Daily Logs: June 12, 2012

June 12, 2012   No Comments

Pink salmon cakes


It’s so nice to be cooking again and to have a friend to cook for. Salmon cakes, steamed broccoli, and plain quick quinoa. Quick, easy, yummy.

Salmon cakes: one can wild pink salmon, one egg, little bit flour, little bit parsley, one stalk celery, leftover half onion, spring onion we were trying to finish, splash of sesame oil, sprinkle salt. Makes six.

I don’t know a ton about sustainable seafood, but I have it on good authority (clever fish scientist friends + monterey bay aquarium) that pink salmon’s an especially good choice. Not pricey either. 

January 12, 2012   No Comments

Sugar Beets in Saginaw

I love airports and airplanes. I love the feeling of being between places, in transition. And I love the anonymity — it’s the best of places for watching people, and also for meeting folks you might not otherwise meet on the street.

Yesterday, when I squeezed into Seat 14F (a window seat), it just so happened that the man already occupying the middle seat was a farmer. I noticed this, not because of any hint from his dress or demeanor, but because when he kindly got up to let me in,  I noticed his bag — a freebie from some sort of national ag association.

So I asked him about it and he told me that he was a farmer who grew sugar. “Beets?” I asked, and his face lit up. “You must know farming then?” he said. “Well, kinda,” I shrugged, and told him where I worked, and about my brief farming experience.

We talked the rest of the flight — about his clever daughters and about how my parents met and about the time he took his son to the Rose Bowl. I found out that in addition to farming part-time with his son, my new friend was a crop insurance agent and a representative of the Michigan Bean Commission. He traveled around the world to trade shows and meetings marketing Michigan dry beans: azukis, great northern, black beans, to name a few. He had been recently to Cancun and Barcelona and was soon off to Paris.

Apparently, Saginaw is the capitol of dry beans and sugar beets in Michigan. Sugar beets, in case you didn’t know, make sugar — the regular white grainy kind you pour into your coffee or sprinkle on your cereal (do people still do that?). Saginaw Valley, where lots of these beets are grown, lies between the thumb and forefinger of the Michigan glove, about two hours by car from the metro Detroit airport. My friend explained that people grew sugar beets there because the processing plants were nearby in the thumb. This awesome article from MSU tells more about the history of sugar beet production and processing in the state.

Beyond beets, I also learned a little bit about crop insurance. My friend had been in DC to chat with folks at the USDA and on the Hill about the crop insurance business and the proposed cuts to crop insurance in Obama’s 2011 budget. It was fascinating to hear his perspective — “Why should the government penalize me for making a profit?” — and compare it to the perspective I share with the Obama administration and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition where I work:

From Obama’s 2011 budget proposal: “Crop-insurance companies currently benefit from huge windfall profits due to the structure and terms of the Government’s contract with the companies.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “a USDA study showed that a reasonable rate of return on equity for private crop-insurance companies is 12.8%, but the average now is 16.8%. USDA data show government payments to crop insurers have more than doubled in recent years, jumping from $1.8 billion in 2006 to $3.8 billion in 2009 while the total number of policies held by farmers has declined.”

Add to this the fact that my friend explained that until recently, when a former employee set up shop and became competition, he was the only insurer in his local area. I felt less sympathetic then to his side of the story, but it made me remember once again that in the end, farmers are businessmen and to him, these cuts might mean that he won’t be able to pay for his adventurous daughter to study abroad in Paris or to help his son buy land to start his own farm. And there’s the rub of government — how do you distribute resources equitably? How do you re-distribute when something’s not working — it seems much easier to give than to take something away.

March 26, 2010   4 Comments

Are you making fun of me?

My boyfriend Jaime sent this to me. He is on his way to becoming a fancy scientist who studies the impacts of salmon farms on wild salmon populations. He is incredibly supportive and, if you can’t tell, he has a sense of humor.http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/100709/overeducated-dirt-hoeing-expert.gif

from Toothpaste for Dinner

February 24, 2010   1 Comment

Awesome food safety poster and something you can DO now.

This poster was made by Veritable Vegetable for the Wild Farm Alliance.

It’s a spoof on food safety regulations that make it very difficult for growers to maintain ecologically sound growing practices (like buffers and vegetation that might provide habitat) and nudge them towards less desirable habits — like using fences, traps and poison to keep wildlife away — that undermine biodiversity and may not actually have the desired effect on food safety.


If you can’t read the tiny print. The top three read left to right: “Toxic Pesticides, Toxic Fertilizer, Fueled by Fossil Fuels” “Unknown Food Value” and “Unknown Pathogens”

The blue part says “Please grow only between the red and yellow flags. The food is patrolled for the safety of YOUR food system.”

To read a great article on alternative strategies to improve food safety while maintaining biodiversity and supporting small farms with good stewardship practices, check out this awesome report by Food and Water Watch.

If you care about the issue and want to act, consider calling your senator and asking s/he to support Senator Stabenow’s Food Safety Training bill that would help deliver training and technical assistance to small farms to help them provide safer food.

Funny how much the poster reminds me so much of these (real) signs in Singapore. But I’ll have to leave those thoughts for another post!


February 3, 2010   No Comments

Washington Farm Intern Bill Hearing

I’m not sure who to blame for my historic lack of interest in politics or public policy. I’m loathe to admit that until (very) recently I contributed to the dismal statistics of “young apathetics.” Like many, the 2008 election piqued my interest, but the effect was dampened by distance and humidity — watching events unfold from rural Cambodia just wasn’t the same as dancing in the streets in the Mission in SF.

But now, I’m starting to understand and really care. I’ve seen small policy take shape first-hand and it’s exciting. And I’m starting to see how much policy matters in the issues that move me.

While on the farm, Peter and Susan invited me to come along to a meeting of the Agricultural Resources Committee — a group which advised the County government on agricultural policy. The ARC was discussing farm intern policy in response to a situation in which the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) began to audit local farm’s internship practices. The state’s labor law does not currently recognize farm internships as a valid worker category unless interns are registered students at a recognized educational institution.

Thanks to work by local farmers and activists, that first conversation eventually developed into a bill sponsored by Senator Kevin Ranker, a major small farm advocate in the state. The bill will establish principles for small farm internships in the state, and will allow farms to offer internships at less than the minimum wage, given specific requirements including an internship agreement signed by the farmer and the intern which includes some sort of record of the educational/vocational component of the arrangement.

The law will make it possible for small farms to continue to hire and train a new generation of young farmers without undue financial burden. This is not meant as a way for farms to dodge the law or gain unfair advantage, but rather as a way for them to provide a much-demanded public service of educating young would-be farmers.

Now, the bill’s having its public hearing:

“Senator Ranker’s SB 6349, establishing a farm internship program, has been scheduled for public hearing before the Labor Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee on January 28th at 3:30 pm. The Senator hopes that he has several farmers and interns at the hearing. The latter will be critical in order for the bill to pass. Please pass this along to stakeholders and those who are willing to provide testimony during the public hearing.”


The tool stand in Synergy Farm’s barn

I can’t make it to Seattle, but I did write a letter of support:

Dear Senator Kohl-Welles,

I am writing in support of Washington State Senate Bill 6349, the proposed law on farm interns. As a farm intern in the San Juan Islands, I participated in the early stages of development of the bill within the San Juan County Agricultural Resources Committee and am very excited to see it move forward in the Washington state legislature.

From April to September of 2009, I apprenticed on Synergy Farm on San Juan Island with Peter and Susan Corning. During my six months at Synergy, I gained hands-on experience and knowledge about sustainable farming, plant cultivation, and the business of running a small farm.

I came to my interest in agriculture through work in Cambodia, and the experience at Synergy has been an invaluable step in my career and personal development. Now I plan to return to graduate school to study sustainable business, with an emphasis on developing local economies and food systems. I would eventually like to run my own farm and value-added food business, very likely in Washington State. The season I spent at Synergy laid a strong foundation to pursue these goals and strengthened my desire to farm in the region.

This bill would make it possible for small farms like Synergy to continue to offer hands-on technical training for a future generation of farmers and I hope you support it in the upcoming hearing.

Very sincerely,

Jess Daniel

January 27, 2010   1 Comment

Capital Capitol soup + Seeded Buttermilk Crackers

I’m in DC! Until May!

And it’s wonderful so far.

After a brief work-jaunt to Santa Fe, I’ve settled into a lovely house with awesome housemates, gotten down into work at the office, hung out with old friends and made a few new ones.

New Friends

Introducing, Marcie, a friend of a friend from the islands. We met for first time at the farmer’s market (where else) last weekend for squash and coffee; it was, needless to say, an encounter of kindred spirits.

This Wednesday we inaugurated what I think’ll be an especially fruitful cooking partnership.


I didn’t feel like trekking to the market and the pickings were slim. Since I just arrived a week ago, I was lacking some of my usual stockpile of goodies, but I figured a little bit of creativity and some love could yield something good. On hand: rapini on sale at Whole Paycheck, a jar of white beans, yukon golds, chicken broth, and some hot Italian sausage from Cibola Farms out in Virginia. It had been a grey day, so I was thinking soup. Marcie was in agreement.

Sausages in soup

The sausage made the meal.

Cibola Farms raises free-range heritage Tamworth pigs and grassfed bison. Buffalo-pork cranberry sausage? Buffalo summer sausage? Yum! I’m curious how they process their buffalo because a source in New Mexico mentioned that the USDA inspector charges some ridiculous hourly rate to inspect “exotic animals” like bison at their mobile slaughter facility. A question for the next market.

The sausage is made by Simply Sausage, a company out in Landover, MD that packages sausages for a number of different farmers. They’ve featured recently on Smithsonian.com in this sausage-making video

Plus their website has a friendly page on storing extra sausage.

So the soup was a success: sauteing the onions and garlic until the smell wafted upstairs into my bedroom where I could smell it 3 hours later, throwing in the harder stem ends of the rapini and the potatoes, then the broth, then the sausage as an afterthought (may have been even better if we had thought to brown it with the onions). Last the leafy bits of the veg, the beans (canned and already cooked), and a healthy dose of chili powder — not an entirely intentional pour, but an entirely welcomed one.


And to go along, I made a batch of the buttermilk crackers that’ve been a table staple recently. So so simple, and so so delicious, although in this case they were slightly more difficult to make since our kitchen lacks a proper baking tray. I flipped over a smallish roasting pan and used the bottom. The crackers got mostly crispy, but I definitely need to invest in a proper pan.

capital-capitol-soup capital-capitol-soup-2

Seeded Buttermilk Crackers

Adapted from Raley’s Store Website

I generally only bake half the batch at a time. It makes quite a few crackers. To store the rest of the dough, keep in an air-tight plastic baggie in the freezer and remove a couple of hours before you’re ready to bake.

3 cups flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup buttermilk plus 2 tbsp for brushing
1 tablespoon each, sesame, poppy, cumin, and caraway seeds
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 400F.

1) Sift together flour, baking soda, table salt and pepper. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or fork until well-distributed and the flour ends up in little peas.

2) Stir in buttermilk until the mixture turns to a soft dough. Knead several times on a lightly floured board until the flour is worked in, but don’t overdo it or your crackers will get tough.

3) Separate a walnut-sized chunk and roll out on a floured board as thinly as possible — I keep rolling until I can see the table underneath.

4)  Carefully transfer to a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper or sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Brush the cracker with buttermilk and sprinke with seeds and sea salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool, then break into large pieces.

January 24, 2010   4 Comments

Nine Baby Chicks

I’ve been stressing about my graduate school applications and Christmas and my impending move to DC. All actually very happy things, but I’m finding it all overwhelming.

Thankfully, I have these little guys to put things in perspective.


We picked up a new batch of chicks at Kruse’s Feed this weekend. They were the first chicks they’ve had in in a long time because the hatchery has been running out. My dad talked to the manager who explained that backyard chicken raising has become so popular that they just don’t have enough (girl) chickens to keep up.

Last month we processed 10 of our chickens who had stopped laying so that we could get started with another group. It seems somewhat morbid to consider the death that these adorable little creatures might someday end up in the pot too, but I eat meat and I know that whatever meat I eat was once, at some point, a cute animal, so I try to take good care of them and be properly thankful for what they provide for me.


I’m going to go out to the garage right now to say hi to them, and then it’s back to personal statements. What matters most to me and why — in 750 words or less. Oh. My. Lord.

December 8, 2009   11 Comments

Rabbit-Proof Fence for my baby brassicas

I miss working on the farm. I miss being outside and working and getting really dirty and tired doing things. I miss looking scrubby and frumpy and not minding because I was watching things grow. I’ve only done a little bit of gardening since getting home. My dad and I made some flatting boxes so I could start some seeds, and I had some healthy chard, little broccoli and random Asian greens going.

Sadly, my lettuce never germinated… I think it was too hot even though I kept them in a shady spot. I’m going to try again now that it’s cooled down.

But anyway, I prepped a bed to take the baby brassicas. Not quite double-digging, but loosening up the dirt to about 12 inches with a spading fork and adding in some sifted compost from a batch I started last time I was home in December.

I transplanted forty or so seedlings — chard and a bunch of brassicas — late in the afternoon, optimal time, and gave them a good sprinkle. I came back the next couple of days to check on them and they seemed to be adjusting very nicely to their new surroundings.

Then just before Thanksgiving, I went out to the garden to behold carnage…


Something nasty had gotten to my little plants.

My first thought was DEER. Then I remembered where I was… in the middle of suburban Orange County. We barely see squirrels. I wondered if opossums ate broccoli? My mom guessed it was a bug, but I wasn’t convinced. I hadn’t seen any snails or slugs or really anything much other than pill bugs and earthworms and the damage was so fast and so total. Plus, whatever it was was discerning. They ate all the tender baby mustards and left the chard. Picky pests.

On Thanksgiving, I brought my grandma out to see the carnage. She didn’t have a clue, so I asked her to do some sleuthing next time she was on a volunteer shift at our local arboretum. By Saturday I had my answer.



The plant expert said that a snail or bug would eat the plant down to the roots, not just the leaves. And immediately, I remembered riding my bike down the street early in the day a while back and noticing a cute little bunny. Now, not so cute.

So today, I made a fence.


Makeshift, but I think it’ll do the trick. If not, I can always go collect some cat pee to sprinkle around the perimeter.


I wonder if rabbits like spinach or arugula?


Or little pea shoots? They are pretty gourmet. I guess I have to go on a little scavenger hunt for materials for a second fence!

December 2, 2009   4 Comments

A San Bernadino Wine Picnic

Some family friends invited me and my parents out for a wine picnic last weekend. Napa and Sonoma are known as wine kings today, but in the past, the Southland (and San Bernadino in particular) boasted acres of vineyards and a number of well known vintners.

As you can see by the bottle sagging with the weight of its medals, some products like Rancho de Philo’s Triple Cream Sherry can still hold their own.


Our first stop was at Rancho de Philo in Alta Loma. Each year, the winery opens up for just one week for sales to the public. We munched on snacks and tasted the different vintages, while other from our party stood in line to pick up their year’s supply.  The wine’s made from mission grapes brought over way-back-when by the Spanish missionaries. The founder, Philo Blaine learned his sherry-making techniques back in Spain and then passed them on to his daughter Janine who runs the place now with her husband, Alan.

Janine was standing outside and handed me this sample as she talked about her childhood, growing up and learning the grapes.


Later, we headed over to Galleano winery in Mira Loma, not too far away. We drove down the freeway, through some suburbs and a couple of car dealerships and ended up at a driveway turn-in that looked a little like the entrance to a corporate park.

Instead of manicured lawns and tortured palms, we were greeted by a beautiful oasis of rural calm. We pulled out our picnic gear, and went to coo over the donkeys and guinea pigs before settling down to our meal.


I brought buttermilk lavash crackers and rosemary-meyer lemon bean dip.


And arugula and cherry tomato pasta salad with fresh herb sauce (everything from the garden!)


It was a seriously impressive spread — just the kind of thing to fill your stomach before wine tasting!


Mini pickles, quiche, black beans, corn & red pepper salad, wild rice salad, crudites, and fresh mozzarella & tomatoes on lettuce.




Another wonderful place to add to the Good Food Map:

Other articles about Rancho de Philo, Galleano, and San Bernadino Wine Country

November 25, 2009   No Comments