Archive for May, 2009

When I can’t run away to the coast …

Feisty crab

Scott Penter gets ready to weigh a crab

… the next-best thing is having the coast come to me – in the form of impeccably fresh seafood at my local farmers’ market.

And now it has, in the person of Scott Penter, an entrepreneurial young fisherman from Newport who’s invested in a state-of-the-art traveling seawater tank and chiller in hopes of expanding his market beyond the Newport docks.

I got a heads-up a couple of weeks ago from market manager Rebecca Landis that Scott had signed on to sell his catch at the Albany farmers’ market. As a passionate pescivore, I got very excited, and was crestfallen last weekend when he didn’t turn up. Communication problem, evidently, because he was there yesterday with his bright blue tank and a big sign proclaiming in red letters: LIVE CRAB.

Dungeness crab is at the top of my personal favorite seafood list, and Dungeness crab pulled out of the Pacific this morning, loaded into a tank full of chilled sea water and trucked over the Coast Range to what might as well be my front door is a wonderful thing, indeed. Especially this weekend: I’d spent Friday in Newport at a working meeting, and evening commitments drew me back inland long before I was ready to leave. Finding Scott and his rolling Seafood Outlet business at the market Saturday morning was pretty good compensation for not being able to spend the night at the coast.

So I watched (and shot pictures) as Scott fished a feisty four-pounder out of his tank, weighed it out and accepted my money, to the vast entertainment of a crowd of small children who materialized the minute Mr. Crab emerged from the tank.

Lively and pissed off

Meet Mr. Crab

In minutes, I was on my way home with a fairly irate crab in a sturdy plastic bag, which got deposited immediately in a sinkful of cold water while I put the kettle on to boil.

If you’re accustomed to buying your crab pre-killed, pre-cooked and served on a platter with a little lemon and a mess of melted butter, the thought of dealing with a live one, with all claws waving and trying to grab you, may be daunting. Me, I learned to kill crustaceans quite literally at my mother’s knee: we lived in Newfoundland when I was barely out of toddlerhood, and some of my earliest memories involve going out with my dad to buy live lobster straight from the fisherman, bringing them home and dumping them in the bathtub (where their scuttling greatly amused me and my little brother) and then watching my mom use long-handled tongs to transfer them into a giant pot of boiling water. Children are ruthless, and any trauma I might have suffered was quickly assuaged by the gustatory joy of eating lobster as the butter dripped down my chin.

I’ve grown up to be what I think of as an ethical omnivore; part of that includes not merely being aware of where my meat and seafood comes from, but being willing to deal with the bald fact that eating animals inevitably involves (someone) killing them.

If you don’t know what to do with a live crab, allow me to recommend Catching, Cleaning and Cooking Bay Crabs, a free, downloadable .pdf version of a publication from Oregon Sea Grant, which happens to be my employer. It includes instructions for killing and cleaning the crab before cooking, or (for the squeamish) cooking it first and then cleaning. The former process produces a superior result, in my opinion, and that’s what I did as soon as I got home from the market.

Nothing fancy

Crab dinner

After chilling the cooked crab for a few hours, I hauled out the butter and lemons, some crusty, locally baked Italian bread and a bottle of crisp, fruity Evolution wine from Oregon’s Sokol Blosser winery. A simple salad of baby spinach and arugula from the market with a smidgen of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese crumbled over it and I had a fabulous hot-weather supper. Half a crab is plenty for me, so I got to repeat (and photograph) the experience for lunch today.

If you shop the Albany market, check Scott’s tank next weekend. He also sells albacore tuna he caught and had canned by one of our region’s specialty canners; ask him, and he can probably tell you where he caught the fish, how much it weighed and for all I know, what the weather was like. That’s one of the joys of buying locally: You’re not only getting great fresh food, but you can learn about it from the people who produced it. It puts us closer to the food chain, and may even make us more mindful about what we eat.

I know I was mindful of that crab. I even thanked him for feeding me before I turned him into dinner.

May 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Too busy to cook, let alone blog

A busy theater rehearsal schedule and seasonal allergies have stolen my time and my brain; even when I manage to make it to the market I do little more than throw a salad together, and it’s been so long since I’ve spent time in my kitchen that the dishwasher is full – of nothing but coffee cups. My garden? Let’s not talk about it.

Don’t let that happen to you. The summer produce season is drawing near, and if you find yourself without the time or opportunity to grow your own, that shouldn’t stop you from harvesting your own – not when there are Web sites out there that tell you where to go pick.

Like, for instance, the Oregon section of, a nifty directory of U-pick farms all over the country. I see half a dozen within a 20-minute drive of my front door, offering everything from berries to beans.  Combine the list with the useful “what’s in season right now”  chart from Heavenly Harvest Farms, just down the road from here, and you’re set!

I’ll be back to blogging – and cooking, and who knows, maybe even planting – in a couple of weeks.

May 19, 2009 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

An Internet recipe box?

Quick one: I just stumbled across a potentially nifty new tool for those of us who have unmanageable lists of bookmarks – or worse yet, heaps of print-outs – of all the great recipes we’ve found on line. bills itself as an all-in-one Internet recipe box. It’s still in beta, but it seems to work well: You set up a free account, log in, and start adding recipes from your bookmarks, by searching, or by uploading your own. You can categorize them (I’m starting with an “Eating Locally” and a “Decadence” category, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about me), search, sort – and if you use the right browser*, you can even install a toolbar that will let you instantly add recipes to your box as you find them on the Web.

What it doesn’t do: Let you print, or even see the full recipe, straight from the recipe box, at least with recipes searched from the Web. In some ways, it seems to be a fancy bookmark list.

The “upload your own recipe” feature could be more accurately labeled ‘type in your own recipe.” You can keep them private or release them for others to use. However, it does provide a printable version of the recipe.

Looks useful. I wouldn’t enter my entire recipe collection in it (think of the data entry time!), but I’ll probably start using it to collect new recipes as I find or develop them.

* Don’t get me started about systems that support Firefox but don’t recognize that my preferred browser, SeaMonkey, is built on exactly the same code. Grrr …

May 7, 2009 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

Greens for body and soul

New vendor

Nature's Fountain Farm

The farmer’s market’s been open for three solid weekends, and not a recipe out of me yet. Blame a busy life, interrupted by a bad cold, both of which left me with neither the time nor the inclination to cook anything more complicated than canned soup and oatmeal.

Still, that didn’t keep me from grabbing a couple of pretty bunches of rapini from Nature’s Fountain Farm this past Saturday. It was getting near closing time, and from the size of the pile (as compared to, say, the lone bunch of radishes left on their table), I’m guessing sales of these lovely greens suffered from a collective case of “but what the heck is it, and what do you do with it?”

Clearly, not enough folks here in Western Oregon grew up with mothers from the South – of the US, or of Italy. Because those mothers know what to do with greens.

Rapini (Brassica rapa) is sometimes called broccoli raab or rabe, because its small flower heads look slightly like wee broccoli heads. It’s more closely related to mustard greens, but not quite as pungent. Personally, I’d put it midway between the mildness of kale and the pungent bitterness of mustard or turnip greens, with a nutty quality I find quite appealing. Young rapini is quite a bit more tender than kale, and doesn’t need long simmering to make it palatable.

The Italians love rapini, and feature it in fresh spring pasta dishes, typically chopped in bite-sized lengths – stems and leaves – then blanched, drained, wrung dry and sauteed in olive oil.

That’s generally how I cook it, sans pasta, and it makes a lovely side dish. Try this:

Sauteed rapini and mushroom


  • 1 bunch rapini
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Half a dozen crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp currants (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp pine nuts (optional)
  • Grated parmesan or romano cheese


Trim root ends from rapini; chop stems and leaves coarsely.

Bring a quart of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rapini, and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until bright green and tender. Drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Drain well, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze out excess water.

Wipe the saucepan dry and return to heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, the minced garlic and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to shrink. Add the currants, pine nuts and rapini; stir well to coat with oil, and continue cooking until hot and fragrant.

Toss with a little grated parmesan or romano, and serve as a side dish. Or, if you’ve been feeling puny and craving greens, eat the whole mess for dinner.

May 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

May 2009