The evolution of (Rebecca's) chicken soup

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Back in 1979 when I was just learning to cook, one of my best friends who had a busy, young family introduced me to a simple cookbook from Vermont: The Bakery Lane Soup Bowl. I think she cooked most of her meals out of this book. It was primarily a book about soup, salad, and bread, with beautiful sketches of vegetables, herbs, and chickens. It was the first cookbook I had seen that was not of the Joy Of Cooking variety. Their family often had my husband and me over for dinner on Sundays, and we almost always enjoyed a new preparation from the book. My absolute favorite was the Shaker Chicken and Noodle Soup: a creamy chicken soup thick with noodles and large chunks of white meat. I bought the book and enjoyed cooking out of it for years. One day while packing up the house for the big move to Oregon, I let it go along with most of the rest of our possessions. I only had room for the latest favorite cookbooks.

Of course, I continued to make the chicken soup as I remembered it. Over time, it morphed into so many different renditions. Chicken soup is rather forgiving; as long as you begin with broth that has real integrity, you can add any variety of vegetables and meat, make it creamy, or keep it clear. I suppose when my children were younger, it all stayed pretty tame and traditional: broth, deboned chicken, celery, carrots, parsley, and rice or noodles. As they became older, I became a bolder cook in general and really began cooking without a recipe most of the time.

Nowadays, I first focus on the broth. Whenever I roast a chicken, all of the remains (including any leftover meat ) go right back in the pot to simmer overnight on a very low flame covered with water. I’ll toss in a bit of white wine or vermouth, salt, pepper, whatever herbs I have on hand, an onion, a whole carrot, and any other vegetable bits that need to be used up. The next morning, I strain out the broth into a glass bowl and refrigerate it. Sometimes the broth goes directly into the freezer, while other times it stays in the fridge. I often sip on cups of it throughout the week, but if it happens to become soup, I am confident this broth will provide the perfect base. Couple the broth and leftover meat with any number of vegetables, herbs, potatoes, or dumplings and you are now practicing bricolage in your kitchen, learning how the different ingredients lend their flavor and texture to the finished product. 

Since I acquire most of my food from Rainshadow Organics, my chicken soup changes seasonally.

In the summer it is full of spring onions, zucchini, peppers, fennel, dill, and fresh tomatoes. In the fall, it may have more carrots, lovage, potatoes, and cream in it. Wintertime soups usually include cabbage and potatoes, squash, celeriac and kale, and in the spring, spinach, green onions, peas, and asparagus. The possibilities are virtually endless! To create a heartier soup, top each bowl with creme fraiche or some grated hard cheese and a grilled crouton.

Last week, I was meandering through my favorite thrift store. There in the stack of cookbooks was an original pristine copy of The Bakery Lane Soup Bowl. I recognized the font immediately and its classic late seventies style. Standing in the store, I poured over the recipes, being reminded so viscerally of that time in my life.

Nostalgia took hold. I made my $1.00 purchase and went straight home to make the Shaker Chicken Noodle Soup, 

But, this time around, I added a few more things........  

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Rebecca Sokol

Rebecca works at Rainshadow Organics in Sisters, OR, both as a farmer and as one of the chefs at the Longtable dinners. She is passionate about bringing local, organic food into the forefront of her community and home, and loves nothing more than her table filled with family and friends. Her Mediterranean roots, spending summers north of Barcelona over the course of eighteen years, along with working many seasons in the fine dining industry have influenced her palate and sensibility in the kitchen. She has four grown children and loves the community of Sisters Or., which has been her home since 1996.

Doing my best to form good eating habits for my kids (it's not always easy...)

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It’s a miracle: tonight, my four year old actually ate his roasted chicken. It probably helped that I cut it into tiny, bite-sized pieces. And instead of serving him a side of steamed purple viking potatoes with green onions, I gave him plain ol’ carrot sticks.  

“This is a real chicken?” he asked incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually liking it.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “A real chicken. From the farm.”

It’s not like this is the first time I’ve served chicken that actually looks like chicken. But, I’ve come to learn that kids need a lot of exposure. Often times, I roast the bird whole, but it was Monday. I had prepared myself for the week by cutting up a chicken the day before and marinating it overnight to facilitate a quick-and-easy weeknight meal. That meant it was in distinct pieces, which tends to be more approachable than the sight of a whole bird (neck and all when it comes straight from the farm). Even chicken on the bone has proved too exotic for some visiting children at my table; they only know it boneless, breaded, and shaped.

Meanwhile, my twelve-year-old was eying the chicken wing I was holding, which I inadvertently pulled apart into two pieces. I rarely clip the wing tips before cooking, which doesn’t affect the cooking time at all but it does give the piece an awkward, bent-wing look. Too much for my kids to handle! Over the years, my roasting method has developed to create chicken meat that effortless pulls away from the bones. It was easy once I became unafraid of cooking at high temperatures! For cut chicken like this, it’s 50 minutes or more in a 425 degree oven. As a bonus, the fat renders out into the meat at these temperatures, keeping everything juicy without giving it a gristly feel. 

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When it comes to feeding kids…

there’s a huge difference between the chicken on the left and the one on the right!

As I pulled on the wing tip, it transformed into two shapes that resemble the wings on any platter you’d get at a restaurant. This caught my son’s eye as he poked wanly at the kale stuck to the bottom of his chicken breast. I pitied him and gave him a one of the two pieces.

When he finished, he licked his fingers and said, “If there are any more of those, I want them.”

“Well, there are only two wings on every chicken you know,” I said, gesturing across the table towards the wings on his dad’s plate. “Think about that the next time you’re at a restaurant and order chicken wings.”

“Only two!” his four-year old brother pantomimed.

“Yeah,” I replied, turning back to the twelve-year old. “Two wings, legs, breasts, and thighs. It’s a symmetrical bird, so two of everything.”

He picked up his fork and started in on the breast. The crispy, fatty taste of the wing must have made him desirous for more. In no time, he finished it. Poking at his potatoes, he turned one over to reveal that I hadn’t peeled them (it’s a weeknight meal, who has time for peeling?). “You can eat the skin?” he asked, his nose wrinkled.

Purple viking potatoes, our favorite all-purpose potato for roasting, mashing, or frying.

Purple viking potatoes, our favorite all-purpose potato for roasting, mashing, or frying.

Seriously? I had served potatoes with skins on a hundred times in his lifetime. “Yeah,” I said as brightly as I could, expecting more protest. Before he had a chance, I bucked up and added cheerfully, “It’s good for you. There’s extra vitamins and minerals in the skin.”

Or something like that. He went for it and tentatively placed one in his mouth. Then, another, and another, until he finished them right off. It helped that I had scooped him a portion with relatively few green onions (aka “the green stuff”) pasted to them. And, instead of splashing the batch with malt vinegar and salt like the portions for my husband and me, I slathered some butter and salt on his. It worked!


Kids definitely up the challenge of cooking seasonally with real ingredients, but when they like it, it’s so rewarding. Of course, for every success story, I have ten failures! I’ll admit, it gets me down sometimes, but we just keep at it. We have to be relentless and not take the easy way out if we want them to learn how to eat in a healthy way.

How do you keep up the good fight in the formation of good eating habits for the children in your lives? We could all use some tricks and tips, so let us know yours!

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Dawn Bernhardt

Dawn owns over 50 cookbooks and has been writing seriously for ten years. The youngest of six children raised in the Upper Midwest, she moved to Seattle in 1999. After sixteen years in the city, she and her family left their comfortable Ballard neighborhood and moved to an off-grid homestead across the road from Rainshadow Organics in 2015. A long-time advocate of CSA, Dawn became the pilot consumer/processor of Rainshadow's full-diet, free choice offering. She is passionate about cooking from scratch as a means for both cooling the planet and offering personal enlightenment.

Making dinner from nothing

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Wow…an empty fridge. Today has been too crazy to consider making dinner from scratch, but what option do I have? Ran 5 tanks of gas through my husband's huge chainsaw because mine was giving me fits. Got a couple truckloads of firewood bucked up. Its snowing. I'm cold and my body is starting to tighten up. I haven't eaten since breakfast, and things are looking a little desperate.  

Okay, don't just stare blankly, Sarah...move some things around in there. Maybe there’s a hidden gem in here that can be eaten, I just need to find it! Ah, a package of ground beef that my husband decided not to use the other night at his buddy's house; that’s a good stop. What about that kale gratin that Wendy dropped off a week ago, that has to be eaten for sure. Some wilty greens in the drawer and a limp half-bunch of green onions from a harvest 2 weeks ago will do nicely. And then there are the frozen peppers from summer in the freezer–those always save me! A box of lard, yes, I will definitely be needing that. With the exception of pickle juice, I guess that's all I've got without a trip to the cellar.

If I spend the time to harvest those greens, you better believe I’m going to eat them (wilted or not!).

If I spend the time to harvest those greens, you better believe I’m going to eat them (wilted or not!).

This can work, I can make dinner with that. I throw the gratin in the oven and toss some lard in the cast iron. After the green onions cook for a bit with the lid on, I can barely notice that they were once wilted. I add in the ground beef, crumpling it between my fingers to help it break up. I start to wonder what I'm going to do for a starch, a component that will not only be filling but it’ll also tie the other ingredients together. Thank goodness I've got some organic pasta shells in the cupboard! I don't allow myself to use them often, but they’re perfect for night's like these.

Before I know it, the dish has come together. I add my frozen peppers to the mostly cooked beef, along with some salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In goes the warmed gratin and a few kale ribbons because, why not. In just a few minutes the noodles are ready to add to the pan. Dinner!

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe not the day I had, but the way I made dinner? If you’re not cooking this way, you absolutely should be! It was so incredibly rewarding to eat a meal that literally materialized as I toss things into the pan. THAT, my friends, is bricolage!

What’s your favorite way to bricolage your way to dinner? Lunch? Breakfast?

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Sarahlee Lawrence


Sarahlee Lawrence
is the farm manager at Rainshadow Organics. She converted her family’s farm to certified organic from a small hay and cattle operation in 2010. She and her husband, Ashanti, now steward the full-diet farm with the help of family and interns.

In 2017 they opened a kitchen and farm store where they host community meals, farm dinners and classes. They feed over 150 families throughout the year with their CSA and many more through the farmer’s market. Sarahlee loves all of the animals on the farm, but is particularly fold of her ox, Mister Moo.

Who makes salad in the winter time? (Me, that's who)

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As I sit here writing this, it couldn’t be more wintery out. The wind is blowing so hard, I can’t tell if it’s still snowing or it’s coming off the roof. My winter greenhouses are struggling under the weight, and I’ve taken to going outside to brush them off every hour to prevent them from collapsing. I’m pretty over shoveling - I’ve already hit my driveway three times in as many hours, with no end in site. I’m starving, but there’s not a chance in hell I’m braving the roads to hit up the grocery store. Luckily I have a crisper bin full of veggies: kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, along with some sweet potatoes in the pantry. Who makes a salad in the winter time? Me, because it’s the easiest thing to make without a recipe.

Bricolage in action: throwing together a bunch of seemingly random ingredients

I throw another log on the wood burning stove and get to work slicing the kale into tiny ribbons - stems and all, because I’m feeling brave...and bit lazy. After roughly chopping the cauliflower, I carefully cube the sweet potato so the bits are smaller than the cauliflower chunks. I want it to all finish at the same time, but I only want to use one sheet pan; if I don’t cut the sweet potato into the right size, it’ll take too long to cook. Into a bowl they go, along with some bacon fat from yesterday’s breakfast and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. I could add additional seasonings - dried thyme, for example, would go really well here - but I decide to keep things simple and shove them into a 450° F oven. I’m hungry, so I want them to cook quickly, but I’m also looking forward to the crispy, caramelized edges that will occur cooking them in such a high-temperature oven.

Brussels sprouts ABSOLUTELY amaze me…how could i hate this vegetable as a child?

Brussels sprouts ABSOLUTELY amaze me…how could i hate this vegetable as a child?

As I shut the oven door, I remember I had pulled out Brussels sprouts, too. I usually like roasting these, but I don’t want to delay the cook time on my other veggies any longer. I could saute them in a cast iron skillet, and I think about it for a minute before deciding shred them instead, adding them to the kale mix. The flavors are complementary - they’re both bitter, but the tiny Brussels sprouts ribbons will also have a sweet nuttiness to them - and the color contrast of light green on dark green will be stunning.

Is this enough? I wonder. I’m hungry after all that shoveling, and I’m questioning whether my salad has enough bulk. Back to the fridge I go, peering behind the jugs of raw milk and around the jars of pickles preserving my summer harvest. I spy a container of cooked quinoa: perfect! The grain will add a pleasant grainy, chewy texture to my salad, plus quinoa happens to be a complete protein, so it’ll help fill me up. I also have some black beans in the fridge, but that would be too much. Greens, vegetables, and quinoa should be more than enough to satisfy my taste buds and my rumbling stomach.

All I need now is a dressing. I don’t really feel like making one - I’ve already expended more energy on lunch than I’d prefer. Back to the fridge I go: what are my options? There’s a container of hummus sitting right next to a zested lemon (I’m forever zesting lemons and not needing the juice until later). The little wheels in my head start turning; can I make this work? I think I can! Hummus is full-flavored and creamy; if I smear a tablespoon or so onto the bottom of the bowl, I can drag the salad through the hummus as I eat, coating each leaf with a dollop before I take a bite.

My veggies are finished roasting and I’m ready to start assembling. I give my kale and Brussels mix a brief massage to break down their tough fibers and soften the edges before drizzling in a squeeze of lemon and a good glug of olive oil into the bowl (about three times as much oil as lemon, but I’m not really measuring). A sprinkle of salt, a few crack of black pepper, and I give it a taste: perfect! The hummus goes into the bottom of my serving bowl, followed by the dressed kale and leftover quinoa - which is still cold, but my veggies are quite hot, so I think it’ll all balance out just fine. I add the veggies and take a bite: warm, full of textures and flavors, and ultimately filling. What more could I ask for?

Making a case for winter salads

A winter salad might not be warm and comforting like a bowl of soup or a burrito bowl, but I’m surprised at how delicious and satisfying it is. I don’t often think about salads in the wintertime - without any of summer’s crisp romaine or juicy mix of tender lettuces in my fridge, it doesn’t really come up. But eating this salad reminds me that maybe I need to be thinking outside the box more often. A winter salad is a good opportunity to celebrate hearty greens like kale, Asian greens, collards, and mustard greens (all of which can be massaged and used to great effect as the green component of salad).

It’s also cool how easily I was able to throw a meal together! A bunch of leftovers from the fridge and a few roasted vegetables was all I needed. If I didn’t have Brussels sprouts, I could have shredded cabbage instead (or, skipped it altogether). Without sweet potatoes, I could have used another starchy vegetable like winter squash, potatoes, or even rutabagas (tossed with a little apple cider vinegar to bring out their subtly sweet, apple-like flavor). In the absence of hummus, I could have made a creamy dressing using yogurt or buttermilk, or I could have made an aggressive Caesar-like anchovy dressing using mayonnaise or by emulsifying some oil into an egg yolk.

When you think outside the box, the possibilities become endless, even for something as seemingly impossible as a salad in the middle of winter.

Are you making salads in the winter? What are your favorite combinations? Even if salads aren’t on your radar, what are you strategies for whipping up quick and easy meals like this?

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Lindsay D. Mattison

Hi, I’m Lindsay D. Mattison, a former Chef turned freelance writer living in Durango, CO. I started a food blog, Zest and Tang, to share my passion for food and my love of seasonal, from-scratch cooking. I’m in the process of writing a cookbook with Rainshadow Organics in Bend, OR, and would love to chat about food and recipe writing opportunities!

Beginnings...part three

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Rainshadow continued to expand its commitment to education and connecting eaters with food in the ground. They took on six-month interns who wanted to dive into the world of farming. The farm gave them a unique opportunity to connect their food with the culinary experience. After milking cows and goats, they used that milk to make cheese, ice cream, butter, and yogurt. They seeded, weeded, thinned, harvested, and delivered tons of produce; fixed fences, herded cows, harvested honey, threshed beans, milled flour, and butchered chickens and turkeys, using it all to make three meals a day from the farm. With the exception of peanut butter and rice, they cooked what they grew. They barely even used olive oil, as the farm rendered all the back fat from the hogs into lard. And, because they cooked the food every day, they were better able to connect with the farmer’s market customers, explaining how they made tomatillo sauce, salsas, tomato preserves, plum jams, apple sauce, hot sauce, krauts, and kimchi.

In addition to its interns, the farm also hosted tours of students from grade school to culinary school. This is how Lindsay found the farm. Enrolled in Cascade Culinary School’s new Sustainable Food Systems program, Lindsay found herself far away from the school kitchen’s sleek stainless countertops and air-conditioned interiors, visiting local farms to learn more about where their food came from. She came to understand how organic practices differed from conventional ones, along with how much extra effort it involved. The more she learned about the full diet, the more she came to appreciate the hard work of farm life and the true value of the ingredients that took so much effort to cultivate.

When Lindsay graduated from culinary school and got a job as the chef of Jackson’s Corner, she was thrilled at the opportunity to work with Sarahlee again. She and Sarahlee put their heads together to figure out how to make it a reality to source local food on a large scale. Over the years, she spent a lot of time at the farm, picking up extra tomatoes when they ran out early or chatting crop planting for the upcoming season. One afternoon, Sarahlee was prepping the farm for a Longtable dinner when Lindsay came to pick up a box of Malibar spinach for a special. She walked out into the garden, holding her prized goods to thank Sarahlee for harvesting the extra greens. Nibbling on a leaf of spinach, she joked that there was nothing more delicious than eating food right at the source.

“You should come back for the dinner,” Sarahlee offered as she helped Lindsay to her car. “I’ve got a couple of spaces at the table.” Lindsay didn’t hesitate and shouted her acceptance out the window as she headed out down the gravel road.

Later that evening at the Longtable dinner, Lindsay and her now-husband walked through the gardens and solidified their decision to get married right there on that land. Later that fall, Sarahlee and Ashanti cooked a pig in the ground for their wedding while Wendy and Rebecca prepared a delicious meal from the farm’s finest vegetables. That choice led to the formation of some strong lasting friendships.

A few months later, the ladies were gathered in Rebecca’s kitchen for a monthly dinner. Sarahlee unloaded some ground pork, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, and kale. Rebecca and Wendy chopped and prepped while Chris monitored the pan. Lindsay popped in late after her shift at the restaurant ended, promising to do the dishes since she’d missed all the cooking. Over dinner they found themselves reflecting on how much food Rainshadow sends into the community.

“The farm is an incredible success!” gushed Rebecca,” Not only does it give people inspiration to feed their families with nutrient-dense food. It also creates a space where people come together and celebrate.”

“I know! It’s exhausting, isn’t it?” joked Sarahlee.

“It’s so much fun though” Rebecca replied. “I mean, we get to provide people with these incredible ingredients.” She paused for a moment and turned to look at Sarahlee. “What if we could really tell them how to cook it?” Rebecca paused again. “ I want to write a Rainshadow cookbook. Every shopper at our booth needs to be able to go home and have our stories and inspiration waiting for them!”

“I’m tired of the way people resist like they are too busy,” Sarahlee responded. “They work too hard. They’d rather be recreating…especially in this town.”

“A book isn’t going to change that “ Lindsay suggested, “but we might be able to create a spark that that incites even tiny changes in our readers.”

“That’s exactly what they need: a spark,” Chris agreed. “We can create a culture around food. Rich food culture exists in other places in the world, just not so much in the U.S. Our farm members can use this book for inspiration and guidance, it can feed into a sense of community, as more people adopt all these ingredients into their lives.”

It was vaguely reminiscent of their discussions of creating the Longtable. One simple comment about a new way to enrich people’s lives, and they were all in! They could even include Longtable recipes that people were always asking about.They raised their glasses to the food, the land, and the friendship that had been forged in the process. There they were inspired by a farm, a group of people from different backgrounds and experiences. They were ready to offer the world a view towards the link between good food and health. Wouldn’t hurt if they peppered in some cooking skills and demystified some hard truths along the way.

“Cheers to that!” said Sarahlee with her glass raised. “Are you guys in??”

“Of course,” smiled Chris.

“Absolutely!” chimed Rebecca and Wendy.

“I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook,” quipped Lindsay “ I’d love to write my first with you ladies, with this farm at the center of it.” 

Witnessing this dinner and the ideas that unfolded was enough to gladden Sarahlee’s heart. It took her back to the night on the river that sent her on this journey to feed herself and her community. She interjected that piece of inspiration from several years before as the final blessing on the newborn project, “Let every meal connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature.” Sarahlee said. “Every meal can be like saying grace.”

They paused and let the words resonate within them and then raised their glasses over the table once again.

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Lindsay D. Mattison

Hi, I’m Lindsay D. Mattison, a former Chef turned freelance writer living in Durango, CO. I started a food blog, Zest and Tang, to share my passion for food and my love of seasonal, from-scratch cooking. I’m in the process of writing a cookbook with Rainshadow Organics in Bend, OR, and would love to chat about food and recipe writing opportunities!

Beginnings...part two

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Rainshadow Organics started small. Sarahlee’s parents gave her free reign on two acres, separate from the main twenty-five acre field where her father still put up a hay crop each year. She built a deer fence, a drip irrigation system, and one greenhouse. The thrift store provided her with a shovel, rake, and hula hoe, and the used seed starting trays came from a local nursery. She didn’t want to get too invested before planting her first seed. Would she even like farming? No matter how much the world needed farmers, she simply didn’t know much about vegetables and if she’d even like eating them. She supposed that growing them and eating them didn’t have to necessarily go hand in hand.

Sarahlee went wild with her first seeds. Her mother’s warnings about Central Oregon’s harsh climate were not unfounded, but food consisted of more than frost-sensitive beans, tomatoes, corn, and squash. She could raise grains, brassicas, roots, and alliums. Plus, there were heirloom varietals of those frost-sensitive classics that were bred for short cold climates.

As she flipped through page after page in the catalogues, Sarahlee realized just how many vegetables you never see at the grocery store. She had no idea there could be so many varietals of each vegetable, and in her excitement, she ordered almost one of every kind. Vegetables she recognized came in unfamiliar shapes and colors, not to mention the things she had never heard of. What the heck is kohlrabi? Tomatillos, ground cherries, chicories, Asian greens, celeriac, parsnips, rutabagas, mustard greens, or Romanescos? She bought it all anyway.

So much happened that first season. Prepping garden beds and troubleshooting irrigation led to witnessing the first seeds emerge, coming to fruition after a long, patient journey. She learned so much along the way, like how kohlrabi grows above ground and pumpkins are green before they turn orange. She couldn’t believe how good that first heirloom tomato tasted, and she couldn’t stop herself from nibbling on carrots straight from the ground as she harvested. Around that time, she met her husband and moved into the house she built, wooing him with a Green Zebra tomato and learning to cook for him. She dug her first potatoes and peeled back the first ears of corn, ate her first bunch of kale, and marveled in the world of eggplants that aren’t simply large and purple. Thirty families had signed up for the CSA to share the abundance with her, for which she was extremely grateful.

The work was hard. All that digging and weeding, not to mention the heat! But, it felt good to work hard, and she loved the clear direction of it all. There was joy of living and wonder of nature. Each day resulted in something edible, and it all tasted so good. She was transformed.

At the end of the first growing season, Sarahlee put the garden to bed. She spread compost for the next year, planted cover crops, and mulched. All the food had been eaten. The days grew shorter and the roads became slick. On one cold winter day, Sarahlee found herself at the Grocery Outlet looking for food. She could hardly remember what she ate before she became a farmer, but it was hard to go back now that she knew how much better everything could taste. Standing at the onion display, she felt a terrible sense of failure. A farmer with no onions going into winter. A farmer with no potatoes, squash, leeks, cabbage, carrots, beets, parsnips, celeriac, dry corn, shallots, herbs. A farmer with nothing growing at all, not one Asian green or kale or arugula. A farmer with nothing canned, no tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, broth, jam, apple sauce, hot sauce. A farmer with nothing fermented, no kraut or kimchi. A farmer with no meat in the freezer, no pork, turkey, chicken or beef. A failed farmer.

In that moment, Sarahlee decided to really raise all the food she ate. Everything from that point forward was the careful construction of her farm ecosystem. She vowed to grow enough in the summer to last all fall, winter, and spring, learning how to preserve what she could and dry or freeze the rest. She would build infrastructure to house that food while testing the hardiest greens during the bitterest winters to see what could grow in the off season. Right there at the onion display, her life’s work came into focus.

*          * *

As she sowed her seeds for the second season, she realized they had to do more than just grow vegetables. She couldn’t do it alone; she needed a great team to take the farm where it had the potential to go. Her husband, Ashanti, and parents, Chris and David, were on-board with creating a “full-diet” farm, one that provides everything a person needs to eat.  The vision was a wide assortment of produce, herbs, whole grains, eggs, dairy, and meat. Chris helped establish a beehive and Ashanti pushed for the integration of animals into the farm, starting with a few pigs, broiler chickens, and laying hens that would soon grow into a full-fledged flock. It seemed like there was twice as much food in the second season, and twice as many people interested in consuming it. The members of the CSA were the core of the farm’s financial stability, and their commitment to eat from their local farm held everything together. It bolstered Sarahlee in her journey to farm better, raise more food, and fill out their collective diet.

She hand delivered every box of food, talking with each member about what they would find inside and ideas for what to do with it. Having never been much a vegetable eater before, she made up so much as she went along. For every vegetable that she raised, she would take the ugliest one home and figure out a way to prepare it. Almost everything was new to her, but even the familiar things tasted completely different fresh out of the ground. It all started by taking a bite of the raw vegetable, contemplating its flavor as she chewed. Was it bitter? Sweet? Sour? Bland? Tender? She was determined to like even the vegetables she didn’t care for, because diversity in her diet must be just as important as diversity on the farm – every bit of food must have its own unique nutrients as well as flavor. It was all inherently good, and she couldn't stand to see any of it go to waste; she took too much pride in what came forth from the land.

During one of those deliveries, Sarahlee connected with Rebecca as she dropped off a load of veggies at Melvin’s Market. Rebecca cooked in the small kitchen at this local market, and turned out to be one of the farm’s biggest supporters.

“I LOVE your produce,” Rebecca exclaimed. “Can I come out to help at the farm one day?” Her excitement was contagious, and Sarahlee welcomed her any time.

Rebecca began by helping during harvest days, and it wasn’t long before she was seed buying, planting, and weeding. One day, Rebecca tagged along to the farmer’s market, and Sarahlee stood back in amazement as she watched Rebecca turn the buying experience into an adventure! She would identify the biggest, most mysterious, unwieldy vegetables and relentlessly find each one a home. There was something about her classy aesthetic and catching enthusiasm that made buying farm-raised food so much more approachable. While many market shoppers are excited to support the farm and receive fresh food in exchange, the reality of a load of awkward, unpackaged, relatively dirty veggies – with all their tops! – can often be overwhelming. After talking with Rebecca, customers seemed to overcome their objections, and they became more and more excited about wrangling wild veggies into their homes and meals.

As autumn approached, the second season was still bursting with abundance. Sarahlee would not be repeating the mistakes of her past and, along with her mother’s help, she began to tackle the crates of tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbage. Chris had learned how to put food away from her mother and grandmother, and it was time to share that knowledge with Sarahlee. Making sauces, pickles, and ferments like sauerkraut not only allowed her to take what she had grown and fill her pantry for the long winter ahead, and she found herself explaining these newfound skills with her CSA members, too. The whole thing was so much easier and more rewarding than she had expected. As winter set in, delicious sauces and ferments rounded out her meals, and the meats Ashanti put in the freezer were honored for the animals from which they came.

As the seasons went on, Sarahlee began growing exotic foods like ginger and peanuts, lemons and limes. She managed to grow greens year round, which made a great addition to her meats and preserved food during the coldest parts of winter. She found the hardiest varieties which could grow unheated and unirrigated, cultivating them in plastic tunnels under fabric row cover. The Yukina Savoy and Siberian Kale were the first to grow, and wild arugula, purple mustard, mache, and spinach added to the mix to create a lovely winter medley. Coupled with the storage crops and the early arrival of carrots, beets, and radishes in the spring, she was able to eat almost entirely from the farm year-round. It was time to offer this food to the community in the form of a winter CSA, which was completely unheard of in Central Oregon. It was delivered monthly and included a big box of stored roots, hearty greens, freshly milled flour, and ten pounds of mixed meat cuts. She started with twenty members and quickly grew to fifty the following season.

Sarahlee spent a lot of time explaining the food to her members, educating them about how conventional food is grown and why it looks so pristine at the grocery store. She explained about chemicals and food waste while gently challenging them with the opportunity to do things differently. She encouraged people to change their aesthetic expectation and choose to eat ugly food, doing their part to trim off any funky bits. This food is still incredibly nutrient dense – in fact, food grown in hard winter conditions is literally denser in its defense against the cold – so why not integrate it into their meals?

She slowly let go of guiding in Chile and Costa Rica and dug in deeper to the farm, spending her winter days feeding pigs and cattle with her working dogs in tow. Winter became the perfect opportunity to clear a few juniper trees, making room for native grasses and flowers in all the wild sections of their land. She toiled over habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and bees. Cooking for friends and family became a priority and joy, no longer the inconvenience it once was. She prepared breakfasts of ham and eggs cozied up with potatoes and biscuits, and stews became her favorite way to throw together for lunch or dinner. Sarahlee and Ashanti were becoming the land with every bite, and sharing that food felt like a wonderfully intimate act.

She called it farming, but almost never referred to it as work. She most certainly did not count the hours she spent, which were never less than twelve hours a day even in the winter. Sometimes as much as 16 hours in summer. This life she never imagined for herself had become the passion that drives a person in every waking moment.

Not many people stopped by the farm in those days; it was mostly Sarahlee working with Rebecca’s help a couple days a week. Crouched in a row of greens, they were cutting a baby salad mix and plopping it into a harvest basket by the handful when their new neighbor, Wendy, came by to introduce herself. It didn’t take long for the three of them to find their common ground: good, clean food. Wendy had moved from California into a quiet, old farmhouse down the valley from Rainshadow, a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. She had owned a catering company for 35 years, and her access to all kinds of ingredients from the Bay Area’s abundant farmer’s markets had left her concerned with what she would eat in Central Oregon.

Sarahlee and Rebecca invited her to dinner to show off examples of the bounty that a Central Oregon  farm could produce. Sarahlee produced a chicken, a bag of greens and a giant, warty squash that she had forgotten the name of but wanted to see what it tasted like.

“This is amazing!” Rebecca swooned.

“People are really missing out, you know,” Sarahlee remarked. “It’s so hard to get people to try anything this odd, big, and ugly! It’s a shame that people let stores make all the decisions about variety, size, look. They just want to eat green zucchinis, butternut squash, red tomatoes, big orange carrots, fat purple eggplants, yellow potatoes, and bell peppers. Even beets are a stretch.”

“We need to cook for them,” Rebecca said, matter of fact.

“If only people could come to the farm and eat this food in the garden, “ Wendy chimed in. “They would be blown away.”

“Yes! We’ll call it the Longtable!” Rebecca proclaimed.

And so, a plan was made: Set up a giant, long table in the garden and serve family-style food grown or raised at the farm. The next summer, Ashanti and Wendy’s husband, Tim, built a fifty-foot plank table made from a downed tree on the farm. Sarahlee met the guests with an extensive tour of the gardens and pastures full of pigs, chickens, and turkeys. She explained about biodynamics and seed saving, and how composting and crop rotation techniques allowed them to grow everything organically. The guests marveled in the opportunity to see the ingredients used in their dinner while they were still in the ground! Rebecca and Wendy prepared the farm’s freshest, ripest ingredients (ugly or not), and they never posted the menu ahead of time. They simply used their creativity and let the garden speak to them and shine through the meal.

The Longtable dinners filled people with inspiration, and the guests often signed up for a CSA share after eating this magical meal in the garden. Their resolve to eat from a farm was strengthened with each bite, motivating them to cook an equally enchanting meal at home. This is exactly what the farm needed: cooks. People who wanted to take authentic, organic ingredients and prepare wholesome meals for their families. That commitment allowed the farm to grow more, try new varieties, and invest in season extension and storage, adding more ingredients to the full-diet like dairy, honey, legumes, and new grains.

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Lindsay D. Mattison

Hi, I’m Lindsay D. Mattison, a former Chef turned freelance writer living in Durango, CO. I started a food blog, Zest and Tang, to share my passion for food and my love of seasonal, from-scratch cooking. I’m in the process of writing a cookbook with Rainshadow Organics in Bend, OR, and would love to chat about food and recipe writing opportunities!

Beginnings...part one

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Welcome to bricolage: your guide to learning how to improvise, use what you’ve got, and make do. We’re so excited to share our successes and aha! moments (along with the many failures and stumbling blocks) that helped us become creative, confident cooks. We’ve all had a journey to get here: some of us went to culinary school, becoming restaurant chefs or caterers, while others amongst us became organic farmers. We’re not all professionals, either: we’re home cooks, mothers, gardeners, and - above all - foodies. Regardless of our day jobs, we’re all cooking enthusiasts, excited about transforming ingredients into beautiful meals. In the end, it’s all about living (and eating) well.

We tried to go back to the beginning - where did this idea of bricolage really start? - and we found ourselves telling the story of how we found each other. After all, cooking is more than just making cold food hot: it’s about sharing stories, experiences, and a meal together. It wasn’t until we all came together that we really became inspired to do more with the ingredients than we had in the past.

And so, we’ll begin at the beginning: with Sarahlee on the river, reading a quote that would change her path in life and lead her to start a farm.


As the sun dropped suddenly behind a steep red rock cliff of the Colorado River canyon, Sarahlee pulled her straw hat and sunglasses from her head and stowed them in her sidebox. This was her favorite time of day on the river, when the blaring sun hushed and she could really see the intricacies of the canyon. Tamarisk and willow had a way of exhaling and filling the bleak aridity with its soft aroma. She shipped her oars under her knees and savored this quiet moment. The headwind had suddenly stopped, and she tapped into the subtle meander of the current.

She was somewhere upstream of Moab, collecting bug samples for an environmental non-profit with the mission of advancing the restoration of riparian lands. Cruising down the upper Colorado watershed and stopping every mile to collect samples was an enjoyable solitude and  break from her usual river work as a guide in the Grand Canyon.

Although being alone didn’t make her feel lonely, the sadness crept back in the stillness of this particular evening. Underlying her love of the river were familiar pangs of missing her family’s farm in Oregon. She was raised an only child on a high desert farm with hot summers, frigid winters, wildfires, and fast horses. Growing up on a farm taught her work ethic, how to be alone with herself, problem solving, and strength, both mental and physical, but she didn’t plan on using any of these skills as a farmer. In fact, she left the farm as soon as she could and set off around the globe. For several years, she ran rivers all over Africa, as well as North, Central and South America. While she longed for a life that included time in one place for a home, community, and maybe a garden, she also needed time for recreation and running free. Like so many of us, she was looking for a way to lead a bunch of parallel lives, wrestle them together, tie them up, and call them a successful whole.

The homesickness had sent her home to work with her father the winter prior, when they built a modest log home together. When spring rolled around and the rivers started to flow, Sarahlee couldn’t stay still, going back to what she knew. And yet, she found herself thinking of home more and more each day, wrestling with what it would really look like to move back there. What would she do? She had never considered farming, and she had little desire to raise hay and cattle. Working in town wasn’t a viable option because it was the land that had her heart. What she wanted was to spend time on that particular piece of ground and somehow make a life of it...but, how?

As the evening glow waned, she looked for a ledge where she could set up her tiny camp. She just needed enough space to set up a chair and play a couple songs on the guitar. With a clear mind, she’d dive back into a reading packet she planned to teach next semester to a bunch of environmental science students. She spied a promising spot downstream and loosened her bowline, easing gently into a micro-eddy. Quickly shipping her oars and leaping from the bow with the rope, she braced herself for the weight of the raft and then tied it off on a boulder. Settling in, she mixed a bit of hummus and tuna over spinach and sat down with her packet. She had read about mining and grazing on public lands, water law and riparian habitat, but tonight she opened up the packet to a piece by Michael Pollan from his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The essay set off alarms in Sarahlee like a fire. It may seem silly that – even with a master’s in environmental science – she had never heard of food crisis and its environmental gravity. She read Pollan’s words without knowing that the food she ate was her biggest carbon footprint, or the difference between organic and conventional agriculture. She just ate simple, cheap food and thought very little of it until she came across this passage.

 

“Imagine if we had a food system that actually produced wholesome food. Imagine if it produced that food in a way that restored the land. Imagine if we could eat every meal knowing these few simple things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what it really cost. If that was the reality, then every meal would have the potential to be a perfect meal. We would not need to go hunting for our connection to our food and the web of life that produces it. We would no longer need any reminding that we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and that what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world. I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again—something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature. Every meal would be like saying grace.”

Michael Pollan

 

There it was: Elemental. Connected. Conscious. As she devoured this single essay, it rang true in a way that elicited her total buy-in. Her confusion about life and purpose stripped away, revealing how much she craved this kind of extreme intimacy with her meals; the what, the where, the how. Farming seemed to be the closest thing to the pulse, and boy did the world need farmers. Good, organic, diverse stewards. As luck would have it, she even had the opportunity: access to a farm with a father that wanted out of farming! She could provide her neighbors with better access to good, clean, locally-grown food, making a tangible difference in climate change by limiting the distance her product traveled to reach its eaters – only 30 miles instead of the 1,500 mile average that you’ll find at the grocery store. The environmentalist in her was buzzing.

Sarahlee leapt off the ledge onto the tube of her raft and rifled through her side box for some paper. She started a letter to her parents, transcribing her awakening. She was ready to take over the farm and planned to certify the land organic immediately to grow food – because organic was the only way to go, and if it was more difficult, she should start there and she’d never know the difference.. The essay had described a program called “community supported agriculture” (CSA), where people paid ahead for a share of the season’s produce, so she could deliver the food weekly to families in her nearby town. She wouldn’t even need much land; an acre or two could produce enough to feed several families. Since the whole thing was still seasonal, she could spend a solid chunk of time at the farm, making a modest living honing in her stewardship and growing skills while still getting to travel in the winter. She could finally take root in a way that she’d been desperately wanting for almost a decade.

The late evening wind threatened to snatch at her papers, so she stowed everything back in the raft and made her bed on the cooler. The current slipped by and rocked the boat as she lay on her back looking up at the small window of sky shaped by the dark vertical canyon cliffs. “I am a farmer,” she said out loud to herself. It sounded so good.

In the coming days, Sarahlee continued her float toward Moab on the thick brown waters of the Colorado River. As she gathered her entomological data, her mind was far away on the farm, jotting notes to her parents on scraps of paper as she went. She made plans about crops and soils and irrigation; sales, marketing, and distribution; lists of what she thought she might need to get started and a timeline. She used every piece of paper in the raft. By the time she arrived at the bridge in Moab, she was ready. Tying off the boat, she grabbed her bulky letter and hitched into town. Heart pounding, the letter fell from her fingers, disappearing into the abyss inside the large blue mailbox. She had no idea the magnitude of her decision and all the lives it would change.

Sarahlee still had work left to do, hitching back to her boat to continue downstream. The water in Cataract Canyon was big that July, and she had several days and some formidable rapids ahead of her before she could call home to see how the letter had settled with her parents. She was anxious. It seemed like a great idea, and she hoped they would be thrilled to have their only daughter coming home to the farm, but you never know! The days dragged on, and she wanted to know so much more about seeds and soil. She questioned every bit of food she had in the boat – was it organic? non-GMO? sustainable? – and re-read the essay several times. She closed her eyes pondered a name for her new farm, imagining the sentinels of her family’s land: juniper, ponderosa, sage; the Lawrence family; the Cascade Mountains; and, the rainshadow.

The farm lay out beyond the canyons and rim rocks shaped by water and glaciers on the very edge of the arid West. It felt like an open hand offered at the end of a long arm from the shoulders of the Cascade Mountains. Although most people think of Oregon as being a rainy place, the farm sees very little precipitation – sometimes as little as seven inches per year, most of which comes in the form of snow. The reason was the Rainshadow effect, where a topographic barrier causes prevailing winds to lose their moisture on the windward side of the mountains, casting a “shadow” of dryness behind them. Thinking of the farm from a distance, this seemed like the most defining element of Sarahlee’s home, and it could even be the biggest challenge. Grab ahold of that, she thought, Rainshadow Organics.

After taking off the river and the long drive to cell service, Sarahlee finally got ahold of her parents. “What do you think?” she asked.

“We would love to have you home at the farm,” her mom replied. “I have to tell you, though, I have lost my garden on the 4th of July many, many times. Central Oregon has one of the harshest climates I know. In the last hundred years, it’s frozen here at least once on every day of the year. That means we have zero frost-free days. This will be tough on a market gardener.”

Sarahlee thought about this for about a half a second before shaking her head. “I’m sure I can get something to grow,” she said. But, in the back of her mind, her mother had planted an important seed that would germinate over time about the need for diversity. It was true that Central Oregon had a notoriously difficult climate – both extremely hot and cold – and it was always dry. If she was going to commit to growing food for people, she would need to learn to grow a lot.

Comment

Lindsay D. Mattison

Hi, I’m Lindsay D. Mattison, a former Chef turned freelance writer living in Durango, CO. I started a food blog, Zest and Tang, to share my passion for food and my love of seasonal, from-scratch cooking. I’m in the process of writing a cookbook with Rainshadow Organics in Bend, OR, and would love to chat about food and recipe writing opportunities!