Infused With Love

Pass the love along!

Pass the love along!

Today I turn “60”.  It’s a day that starts like many days, I shower, pour myself a cup of coffee and walk into our screened-in porch.  This first hour has always been my favorite.  My wife Val joins me to listen to birds, smell air and plan our day.  I take that first sip of coffee, my shadow Bleu lies on my feet so he knows when I’m on to something else.

Today I am filled with gratitude.  Today I remember we are given just that….today, this moment.  Last Wednesday after feeling extremely weak and fatigued for several weeks, I made a doctor’s appointment and went for a blood test.  That night our doctor called to tell us that my hemoglobin count was 5.6.  Six months ago it was 13.9.  “You need a blood transfusion,”  he explained.  “Usually anyone below 8 is a candidate.  Please go first thing in the morning.”

I was stunned.  A blood transfusion?  Mmmm, must be serious.  We went to the hospital the next morning and were greeted swiftly, by caring staff (thanks to our Dr.’s order).  Within 5 minutes I was having a electrocardiogram and was set up with an IV.  I was receiving blood within 90 minutes and admitted.  I don’t know what I thought; fuel me up and let me go?  After 2 days in the hospital, a CAT scan and 4 units of blood I was released with out patient tests all this week.  The doctors said, “Do you realize how lucky you are?  How serious this was?”  No.  I didn’t.

What I did realize was I felt overwhelmed by the concern of others.  Phone calls exchanged, family and friends notified, we felt supported from the very beginning.  Val, besides doing the work of two on our farm, was right there whenever needed without complaint, offering her usual humor and love.  The hospital staff couldn’t have been kinder, nor my doctors and nurses more competent.  I truly felt in good hands.  While I was resting at home, Val went to market on Saturday as scheduled and was welcomed with not only concern for us, but able hands.  Vendors helped unload our van and set up; customers came to help behind the counter.  Hugs were exchanged, additional help offered and soon a card was circulated and well wishes written for delivery.  Small gifts were offered, a quart of perfect Michigan strawberries, Michigan apples, the best granola ever made, baked goods, fresh salsa and bread.  When Val returned home that afternoon and delivered the gifts and well wishes, I was totally humbled.  I read the card out loud to Val with a trembling voice and tears of joy running down my face.  Our farmer’s market was not only a business, but a community of caring people! Love washed over me and I have not been the same since.

We all go through difficult traumatic times, and isn’t the burden always lifted by kindness?  What if each of us every day remembered those known and unknown who struggle in their lives and offered what we could.  A card, phone call, prayer, a moment of remembrance; I can’t help but feel how much difference it would make not only for the person experiencing hardship but for the heart within each of us.  May the circle remain unbroken.

So no matter what the test results may bring, we are buoyed by the concern, prayers and goodwill of others sent our way.  It is a powerful drug.

“Love is a fruit in season at all times……”

—–Mother Theresa

Posted in emotions, Essays, faith, Farm News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Spring Rain, Tart Sorrel

Beautiful spring sorrell

Beautiful spring sorrel

Common sorrel or garden sorrel, is a perennial herb that is cultivated as a garden herb or leaf vegetable. Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.  It is used by many different cultures including Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Hungary to name a few.  Sorrel is often paired with spinach.  

My mother-in-law introduced me to this perennial by making me sorrel soup. Elsa called it peasant soup, claiming it had healing qualities.  She said she used to collect wild sorrel in Estonia for her step-mother.  To Latvians, Lithuanians  and Estonians, it was a spring staple.  Like many things cultural, each cook approached it differently.  Some added barley, some oatmeal, many pushed the tartness adding lemon juice.  Elsa always served hers with smoked pork chops.

I really enjoyed Elsa’s sorrel soup, yet contemplated a different approach.  I loved the tartness of sorrel; how it tasted clean and new, like spring.  I also liked the addition of barley, which gave it substance.  Sorrel is in the spinach family, but is a more tender green and breaks down completely in the soup.  I wanted the sweetness of shallot rather than onion, and some fresh tarragon.  The tarragon led to the addition of egg yolk for a silky texture and a bit of fresh lemon juice to keep it bright.  Although it ended up completely different from Elsa’s, it reminded me of the Greek lemon-chicken soup, Avgolemeno.  Elsa was my inspiration and mentor, spring was my guide.

Assembly

Assembly

Sorrel Soup

  • 1 Tbsp sweet butter, 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup pearled barley
  • 1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
  • 4 cups sorrel, stemmed removed, roughly chopped
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Barley and egg yolks

Barley and egg yolks

Shallots, garlic and barley

Shallots, garlic and barley

  1. In a medium sized pot, melt the butter with the olive oil.  Saute the shallots and garlic until soft.  Do not brown.  Add barley, stir to cover with oil.
  2. Add chicken stock, cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until barley is soft.
  3. Add tarragon and sorrel.  Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Take a ladle of broth and add it to the egg yolks off heat.  Whisk until combined, then slowly add it to back to the soup.
  5. Simmer an addition 3 minutes to thicken soup.  Take off heat, add lemon juice.

Serve immediately.  Yields 4 servings

Rich, yet bright....a joy of spring

Rich, yet bright….a joy of spring

” Sorrel soup….you cut the egg into slices, and you eat it with the green soup.  And the mixture of the sharp green acidity and round comfort of the egg reminds you of something extraordinary and far away.

Of home?

Certainly not, not even for Poles.  Of what then?

……Of survival, perhaps.”

 

 

Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Outrageous Ragout

Gorgeous fresh tuscan kale

Gorgeous fresh Tuscan kale

I was reading on Facebook the other day that there were some dangers involving eating too much kale.  One comment said, “They were so over kale!”  I can see the concern if you’re a green smoothie junkie who drinks a quart a day of the stuff.  For me however, I will never be over kale.  It’s just too plain good to get over!

We typically grow 3 kinds of kale: Winterbor, Red Russian and Tuscan.  We enjoy them all, with Tuscan being my favorite.  Frankly, it’s loaded with so many goodies that eaten with a bit of moderation, the benefits far outweigh the risks.  Kale, also known as borecole, is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. A leafy green, kale is available in curly, ornamental, or dinosaur varieties. It belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

One cup of chopped kale contains 33 calories and 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.  Whew….does it get any better than that?

As a vegetable farmer and cook, I’m always looking for different ways to use this powerhouse vegetable.  It’s amazingly versatile whether used raw in salads, as a creative side dish, in soups or as I discovered recently in ragout.  A ragout is really a stew that contains a hodgepodge of meat, vegetables and spices.  They are thick in nature and rich in flavor.  While putting this ragout together, I decided to use other favorite foods such as cannellini beans, roasted heirloom tomatoes, which I put up this fall (see blog Waste Not Want Not 9/10/12), and sweet Italian sausage.  Don’t be fooled by the the simplicity of this recipe….it’s simply outrageous!

Break out the red wine!

Break out the red wine!

Tuscan Ragout:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 8 cups chopped, trimmed Tuscan kale (about 1 large bundle)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 pints roasted heirloom tomatoes (Muir Glenn Fire Roasted chopped tomatoes are a decent substitute—2 – 16oz cans)
  • 2  16 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded pecorino cheese
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute onion and sausage rounds until sausage in browned, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add pressed garlic; cook 2 minutes more.
  3. Add kale and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.
  4. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve immediately, topped with pecorino cheese.
Rich and satisfying, great for a quick winter meal.

Rich and satisfying, great for a quick winter meal.

Is there more?

Is there more?

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

Posted in Raves, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tackling That Upper Crust

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I have a confession to make.  I love pie.  In fact, I could eat one a week if it wasn’t for my waistline.  The other part of this confession is although I consider myself an accomplished cook, I have always used a refrigerator crust.  You heard right, a processed refrigerator crust!  It’s a little embarrassing.  I have dragged around my FOC (fear of crust) since 1964 and my first solo attempt in the kitchen.  Really, why is it the simplest things can nourish an insecurity of a lifetime?

The genesis of FOC, started when I was ten years old.  I wanted to make an apple pie with a homemade crust.  My parents were having guests for dinner; I wanted to provide the dessert.  My labor of love took all afternoon.  Somehow when measuring out the ingredients, I had put one tablespoon of salt rather than one teaspoon in the crust. Although the pie looked pretty good for a rookie, it was virtually uneatable.  When I woke up the next morning my mother told me that Mr. Dodge had eaten a whole piece of pie. He also consumed an alarming amount of water afterward.  My fragile ego could not deal with being the brunt of endless jokes.  I tucked away this small failure and never spoke of it again.  FOC blossomed into a complete neurosis about crust and baking in general.  I was a cook, not a baker.  Over time I reasoned that a purchased crust was simply a time-saving measure.

The kitchen has always been my favorite part of my home.  It is my passion, my therapy and a reflection of my livelihood as a vegetable farmer.  Why was I still carrying this FOC around?    So…I promised myself that I would master two things that I was reluctant to try.  1) Make a decent pie crust and 2) Learn the art of pan frying fish (more on this later).  I mean really….how hard can it be?

To that end, I researched two approaches.  It seems that you are either a food-processor type, or a traditionalist.  Although I use my food-processor for many things, I decided that in this case, I would follow tradition and use a pastry cutter.  The next step was to just do it!

Assembling the ingredients.

Assembling the ingredients.

What I really learned in researching pie crust, was that it’s really all about temperature. Both the butter and your water need to be cold.  Very cold.  If things warm up while you are cutting the butter into the flour, then chill it down for 15 minutes before you add your ice water.  You want to keep those small pockets of butter intact.  That’s what gives you the flaky crust we are all looking for.

Preparing to cut in the butter with my pastry cutter.

Preparing to cut in the butter with my pastry cutter.

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons unsweetened butter (two sticks)
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl (a wide bowl is helpful for this).  Cut butter into tablespoons and add it to the dry ingredients.  Using your pastry cutter, quickly cut your pats of butter into your dry ingredients; you want to end up with butter the size of small peas.
  2. Once you add your ice water, you want to initially mix with a spatula, until you have a shaggy ball.  You can then use your hands to incorporate the rest of the dry ingredients.  When the dry ingredients are pulled together and you have a ball, divide it in half, making two separate disks, then wrap each one in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for an hour. This dough will keep in the refrigerator for about a week; in the freezer even longer.   This recipe makes two 9-inch pie crusts, or one 9-inch covered pie.

While you are waiting for your crust to chill, prepare your filling.  In this case, rather than using a pie plate, I want to do a rustic style pie, which is more free-form, with less filling.

For the filling:

  • Peel, core and slice four fresh apples.  I used Macintosh and Granny Smith.  I like the sweet Mac’s against the tart Granny’s.  Put in a medium bowl.
  • Mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons flour, in a separate bowl.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the prepared apples.  Toss and mix thoroughly with your hands.
  • Add the juice of one lemon to mixture.  Toss again.

 

Prepared filling ready to go.

Prepared filling ready to go.

To roll out crust preheat oven to 375 degrees:

  1. When you are ready to roll out your dough, dust your kitchen counter generously with flour (I like to use a silicone baking sheet, since we have tile counters).  Dust the top of your disk of dough and also your rolling pin with flour as well.
  2. Start to roll out your crust, changing directions as you go, lifting your crust in quarter turns every couple of rolls, until you have the desired size and shape.  If you dough sticks, lift with a bench scraper and sprinkle a little flour underneath.  If your dough becomes too soft, place it on a baking sheet and put it back in the freezer for a few minutes.  Your don’t want to melt the small peas of butter.
  3. If you want to use your crust in a pie pan, fold gently into quarters and place in the center of your pan; if making a rustic pie, place on top of a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
  4. Place your filling in the center of the disk, leaving 2 inches of border.  Fold border gently over the filling, leaving some of the filling exposed.
  5. Brush the top of the crust with a little whole milk, then sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until crust is golden.
My crust rolled out and ready to fill.

My crust rolled out and ready to fill.

My rustic pie ready for the oven.

My rustic pie ready for the oven.

Ta, da!

Ta, da!

Ok….how easy was that?  Just think of all those delicious pies and tarts ahead of me.  I can’t wait to tackle all of them!  Val has offered to be the official taste-tester.

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone.  Whether we know it or not, none of us is.  We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten.  Food is never just food.  It’s also a way of getting at something else;  who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.”

–Molly Wizenberg

 

 

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Can’t Buy Me Love

The view out my study

The view out my study

We spent the day putting away all the Christmas decorations in the natural light while it was available.  We are completing day eight of our holiday power outage.  We have been without power since last Friday, due to a storm that left ¾ of an inch of ice on everything in its path.  Life has ground to a slow frozen halt, except for the sound of branches and trees breaking from the weight of the ice, falling across lawns, driveways and streets, taking the power lines with them.   What started out as an inconvenience has blossomed into a slightly tedious endurance test.  We joke about being ‘pioneers’ although we are sitting better than most.  Since we heat with wood, we are warm and can cook on our gas stove.

Normally, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to feel inconvenienced in any meaningful way, except this was the holiday.  Plans had been made, food purchased and company poised to arrive.  This was not what we expected or wanted!  We love pulling out all the stops for the occasion, with plenty of food and drink for family and friends.  It’s a main event, something not to miss and my nose was out of joint.  I had planned to roast leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic and herbs, accompanied by a Provence casserole made with caramelized onions, zucchini and tomatoes topped with Gruyere cheese.  Did I mention the Swiss chard gratin with pancetta, cream and garlic, the kale Caesar salad or the curry carrot soup?  Last but not least, the warm apple crisp with homemade ice cream? @#^%!

What?  Did I hear you say this is not about me?  Perhaps you’re right.  When it comes to food, humility is not one of my strong suits.  I do so enjoy putting on the Ritz for the holidays.  Cooking for others is my bliss so to speak.  When I realized that it was unlikely that we would have our electricity back for Christmas, I called my brother to say I was sorry, but I was cancelling our gathering.  We were out of power and couldn’t do our traditional spread; maybe next week, possibly on New Year’s Day?  I turned off my cell phone to preserve what power I had left and stared at the house bereft of Christmas lights, music and general cheer.  Then I did what I usually do to improve my mood…cook.

I went in the kitchen and assembled ingredients for chili.  Ground pork, chorizo, poblano peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and corn that had been put up in summer was retrieved from the freezer.  I pulled dark red kidney beans and tomato paste from the pantry and started chopping, sautéing and seasoning.  What started out as a distraction from my disappointment, turned into a huge pot of simmering chili.  Then it hit me.  Maybe we could just have chili and still get together for Christmas?  Why was I so insistent that it be our usual huge spread?  Could it be that I was seriously missing the point?

I called my brother back to see what he thought about having chili.  He said it would be fine and so much easier than rescheduling everyone.  I ended the call feeling relieved and knowing in my heart that getting together was the right thing to do.

Each year we share a Christmas tree with our neighbor Lynne due to our ridiculous collection of cats.  On Christmas day everyone arrived as usual with plenty of holiday spirit and cheer.  We had carted over chili, cheese and salami, along with beer, wine and gifts earlier.  Lynne fired up her generator and lit up the tree to provide the additional ambiance.  My brother’s girlfriend Deb supplied corn muffins and a homemade coconut cream pie.  After taking our time opening our gifts, we sat down to steaming bowls of chili and conversation.  My nephew Ian said, “You know it’s not what we have to eat that so important, it’s the getting together. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without that.”  That’s when I realized the greatest gift of all couldn’t be purchased.  Over those steaming bowls of chili, we were rich in the love with have for each other.  The true meaning for the season was shared in the glow passing through each of us.

Cold without but warm within!

Cold without but warm within!

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen 

Posted in emotions, Essays, faith, family, Love, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sounds of Silence

The view out my study

The view out my study

We woke this morning to a silent blanket of snow, covering every possible twig and shrub with the lightest form of silence imaginable.  Emma, curled up at the end of our bed purred in contentment.  Our home was absolutely still and the beauty  breath taking.  Val, my every-ready bunny, slid out of bed to make coffee and rekindle the wood-burner.  I could hear her in our kitchen, each sound magnified in its singular presence.  Coffee and wood smoke intermingled, and within minutes I was handed a steaming cup of our morning elixir.  Climbing back in, neither of us had spoken a word; to do so would have broken some kind of spell.  Before long, three cats and a our dog Bleu were also nourished, as we grew quieter still; letting the silence enfold us.  This silence is never felt as a void, but as a sound of something moving deep within us; as it formulates our speech.

A sleeping beauty

A sleeping beauty

Silence is a major part of our winter environment.  Neither Val nor I are television watchers, so we spend many hours together in its embrace, often reading.  The sounds within our home are notes within our daily rhythms.  This silence is valued by both of us as we are replenished and nourished by it. We are fortunate to have many windows that open to the natural world outside.  In winter we are safe and cocooned, fundamentally sheltered from the storm.  It appears that silence and simplicity are an acquired taste.  It seems mankind instinctively complicates life.

We are Facebooked, YouTubed, plugged in and turned on; yet why this need for constant business?  Haven’t you ever wanted to notice the wind blow, your heart beat or your lover sigh?  How can any of it be heard when the world is so noisy?  When I stare at a fire and can hear the sizzle and pop of the wood; it would all be missed if the room was filled with perpetual distraction.  I say this to you so you might stop and take the time to hear the sounds of silence.  Something you enter into; when all we can do is make noise.

During this time of the year, Val and I are often found in the kitchen making a soup, stew or baked good.  One of our favorite’s is a carrot loaf that is beautifully dense, yet not too sweet.  We love it with our morning coffee.

Val adds shredded carrots to the mix.

Val adds shredded carrots to the mix.

Carrot Bread

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups melted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Additionally:

  • 2 1/2 cups, packed finely shredded carrot, soaked in juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cups walnut pieces
  1. Starting with wet ingredients, beat in large mixing bowl, the sugar and butter, adding eggs one at a time.  Add remaining ingredients, and beat until light in color.
  2. Sift dry ingredients twice; then add a third of it to butter mixture, alternating with a third of the shredded carrots. (flour, carrot, flour, carrot, flour, carrot)
  3. After each mixture gently mix to combine, but do not beat or over-mix, as this will toughen the loaf.  Stir in walnuts.
Sift dry ingredients twice.

Sift dry ingredients twice.

Generously butter 2 loaf pans.  Divide batter between the two and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Almost ready for oven.

Almost ready for oven.

When done, cool 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to finish cooling.  Serve with butter or cream cheese.  (We think cream cheese brings out the flavor of the allspice.)  Also consider toasting the slices; it’s delicious!

Coffee's brewing!

Coffee’s brewing!

“Then silence happened;/the silence that is born of water, foaming,/Suddenly it curdles in a looking glass./ So we grow quiet./ We do the same as lakes to see the sky.”

–Rosario Castellanos

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Seeds of Change 2013

Barely into January, and here we are, catalogs spread over our kitchen table; with lists of vegetables and dreams in hand.  At the beginning of each year, Val and I decide on what we want to plant for the next farm season.  These decisions must be made early since the availability of choice seed is awarded only to those organized enough to order early.

So many choices

So many choices

We grow many of the same crops each year, but even within those crops we must decide whether or not to change the varieties grown.  The weather over the past several years has been unpredictable;  we have come to recognize that we really have two separate farm seasons.  Spring is starting sooner than ever, and fall is lasting later in the year.  Our irrigation protects us from drought, but we are still dealing with extreme temperature shifts.  Since we use succession planting methods for many of our crops, its incredibly important to think through how to adapt to the change in weather patterns.

When we sit down with all our catalogs to discuss what new crops we might consider, it doesn’t take long for our heads to start spinning with all the glossy photos.  We call it vegetable porn.  Did I mention we aren’t getting any younger?  So we are starting to scale back slightly on some of our more labor intensive crops, like potatoes.  It’s always a balancing act between the weather, crops, weeds, our stamina and market interest.  We are very selective about introducing new vegetables at market.  The choices we make directly impact our income.  Many stalls compete for each customer’s food dollar.  We place a premium on the relationships we have built and the quality produce we bring.  We count on, and are grateful for our faithful customers that support us each week.   We take great pleasure in helping to educate them about our different varieties and how to use them in exciting ways.

We will be working on our seed order for several days, dividing our time between splitting wood, making soaps and seeing dear friends.  Winter is such a great time for reflection and balance after a busy market season; soups and stews make an appearance once or twice a week.  Here’s one of our current favorites.

Sausage, Fennel and Potato Chowder

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into large dice
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and cut into large dice (about 2 cups), plus 1 to 2 Tbsp. chopped fennel fronds for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp. dry sherry
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
  • 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and cook, stirring with a wooden spatula to break it up into small pieces, until it starts to brown, about 3-5 minutes.  Stir in potato, onion, and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add sherry and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits, about 30 seconds.
  3. Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 10-12 minutes.
  4. Add the parsley and the sun-dried tomatoes, heavy cream, and lemon zest and stir until incorporated.
  5. Using a potato masher, gently crush the cooked potatoes until most of them are masked and the stew is somewhat thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve hot, garnished with fennel fronds.

Serves 4

Satisfying and warming chowder

Satisfying and warming chowder

“There is nothing like soup.  It is by nature eccentric; no two are every alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.”  –Laurie Colwin

Posted in Chicken, Essays, Farm News, Farmer's Market, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Comfort

It never ceases to amaze me how life will soften our hearts when we let it.  The son of a dear friend of mine called to share that his mother had been taken to the hospital and had gone through two back surgeries, one day apart.  This alone would be news worthy, but Marian is 89 years old.

I have known Marian for 30 years; we met when I was dating her son.  When my relationship with her son ended, Marian and I maintained our friendship.  Marian comes from ‘good basic farm stock’.  She is a no-nonsense woman, with a fierce devotion to family, nature, the land and her friendships.  Modernity is suspect for a woman, like Marian.  For me, Marian has been a surrogate mother in the most tender sense of the word.

I remember each time I would leave her home after a visit.  Marian would stand in her living room window and wave to me.  I came to look for her in that window, her warmth passing the space between us, waving me home.

Marian takes a deep interest in those she loves.  She wants to know what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it.  Through relationship failures and life-style changes, Marian was steadfast in her support for me.  It is a quality of kindness difficult to repay, and deeply treasured.

Val and I visited Marian in the hospital two days ago and were surprised how well she looked.  Her color was good, in spite of the feeding tube down her nose, and the inability  to get out of bed.  When I asked how she was doing, she responded, “I’m grateful for two things; I still have my eyes and my mind.”

People look vulnerable when they’re in the hospital.  It speaks to our own vulnerability.  I was reminded once again how each day is precious and unique.  We are guaranteed this moment only, our future indeed unknowable.  Dwelling on past transgressions or worrying about our future, is so often counter-productive.  Our task is to cherish this moment, and use it wisely.

Marian will be transferred to a nursing-home to recover from her surgeries.  We all want her to be her usual independent-self and recover fully.  Yet we also acknowledge we are not in control of how each life unfolds.  I do know I will show her as much love as I can, with repeated visits and well wishes.  Although I’m sure she knows it already, I will be sure to tell her, “I love you.”

My dear friend Marian

My dear friend Marian

“Friendship is the bread of the heart.”  –Mary Russel Mitford

For me one of the simplest gestures to show people how much I love them, is to cook for them.  During the colder months, comfort food will show up repeatedly in our home.  Here is one of our favorites:

Chicken Potpie

  • 1   3-4 lb. rotisserie chicken
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  •   2-3 red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 12 frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 medium leek, white and light-green parts only, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 3/4 cup button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. dried thyme
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • One refrigerator pie-crust (or one homemade pie-crust)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Remove the skin from the chicken, and remove all the chicken from the carcass.  Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
  2. Melt 5 Tbsp. butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the red potatoes and pearl onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes, until the potatoes begin to turn golden.  Add the leeks, carrots, and mushrooms, and cook 4-5 minutes more.  Add the 5 Tbsp. of flour, and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Stir in chicken stock and milk, and bring to a simmer.  Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes.  Add reserved chicken pieces, parsley, thyme, lemon zest.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to large casserole dish.
  3. Make the egg-wash by mixing the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl.  Place pie-crust on top of the casserole and tuck the extra dough around the edges.  Cut slits on top to allow steam to escape.  Brush with the egg wash, and place on a baking sheet.  Bake 35-40 minutes, until crust in golden.  Serve hot.
Golden and delicious comfort food

Golden and delicious comfort food

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Searching for Peace

Signs of peace

Signs of peace

Well, it’s tomorrow in Australia and the world has not ended, but there is more than enough upset for this holiday season.  Not only do the holidays bring out the usual dysfunction of families, but an unending thirst for the material, rather than the spiritual rewards of the season.  Peace on Earth is sung by many on my Pandora Christmas station, yet I traverse between a calm followed by a nameless agitation that grabs me the moment I leave the safety of our home.  It seems the world is becoming more and more dangerous.  My heart grieves for dead children and their families, the poisoning of our planet for profit, while millions starve.  Our problems seem overwhelming.  I wonder what impact one person could possibly have to change the world.  As an individual how do I live a life that nurtures others, the planet and myself?  How do I stay authentic to my beliefs?

In the small microcosm of my life, I look for signs of hope.  How have I made a difference?  Since I moved to the country, my greatest teachers have been nature, the seasons, and the land.  If we care for the land, the land offers up the food that both feeds us and provides our livelihood.  That clean, wholesome food is taken to the farmers market and sold to people that care about what they feed themselves and their families.  It’s a life that is simple, focused and real.  Farming itself is a practice of faith.   We are not in control.  We place a seed in the ground and have faith that it will grow.  I believe that we often receive what we put into the world; a sort of what goes around, comes around.  When I am kind to people, it follows that people are generally kind to me.  But what happens when people are unkind?  What happens when there is drought or deluge or crop failure?  I believe this is when our faith is really tested, when our attitudes matter.

It seems to me that faith, the belief in things unseen, is about the things in life that cause us to question, to change, to grow.  I don’t believe that the challenges in life are judgments, but opportunities to understand the world and ourselves more fully.  How do we cultivate our better selves when we are up against our fears and the rapid pace of change?   We are all flawed human beings; there are no saints among us.  How do we nurture our inter-connectedness?  How do we come to realize what happens to one of us, happens to us all?  My greatest challenge is to keep my heart open, to feel pain when someone is hurting, to look at the glass as ‘half-full’.

As I enter the quiet time of winter, our pace is slower.  The lands rests, and in the same sense, so do I.  Dormancy is a gift.  I can’t assimilate life without periods of quiet.  There is time for long morning coffee and deep listening.  Clocks tick, fires burn and hearts beat.  It is a season where less is more.  This resting period is a time to replenish both my physical and emotional being.  In this quiet stillness  I hear a small voice say, “Your faith is measured by the wideness of your heart.”  One of my favorite poets, Stanley Kunitz said it in a different way: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.”  The peace I sought is found.

“Listening”

The mummified god of my childhood

speaks to me from beyond the grave,

whispers faint language

encased in the smallest seed.

Exhausted, I endlessly sift

through wheat and chaff,

waiting to hear some coded message.

In the welcoming silence of winter,

I am content and cocooned.

My needs simple,

I suspend my search for meaning

to burrow into the softest sheets

and dream of you.

Posted in Essays, faith, poetry, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Season of Gratitude

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.  One of those that I will remember for a long time.  The day was a whirlwind of activity all though food preparations started the day before.  Val made two pecan pies, Lynne made Jezebel Sauce (cranberry sauce enhanced with Dijon mustard and horseradish) and her wonderful wild rice stuffing, I stuffed pork loin with onions, porcini mushrooms, dried apples, cognac, herbs and ground pork; then covered it with prosciutto, set it on a rack of apple halves and poured hard cider in the roasting pan.  The meal was rounded out with Swiss chard casserole and Brussels sprouts with creamed Dijon sauce.

Our wonderful Thanksgiving plate.

Our neighbor Lynne, who we also consider family, hosted our Thanksgiving feast.  Also attending were Val’s older brother Gary, my older brother Bill and his girlfriend Deb, and our nephews Ian and Jake.  We all differ in personality and political leanings, yet we are brought together by the ties of family and goodwill.  I’m sure all of us consider how empty the holidays would be without these family connections.  Families often are teachers of many things, including tolerance, diversity and above all love.  Our acceptance of each other is sometimes challenged, yet we celebrate the the bonds of shared history.  The art of listening can forge the way to a deeper understanding of each other.

I started a tradition several years ago in a desire to focus on how gratitude informs each of our lives.  We do this by going around the table and allowing each of us a moment to express gratitude.  Although there may be minor resistance, each of us rises to the occasion (sometimes with emotion) to share how we are grateful.  It is an opportunity to let each other know the importance of family and what is meaningful to us.

The day of Thanksgiving is the threshold of the holiday season.  Val and I have made a commitment to giving gifts that are handmade or local.  In this season of intense commercialism we want to emphasize how easy it is to connect through life’s simplicity.  Whether it’s a gift from our kitchen, the farm, our wood shop, or a local business, it will be a gift given with love.

The next several days entail decorating our homes with the spirit of the holidays.  Val & I have many cats, so we share a tree with Lynne.  We love picking out and trimming our tree with ornaments that have been collected over many years.  Lynne is a lover of all things related to the Peanut Gallery, so she has many Charlie Brown, Woodstock and Snoopy ornaments.  I have collected Santa’s for decades (Val calls them my gray beard’s) so there are many Santa ornaments.  In our own home we have a small grapevine tree and multiple Santa’s, wreaths and garland to help our rustic flavored home feel festive.

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As I grow older, it has become increasingly more important to feel gratitude each day; not just during the holiday season.  I have become a person with a tender heart.  In this troubled world so filled with commercialism, it’s not the possessions that we acquire over time, but the relationships to which we devote our time.  Truck farming and living in the country has indeed slowed down the pace of our lives.  It teaches us a simple, yet focused lifestyle that feeds not only ourselves, but the customers that support us.  We learn to keep pace with the seasons and the land.  May we continue to share great food with the people we love through out the year.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted Apples

Filling:

  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup dried apples
  • 1 lb kale, bottom stems removed
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp cognac
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb ground pork

Pork:

  • 1 trimmed and butterflied 2 1/2-3 lbs pork loin
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 medium apples (such as Granny Smith or Fuji), quartered, or 8 small apples halved
  • Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup hard cider
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Filling:  Place dried mushrooms and dried apples in separate small bowls.  Add 1 cup boiling water to each bowl.  Let mushrooms and apples soak until very soft, about 30 minutes.  Strain mushrooms.  Cover and chill soaking liquid.  Finely chop mushrooms and apples, combine in a small bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, blanch kale in boiling salted water for 1 minute, until wilted.  Using tongs, transfer kale to a bowl of ice water.  Drain on paper towels once cooled completely.  Remove any large ribs.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion; cook, stirring often, until soft and golden, about 8 minutes.  Add mushrooms and apples; cook, stirring occasionally until flavors meld, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme and rosemary; cook for 1 minute.  Add cognac and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to bowl, let cool completely.  Add ground pork and stir to combine well.

Pork:  Open butterflied pork loin, cover with plastic wrap.  (If your pork loin is not butterflied, do the following:  Put pork loin on a work surface with short end facing you.  Holding a long, think sharp knife parallel to work surface and beginning along one long side, cut 1/2 inch above the underside of the loin.  Continue slicing slowly inward, pulling back the meat with your free hand and unrolling the loin like a carpet, until the entire loin in flat.) Using a meat mallet, pound to an even thickness.

Butterflied pork loin covered with kale and stuffing and ready to roll up.

Butterflied pork loin covered with kale and stuffing and ready to roll up.

Uncover pork, season with salt and pepper.  Place kale leaves on top of loin in an even layer, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1 inch border.  Spread filling on top of kale.  Roll pork into tight cylinder.  Wrap one layer of prosciutto around roast.  Tie roast securely with kitchen twine in 1 inch intervals.  Tuck rosemary sprigs under twine, spacing apart.  Roast can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and chill.  Let stand at room temperature for one hour before continuing.

Pork loin stuffed, tied and ready for searing.

Pork loin stuffed, tied and ready for searing.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place apples in a roasting pan.  Melt 1 Tbsp butter with oil in a large skillet.  Brown pork roast on all sides, about 5 minutes total, then set on top of apples.  Add hard cider and 1/2 cup of water to skillet and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits in pan.  Pour mixture into roasting pan.  Roast pork until an instant-read thermometer reaches 140 degrees, about 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Let roast rest for at least 20-30 minutes.

Place roast on platter.  Reserve apples from roasting pan; spoon off fat from juices in pan.  Place pan on top of stove over medium-high heat.  Add chicken stock and reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind, and cook, scraping bottom of pan to release any browned bits, until slightly thickened; about 5 minutes.  Whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Strain sauce; slice pork.  Serve apples and sauce along side pork.

Beautiful, moist and flavorful.

Beautiful, moist and flavorful.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”   —J.R.R. Tolkien

Posted in Farm News, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments