Rancher & Farmer Wisdom

Patrick Thiel of Prairie Creek Farm knows the ins & outs of spuds
Patrick Thiel

By far, my most favorite part of running the Lostine Tavern is talking with, learning from and purchasing foods from the array of local producers here in the Wallowas.

I’m lucky, because I’ve known most of the them for years now. But I am only beginning to grasp their deep knowledge of their products and how it can help us make better food. A potato is not just a potato, an egg is not like another egg, and no two types of beef are the same. The natural and seasonal variations are the culinary beauty of locally produced foods.

It reminds me of when I was in Provence and a grower had giant stalks of cardoons–a vegetable related to thistle–and he told me the best way to prepare it. Similarly, in Mexico, it was talking to the chile vendors that I learned how to make enchilada sauce and mole.

So I pay attention when a rancher tells me that their Corriente beef is best cooked no more than medium rare. Or grower who informs me to wait on the parsnips until spring when they’ll be sweeter. Or that the purple majesty potato will be perfect for roasting.

There is a lot to learn from these folks. I’m listening.

We need to listen to them for other reasons, too. Because it’s not enough to celebrate farmers and ranchers. We need to find ways to support them so that sustainable agriculture is just that. Sustaining as a livelihood for those who dedicate their lives to raising good food.

I certainly don’t have solutions, but this op-ed I wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Has Farm-to-Table Helped the Actual Farmer Yet? is a summary of some thoughts I’ve had. I’m hoping it kicks off a nice, long dialog.

Go ahead, I’m listening.

Let’s Stop & Have Tea

(Re)start wherever you are.
My chai

Last weekend at the tavern, I served dinner to a woman who told me she’s been a longtime follower of this blog.

“Gosh, I haven’t written anything in so long!” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I wish you would again.”

That small suggestion, added to my own inner voice to get back to my blog brings me here again at last. It’s been eight lightning-quick months since the Lostine Tavern opened, and I’m just finding my writing life again.

Whew! I don’t think I possibly could catch you up with all of it. In fact, that’s the daunting part that’s kept me from coming to these “pages” with episodes from the local foods lifestyle.

You know that feeling, don’t you? The card you don’t send to an old friend because you feel the need to write a long letter instead of a simple but heartfelt message. But it’s the act of reaching out that’s the important part. Not even what you say or how you say it or how long the paragraphs.

“To begin, begin,” wrote Wordsworth. We’re all too busy to catch up, so let’s just begin…again.

Hello. It’s good to be back in touch. There is a lot going on here–the routine, the unpredictable, the exciting, the inspiring.

On days like today when I’m not completely overwhelmed, when I appreciate how we are managing to open the doors regularly and feed people good, mostly local food, when I can lift my head out of my to-do lists, I’ll pause to fill you in on what’s on our plates.

In the meantime, sip on this homemade chai I’ve been enjoying on my day off. I make mine with whole pastured milk and honey from 6Ranch.

Talk soon.

Pastured Milk Chai Tea with Honey

Of course you can use any milk or a combination of milk and water (up to half and half), but whole pastured milk is the very best way to enjoy this tea. The blend of aromatics–including fennel, orange and vanilla–is my spin on the traditional chai mix.

3 cups whole pastured milk
3 2-inch long strips orange rind
6 1/4-inch coins fresh ginger
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods, cracked
1/8 teaspoon whole fennel seed
pinch cayenne
3 drops vanilla
4 teaspoons best quality black tea
1/4 cup honey or more to taste
candied ginger (optional)

  1. Bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan with the orange rind, ginger, cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, fennel seed, cayenne and vanilla. Cover and steep off the heat for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Strain the aromatics from the milk and return it to the pot.
  3. Heat the milk to a simmer and add the tea and honey. Stir, cover the pot and steep for 4 minutes.
  4. Strain the chai and serve yourself with a couple pieces of candied ginger. Store any extra in the fridge and reheat on the stove top or microwave.

Pickling for a Living

Surprisingly, I’m building a business on pickles.spring pickles

A month ago, I introduced you to my biggest endeavor to date, my current preoccupation, my new baby: the Lostine Tavern. Every single day, things are happening, especially now that the building is plumbed and wired. (If you’ve ever remodeled your home, you understand that every bit of infrastructure arcana is exciting. Oh, and the baby analogy serves here, too.)

While my biz partner Peter Ferre and I are choosing our light fixtures, finalizing our seating and creating a fantastic menu (go here to weigh in on deli sandwiches and more), I have a pressing need to get into the kitchen and start pickling.

No big deal, right? I mean, I’ve been a devoted pickler for years now. Using Benjamin’s Aunt Lydia’s basic formula, I start with the spring asparagus from Walla Walla and keep that brine happening beyond the beet harvest. I bring jars of spicy asparagus to potlucks, open escabeche for taco night and garnish charcuterie plates with gherkins.

Here’s the difference: I am about to pickle on a scale I have never before imagined. And, I have to produce them in time for our opening, slated for May 15. That is exactly 51 days/1224 hours away/untold 5-gallon buckets of brine from today.

Every backer of our crowdfunding project at every reward level will get an LT pickle. Of our 66 backers to date, some people will certainly want a half sour. For some a pickle is always a cucumber.

You may note, it’s March, a good four months from cucumber season. But running a restaurant is creative problem solving just like this, and it fires me up.

With every donation, another pickle. I am counting pickles, planning for pickles, looking for vegetables to pickle: carrots, beets, asparagus, onions, potatoes and imported cukes. I call my friends in my network of producers. Do you have anything I can pickle?

I am looking into the world of pickles more vast and complex than I’ve known before. Pickle as metaphor?

All of which leads me to this burning question: What’s the most unusual pickle you’ve ever had?

Trying Paleo on for Size

How do you feel about the paleo diet?
DK burger

When my cookbook on grassfed beef came out, a lot of people told me to send it to the paleo folks. I honestly did not know a lot about paleo diets, other than the fact that they were very, very popular. Which, when you are launching a book is a big heads up.

The problem with my book for paleo devotees, I knew, was that it had way too much grain in it. I adore whole grains of all kinds–bulgur, wheat berries, rice, multigrain bread–and my recipes had these ingredients scattered all over the place.

When a friend loaned me The Paleo Diet, I opened it thinking that maybe I’d give the diet a try. After turning a few pages, I knew that I simply could not, would not (in a plane, in the rain…) prepare and consume that much meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All that bone broth and organ meats were a turn off.

[I will say that there are several paleo blogs where the food looks diverse and amazing, like nomnompaleo, and if Michelle ever wants to quit all her jobs and come be my personal chef, I will convert at once.]

I know. Weird coming from the author of a beef cookbook. But, if you know me by now, you understand that I like a little meat with a lot of salad or veggies. I’m the gal who orders the entree because and only because of the side dishes that come with it.

While in Portland last week, I had lunch at Dick’s Kitchen. I’ve known about Dick’s for a long time because all their meat comes from Carman Ranch located here in the Wallowas. At last, I would meet its founder and namesake Richard Satnick.

Having lunch with Richard was a bit like going to a museum with the curator. Instead of a narrow lens, I saw the whole menu through his concept, his principles and the health issues that motivated him to build a dining empire from dietary restrictions. There were vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options as well as complete menus within what Richard calls the “Paleolithic paradigm.” (Gawd, I just love that.)

I’ve often resisted diets that are about what you give up rather than what you get. However, I’m lucky that I do not have any food-related allergies or sensitivities and neither do my husband or kids. But I look at the school lunch menu each week and the restaurant offerings and our American diet in general and often think, “There are way too many breads and starches for anyone here.” (Then, when you find out about foaming agents used to give these 500+ bread products more loft, it’s like pure science fiction but not.)

At Dick’s, I ate the most juicy and full-flavored grassfed burger on kale salad I’ve ever had. There was no lack, especially with the homemade ketchup. I devoured the yam “not-fries” while sipping my raspberry kombucha.

I especially appreciated that, as a mom, I could bring my kids (who were home in Joseph being fed by Dad) to Dick’s Kitchen and feel good about what they were eating no matter what they ordered. (No more guilt over root beer and hot dogs.) I loved the fact that whole groups of people–families, friends, co-workers–can gather and eat together and everyone can have exactly what they need to feel good and live better.

Now, back at home, I’m going to try to master that perfect DK hamburger seared to a crisp in a cast-iron skillet. I just happen to have a little bit of grassfed ground beef on hand.

Meet My Tavern

Hi there. I’d like you to meet the Lostine Tavern.Lostine Tavern.2-25-14

It’s been keeping me away for the past few months. It’s surprising how occupying a filthy, old gutted building can be. Well, not that I’ve spent too much time in there in actuality. It’s freezing!

In my head, I’m there nearly all the time. You see, this May I plan to open, or I should say, re-open the Lostine Tavern. It’s a beloved old place, but really it needed an overhaul and an upgrade from floor to ceiling.

Truth be told, I haven’t even let myself think too much about the food. Perhaps that’s also why I’ve been so quiet. Buried in numbers and bottom lines and projections, my brain has not taken too much delight in food at all. Just ask my family. There’s been little whimsy at the table. As they say around here, “Just get ‘er done.”

Good news is, I’m emerging from the depths of restaurant financials to a brighter, livelier place. I can start to envision the room where people will gather and eat. I can hear the heavy hum of conversations. I can almost smell the food…

But I’m not totally there yet. Because I’m scared, you see. Having a tavern feels like the biggest thing I’ve taken on to date. It’s public and personal all at the same time.

Still, I’m excited to think out loud here at Rural Eating. To bounce ideas off of you. Try recipes. Experiment. Have fun.

Are you in?