October 29, 2014

We’ve been very busy at Excelsior Farm, as many of you are aware. I’ve posted about garlic planting, ripping out the summer field, and the general fast pace of the season that borders on mayhem. And this is merely maintaining the farm, which would be enough to keep us busy; but, as we enter our third season on Excelsior Farm, we find that we are in many ways still “setting up.” That is, we are continually in the process of determining what needs to be done to create more order, efficiency, and stability in the way the farm runs—and implementing changes as quickly as possible. The changes range from large endeavors like building a third greenhouse and laying cement in our pack-out, to organizing our tools so that everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be when we need it. Last week we spent considerable time building a little harvest tools shelf onto the side of the barn, easily accessible to us as we come back and forth from the field (I can’t tell you how many such shelves Jeremy as nailed into the walls of the barn for hanging and storing tools!). All this strategizing can be tiring, but it makes a huge difference in how orderly the farm, and our minds, feel.

I am constantly learning that good farming is all in details such as these. The details not only make the farm more successful, but more enjoyable as well.  And even though it is always busy to some degree, we find ourselves at peace.

It is definitely a greens week this week. Just try and think of it as a way to offset all the Halloween candy of the weekend: Butternut Squash, Spinach, Purple Carrots, Collard Greens, Fennel, Escarole, Mustard Greens, and Scallions.

Though it is greens week, they are some exciting greens! You have our first harvest of Spinach, and in new, nifty little bags (one of those fun details we have taken pleasure in recently).  The mention of spinach may or may not evoke feelings of excitement; true, it is marketed as extremely healthy, but this good-for-you food is often only known in its canned or frozen forms, both of which are appalling beyond description. Even fresh bagged spinach tends to be flavorless and tough. Our spinach, however, is delicious, tender-crisp in texture and mildly leafy-tasting without bitterness. And it is healthy, full of vitamin C, chlorophyll, and cartenoids, just in time for cold and flu season. Enjoy spinach raw as a salad or cooked, but be aware that spinach cooks down a lot.

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Generally, greens can be easily cooked by rinsing them, chopping them, and then steaming them briefly in a pan using the water still clinging to them. Toss them with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper to serve. All your greens this week can be prepared in this way. Note that the Mustard Greens are on the hot side. Or try this fancy, fatty version of Collard Greens:

Creamed Collard Greens

Adapted from The Nourished Kitchen by Jennifer McGruther

To my great enjoyment, I finally received my copy of The Nourished Kitchen by Jennifer McGruther in the mail yesterday. Simple yet stunning food, both comforting and healthful and depicted with lovely photographs, this is just the sort of food-love and aesthetic that I strive for in my kitchen. Since collard greens were on the harvest list for this week’s basket, I made this recipe straight away when I got home from the farm. This is old-fashioned food at it’s best: unfussy yet elegant and unashamed of good things like sturdy collards, sweet cream and buttery onions. And it takes under fifteen minutes to prepare.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1-2 large bunches collard greens, roughly chopped (remove stems first)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Allow it to foam, then turn down to medium heat and add the onions. Caramelize the onions by frying them for 6-8 minutes. They should be fragrant and a little caramelized around the edges. Add the collard greens and stir until wilted, about two minutes. Turn the heat to medium-low, add the cream, and simmer for 5-6 minutes until thickened and reduced. Serve hot with a sprinkling of nutmeg.

I still can’t believe how good this was! I hope you are well-nourished this week, and enjoy the beginning of holiday festivities!

Ashli

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The Garlic Planting

Dear Farm Partners,

One of the hallmarks of fall on our farm is the garlic planting.

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(Chesnok Red Garlic)

Other signals of fall bring sighs of relief—at last, the busiest part of the season is over. The summer plants are torn out and gone FOREVER, at least until next time. The onions and winter squash are tucked away in the root cellar, ready to be taken out of storage as an easy addition to Harvest Baskets and restaurant orders. The fall crops are producing well but at a slower pace. It seems that the end of September has brought us all to a slower pace.

And then, it is October, when it is time to plant garlic, a substantial task indeed. We are reminded that the season has merely become less busy.

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Garlic is one of those crops that basically takes a year’s worth of attention. I’ve become convinced that garlic never actually “ends” or finishes. It is a “summer” crop, since it is harvested in the summer, but gets planted in the fall, usually October. Garlic seed is simply individual garlic cloves which we’ve reserved from our recent harvest. This means that someone (this year it was Ashli) has to spend a couple of days breaking open heads of garlic into separate cloves (and waking up at night with hand cramps). In order to have a store of seed garlic, we spent periods in August clipping cured garlic heads from their stalks and measuring each one (that is, EACH ONE), saving the largest for our own stock (you can see how large the cloves are in the above picture!). And of course, in order to cure, the garlic had to be sorted, bunched, and hung in the airy barn until it was dry enough to store until planting. And naturally, this required digging up the garlic from their beds in July, where they had been lying for nine months since they were planted LAST October.

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The actual planting is done by hand, whenever we have a dry day.

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As you can see, it is a lot of cloves to plant per bed (and we’re planting eight bed’s worth), so we try to move as quickly as possible (Jeremy can do a bed by himself in less than 40 minutes!). It’s a lot of bending over and move-move-moving, but what a rush, and what an accomplishment! It is truly a momentous occasion for us.

Alas, after all that, you have no garlic in your Harvest Baskets this week. But you do have: Italian Kale, Beets, Scallions, Turnips, Endive, Lettuce, Sage, and Mint. This really is my favorite season for vegetables, full of roots, greens, and savory herbs. A few notes:

Italian Kale (also Lacinato or Dinosaur kale) is very easy to use, as it can be cut into very tidy little pieces and cooked down with less effort, it seems to me, than the really broad, frilly kale leaves. “Dino” kale is very pleasant in soup. And, if you are still catching up with your greens of previous weeks, this is a very suitable kale for kale chips.

Your Turnips are just large Japanese turnips. I think that these are superior, actually, still crisp and sweet but much creamier than the small ones. As more mature turnips, these would be beautiful mashed or roasted (the small ones really are to watery to cook).

A fall salad: Cut beets into chunks and roast with olive oil until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then toss with vinaigrette and freshly chopped mint. Serve on snipped endive.

I hope you continue to benefit from the blustery weather, as I do!

Ashli

By the way, the Harvest Baskets season is STILL ON until the last Wednesday of November, November 26. That means that we have five weeks left after today.

Fennel and Purple Carrots

Dear Farm Partners,

Our fall produce is in full force with this week’s basket! Fennel, Purple Carrots, and Green Kohlrabi join the already familiar Kale, Escarole and Parsley, all of them harvested out of our winter field. It’s wonderful to see that section of the farm thriving, and with such lovely offerings, too. As this is an earlier harvest of the fennel, carrots, and kohlrabi, they are all sweet and delicately crunchy in a way that only the first harvests are. These are definitely great for raw eating, if you find yourself in the mood for it. Although, with the growing chill, you may wish to (understandably) incorporate them into hot dishes. They do this beautifully as well! The purple carrots are charming when roasted whole, and kohlrabi is also very good when sautéed or roasted.

Fennel bulb, or finocchio, is a member of the carrot family distinct for its fragrant anise (or licorice) flavor (there is also an herb called fennel, from which comes fennel seed, often found in Italian sausages and sauces). It is particularly nice in salads, such as this lovely Fennal and Escarole Salad from Martha Stewart. The Kitchn, as usual, has a very nice article about using fennel (because they’re handy like that).

Also in your basket are Fingerling Potatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant. The latter two are the, ahem, fruits of a clean sweep we did yesterday in the greenhouses. Enjoy the very last bits of summer!

All the best on this blustery day,

Ashli

How We Finished Summer

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Dear Farm Partners,

A small patch of sunflowers glows in summery, late afternoon sunshine, looking out over almost an acre of freshly-tilled soil. The sunflowers are all that remains of our summer field. Just two weeks ago this same field was still producing tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, peppers; already it had produced the bulk of the vegetables for this season’s Harvest Baskets. Now it is bare, and has a chance to rest under a blanket of cover crop until we’re ready to plant summer crops once again. And with all the straggling tomatoes torn out and the winter squash in storage, we feel that summer has finished at last.

It’s amazing how much, and how swiftly, the landscape of the farm changes over the course of a season. Only a short time ago Jeremy was tilling and preparing beds in what is now our winter field, while the summer field was booming with vegetables. Now it’s the reverse!

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Here is the winter field; you can see the summer field in the background, all ready to be formed into new beds and then cover-cropped for winter. The work continues, but at least summer is over.

In your baskets this week: Pumpkin, Celeriac, Endive, Chard, Scallions, Sweet and Hot Peppers, Lettuce, and Parsley. The hot peppers are the small green ones, while the sweet are red and orange.

This week we offer you some autumn cheer in the form of a little Pumpkin.

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These are Sugar Pie pumpkins, which are meatier than the larger jack o’ lantern pumpkins, and most satisfactory not only for pies (or, say, coffee cake) but for general eating. Pumpkins find their way into many savory recipes, as you can see from this round-up of glorious pumpkin dishes, desserts, and beverages. Or try this pumpkin soup, which is currently simmering on my stove for tonight’s supper (although I will probably make this next, after looking–drooling–over that website I just linked to).

Thai-Spiced Squash Soup with Noodles
Adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen

Some notes on the recipe: I did not have lemongrass stalks, but substituted lemon juice at the end with the lime juice. Lemongrass is really heavenly, though, and if you can use it, do. I know I’ll try again with lemongrass. I used a combination of pumpkin and butternut squash, and added very fine slivers of red pepper and red onion (so much color!). Oh, and the cardamom pods: they are not pleasant to eat (though so wonderful in flavor), so just fish them out of your bowl.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons green cardamom pods, crushed
1 can (13-14 oz) coconut milk
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 butternut squash (or pumpkin, or combination), peeled, seeded, and cubed (4 cups total)
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped (original suggests removing tough out leaves of stalk)
1 kaffir lime leaf, sliced (or or grated zest and juice of 1 lime)
2 leeks, finely sliced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 0z Asian noodles (original suggests Chinese fine dried egg noodles; I used brown rice noodles)

To garnish: minced red chile, scallions, and cilantro

In a soup pot, heat oil and add the curry paste, coriander, and cardamom. Stir for about 1 minute, until the mixture becomes fragrant. Add the coconut milk and stock and bring to a boil, then add the squash/pumpkin, lemongrass, lime leaf/zest, leeks, and celery (and other veggies, if you wish). Simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add fish sauce and lime juice (I added lemon juice here in place of lemongrass). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Cook noodles of choice according to package instructions, and place a portion in each bowl. Ladle soup over the noodles, garnish, and be warmed on the inside.

Enjoy,

Ashli

ps, Don’t forget to toast your pumpkin seeds!

October

Dear Farm Partners,

Greetings on the first day of October. If autumn is my favorite season, October is my favorite of the autumn months (really, it’s my favorite of all months). October is the month with the most color and the beloved crisp fall weather before the rain of November. I always look forward to the pumpkins and squash, leaf-collecting, the beginning of holiday season festivities, and general coziness. I’ve always loved these features of October, but now that I’m no longer in school there is another aspect of October that I notice, and deeply appreciate. This is the feeling that things are “winding down.” Usually October is towards the beginning of the school year, and the energy of “starting up” is still present. Things might slow down a little, but then exams come in December and it’s time for a final push before Christmas break. This fall, after working a full summer on the farm, I’m thankful to be able to feel the transition—and thankful that it might mean a little more time and rest! We have a couple big projects scheduled for this winter, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve mentioned my deep love of winter squash in a at least one previous post, and this you have in your baskets my favorite of all squashes: the Acorn Squash. This is the squash that is fixed in my childhood memories; I clearly remember getting half of a baked acorn squash all to myself, its cavity filled with melting butter and brown sugar, and eating it right out of its shell with a spoon. Even too this day I rarely eat squash with more adornment or preparation than this (although mostly I forgo the brown sugar). Indeed, our acorn squash is almost maple-flavored without any help! More squash cooking suggestions can be found here.

Also in your baskets this week: Fingerling Potatoes, Kale, Sweet Peppers, Beets, Lettuce, Basil, and Sage. A nice combination of some end-of-summer produce with hearty fall vegetables.

Even though this squash is enjoyable with little fuss, I feel that now is the moment to introduce you all to The Salad. This dish is an invention of my friend and former housemate Ann, who one evening threw a bunch of leftovers together (in this case, cubed squash, red pepper, chickpeas, and salad greens) as we were scratching our heads over what to make for dinner. The result was so delicious that we’ve made it many times, and refer to it simply as The Salad. Since you have both squash and peppers this week, and the weather is turning, I thought this salad would be a perfect recipe for this week.

The Salad

1 Acorn Squash, peeled and cut into cubes

2-3 Sweet Peppers, seeded and chopped

1 ½ cups Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans), cooked

Several cloves Garlic, slightly mashed

Olive oil and salt

A big bowl of Salad Greens, Lettuce, etc.

½ to ¾ cup of The Dressing

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine squash, peppers, chickpeas, and garlic on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until squash is tender and chickpeas are nice and crispy (one of the most delicious aspects of this dish, to my mind). Allow to cool somewhat, then add the mixture to the bowl of salad greens. Toss with The Dressing until well coated, and serve.

As a final note, it’s been my habit to celebrate the first day of October by baking pumpkin coffee cake. You can find my favorite recipe for it here.

Enjoy,

Ashli

ps, As a final final note, meet some of our Farm Friends! We encounter these creatures occasionally while working on the farm.

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We find lots of little frogs in our pack-out, where it’s wet from washing vegetables.

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Jeremy found this salamander yesterday in the potatoes.

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Yesterday we also met this young goose, walking around in the fennel and salad mix.