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Bitter, Braised Greens 

A day at the market and an election controversy

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Braising greens at Little River Farms’ stand at the Arcata Farmers’ Market.Photo by Bob Doran

What was that old saying — “Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?”

Saturday morning I was wondering more about the effect of a night of hail and rolling thunder on the Arcata Farmers’ Market. Anyone who reads this column regularly knows how much I love the Farmers’ Market, both as a source for the freshest, most local food possible and as a social scene. I didn’t really have any particular fruit or vegetable purchases in mind, but when the day turned sunny I figured I should head downtown after morning chores. (We finally cleaned out the rain gutters, so we’re ready for winter rains.)

All of the weekday markets run through the end of October, which makes this the last week. The Saturday market on the Arcata Plaza (my favorite by far) runs a little longer, until Nov. 17, before going into winter hibernation. So the end is near. Four more to go. (There’s even a countdown sign at the market manager’s table.) I missed last week, so I figured this one was mandatory, and of course I’d find something to buy. An added incentive was the fact that Huckleberry Flint was playing bluegrass that day and I dig their sound.

I started on the northeast corner where Little River Farm has a cafeteria-style array of mix-and-match greens. I put together a somewhat spicy combination with a bit of maché and arugula and some of the basil mix. (I was too late for the straight basil leaves they usually have.) My plan is to reproduce a salad I made recently. Start with a bed of spicy greens lightly dressed with fresh squeezed lemon juice and sesame oil; add a couple of drops of that fiery Chinese chili oil that pretends to be sesame but is mostly soy oil. Amy’s tomatoes finally ripened so we have tons of sweet little orange Sungolds. I’ll cut those in quarters and mix them with diced avocado. Between the oil and the avocado (from Chile) the recipe is far from “local,” nor is it organic, but so it goes. It tastes good.

I also picked up a small bag of Little River Farm’s braising greens (more on braising greens later) and asked John Severn if the rain was a concern. It wasn’t for him. His farm operates year round; when market season ends he’ll still be supplying the Co-op. The weather did cut into market attendance however. A fair number of growers skipped the day (and missed out).

As soon as I hit the sidewalk outside John’s booth, Dan D’Ancona spotted me. Dan and his business partner Jared Capallari were the guys who instigated the Slow Food dinner in September (see “Know Your Convivium,” Table Talk Aug. 23). They’d borrowed my Robo Coupe industrial-strength food processor to make hummus for the North Country Fair — Dan apologized profusely for not having returned it promptly. “No problem,” I assured him, and asked about the business deal I knew they’d been working on — which, it turns out, was just recently finalized. Dan and Jared are now the proud owners of The Catch Café in Trinidad, formerly known as Kahish’s Catch Café.

Dan was in a rush. They were going to do Sunday brunch and he had some shopping to do. What was he looking for? What were they serving? He admitted he had no idea. “I’ll see what I find and get inspired by whatever it is,” he told me. And that’s a great way to approach the market, and probably a good indication of the attitude he and Jared will bring to their new endeavor.

Even before I said goodbye (and good luck) to Dan, I saw someone else I know. Or, rather, she saw me. It was my favorite militant vegan anti-GMO, pro-organic food activist, Martha Devine, aka Granny Green Genes, approaching across the swampy, rain-drenched lawn. “Watch out, looks like quicksand,” I warned her.

After saying hello, she frowned and declared. “They stole it.” Stole what? I wondered. “The election, the Co-op election,” she clarified. “Carl lost.”

Now, if you’ve run into Martha in recent weeks, you know she was campaigning for the re-election of Carl Ratner to the North Coast Co-op board of directors. You may know this even if you don’t know her since, she was quoted in a top-of-the-page headline story about the election in the Times-Standard last week, along with Co-op interim General Manager Howard Julien and a few others. Martha claims Julien “stole” the election. How? Via a campaign e-mail warning against “militant vegans” sent to what Martha and Julien both described as a “select group” of Co-op members. Martha was not a recipient, but friends sent it to her. She promised to forward the e-mail to me.

Before I left town I picked up a copy of the Co-op News Fall edition, which includes statements from the three candidates for the board. It doesn’t say what sort of diet Mr. Ratner follows. He does not espouse a vegan viewpoint. His opponents don’t talk about what they eat, either. Julia de Vos Arnold and Ratner both touch on “cooperative principals” and are otherwise rather vague, policy-wise. The other current board member, Wayne Hawkins, speaks in favor of solar energy and wants a back-up generator and orderly meetings. Ratner mentions in passing that he’s on the search committee for a permanent general manager, which seems a salient point considering the fact that Howard Julien is among the candidates for that job.

The newsletter also includes a message from Julien. It begins with an apology for something he said in the summer newsletter about the Co-op’s “hippy-dippy granola” origins. He does not make a public endorsement regarding the election, but he does emphasize its importance, noting that only 200 of the 11,000 members voted last time. That fact was later repeated in the e-mail Martha Devine was complaining about.

Addressed “Dear Colleague,” the campaign e-letter, signed by Howard’s wife, Bonnie, reads in part, “A group of Co-op employees and their families are asking friends and colleagues to vote for candidates who share our views of what the Co-op should be in the future. This is the Co-op that includes serving the food needs of the widest variety of members, not just militant vegans ... Please consider voting for the top two listed candidates, Julia de Vos Arnold and Wayne Hawkins.”

Now, one might argue that this did not come directly from Howard, only from a member of his family, but Julien is unapologetic. “I’m a Co-op member. I’m entitled to my opinion. And I personally had a bigger stake in this than most people,” he told me Monday morning. He figures the fact that Ratner is an omnivore and not a vegan is immaterial.

The e-mail also notes that “just a few votes can swing the election.” Polling concluded Friday afternoon. Results were announced Saturday. With 770 members casting ballots, Ratner came in third, losing by 38 votes. Maybe he wasn’t the best man for the job. Perhaps he should not have allowed a radical like Martha to campaign for him. One way or the other, as of Nov. 1, he will no longer be part of the group that decides if Howard Julien stays on as G.M. Do you suppose this might come up at the annual Co-op membership meeting scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Bayside Grange?

(Before I get back to my day at the market, I should offer some disclosure. I am an ex-employee of the Co-op and an ex-member. However, my break with the cooperative came years ago, long before Julien or any of the board candidates were involved in Co-op politics.)

As I continued around the Plaza I added more produce to my canvas bag (in between conversations). By the end of the day I’d picked up some lovely Asian pears from Neukom Family Farm, along with some of Jacques’ gorgeous flat cipollini onions. Andy Zierer of Flora Organica insisted that I take home an extremely heavy green pumpkin shaped like the one Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned into a coach (in the Disney cartoon that is), which he says is the best kind for pie. (Right now it’s on our porch for Halloween.) Grady Walker from Green Fire Farm handed me a couple of bunches of greens, unintentionally supplementing the braising mix I’d bought earlier. They helped provide inspiration for dinner.

Sweet and Bitter Braised Winter Greens

• Cook several pieces of bacon in a large sauté pan.

• Remove bacon and degrease on paper towels. Dice when cool.

• Reserve a bit of the grease, add some olive oil and caramelize slices of cipollini onions. (You decide how much.)

• When almost done, add a couple of minced garlic cloves and a handful of thin slices of Asian pear.

• Cut up a big pile of braising greens (mustard, collard, beet greens, kale, etc.) remembering that it will wilt considerably.

• Add that to the pan and stir; follow with the bacon bits.

• Finish with a generous splash of Balsamic vinegar.

• Enjoy.

Warning: Your militant vegan friends won’t like it one bit. I suppose you could leave out the bacon, but it would be good to substitute something salty and crunchy. Any suggestions? Nuts, maybe? Sure, why not.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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Contributing photographer.

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