Where’s the Beef?

I love where we live. In our backyard is the Washougal River. Follow those waters downstream a couple miles and you reach the mighty Columbia River (Roll on, Columbia roll on…). We’ll pause here for a moment because from this vantage, one can drive for less than two hours almost any direction and reach something breathtakingly beautiful.  Drive due west and you reach the Pacific Ocean and the sandy beaches of the Oregon or Washington coast. Drive northeast or southeast and you could wind up the slopes of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, or Mount Rainier. Drive due east, and you pass through the majestic Columbia River Gorge, and end up in a completely different world from the evergreen-laden, hilly, wet, cloudy land of southwest Washington where you started.


This is the route we took a few days ago to visit Emerson Dell Farm, just outside of The Dalles, Oregon. At first I was disappointed that we were having one of our first rainy weekends of October on the day we were to visit the farm, but I should have known that once we passed through the Cascade range, we’d get nothing but blue skies for the rest of our visit.


David and Margaret Brewer are the hardworking couple that run this farm, and I met Margaret about five years ago when I was looking for a source for grass-fed beef. David’s family has been farming this land for five generations; Margaret was a city girl who fell in love with the farmer and has embraced the farming lifestyle.

We purchase a whole animal from the Brewers once every year or two and divide it among friends. Usually Margaret delivers the beef to us in Vancouver, but this year we decided the see the farm for ourselves and pick it up there.

The Brewers’ cattle are 100% grass-fed, grass-finished. They are kept on the Brewer’s land their entire lives and are rotated through a sequence of planted forage crops.

photo from Margaret Brewer

photo from Margaret Brewer

They sell their beef to individuals and New Seasons Market. Once we purchased our first quarter, we couldn’t go back. Besides the psychological sense of wellbeing about this food, the taste is noticeably superior, and Margaret Brewer is just so likable and easy to work with.

The Brewers also grow wheat, canola, barley, and mustard, rotating according to holistic land management. David Brewer manages his land and crops with a scientist’s precision toward soil health and sustainability. On the Saturday we visited, he was out on one of his fields seeding wheat.

seeding wheat

Margaret took us on a quick tour of their acres, and one of the most delightful spots was this one-room schoolhouse, built in the early 1900’s, purchased by David’s family years ago.


Since we had been listening to “On the Banks of Plum Creek” in the car on the way to the farm, we were thrilled to see this Ingalls-ish building before us.

We spotted elk, pheasant, and wild turkeys in our meanderings, but the kids fell in love with the family cats, of course.


I’m so thankful for the Brewers who faithfully care for their land and animals, not to mention a couple of growing teenagers. It feels good to put money directly into the hands of these hardworking farmers to buy wholesome, clean food which will sustain us for a year or more.

After a couple hours, we drove back into the clouds and rain to meet up with our beefy friends in Vancouver. The cherry on top was getting to see the whole Ross family (should’ve taken a picture of this special occasion)!

So, if you’re ever over at our house for dinner and are eating beef of some variety, now you know where it came from. And if you’re interested in joining us next time we buy beef from the Brewers, let me know, or I can connect you with them yourself if you don’t want to wait for our next purchase.


A Favorite Beefy Recipe:

Crockpot Beef with Broccoli

  • 3 lb boneless chuck roast, sliced into strips
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbl sesame oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbl cornstarch
  • 3-4 heads broccoli, cut into small florets
  1. Whisk together beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil and garlic and pour into crockpot.
  2. Place slices of beef into the liquid and stir to coat.
  3. Cook for 5-6 hours on Low
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid to create a slurry, and pour into the crockpot and cook for an additional 30 minutes to thicken the sauce.
  5. Steam broccoli and stir into the beef at the end, or place fresh florets in the crockpot in the last 30 minutes.
  6. Serve over rice.

A Simple Loaf of Bread (with recipe)

Wheat, salt, yeast, water. That’s it. Oh, how good it is.

I can bring one of these babies into a room, and you can hear a rush of inhalation and anticipation. Children start asking for the jam or butter that will accompany their portion. My sister and brother glance around to see if I brought more than one loaf and calculate how many pre-dinner slices they can justify.

My kids’ teachers recognize the brown paper Trader Joe’s bags I bring the still-warm loaves in, and rub their hands together while imagining the school day over and dinner on the table. The aroma escapes the bags and the school secretaries get curious, and I decide to bring them a loaf for Valentine’s Day.

It graces my in-laws’ table many Wednesday nights for Dryden Family Dinner. It has been warmly received by Iraqis, Haitians, Peruvians, Scots, and Texans.

This bread has become my stand-by for every potluck, bring-a-meal, and food sign-up that crosses my path.

Sometimes I dress it up with seeds and grains and swirls, because this is the only way I know how to impress the women in my family who know how to do “fancy”.

swirly bread 2

But mostly, it’s just a simple loaf of bread – a recipe I stumbled across when my two were tiny and I needed something beautiful and delicious which did not require much effort. It has some unusual steps, but it doesn’t require kneading and it’s only about five minutes of hands-on work. The rest is just timing.

Here is the basic recipe I use, modified from Jim Lahey’s method:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cracked wheat (optional, but adds nice texture)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Cornmeal (for dusting)


  1. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients, then add water. The dough should be very stiff. I usually do this step in the evening. ingredients stirring
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours. Let the microkneading work its magic.
  3. 12-18 hours later (it’s late morning of the next day at this point), the dough should be about doubled in size and full of tiny bubbles. Scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl with an oiled rubber spatula, deflating it and turning it onto itself (kinda like you’re folding it). Cover it back up and let rest for 10-15 minutes. 16 hour dough top 16 hour dough folding
  4. Spread out a cotton dish towel on the counter and dust it with cornmeal. cornmeal
  5. Scoop a couple tablespoons of flour onto the dough, dust your hands with flour and grab the dough, shaping it into a rough ball. Place the ball on the cornmeal-dusted towel. Sprinkle more cornmeal on top, and fold the towel over the top. dough with flour  dough ballsecond rise
  6. Let rise for 2 hours.
  7. 90 minutes into the rise, put a heavy, lidded pot into the oven and preheat at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. pot in oven
  8. Take the super hot pot out of the oven, and with your hand under the towel, flop the dough into the pot. Shake it a little to center it in the pot. dough in pot
  9. Cover the pot, and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove lid, and bake for another 10 minutes. bread in oven
  11. Let bread cool on a wire rack. bread

Mmmm… Listen to it crackle as it cools. Smell the yeasty goodness. It slices better when cool, but go ahead and tear into it if you can’t wait. Make it and share it, and pretty soon, they’ll be asking for your bread.


  • I often add additional white flour and/or some whole wheat flour and a little oats to make up to a total of 4 cups flour, and increase the yeast to 1/2 tsp and the salt to 2 tsp, and a little more water – especially if I know I need a larger loaf for a hungrier crowd.
  • I make it sourdough by mixing in a big scoop of my starter in place of the yeast.
  • The book Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett offers many recipe variations.

Ghoul’s Potion: A Recipe for Halloween

Every year during the week of Halloween, I venture out into the deep, dark forest and collect ingredients for Ghoul’s Potion. I bring them to the school where I work, and our Social Communication Groups gather round a table and work together to create the spooky brew. It’s green and lumpy and fizzy, and it provides a fun context to observe how our students (many of whom are on the autism spectrum) are doing with pretend play, turn taking, flexible thinking, and problem solving.

A couple years ago, I started bringing the ingredients to a friend’s house where we usually gather on Halloween night before trick-or-treating in her neighborhood. Our kids were the perfect age to mix up some Ghoul’s Potion.

ghouls potion 6

I start by introducing the creepy ingredients: Witches Brew, Bubbly Ghost Juice, Dragon Scales, Frozen Witch Hearts, and Jack-o-Lantern Mush. I spin a spooky tale of how I gathered each item in the deep, dark woods – from an owl’s nest in a gnarled old tree, to a brambly thicket, to a forlorn dragon cave, to Frankenstein’s cabin, to a haunted pumpkin patch guarded by scarecrows.

ghouls potion 1

The children take turns adding ingredients to the “cauldron”.

ghouls potion 3

After the jack-o-lantern mush is scooped in, each child says some magic words (conjured on the spot), and we hand cups of the slimy liquid into waiting hands. Some of them actually try it. Their skin may or may not turn green.

ghouls potion 4

Someone’s magic words caused my nose to suddenly grow especially pointy. Thanks a lot, kiddos.

ghouls potion 7

Is there anything cuter than small children on Halloween night?

And now, the never-before-released secret recipe for Ghoul’s Potion:


  • Witches Brew (lime jello packet dissolved into 2 cups boiling water, mixed into 2 cups cold orange juice, cooled to room temperature)
  • Bubbly Ghost Juice (club soda or seltzer)
  • Frozen Witch Hearts (ice cubes)
  • Dragon Scales (orange and lime slices)
  • Jack-o-Lantern Mush (orange sherbet or sorbet)


  1. Pour 4 cups of Witches Brew into the “cauldron”
  2. Pour in 4 cups of the Bubbly Ghost Juice
  3. Scoop 12 Frozen Witch Hearts into the mixture
  4. Add 12 Dragon Scales
  5. Add 8 scoops of Jack-o-Lantern mush to the pitcher
  6. Stir well. Be sure to say some magic words. 
  7. Pour into cups and drink slowly.
  8. Watch for unusual changes in appearance or behavior.