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?


This is a Beet Cake

Roots are for dessert, too.
Beet cake

This time last year, my cousin Suzanne emailed me from Massachusetts with a beet problem. She’d gotten a bunch in her CSA box and she didn’t know what to do with them.

Naturally, I gave her my reflex recipe for beets:

“Scrub them and put them in a roasting pan, add a splash of water and seal them well with foil. Roast them at 400 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until you can pierce them with a fork. When they’re cool enough to handle, slip off their skins and cut them into wedges, slices, what have you.”

If there’s a beet in my midst, this is their fate–although I’ve been known to pickle a few, too–since this is the most versatile way to use them as a side dish with butter and salt, in a salad with feta and orange slices…

A few weeks later, she reported back that neither she nor her 4 kids liked them. I sure wish I had sent her this recipe instead.

Here you go, Suzie!

Beet Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Just like carrot cake, the veggies yield a very moist cake. The difference is the beets are pureed, so no one (i.e. children and avowed beet haters) will ever guess they’re in there! I developed this recipe for my friend Marcy who wanted a vegelicious cake for her son Evan’s birthday. (Funny, they, too, now live in Massachusetts.) Party sized, it makes 3 8-inch layers or one 11×17 sheet cake or 2 8-inch layers and 6 large cupcakes. You choose!

2 1/2 cups pureed cooked beets
6 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking soda

  1. Butter (or spray) and flour the baking pans, and if using 8-inch round pans or a sheet pan line them with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat the eggs with the beets in a mixing bowl. Combine the cocoa powder, vanilla and oil in a large measuring cup.
  3. Whisk the sugar, flour, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Add the cocoa powder mix to the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until well combined. Add the beet mixture and stir just until combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans until the mixture is about halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the pan and a wooden skewer slid into the cake’s center comes out clean. (Round layers will take 25-30 minutes; sheet cake 40-45 minutes; and cupcakes 18-20 minutes.)
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (14 ounces), room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

  1.  Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat. Cut the 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons/2 ounces) of butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and stir into the chocolate until melted. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the remaining 3 sticks (12 ounces) butter and cream cheese using the whisk attachment until perfectly smooth. Add the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the confectioner’s sugar 1 cup at a time, turning off the machine between additions to avoid spraying the sugar everywhere. Blend on medium speed until it is very smooth.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and blend until it is fully incorporated.
  5. Apply liberally to the cooled cakes. If there’s any extra, store it in an airtight container in the freezer.


Dinner 911: Baked Potato Bar

What’s atop your fresh-dug spud?

Right this very moment, while I am inside staying warm and dry, all the growers I know are putting in overtime (as if there’s anything else) to bring in the harvest. Every morning we wake to the glitter of frost and think, “How lovely!” They are thinking, “Hurry up!”

A few Sunday’s ago, my whole family pitched in at Backyard Gardens (BYG)  to unearth those tubers we so love in so many ways. (Hello, old friend stuffed baked potato.) Honestly, I thought Molly & Cece would last all of 13 1/2 minutes at the task. Yes, it’s backbreaking, it’s dirty, it’s tedious…

It’s also a treasure hunt. One that even hooks adults.

potato harvest

I was astounded to see the undying enthusiasm among everyone who helped out on that day to find every single one in the ground, to yelp with delight at the discovery of an especially humongous spud (the biggest weighed 1 3/4 pounds) and to groan when a poor helpless potato got stabbed with the garden fork. (No worries: those went into the bucket for staff lunches to come.)

As the sun slanted toward Chief Joseph Mountain, the girls helped BYG owner Beth weigh up the 100-pound bags that she’ll store and sell in bulk to her faithful customers and CSA members.

I think the crew would have worked ’til sundown (we harvested 650 pounds but didn’t even get to fork up those darlin’ fingerlings) if I didn’t call them all to supper.

A potato bar with all the fixin’s: sauteed chard, caramelized onions, black bean chili, homemade salsa, goat cheese, cheddar cheese, feta cheese–and all the butter and sour cream you could stand–was laid out on a table in the field.

With hands scrubbed as best we could, we sat on overturned buckets and feasted on those fresh-dug potatoes. Each person made their own combination of toppings for a personalized loaded potato to love. (Molly went for the classic butter and sour cream, Cece ventured into the black bean territory while I piled on chard with those onions and goat cheese, a trio I heartily recommend for your baked potato bar.)

In my searching for good toppings, I found few items you cannot put on top of a boiled/baked/microwaved/steamed whole potato in its jacket. They’re ideal for leftovers from curried vegetables to beef stew or even thick soups. And when the fridge is bare but for a lump of cheese and a limp broccoli stock? Put it on a hot potato.

potato harvest 2

We’re officially adopting this “happy meal” into our dinner rotation when homework and sports put a premium on quick and easy or what we parents call Dinner 911. I’m even thinking that this is the ideal menu for a Halloween Party.

So tell me, what are your favorite toppings for an out-of-the-ordinary baked potato?