Happy Thanksgiving!

For all of you celebrating the holiday, I hope it’s a great day full of laughter, good food, and not TOO much awkward conversation. 

The food of love

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days, and months, about rights. Constitutional rights. Human rights. Some of them are written down. Some of them are not. We just take for granted that we have them. Maybe we don’t even think about having some of them, because we’ve never been in a position to NOT have them.

No, I’m not about to get political. I promise. But, I wanted to show you a sign that hangs in the Right 2 Dream Too rest site, in downtown Portland, Oregon.

img_3235

The last letter up there is blocked, but you can probably tell it’s the word “sleep.” It says, “Sleep is a human right.”
Did you ever think about that, as you climbed into bed at night? I have been in the position of having to sleep in my car a few times over the course of my life, but still, even then, I had a car to sleep in. I could lock the doors. I had a pillow, and a blanket, and a relatively safe place to park so that I could sleep without being bothered. I could exercise my human right to sleep.

I say all of this to explain to you just what a place like the Right 2 Dream Too camp means to those who come there to sleep. As they come into the front gate, they check in with security. No weapons or drugs are allowed on the premises. If they don’t have their own bedding, a pillow and blanket are provided to them. And then, finally, they can lay their weary bodies down, close their eyes, and sleep. It is, as the organization’s website explains, “…a safe space to rest or sleep undisturbed for Portland’s unhoused community who cannot access affordable housing or shelter.” It’s there so that guests of the rest site can exercise their human right to sleep.

Early in the morning, on the last Saturday of October, under drizzly, gray Portland skies, Chef Ryan Spragg, Chef Skye Van Schetsen, and I  teamed up to serve guests of R2D2 breakfast from their on-site mobile kitchen. Under Chef Skye’s leadership, we’re members of an international group of chefs called Kitchen Warfare.

img_3226

Thanks to Suzanne Birch and the whole team at Birch Family Services in Portland, we were able to “go shopping” in the BFS food pantry, which provided us with about 90% of the supplies we needed to make the breakfast possible, including potatoes, onions, eggs, fresh pineapple and strawberries, coffee creamer, and enough bagels to fill the trunk of Skye’s car! The generous donors to our GoFundMe campaign helped pay for all the paper goods, forks, spoons, and serving utensils, plus the ever important coffee.

img_3199
img_3200

Thanks to Chef Javier at Urdaneta, a Portland tapas restaurant and Chef Ryan’s home base, we had a kitchen to use (very late into the night) to prep the ingredients for hash browns, and fresh fruit salad.

img_3220
img_3219
img_3217
Along with the hash browns, and fruit salad, we served scrambled eggs with bacon and burrata cheese, cinnamon pastries, bagels, and fresh brewed coffee.

img_3225
img_3234
As I mentioned in my last post, this was the second breakfast Kitchen Warfare’s had the privilege to serve at Right 2 Dream Too, and we’re hoping to work with them one more time in late spring of next year.  We’ve become quite fond of them.🙂

img_3237

As for me, this experience was the final push I needed to pull the trigger on plans to hit the road next year and really dig into what I’m beginning to believe is a calling… to learn more about our food system through volunteer work on community farms and homesteads, and doing more extensive work with and for organizations that care for those dealing with hunger, food insecurity, and homelessness. I’ll be making stops in New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Chicago, the Pacific Northwest, my home state of Colorado, as well as central and northern California in 2017, and I really hope I’ll be able to expand my adventures into other parts of the country in 2018. Along the way, I’ll meet up with other members of the Kitchen Warfare team to join forces for more great projects, and of course, make some new friends.

This blog will evolve into a bit of a travel/food diary. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop cooking! No way! I’ll keep sharing as many of the yummy recipes I try as I can, but you’ll also see many of my stops between kitchens. Keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages for pictures, videos, and updates, as well. I’m so excited for this journey, which is made so much better because I’ll get to share it with you all.

proxy

A Feast of Fermentation

Credit for BFR event photos: Ainslie O’Neil

Sometimes, The Universe conspires to give you a really great opportunity. Typically, it’s not some random chance, but happens as the result of something you yourself put into motion long ago. Maybe you forgot about it, but The Universe didn’t. I guess you could say this post is about the power of intention, and the momentum that can be created simply by saying a thing out loud.

Remember way back in May, when I attended the Forward Food Summit? During our lunch break, I signed up to be available as a volunteer for the Boulder Food Rescue. I didn’t have any real idea how I could be helpful, but, of course, when the form asked me about special skills I wrote down things like cooking and menu planning. Maybe I could teach a cooking class or something? I very firmly believe that community food rescues like the ones in Boulder and Denver are the key to solving our hunger crisis in this country. Being involved in this critical solution has been pretty high on my priority list for a long time now.

Fast forward to July 13th, when an email popped into my inbox with the subject line, “Seeking cook [Boulder Food Rescue].” They asked if I might be interested in helping them out with their annual fundraiser, Feast of Fermentation. I went thinking they were just looking for a volunteer to help cook some food, but after a quick meeting with Hana, the executive director of the BFR, I was officially the head chef of the whole shebang. *GULP*

The event took place on my 41st birthday– September 9th. Our menu included a baked potato bar, taco bar, sourdough waffle bar, and a brats & sauerkraut station. We had tons of great fermented food like kimchi, sauerkraut, and fermented firecracker onions donated by local producers on the menu, along with my own fermented peaches and pickled grapes, fermented Bloody Mary ketchup, and beer cheese sauce, to name just a few of the yummy toppings we created.

fof-1-of-20-1

We were expecting somewhere between 180 and 200 people to show up, but ended up with about 240. Thanks to some kind of crazy “loaves and fishes” type of miracle, everyone was well fed and happy. I guess when you’re doing good things, stuff just works out, yeah?

fof-7-of-20

Along with all that great food, attendees sampled offerings from competitors in a home brew beer competition, as well as local breweries and distilleries. They also bid on a bunch of cool items and experiences, donated by local merchants. in a silent auction. The grand total raised that night? $10,700! That money will go towards continuing the amazing programs the BFR has in place to rescue food from local grocery stores, restaurants, and community farms and gardens, and redistribute it to those in need.

I’m so proud of what we all accomplished that night, and blown away by all the amazing volunteer help we had to prep the food, serve it, set up the event space, and clean it all up at the end of the night. Seeing what a small group of very determined people can do with just a few resources and whole lot of passion has me convinced that the issues of hunger and food insecurity CAN be solved.

On a personal note, I also believe that this type of work is exactly what I’m meant to be doing. I’ll admit, I’ve been struggling to find my place in this movement. Writing about it never seemed like it would ever be enough. Now that I’ve got this event under my belt, I’m ready for what’s next!

What’s that, you ask? At the end of this month, I’ll be headed to Portland, Oregon to join fellow members of a group called Kitchen Warfare in serving breakfast to residents of the Right2DreamToo Unhoused Community rest site. This is the second such meal our group has been involved with at the R2DToo site. I had to organize the last one from here in Colorado, but this time I actually get to be on the ground. I’m so excited!

13051644_10153607771378963_413704624978006640_n

We’re looking for just a little bit of financial help to make sure we can cover the cost of food. If you’re able to help, please visit our GoFundMe page. Even $5 helps– but of course, so do prayers, good vibes, and messages of support. We’re hoping this is an effort we can continue at similar camps around the country, so our success in Portland will help provide the momentum we need to keep the love coming.

If you’re looking for a way to help out in your community, just shoot me a message at gonnacookthat@gmail.com, and I’ll help you do the research and provide suggestions. Get on board this love train, folks! There’s plenty of room.

 

 

ifbc

Demystifying Lamb: Advice Straight from the Rancher

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

“Agriculture was not always a source of pride for Sacramento.” Mary Kimball, Executive Director of Winter, California’s Center for Land-Based Learning shared that sentiment with an audience of food bloggers during an IFBC Panel on what it really means to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.

f2fpanel
That lack of pride changed when perspectives started to shift, thanks to a full on Farm-to-Fork campaign launched by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. As consumers, farmers, and retailers started to feel more connected, and the story of Sacramento’s agricultural bounty was told, it became a shared experience for everyone involved in the local food cycle, from start to finish. These days, it’s a story most Sacramento residents will gladly share.

Pride in his product came through loud and clear as lamb rancher Ryan Mahoney showed us around Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. While the bloggers on the tour peppered him with questions about everything from the stock, to feeding cycles, to how the lamb gets to market, it was easy to see his sincere interest in making sure we all “got it,” and came away with a real education. Of course, because we’re food bloggers, we quickly started digging around about flavor and recipes we could share to help home cooks get the very best from the lamb they buy, regardless of the cut. A quick peek at Ryan’s Instagram account (@californiasheeprancher) shows he eats plenty of his own product, and from chops to meatloaf, he knows what he’s doing.

The first thing we all wanted to know—what’s the difference between American lamb and the product from New Zealand and Australia? American lamb is bred for flavor, as opposed to the Merino stock the imported product comes from, which was primarily bred for wool.  That means American lambs go to market about 30 pounds bigger than the imports, on average, with more even fat distribution and better platability, which refers to the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the cooked product.

IMG_2587

I’ve heard people say they’re a little intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb at home. But I say, don’t be scared! While the flavor is different, the same basic cooking rules as the ones we follow for beef still apply.   Among the more tender cuts, Ryan says the easiest cut to cook is the center loin chop, seasoned with garlic salt, pepper and rosemary then grilled just like a steak.

Harder working, tougher muscles get lower heat with longer cooking time– think braising or stewing. He shared his family recipe for a leg of lamb.. Marinate the leg overnight in a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, lemon pepper and soy sauce. Braise it in low, moist heat in the oven, then reduce the marinade down in a pot on the stove to use as a sauce. Lamb shanks are even easier, and slow cooker friendly. His advice? “Throw ‘em in a Crock Pot with a bunch of stuff and they come out real tender and good.”

Just before sitting down to write this post, I noticed a picture of a lamb meatloaf Ryan posted to his Instagram account. I immediately asked for the recipe. He wasn’t very specific about some of the seasoning amounts, so I had to play around a little to find the right ratios. But, I think I figured out a version that worked well. We ended up with moist, juicy meatloaf that was packed with deep, complex flavor, and will make some excellent meatloaf sandwiches later in the week.  Give it a shot, and tell me what you think.

IMG_2902

Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowl
Rubber spatula, or maybe just a pair of disposable gloves if you’re mixing by hand
Loaf pan

Ingredients:
1 lb ground American lamb
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 C milk
1 egg
1 T Kosher salt
½ T lemon pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 T garlic, finely chopped
½ medium white onion, small dice
1 T fresh ginger, or ¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground sage
¼ tsp mustard powder
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3-4 shakes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Cholula)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 350°. Spray the loaf pan generously with pan spray and set aside. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until just evenly combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, evening out the top with the spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160° on your meat thermometer. Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve. Should make eight slices.

If you’re a beer fan, like me, pair it with a rich, malty Porter. Yum! Looking for other pairings? Check out this cool chart on the American Lamb Board website.

Wait, what? You don’t have a meat thermometer, you say? You don’t have a cutting board? You don’t really understand all those cuts I mentioned? Don’t fret, my pet! I just might be able to help. Thanks to the folks at the American Lamb Board, I’m going to hook up one of you with a fun little goody bag full of everything you need to get started exploring the wonderful world of American lamb.

IMG_2908

Inside the reuseable lunch bag, you’ll find a meat thermometer, a flexible cutting board, a cute little tin of a wonderful seasoning blend you can use on just about any cut of lamb, a great collection of lamb recipes as well as a little “Curriculamb” education on lamb cuts, and a few other goodies.

All you need to do to win is leave a comment below telling me your favorite way to eat lamb. If you’ve never tried it, let me know that, too. The winner will be drawn randomly at 7pm MST on Saturday, August 13th and announced on my Facebook page, so be sure to go over there and hit that “Like” button to be sure you stay in the loop.

ifbc

“…anyway, that’s my goat story.”

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog. This post, and the next one to follow, are about an excursion trip to a sheep farm just outside of Sacramento prior to the conference opening.

As many of us do in life, Ryan Mahoney plays a lot of roles. He’s a loving and attentive father, as evidenced by the concern he shows every time his seven year old daughter starts wandering around our moving tour bus as it bumps along the rocky, rural, Solano County, California farm roads. He’s a 5th generation lamb rancher, which is why he’s the guy leading a bunch of food bloggers around his family’s Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. Because his animals are grass fed, he’s a grass farmer, too.  And, at least today, it would seem the roles he was born to play are those of advocate and story teller.

IMG_2595

Each year, along with three days of tech, writing, and discovery sessions, the International Food Bloggers Conference provides its attendees the opportunity to attend additional excursions prior to the conference open. These trips could be anything from a visit to a flagship cooking equipment store, as in years past, to, as it was this year, a tour of one of the Sacramento area’s many farms and ranches that help make it America’s Farm to Fork Capital. Our tour, offered by the American Lamb Board, would take us through Solano and Yolo counties. First stop, Ryan’s family ranch.

IMG_2587

Almost as soon as we get off the bus, after a few brief introductions, Mahoney dives right into some deep waters. Perhaps recognizing that right now he’s not just representing the California lamb industry but rather all California farmers and ranchers, he explains just one of the reasons why small farms across his state are operating at a perpetual disadvantage–Federal farming regulations aren’t scaled to the size of the farm. Big, industrial operations and smaller, family owned ones like the Mahoney’s are obligated to follow the same rules.

“Smaller farms get hurt the worst…because they’re not equipped to just go hire out some person to do all their compliance work and their paperwork, whereas, the bigger guys, they’re able to. And so, you actually have a weird scenario where the economic pressures and the social pressures are forcing the smaller farms to go out of business.”

It’s not just paperwork and regulations that make running sheep a tough business. Wildly fluctuating market prices, an ever-shrinking talent pool of help qualified to work with sheep, and the animals themselves make this the kind of work not everyone is cut out for, or even wants to do. Mahoney himself didn’t start out life planning to be a rancher.

“When I was 12 years old, my grandpa put me on a thousand acre ranch. He gave me a shovel and bottle of water and he told me to cut all the stickers. And, so, I started, and was excited when he showed up at noon. I was thinking I was gonna get a relief, and he gave me a hamburger from Food Farm and a soda pop and then he turned around and drove away. And so, it was me and a guy who didn’t speak any English named Pancho, and he taught me to ask ‘Que hora es,’ which is ‘What time is it?’ in Spanish. We cut almost all the stickers on the hill. After that, I decided I didn’t want to work in agriculture because why would you wanna work that hard?”

But, life has a funny way of pulling you right back to the place you started. After high school, he headed off to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, where he pursued a degree in Religious Studies. Then, he was presented with a choice.

“Between my junior and senior year, my grandpa and my mom sat me down and basically gave me a job offer, and I looked at it, and I pretended like I had a big stack full of job offers, because, you know, Religious Studies majors, we get job offers all the time. And so, I said ‘I’ll take this back and think about it,’ and I went home and thought about it and realized, ‘Well, I’m gonna compare this to nothing, so I better try it.'”

Today, Ryan, along with other members of the Mahoney tribe, run about 1,500 head of cows, which are bred with Japanese Wagyu to create American Kobe stock that will be sold to Snake River Farms in Idaho, and of course, the sheep–5000 mother ewes, most of which will give birth to twins. The sheep are sold through a variety of market channels, but they all require the same amount of work, and for not a lot of return. And then… there’s the water issue.

According to the California Water Science Center, California is now in its fifth year of what they define as “severe drought.” The state is still under water savings measures, and with yearly snowpack run off estimates coming in below average, some have questioned the amount of water being used by the state’s agriculture industry. While he recognizes the pressure California farming puts on the water system, from the farmer’s perspective, some of the information being given to the general public is a bit misleading.

“The first one, the easiest one, is whenever you read a newspaper report that talks about water and measures it in gallons is a really disingenuous report because water, as a whole, is measured in acre feet. One acre feet is 350,000 gallons. It takes four acre feet to keep the grass green. It takes five acre feet to grow a field of alfalfa for a year. It takes two acre feet to grow a crop of tomatoes, per acre. When you’re talking about using water to grow food, it’s not water that gets wasted.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by the year 2050, world food production will need to increase by 70% to meet global food demand. With so much of California’s agricultural product leaving the state, farmers like Ryan definitely feel the weight of, literally, feeding the world.

“It’s really important that we don’t forget that food feeds the world and really California agriculture…there’s a large percentage that’s exported out, so California really does a lot to feed the world. To ignore that when you’re looking at a water budget, it really hurts a lot of people without intentionally hurting them.”

Our visit wasn’t all serious faces, though.

I know, I know. You’re wondering, “But what about the FOOD, Jordan?” Yes, of course we got some cooking tips from Ryan. Who better to ask than the guy who grows the sheep? We also visited a local brewery to hear about beer styles that pair well with lamb. We’ll dig into the “meat” (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help that) of that particular matter in the next post.

Also, I mentioned the Mahoney family’s involvement in sheep and cattle ranching, but there used to be another animal in the mix–goats. I say “used to be” because Ryan refuses to run them anymore. Why? They are apparently troublemakers, or, in his words, “…just little boogers!” He shared the story of his brief brush with goat farming, which they tried because of a feeling they needed to diversify as much as possible. One year, he decided that if they were going to run goats, he was going to do everything possible to raise really great ones. He had an irrigated clover pasture set aside just for the goats, along with brand new fences, new gates, and good water. But unlike the cows and sheep, which pretty much stay exactly where you want them to, goats tend to have minds of their own. And, well, I’ll let Ryan tell you the rest…