Oregon Mint Pt. 4

January 30th, 2012

If you aren't in the Portland area or visiting anytime soon you can buy Steven Smith Tea online here.

This is my last installment for the Oregon mint story. This section was going to be a sidebar for the print version…

Peppermint isn’t the only mint…

Sure, peppermint takes the cake in Oregon, but spearmint is a close second in terms of in-state cultivation. Two main differences between the mints are that peppermint plants are taller with bigger leaves, and peppermint has a stronger flavor and aroma than the sweeter, lighter tasting and smelling spearmint.

Steven Smith of Steven Smith Teamaker, a boutique tea company specializing in full leaf, small batch tea with a retail shop on Northwest Thurman, has been working with the same local spearmint growers since the mid-1970s — Don, Monty and Marvin Mills of Mills Mint Farm in Stanfield, Oregon in Northeastern Oregon. The Mills family was amongst the first in Oregon to cultivate spearmint and peppermint.

In the mid-70s Smith was a co-owner of Stash Tea before it was sold in 1993 to Yamamotoyama in Japan. At that time Smith and the other Stash owners and employees purchased field run mint (unprocessed mint directly from the farm) from the Mills family and cleaned it in what is now !Oba! Restaurante but which was then Stash Tea headquarters. They used the mint for their tea and also sold mint to Lipton Tea and Celestial Seasonings.

Says Smith, “We cleaned mint there and stored some of it across the street in the Maddox Transfer building before they called the area the Pearl district – I think it should have been named the Mint District for the way it smelled back then.”

After selling Stash in the early 1990s Smith started Tazo Tea in his home kitchen which he sold to Starbucks in 1999 and continued to work for until 2006. In late 2009, Smith opened his newest tea endeavor — Steven Smith Teamaker — in the brick building next to the former Carlyle Restaurant on Northwest Thurman Street.

All of Smith’s spearmint to this day comes from Mills Mint Farm which cultivates 400 acres of spearmint annually with minimal inputs thanks to regular crop rotation (corn, wheat and peas) and intensive hand weeding. If you’d like to try Mills’ local leaves they are blended in Smith’s Fez tea — a combination of Mao Feng China green tea, Oregon spearmint and Australian lemon myrtle leaves.

When asked why Smith still works with Mills Mint Farm he answers succinctly, “Flavor, appearance, aroma, overall approach to business, and long standing relationship.”

Who can argue with that?

Steven Smith Teamaker
1626 NW Thurman St.
Portland, OR

Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

The Toro Bravo Cookbook Coming Soon from McSweeney’s…

January 19th, 2012

This is the proposal that our agent sent out to seal the deal...

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to announce that McSweeney’s is going to publish the Toro Bravo Cookbook and it’s due out in fall 2013! First of all, we’ve been putting in the hours working on this book for awhile now and from day one chef-owner John Gorham and the entire Toro family has been adamant about getting the Toro Bravo story out there in its entirety with no compromises. Every last sweaty, dirty, salty and spicy detail that fuels the brave bull. I’m so happy and grateful to be a part. Working with John and Renee and their entire Toro staff on this has been so much fun and such an honor.

To give you an idea of what this book is going to be like — there will be 100 or so Toro recipes along with essays on everything from Toro’s unique take on service, to the restaurant’s playful take on advertising and John’s travels throughout Spain. The book will celebrate the beauty of wild, loud and deeply social Spanish tapas cuisine and the culture and beauty of wild, loud and deeply social Toro Bravo.

Toro Bravo family member and food photographer, David Lanthan Reamer, is doing the book’s photography and my boyfriend, Tyler Adams, owner of Grizzly Tattoo is doing the illustrations. Our agent, Kim Witherspoon, is a force to be reckoned with and we’re so happy to be signed with her.

I don’t know if you love McSweeney’s like I do but I can tell you that they are one of my favorite publishing houses and they were our top choice for publishing the Toro Bravo Cookbook. Have you seen the first cookbook that they published in 2011? Have you read their new quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach? I’ve been reading the incredible books and publications that they’ve put out since the late ’90s and I’ve never been disappointed. I’m a big fan of McSweeney’s and here are just a few of the many reasons why:

1. I’m wearing my gold and black striped pirate socks as I type this. Yep, the ones that I bought at 826 Valencia several years ago — the non-profit arm of McSweeney’s that does such good work with kids and literary arts. The same year that I got my pirate socks we went to a McSweeney’s play that Denis Johnson (who writes regularly for McSweeney’s) wrote just down the street from 826.

2. One year my mom got me the best Christmas present ever — the McSweeney’s trio of a year’s subscription to Wolphin, The Believer Magazine AND McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Great year. You can still order this here.

3. I have two copies of old Might Magazines on my desk that my friend Michelle gave me to read. I didn’t bring them on the plane with me recently because I thought they might get damaged.

4. Whenever McSweeney’s is at Wordstock — and they usually are — I spend a very long time at their booth handling their books. I buy inappropriate books for friends’ children there along with many other bound paper things.

5. When I see a McSweeney’s book, magazine, or publication I have to pick it up. In an age of ever increasing digital media and ebooks McSweeney’s remains focused on the book as an object. I have never seen such beautiful books in all my life as the ones that they publish. And now, the Toro Bravo Cookbook is going to be one! Fuck yeah! Go Team Gorham!

More soon…

Toro Bravo — www.torobravopdx.com
McSweeney’s — www.mcsweeneys.net
InkWell Management — www.inkwellmanagement.com
David Lanthan Reamer — www.dlreamer.com
Tyler Adams — www.grizzlytattoo.com

Oregon Mint Pt. 3

January 16th, 2012

Butler Farms peppermint oil packs a punch.

Peppermint oil distillation takes place immediately after mint harvest at Butler Farms. The diesel powered boiler is the heart of the operation. It creates the steam that travels through the manifold and stainless steel lines into the just harvested mint hay tubs. The mint oil is extracted by the steam and channeled through stainless pipes to the condenser. As the steam cools in the condenser it liquefies and collects in the receding cans. Then by virtue of the fact that oil is lighter than water the oil naturally separates and is poured off into barrels.

For every acre of peppermint that the Butlers cultivate, they process roughly 90 to 100 pounds of peppermint oil, which translates to 40,000 pounds of peppermint oil a year. It takes a mere pound of the extremely potent oil to flavor 55,000 sticks of gum.

There are currently 21,000 acres devoted to mint oil production in Oregon grown by 150 farms, according to Bryan Ostlund of the Oregon Mint Commission. Nearly 70 percent of all peppermint grown in-state, in fact, is distilled into peppermint oil. That’s a lot of gum.

Tim Butler with a tiny jar of the mint oil that his farm produces and distills...

Of course, it doesn’t all become an ingredient in gum. Flavor houses purchase Butler Farms’ peppermint oil from a handler, and in turn sell it to oral care, candy and medical companies such as Colgate, Wrigley, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer.

Ostlund says that the recent history of Oregon mint oil production isn’t entirely rosy. Due to rapid changes in the retail business in the 1990s, “the pressure was on, and still is on, to cheapen products,” he notes. According to Ostlund, many of the older flavor house dependent companies continue to value high quality oil, especially with their older products particularly food and candy products. But, he adds, “Companies with new products coming into production, generally are not putting as high of a priority on quality ingredients. That’s usually when cheaper and inferior foreign mint oil comes into the equation. Essentially, companies are dumbing down their ingredients.”

Where Butler farms peppermint turns into peppermint oil.

The Willamette Valley has the highest flavor profile quality of peppermint oil in state. It is exceptionally bright and distinct with a nice level of menthofuran (a potent component of mint oil) which is why companies such as Atkinson Candy Company in Lufkin, Texas use it almost exclusively. Other Oregon mint production regions generally produce mint that doesn’t stand alone and requires blending.

Peppermint oil from India, China and South America is often significantly cheaper than domestic peppermint oil but that is of inferior quality. Says Butler, “It all comes down to the consumer. The consumer tells the Wrigleys and Wal-Marts and Costcos what they want; and the superstores tell the flavor houses what they want. Sure they want quality but they also want it cheap. That’s the way it is with all agricultural commodities.”

Despite this sort of cost-cutting and disregard for quality Butler Farms has no plans to slow down its mint oil production. And why should they? According to Bruce Pokarney, director of communication for Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon is the second leading US producer of peppermint and peppermint is ranked #15 of all Oregon commodities in value. Tim Butler is proud to cultivate such an important Oregon commodity. If in upcoming years we as a state can find a way to market Oregon-grown mint oil as a stand alone ingredient these numbers and percentages will likely grow. Maybe we’ll even become the number one peppermint producer in the country.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this story.
Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint

Yard Fresh Pt. 18

January 9th, 2012

My first and favorite thing that I've cooked in a slow cooker. Posole makes me happy.

I started making posole a couple years ago when I bought my first slow cooker and now when the cold sets in I always get a craving for it. It’s a deeply warming soup with a good amount of spice, slow cooked pork and hominy but there’s also the fresh aspect — similar to pho — of adding raw ingredients before/while eating it.

We just got back from a vacation to my hometown Cincinnati where we ate and cooked a lot of good food so I think I’ll post about that soon. For now, here’s what we’ve been enjoying at home this winter in Portland. Hope you’ve been eating and drinking well too…

Some of my favorite posole fixings...

Breakfast doesn't get much better than this -- sunny side up over chanterelle risotto.

Late night snack -- cheddar/paprika/onion cheese breads and Fuji apple.

Brussels sprout bacon and miso butter spaghetti with toasted hazelnuts and pecorino. Will be repeating.

The last of the sweet Nantes carrot harvest from the backyard...

And the Belize-style hot sauce that I made with a lot of them. One of my favorites.

Caramelized onion and jalapeno spaghetti with hazelnuts and a lime radish salad.

Yard Fresh Pt. 17
Yard Fresh Pt. 16
Yard Fresh Pt. 15
Yard Fresh Pt. 14
Yard Fresh Pt. 13
Yard Fresh Pt. 12
Yard Fresh Pt. 11
Yard Fresh Pt. 10
Yard Fresh Pt. 9
Yard Fresh Pt. 8
Yard Fresh Pt. 7
Yard Fresh Pt. 6
Yard Fresh Pt. 5
Yard Fresh Pt. 4
Yard Fresh Pt. 3
Yard Fresh Pt. 2
Yard Fresh Pt. 1

Happy 2012!

January 2nd, 2012

Here's some hot chocolate for you and me. I hope you like it...

It’s been quite a year and it kind of feels like the last several weeks of it tried to cram in as much activity and excitement as possible before the ball dropped. When you read this I’ll most likely still be visiting family in Cincinnati, eating Cincinnati chili, going to my favorite pen shop. Don’t make fun of me. So, I don’t have much more for you this week than the virtual cup of homemade hot chocolate above. It’s delicious though and I think that you have an active enough imagination to pull off pretending to drink it with me. I hope you can. Nice underwear by the way.