organized a coalition against the city's ballot measure on the expansion, explaining to voters what the city was attempting and notifying residents of upcoming public hearings.

Led in large part by farmer Aaron Nichols, whose 15-acre Stoneboat Farm was just one farm removed from the city's proposed boundary expansion, the opposition effort became what he called his "second job" for a year, learning the labyrinthine intricacies of Oregon's land use system, first notifying the 500 families served by the farm's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions and then contacting local media and conservation organizations.

Citing an almost complete lack of public engagement, Nichols testified that "of the 26 meetings North Plains pointed to as public evidence, only three of these were public hearings that both followed proper noticing requirements and had an opportunity for the public to engage." His testimony charged that the plan itself was "poorly supported" and that much of the basic evidence was exaggerated or was simply missing, pointing out that even Dr. Brenda Bateman, the director of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) stated that the city's plan relied on "incorrect facts."

Jesse Nichols (left), Aaron Nichols (right) and Aaron's son Asa (on tractor).

Just-released figures from the 2022 USDA Census of Agriculture show that the number of farms in Oregon decreased by six percent since 2017, and the acreage those farms occupied was down four percent in the same period. 1000 Friends of Oregon detailed that only about 16 percent of Oregon (excluding federal lands) consists of high-value soils, with only about four percent of those rated as prime farmland, and that efforts like those of the city of North Plains endanger those remaining valuable soils.

Putting those figures into perspective, 1000 Friends said that "while cities normally need to prioritize expanding onto non-resource lands or lands with lower-quality soils when proposing a UGB expansion, North Plains is surrounded almost exclusively by high-value farmland and prime soils. This means that any expansion would almost certainly pave over some of the best soils in the state and raises the ethical bar for proving that the expansion is what’s best for the greater community."

Stoneboat Farm supplies 750 local families with vegetables through its CSA subscriptions.

Expansion advocates tried to propose a separate bill (HB 4026) that was characterized as "intentionally designed to circumvent and suppress democratic participation by blocking future ballot referendums." Nichols said the efffort was a warning to those who might face challenges to their own local urban growth boundaries: "What [HB 4026] does, in fact the only thing [it] does, is have the legislature insert itself into a local issue to put a roadblock in the way of a community group. This bill forces our group to sue the state and, though as we and the city know full well the law will be quickly overturned, the city hopes that we will either be unable to raise the money for the lawsuit or it will exhaust our resources and harm our campaign. It is obvious that…placing a hurdle in the road for one side in one election, is not the place of the Oregon Legislature nor worth the time used on this bill."

On May 22nd of this year, the voters of North Plains rejected the city's ballot measure by a margin of 70 percent.

The city's response to the vote indicated the battle is not over: "The recent dialog on Measure 34-327 has highlighted a shared commitment among North Plains residents to prioritize our community’s livability and managed growth responsibilities,” said Mayor Teri Lenahan. “We are very early in assessing next steps for a future UGB expansion area." A hearing to discuss next steps is scheduled for Monday, July 15.

In Season: Chill Out with Cool, Miso-Inflected Zucchini Soup!

Summer and zucchini go together like Dizzy Gillespie and his trumpet, Einstein and relativity, Dorothy Parker and snark. Eaten raw right off the vine, lightly steamed, grilled, pickled or pulverized, their mild flavor and chameleon-like ability to mimic their surroundings makes them a ubiquitous choice for summer meals and snacking.

Ridiculously inexpensive to buy and so abundant in the garden that they've earned a reputation for midnight distribution on neighbors' porches, my CSA had a "take all you want" sign over a bin of them at the farmers' market last week. And since I have a hard time not taking advantage of that kind of offer, I came home with several pounds of green, yellow and striped versions.

The blistering heat of the last few days made the idea of turning on a burner a complete non-starter, but I had the good fortune to run across Hetty Lui McKinnon's recipe for a cold zucchini soup—her inclusion of miso definitely intrigued me—involving nothing more than plugging in a blender, plus I had enough of the ingredients to be able to riff on her basic instructions.

With minimal chopping and a few snips of garden herbs, within 30 minutes dinner was on the table and the house was none the hotter for the effort. I'm now secretly hoping for some middle-of-the-night donations to mysteriously appear on my porch (hint, hint).

Chilled Zucchini Soup with Miso

1/2 c. raw cashews
2 c. vegetable stock (or 1 c. chicken stock 1 c. water)
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 lbs. zucchini, roughly chopped
1 c. herbs, roughly chopped (I used a combination of parsley, mint, cilantro and lemon basil)
1 c. fennel, roughly chopped
1/2 ripe avocado
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3-4 Tbsp. white (shiro) miso
Salt, to taste
Condiments: Quartered limes, pickled onions, sliced green onions, extra-virgin olive oil

Place the cashews, lemon juice and just 1/2 cup of the stock in the blender or food processor. Blend thoroughly to create a creamy liquid.

Add remaining ingredients to the blender and puree; depending on the size of your blender you may need to work in batches. Adjust salt and lemon.

Get three more of my favorite cold soup recipes that'll raise the bar on your summer entertaining. And I've heard nothing but raves for Hetty McKinnon's vegetable-centric book, Tenderheart. Definitely worth checking out!

In Season: Garlic Scapes, A Primer

This week Market Master Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market sent out a primer on garlic scapes, the curly green whips that are the flowering stems of the garlic plant. They are at their tender best in late spring and early summer,  when they still have their signature curl—if they're not harvested, the stems will straighten out and point skyward, by which time they also get hard and fibrous.

Rapport quotes market vendor Emma Rollins of Sun Feast Farm (top photo), who waxed eloquent about her favorite allium:

"Solstice time feels like the right moment to talk about garlic. This is when garlic scapes, the flowering stalk of garlic, curls and twirls its leek-like body in the most fantastic way! For me as a farmer, garlic scapes mark our true turn toward summer, always arriving right around the longest days of the year.

Curly whips of garlic scapes "mark our true turn toward summer."

"As days lengthen, plants respond. Onions size up and the garlic needs you to pick the scape so its energy can go into the bulb, not up to the flower. If you left it, the garlic would flower in a purple pom-pom of little blooms. Each of these flowers turns to a bulbil, a little garlic seed, which is how garlic propagated itself before people began harvesting the bulb or head of garlic and breaking it up into the cloves to replant and propagate more that way.

“Why is garlic MY timekeeper? We plant garlic as the season closes, [at] Halloween time. Tucking cloves into the dark cold wet soil as so much of the field wilts back with frost for the season, garlic begins to turn the wheel toward the promise of next season. We finish the year planting into the next. We follow the sun by looking to the garlic that sprouts in the depth of winter, and come February, with the Persephone—when we enter over 10 hours of light a day, what a plant needs to actively grow—garlic marks this time and comes to life. There is green garlic before the bulb starts to form, then scapes for solstice [with] harvest come July when the stalks begin to dry out and sometimes tip over.”

So once you get your garlic scapes home, then what?

These flowering stems of the garlic plant present myriad delicious opportunities.

The simplest way to prepare them is simply throwing them on the grill after trimming off the end of the stalk. (Some recipes will have you coat them in oil, but I find that the oil drips off and causes the coals to flame up, which deposits a bitter film of burnt oil on your vegetables.) After a couple of minutes the scapes will brown over the fire, so turn them over and brown the other side. Then put them on a plate and drizzle with a good olive oil, salt and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon. The easiest side dish or appetizer ever!

Just this last week I made a pesto from fresh scapes, processing five or six with a big handful of parsley from my neighbor's garden along with the requisite garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts or hazelnuts) and enough olive oil to make a smooth paste. Stir in some finely grated parmesan and you're ready to stir it into pasta or garnish a piece of salmon.

Rapport reports that her assistant market manager, Sue Poff, received a jar of garlic scape powder "made by her son who grows a ton of garlic every year" and she describes the flavor as "milder than regular garlic powder but used in much the same way." Easily dried if you own a dehydrator—drying them in the oven at its lowest setting is just as simple, though it may take longer—just slice the scapes into one to two-inch pieces and, once dried, grind them to a powder in a spice grinder or blender.

Garlic Scape Frittata

I love frittatas because they can be made from whatever vegetables or meats you happen to have on hand, sautéed and combined with eggs. Quick and easy, forgiving and always delicious, it's almost the perfect meal!

2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
1/2 each green, red and ancho peppers, or about a heaping cup of any peppers, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced into 1/8" slivers
4-6 mushrooms, halved and sliced thinly
5 garlic scapes, sliced in 1" pieces, leaving the bulbs intact
6 baby Yukon Gold potatoes (1 cup) chopped in 1/4" cubes
12 eggs
1/2 c. cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat until it sizzles. Add potatoes and sauté briefly till slightly tender. Add rest of vegetables and sauté until very tender. While vegetables are cooking, break eggs into a mixing bowl and stir until well-mixed, adding salt to taste. When vegetables are done, pour the eggs over the top, sprinkle on the cheese and cover the pan, reducing the heat to low.

When the eggs are cooked on the bottom but still runny on top, put the pan under the broiler briefly (just don't walk away or get distracted like I sometimes do!). When lightly browned on top, remove the pan from the broiler.

To serve, run a spatula around the inside of the skillet to loosen the eggs. Then invert a serving platter over the skillet and, holding them firmly together, turn the platter and skillet upside down. The frittata should plop out of the skillet onto the platter.

Top photo from Beaverton Farmers Market, a generous sponsor of GoodStuffNW.

Fresh Inspiration: Gochujang Roasted Albacore and Fried Rice

I don't know about you, but this is the way it goes at our house: I'm browsing through recipes online or reading an article about our local fisheries—it is, after all, part of my job—and I think, "Gosh darn it, we need to have more fish in our diet."

Then I close the window or finish the article and forget about it.

But this summer we've invested in a CSA subscription from Stoneboat Farm, which means I will be picking up our share every Saturday morning for 23 weeks at its booth at the Hollywood Farmers Market. And that just happens to be across the aisle from the beautiful display at Linda Brand Crab which, in addition to the eponymous crab in its name, usually has a plethora of other local, fresh-out-of-the-water fish and shellfish on offer.

Quick and easy roasted fish presents multiple delicious possibilities!

After I picked up our share this past weekend, I glanced across the aisle and noticed some beautiful rosy albacore tuna loins for a very reasonable price. So I picked up a small-ish, three-quarter pound piece and stashed it in the shopping bag with my vegetables, figuring I'd come up with something for dinner that night.

As usual the afternoon got involved, this time with a trip to the garden store for compost, digging it in to amend the dead soil in our raised beds, planting the tomatoes, peppers and ground cherries from Alice at Log House Plants, and suddenly the clock somehow said it was time to make dinner.

Oops. The albacore!

A quick scan of the veg bin—this is where a CSA really comes in handy—made the decision a snap, and with my homemade gochujang and other staples at the ready, I came up with a simple and, it turned out, incredibly delicious solution. Not just a terrific way to supplement a vegetable stir fry, this roasted fish would be great to use with any firm-fleshed fish as a main course with rice and salad, or sliced into cubes it would make a terrific appetizer right out of the oven (or off the grill) this summer.

Plus it makes it easy to fulfill that pledge to include more fish on our table!

Gochujang Roasted Albacore with Vegetable Fried Rice

For the marinade:
3/4 lb. albacore loin, sliced in 1" thick sections
3 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed in a garlic press
2 Tbsp. gochujang
1 Tbsp. miso (I'm addicted to locally made Jorinji miso)
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. water to thin

For the fried rice:
4 c. leftover cooked rice*
4 c. vegetables, chopped in bite-sized pieces (I used cabbage, carrots and zucchini)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp. gochujang
2 Tbsp. miso
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 bunch green onions, sliced into 1" lengths
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place a sheet of parchment paper in a roasting pan.

Chop vegetables for stir fry.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the marinade ingredients. Thickly coat each piece of fish in the marinade mixture and place them on the parchment paper in the roasting pan. Reserve any remaining marinade for the fried rice. 

Place roasting pan in oven, roasting for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside while you cook the fried rice.

In a deep sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions and sauté until it starts to become translucent. Add the ginger and garlic to the onions and sauté briefly, then add the gochujang, miso and any remaining gochujang marinade and cook for 1 minute, stirring to keep it from sticking.

Add vegetables starting with the ones that take the longest to cook (like carrots, then zucchini and cabbage) and sauté until crisp-tender. Add pepper flakes, fish sauce, sesame oil and green onions and heat briefly, then add cooked rice.* Cook for at least 5-10 minutes to heat the rice, then season to taste with more fish sauce, miso or sesame oil if it seems bland.

Cut the roasted fish into 1" pieces and place on top of the fried rice. Serve, sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds if desired.

* It's not necessary to have cooked rice on hand—I've made rice just beforehand with no problem. If you need to cook rice, bring 4 c. water to a boil and then add 2 cups long grain or jasmine rice. When it returns to a boil, turn down the heat to low and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. You can cool the rice at this point, or use it hot.

Astiana Tomatoes: Ayers Creek Farm Legacy Lives On Through Seed

The photo appeared on my phone with the message "Spotted at Portland Nursery today!" It showed a tomato plant in a four-inch plastic pot with a label stating "Astiana Tomato."

Along with the other stunningly delicious vegetables, corn and pole beans grown by Anthony and Carol Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm—I counted more than a dozen varieties of dried beans at one point, though many more may not have measured up to their exacting standards and been shelved—these tomatoes were feared lost to their adoring fans when the Boutards sold the farm in 2022.

Astianas fresh from the field at Ayers Creek Farm.

Fortunately a few area farmers had the presence of mind a few years back to start growing out these open-pollinated tomatoes, but remember, if you only start with a few seeds, it can take several seasons to have enough seeds to produce fruit in sufficient quantities to supply customers. So the descendants of the original Astianas were available from a few farms in limited quantities, though none had ever been grown for nursery stock aimed at home gardeners.

Enter legendary plantswoman Alice Doyle of Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, who saw the value of adding this remarkably stable variety to her list of 180 other tomato varieties. "It's a really good tomato for this region," she said, ticking off its disease-resistance and the fact that they are self-pollinating, as well as the care the Boutards took in selecting seed every year.

Doyle related that Anthony would have the first fruits to ripen in the field for his breakfast every morning. She said he would cut them open and, if they were fragrant and didn't have many seeds—these are paste tomatoes, after all—those were ones he'd save.

Chopped and ready to roast.

Taking the Boutard's breeding program one step further, Doyle grafted the Astianas onto a root stock, a technique she observed on her travels in Crete. Calling it a sustainable procedure that results in four to five times more fruit per plant, it also increases the plant's resistance to soil-borne disease. A side benefit was that Astianas were already resistant to late blight, an airborne disease best known for causing the devastating Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

Doyle was surprised at the number of requests she'd been getting from nurseries and home gardeners for them. "I can't believe how many people are asking for them," she said. Though anyone who remembers the long line of customers during tomato season at the Ayers Creek Farm booth at the Hillsdale Farmers Market could have assured her that these late season beauties were more than worth seeking out.

As the plant tag, written by Anthony himself, says, "excellent to sauce, preserve and eat fresh. From a landrace tomato where the 'Sound of Music' was filmed near Asti in the Po Valley of Italy. Selected and refined by Ayers Creek Farm, Oregon, as the best tomato for the 45th parallel."

Astiana plants are available from several local nurseries including Portland Nursery and Cornell Farm, as well as in the Seattle area, according to Doyle. She instructs: "Do not bury deep so the graft is as far away from the soil as possible. Match the level in the pot so the scion doesn’t root in and compromise the benefits of the rootstock."

Read the archives of Anthony Boutard's fascinating Farm Bulletins that chronicle the seasons at Ayers Creek Farm here and here.

Spring Salad: Barley, Asparagus and Mint Tabbouli

Points have been deducted from my lifetime hosting score because of my penchant for trying out new recipes on guests. Fortunately very few of them have been complete disasters, and with enough wine and a smashing dessert—the old saying about ending on a high note is worth hewing to—how could anyone complain?

The other night was a prime example. Dave had marinated a whole bone-in pork leg in a pernil-style rub, then smoked it for six hours, rendering it lusciously juicy and with an enviable red smoke ring just inside the crust. I'd gone to the farmers' market for spring lettuces for a salad dressed with my new favorite vinaigrette, and picked up asparagus because, well, duh, it's asparagus season and who can resist?

Arabian barley in the field.

Our guests for that evening were on a low-carb, low-salt regime so a "starch"—I've written before about the "meat, starch, vegetable" rubric that's imbedded in my middle-class, WASP-ish DNA—needed to be something other than the usual risotto or pasta or potatoes.

Fortunately I remembered there was a pound of barley I'd stashed in the freezer, so a grain salad seemed like a healthy solution. Parsley and mint were threatening to take over the garden, and darn it if that asparagus might come in handy, too.

Oh, and did I mention that Dave had made a raspberry sorbet for dessert? High note hit!

Barley, Asparagus and Mint Tabbouli

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
2-3 c. cooked barley, either hulled or whole grain
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 c. finely sliced spring onions, red onion, or sweet onion
1/2 to 1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1" long pieces and lightly steamed
Salt to taste

If using unhulled barley, soak overnight prior to cooking.

Put 8 oz. uncooked barley in the bottom of a large saucepan and cover with 2-3" of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, adding water if it gets too dry, until the barley is cooked through but still has a nice resistance when you bite into it…don't let it get mushy. (Unhulled barley will take longer than hulled barley.) Drain and rinse in cold water to cool. Transfer 2 to 3 cups, depending on how much grain you like in your tabbouli—I like less grain, more herbs—to a large mixing bowl, add remaining ingredients and enough dressing to moisten. Combine and, if time allows, let it sit for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.

While the barley cooks, make the vinaigrette. Take any tightly lidded pint container—I often use a jam jar—put all the ingredients into it, screw on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink in case, as once happened, the lid didn't seal as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. It can be made ahead and stores well for several days in the fridge.

Check out these six salad recipes that will keep you inspired all summer long!

Taking On Cultural Imperialism: Andrea Nguyen's Righteous Anger

I love a good rant, especially one that expands my own entrenched—read: unquestioned/lazy/privileged—attitudes, and noted chef, cookbook author and teacher Andrea Nguyen has a doozy on her eponymous blog:

"It’s aggravating to read again and again that the Mediterranean diet is the way to go for healthy habits. The implication is that something associated with the geography of Europe is the only thing we can turn to to save ourselves!" Nguyen wrote of a recent special section in the New York Times on the Mediterranean Diet.

"We all lead cross-cultural lives and we cook and eat that way too," Nguyen stated. "The Diet has become a meme that smacks of cultural imperialism," exemplified by the introduction to the section by Times reporter Alice Callahan that states "definitions of the diet have evolved over time, so we won’t limit ourselves to fare from the Mediterranean region."

Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, won a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Cookbook in 2018 for "The Pho Cookbook" and is a 2024 nominee for her new book, "Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea." She also writes freelance articles for the Times, which makes her speaking out about the topic in a public forum both unusual and courageous.

The section in the Sunday New York Times was titled "Healthy, Simple, Delicious: How the time-tested Mediterranean diet can offer real benefits, with recipes to help you get started" (top photo).

A photo the Times used as an illustration (above) is just one example. "The cultural takeover is strong," Nguyen wrote. "For example, this stock photo of a 'Mediterranean diet' includes avocado, tomato, and what looks like a knob of ginger. And, is that turmeric in the lower left?"

Nguyen, after reading the section then seeing the cartoon above in her Instagram feed, said it reminded her of the reason she started writing in the first place. "If I remained quiet and let the Mediterranean diet swallow up foods like tofu and avocados without respecting their place of origins (China and the Americas), I wouldn’t be doing my job," she wrote.

Nguyen pointed out that the section emphasizes five categories of foods as exemplars of the diet: whole grains; fruits and vegetables; legumes/beans/lentils; nuts and seeds; and finally, healthy fats. But she noted that those five categories are representative of traditional diets around the world, and referred to the Blue Zone studies that found five locations on the globe where people consistently live healthy, active lives to well over 100 years of age.

Saying it's time we came up with a broader, more inclusive descriptor for a healthy diet than one coined in the middle of the last century, she wrote, "We should learn from other cultures because they speak to our modern experiences, which is intersectional and cross-cultural. We should identify and respect what those cultures have to offer, not slide everything into a comfortable, digestible rubric."

All I can say is, "Hear, hear!"

Asparagus Risotto an Antidote to Spring's Chilly Rains

It's spring in the Northwest, which means we're getting two inches of rain in as many days thanks to an atmospheric river deciding to flow directly over the Willamette Valley, dumping its heavy load before climbing over the Cascades. The good news is that spring, being the Janus-like, capricious spirit that it is, will be whiplashing us with temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s within the week.

Until that happens, though, we still need to pull on our Muck boots and hooded parkas for another day or two and hit our local farmers' markets, many of which are fortunately opening for their regular seasons this weekend. I managed to make it to two of them, the Beaverton Farmers Market yesterday—a generous sponsor of the blog you're reading—and my intimate neighborhood King Farmers Market today.

Both were brimming with bounteous goods from growers and makers, and among other things I picked up several bunches of beautifully green asparagus to carry us through the week. Ready to go in the oven to roast, chopped into a quiche or frittata, or in a risotto like the one below, these green spears will be equally delicious grilled as is or chopped into a salad when those warm temps get here.

Spring Asparagus Risotto

1 lb. asparagus, tips removed and reserved, stalks sliced into half-inch pieces
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
Spring onion or green garlic, finely sliced (optional)
2 c. arborio rice

1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese plus more for the table
Salt to taste

Put half of the chopped asparagus stalks in the food processor and purée (add a teaspoon or so of water, if needed, until smooth). Set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. In a deep skillet or larger saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid absorb into the rice. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring frequently. Each time stock has just about absorbed into the rice, add more.

When you have used about half the stock, add the puréed asparagus, asparagus tips, plus spring onions or green garlic (if using), stirring to combine, then continue to add stock as necessary. In 5 minutes or so, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Add the cup of parmesan and stir briskly, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt. (Risotto should be slightly soupy.) Serve immediately.

Community Action Shuts Down Proposed Industrial Chicken Factories

It was a scary moment for Oregon. A giant national chicken producer, Foster Farms, was attempting to site three industrial-scale chicken facilities near Salem that would house up to 13 million chickens in notoriously crowded, closed barns

Just one of those facilities, operated on a contract with Foster Farms by Eric Simon, a longtime poultry farmer in Brownsville, would have included 11 barns measuring nearly 40,000 square feet each—a football field is just over 57,000 square feet—each one containing six flocks of up to 580,000 chickens per year, totaling 3.48 million birds. Simon's J-S Ranch received a permit in 2022 to begin construction of the industrial barns from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This was despite strenuous objections from community members and farmers in the area concerned about foul odors and toxic emissions that would threaten water quality, potentially forcing neighboring farms out of business.

A typical "free range" chicken factory, with chickens living in their own feces and urine.

Local opposition took the form of an organization called Farmers Against Foster Farms, which joined a coalition of community and environmental organizations against the plants. Amy van Saun, a senior attorney at Center for Food Safety, one of the partners in the fight, said, "ODA and DEQ cannot ignore this mega-chicken operation’s likely pollution of the North Santiam River, a federally protected waterway.”

An article in the Salem Statesman-Journal reported that a petition requesting reconsideration of the permit charged that the facility’s permit only addressed discharges to groundwater but added there was also the potential for discharges to surface water. “This includes aerial deposition of ammonia from chicken barn fans into the river, and runoff of contaminated stormwater,” and argued that four inches of compacted soil in the barns, required by DEQ, was not enough to protect groundwater, saying that other states require as much as 12 inches.

Farmers launched a simultaneous effort at the county level asking Linn Country commissioners to define where Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) could be built in the county, requesting change requiring a minimum one-mile setback from property lines on properties where new large CAFO’s may be sited.

Community residents celebrate their victory.

In the hearing commissioners heard from constituents about their concerns over protection of drinking water, local rivers, odors, ammonia emissions and proposed facilities being close to a local elementary school and church. One person called the proposed setback a “good guardrail” against the large farming operations owned by hedge funds that make profit a priority over livelihoods of local residents. 

"Some of those who testified fought back tears as they talked about their farms, whether they are relatively new to the area, or are living on land owned by their families for five generations," according to a press release from the county. After vigorous debate, commissioners voted for the one-mile setback.

Following the vote by the county commissioners, two of the three factory farms withdrew their proposals, and in April of 2024 the ODA reversed the permit for J-S Ranch ahead of a challenge that was scheduled to go on trial in early May. It was a day for communities to celebrate, helping set a precedent for other communities threatened by industrial agricultural developments.

Photos from Farmers Against Factory Farms' Facebook page.