Sunday, July 29, 2012

From the Farmers' Kitchen....

This is a true story....

Late one night this week, we came into the house totally exhausted and incredibly hungry. Looking around, and feeling too tired to cook, we hopped in the car and went out to town to find something to eat. 45 minutes later we returned, after visiting TWO local eateries, empty handed because we didn't want anything on their menus (for that price). Now it was close to 9pm, we were still hungry and I hadn't showered. I eventually made a quick and unsatisfying pasta dish.

Today, the rain is falling at steady intervals and I'm determined to change our ways and ensure that we don't actually work ourselves to death. The season's challenges have taken a toll on our eating and cooking habits, so I set the goal of preparing several dishes in advance for the week to save time and use pretty much exclusively things grown here. We generally only eat what we grow anyway, but I've been slacking in the kitchen and making veggies only as a side dish, rather than something complex and wonderful.

In 2.5 hours, we prepared the following items using what we gave this week for a share, though I haven't touched the chicken yet.

1. Pesto from carrot and radish greens (see previous post)
I haven't quite decided if we will be using this on fish, chicken or pasta yet, but it's ready to go when we need it.

2. Rice and veggie fry-up
Bunch of baby carrots, 2 mini onions, 1 clove garlic, 1 bunch radishes, 1 bunch kale, 2 cups cooked brown rice, 1 egg, 3 tblspns sesame oil, 1/4 cup tamari, 1 tspn chilli pepper, 2 tblspn chopped cilantro (fresh), salt and pepper

  • Cook your rice ahead of time, set aside.
  • Heat the sesame oil in a medium-large skillet. Add in your radishes (chopped roughly), baby carrots (whole), chopped onion and garlic. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, add in your chilli pepper.
  • When the vegetable are starting to sear nicely, add your tamari and coat the mix evenly.
  • Add in the kale, and once it starts to wilt, add in your rice. Shape the rice into an oval shape, making a whole in the center. Crack the egg into the center of hole, and allow it to begin frying. Once the white of the egg begins to cook, scramble the egg into the mix, it's a really nice, tender protein addition. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.
  • Once complete, top with the chopped cilantro.
The nice thing about this dish is that the carrots add sweetness, the radishes hint of spice, and the kale adds depth and grounds the whole dish. This combined with the richness of an egg and the brightness of cilantro creates a complex and remarkably simple flavor combination simultaneously.


3. Kale and Potato Soup with ham or bacon

Yes, it's summer, and hot- but the rain was falling today. The kitchen was cool, and soup keeps for a week in the fridge without a problem. Plus, it's a quick thing to pack for Kim's lunch or eat without fuss late in the evening.

1 bunch kale, 1/2 quart new potatoes, 2 mini onions, 2 cloves garlic, 3 tblspns butter, 2 cups chicken stock, 1/4 cup heavy cream, salt, pepper, 3 strips chopped bacon, or 1/3 cup chopped cooked ham

  • Melt butter in a medium sauce pan, add chopped onions, garlic and new potatoes.We were out of ham or bacon, so I skipped it- but you would not use butter if you had the bacon, and would add it first as your oil. You would add ham at this point if using that. Cover and let the potatoes begin to soften.
  • Season the mix with salt and pepper, and add in the chicken stock. If you have a good stock, very little additional seasoning is needed. If your stock needs help, add thyme, basil and rosemary to taste.
  • Bring the stock and potatoes to a steady boil. Add in the kale. Turn down the heat, and allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  • Ladle 2/3 of the mix into a food processor and blend thoroughly. Turn the rest of mix off from heat for a moment.
  • Add the blended mix back into the sauce pan, turn the heat to low, and integrate the mix fully. You can add more heat slowly, bring to a low simmer.
  • Finish the soup with heavy cream, simmering for only moments.
4. Homemade Toaster Strudels with Raspberry Jam
I've been dying to try to make these, and after a week of jam making- now seemed like the perfect time. I'm terrible with all baked goods, so I mostly drooled while Kim prepared these. They barely made it out of the oven before I sampled one. They were everything I'd hoped, and we're already dreaming up several variations- sweet and savory. This is the recipe we used: http://www.littlehouseliving.com/homemade-toaster-strudels.html We used the size jam jar we gave out this week, and had jam to spare. We made ours a bit bigger, and ended up with 8 strudels.


5. Potato and Cheddar Frittata
1/2 quart potatoes, 2 mini onions, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 4 eggs, 2 tblspns water, salt, pepper, some mixed herbs (I use basil and rosemary often).

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil an oven proof medium size skillet over medium heat.
  • Thinly slice your potatoes and onions, and start them in the skillet. Spread them evenly across the bottom, and cover.
  • Beat 4 eggs with salt, pepper, cheese, fresh herbs and water. Pour the egg mix over top the potatoes/onions and begin to cook the eggs. Use a wooden spoon to move the eggs until they are no longer runny, try to keep your potatoes as a base.

When cooked through, transfer the skillet to the oven, covered and cook until the eggs are fluffy. Serve slices for any meal of the day, with toast, salad or other sides.



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Don't toss the tops!

Radish and Carrot Greens Tips!

-Make pesto! Blanch your carrot greens (cook rapidly in boiling salted water) and thoroughly rinse the radish greens.
- add 2 cloves garlic, all the greens, and 1/3 cup olive oil to food processor. Blend for 35-40 seconds
- add chopped pine nuts, pistachios or other pesto nut (walnuts are a little bitter for this recipe)
- mix in salt and pepper to taste!

Enjoy on a sandwich with mozzarella, on pasta, or mixed into some chicken salad (for starters)!

Or

Sautée all the greens with bacon, top with cheese and eat as a side!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tornado Watch



We've done all we can do. To keep my mind off of worrying, I've been going through our wedding photos (after several hours of rushed preparation around the farm, that is). No matter what the weather does, we'll get through it. (thanks to Michelle Kaye Photography- find her on FB!)

Monday, July 23, 2012

1/2 Chickens- not just for roasting!

It's certainly been a hot summer, and no one likes to turn on the oven when it's 103. After chatting with some CSA members, we decided to give some ideas on what to do with 1/2 chickens other than roast them!

  • 1/2 Chicken BBQ- Rub your chicken with your favorite herbs/spices for grilling (we use Mrs. Dash if we're low on fresh, salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. Kim's family are partial to Zataran's cajun for their grilling needs). You can use a little oil to help the herbs stick, but go easy so you don't burn the chicken. Start grilling over a medium-high heat bone side down on the grill, Turning and minding the bird fairy often. Fresh chickens cook faster than non-fresh, so its crucial keep an eye on your meal. Usually you cook chicken to be about 160-165 degrees. About 5 minutes before finishing, you can brush the chicken with BBQ sauce.
  • Pan Seared 1/2 Chicken with honey mustard dipping sauce- Sliver up some garlic and mix it in with softened butter, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Get messy, and rub the mix underneath the chicken skin. Heat a skillet up (bout medium-high), place your chicken in the pan skin down and cover the skillet. Turn the chicken every 6-7 minutes, it won't take long for the bird to be done (probably 20-25 minutes total but I haven't timed it). About 5 minutes before done, take the lid off of your pot so the skin can crisp up. Serve with a side of honey mustard dipping sauce:
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 1/8 cup yellow mustard (maybe a bit more depending on preference)
  • 1/8 cup local honey
  • salt, fresh ground pepper and cayenne to taste
  • Two-fer Quick Chicken and Chicken Stock- If things are really hectic and really hot, we try to simplify down even further. Get a medium size sauce pot, and toss in two cloves of garlic, a generous handful of salt, pepper, some fresh or dried herbs, and a sliced onion. Be generous with your seasonings. Throw your whole half-chicken in there. Cover the chicken with water, put a lid on and bring the whole mess to a boil. Simmer it all until the chicken in cooked through. Turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool in a colander set on a plate or in the sink. The water is now a quick chicken stock, which I will generally put into containers in the freezer once it's cooled. Or, I might put it in the fridge for soup later in the week (probably done in the crock-pot). Once the chicken is cooled, I pull all of the meat from the bones. This then becomes chicken for chicken salad, to top green salads with, or to season and throw in burritos or tacos. Try adding a little curry-powder to your chicken salad- it's a nice change of pace! Essentially, it's all-purpose shredded chicken for quick meals.
I'm going to a later post all about how to carve up a whole chicken and make home-made fried chicken- such a delicious prospect deserves a lengthier explanation.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Picture Update!


Cauliflower gets tied at the top to help keep it white and keep the bugs out

Garbanzo bean pods




Savoy Cabbage heads (getting big!)


Dry, but freshly worked rows full of fall seed


Green Beans


Freshly weeded squash blossoms...



First pass with the tiller. This year has given me great intimate knowledge of the term 'breaking ground'!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why?

I was talking with my grandmother on the phone the other day--telling her about the farm and why I hadn’t had a chance to call in a few days, when she said something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. She said, “Well, I know you’re working hard, but I just hope it’s worth it.” She went on to elaborate that monetarily, she hoped the farm was successful because otherwise it was a lot of work for nothing.

I’ve been mulling that over and thinking about why I farm. I am not sure that I know the complete answer. Aside from all of the political, ethical, and moral reasons- there is something more to this question. Something- guttural. There are certainly days where I am convinced that we are insane. For example, we figured out that we average about 85 hours of work a week, each. (Obviously some of Kim’s are off farm). And while we are doing wonderful for our first year as a really small agricultural business, the budget is tight. We don’t take a pay check from the farm yet. So it’s certainly not that I do this because it’s leisurely or getting me rich. And it can be hard on your body, yea- we are in great shape- but we also push ourselves too far- get injuries, heat exhaustion, etc. As we speak I’m icing a shoulder injury I have from repetitive movement. It was 103 when I came in for lunch today, I felt like a burn piece of bacon. I’m not complaining, it’s just the honest truth.

But when it comes right down to it, I farm because I have to. I feel compelled to do the work we do, and I am completely unhappy and unsatisfied doing other work. I’m defiant, stubborn, and a perfectionist. Farming challenges those parts of me, forces me to accept that nature will always win (sometimes to my benefit, sometimes not) and allows me to live a very purposeful life. While we are very much tied down to the farm, I also feel like I have total control over my life. There is always work to do, but I do it because I want to, and there is a clear reward. I decide my own hours, chores, etc. It’s ours to fail, it’s ours to succeed. The independence of the work is freeing and the demand of the work is requires focus and intense dedication.

I’ve always been food obsessed. There wasn’t much food in my house growing up, and my mom is a terrible cook when she remembered to make food for us. My grandmother is a wonderful cook and spent long hours teaching me the ins and outs of her family’s cuisine. I worked in restaurants as a teenager, cooperative markets, and several farms. I’ve made really elaborate meals, quick foods, from-scratch specialties and guilty pleasures. I love to eat, and am notorious for getting ‘hangry’ (if I’m hungry, I’m angry). I suppose another reason I farm is that striving for only the most delicious meals. If I think it's not tasty- I'm not eating it- cue the Hangry.

On top of this, I admittedly have a life experience that involves some really dark points where I wasn't sure my future was all that bright. When I farm, I ensure that I will not go hungry again, I honor my grandmother, and prove that I have a future. Everything about farming is planning, squirreling away, preparing for what comes next. This life reinforces security for me in so many ways.

I also don't think it's a coincidence that I studied drama in high school, and a variety of performance arts. Again, a tumultuous upbringing means that I'm more accustomed to intense situations. In my younger years this familiarity with upheaval lead to explosive relationships with people- a healthier version of myself gets all the drama I could handle on farm. In our first year, we have had an incredibly dry, hot season. This had given me all of the heartbreak of a soap opera. It's not easy to deal with the violent upswings and down turns of farm life, but I think I must secretly crave it.

I farm because I can't stop myself, and because it is the only thing I've found that helps me really make sense of the world. I farm to share all that with others. The security, the flavor, the preparedness, the drama- all of it. For better and for worse, this is who I am and what I need to do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July

At what point do we as a country have to realize that this 'heat wave' we are in is the permanent changing climate? I'm not sure, we absolutely have to reconcile with the fact that at least for this growing season- it's a permanent state.

What this means for us is allotting extra hours for watering during dry spells and taking many precautions for our bodies and the livestock. Today I only worked in the field until about 11:45. Its much too hot today (over 100 with the heat index) to work in the direct sun. You can't put seed in when it's this hot, they cook. And weeding disrupts fragile roots, already stressed without much rain. Watering, though better then nothing- does not have the same effect on soil as a good rain.

The chickens all were treated this morning with electrolytes. Trying to keep their little bodies cool and calm is a challenge. Aside from really wanting the birds to be comfortable, if they don't drink/eat because they are so hot, they don't gain any weight- which means it takes longer to get the size birds we need.

The rabbits are even more heat sensitive, and currently sharing space with the turkeys who really love to be toasty. So we've started making what we call 'Bunny AC'. Essentially, we make frozen ice blocks. Mid-day, we set them in the rabbit cages, and they lay on top of them and next to them. The kits go crazy for these, licking and playing in the water as it melts. This combined with several fans and creating drafts helps keep the fragile creatures cooler.

We've been watching the reports of mid-west farmers suffering with intense droughts killing acre upon acre of crop, including the all important corn fields. This could mean BIG things for the entire country- including the costs of feeds for small farmers. As the demand for corn and other crops becomes high, the price will skyrocket- especially for organic or non-gmo yields. We're already thinking about what that means for our next year chicken/turkey production. The plight of the American Agricultural system isn't just a sad news story folks, with panoramic shots of desperate fields. this could have serious ripple effects. Alright, off the soapbox now.

In simpler news, the green beans we had last night for dinner were outstanding- I can't wait to bring them to our members this week!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farm Bad Romance

I spend a lot of time in motion. Hauling, bending, lifting, walking, pushing, etc- so much so that the last hour waiting for my wife to get a hair cut has felt like four. Usually, when we stop, it's because we have run out of daylight- and probably energy. An average day is 4:30am until 8:30pm with breaks for breakfast and lunch (dinner at 8:30). This goes for 5 days (Saturdays start at 3:30, Sundays are done at 12:30). Even when you are completely fulfilled by the sunlight, earth, and feathered co-workers this can wear you out.

This week, we have been trying to focus on how we can (affordably) alter our infrastructure to get the most out of those working hours and try to allow some time for simple pleasures and some neglected necessities (ugh, the 2.5 weeks worth of laundry...). I feel good about our improvements, but it's still so hard to set those limits. We both feel so much pressure, admittedly much self imposed to do more and do it better. But we can't work harder at this point-- we have got to work smarter. And we need to take care of other aspects of our lives, our relationships. I feel like we have been struggling with balance since deciding to go full time this year. I don't want us to be those farmers who resent our work, or this chosen life. It would be horrible to hate what we currently love so much.

So I'm sitting here, waiting for Kim- trying not to obsess about what temperature the turkeys are currently at, or mentally calculate how many lbs of green beans I'd like to see for next week. After six weeks of deliveries, this morning felt smoother- and the sky finally heard the pleas of our bucket carrying shoulders and released some rain. So I will try to relax-- for the health of my ever running mind/muscles and the growth if our farm.

I think I need the assistance of a fine adult beverage. And maybe to get out of the Lady Gaga blasting salon. Sheesh.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

rain, rain, COME TO COPAKE!!!

Rain is a four letter word at our house. At least the past few weeks....

BUT - here's the good news: we have a beautiful spring mere feet from our vegetable field, which has more "liquid gold" in it than we can use. We just have to get it to the vegetables.....

This is where my genius husband and super knowledgeable Aunt and Uncle saved the day (week, month, maybe even year?). We got a pump and some hose and hooked it up so we at least have water access at some point between our house and the field. This is over simplifying the 17 plus hours that went into finding, buying, setting up, tearing down, clearing out, shoveling out, etc... that went into getting that system set up. I wasn't home....so the picture I have is much less messy than what actually happened :)

Next step: sprinklers so we aren't watering by hand.

I never in a million years would have thought that checking the weather would be something I did. I mean.....I can remember my grandfather checking the Weather Channel every hour (Local on the 8's!), just because. I now know that it was because he was a gardener in his later years, but a farmer for a good portion of his adolescence...and to farmers, the weather is everything. EVERYTHING. It's how we plan our days.

So, if you want the forecast, Ejay and I will know. I'll never be as good of a reporter as Kelly Kaposwki ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZTkVEObQwY ), but I'm sure my forecast will include the phrase "but we sure could use some rain."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Picture Update!

Had a whole long post written but it accidentally deleted, so just the photos for now!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Point A to Point B

What does it take for a CSA delivery?

The alarm went off at 3:30am, and we hit the snooze button twice before stumbling out of bed to make coffee (3:45). While I was prepping the percolator, Kim was getting our two dogs outside to relieve themselves. Our plans to get to bed early the night before kind of got thwarted, between dealing with predators and getting the hens in for bed, we didn’t really get to lay down until 9:30.

It was still dark outside, and the rooster hadn’t even started crowing. I went out to the CSA fridge to grab the buckets of eggs to be washed. I started washing, and soon Kim was drying them and setting them into cartons. I set aside two with cracks for breakfast. Kim was pre-heating the oven for bread as we bake all of our own (easier on the budget for toast lovers). While a skillet was heating, I doubled checked the order sheet for the CSA delivery.

Friday night at 8pm it was still over 80 degrees. You can’t pick veggies in that kind of heat, they wilt immediately. So there was no option but to prep the whole order this morning, especially since the day before was spent trying to deal with dehydrated crops and a challenging lawn tractor. Tractors can either save time, or eat time- ours usually eats time.

After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs (no time to wait for the bread to be done) and coffee, we packed the sprouts according to the number of servings requested. Then we headed out to the rabbitry and the barn, where there are lights so you can feed and water before sunrise. 4 female rabbits, 3 males and 10 babies were all fed, watered and cleaned up. A batch of two-day old chicks were tended too with fresh water, grain and wood shavings. We adjusted the heat lamps for the chicks, knowing we would have to adjust again before leaving for the day so the rabbits didn’t over heat.

In the barn, two batches of chicks (40 each) were also fed and watered, and all 57 laying hens were given fresh hay in their nesting boxes on top of their usual fare. 4 sheep were given scratches, ushered outside, and umpired over grain to ensure the new lambs were given their fare share over the two greedy sheep-hogs.

I filled the lawn tractor gas tank and fired up, intending to haul water out to the field with the attachable cart where we could get closer in between the rows. All of the summer squash, cucumbers, corn, and melons were desperately thirsty after a very hot dry June. We had to get them some water before another 100 degree day, and before the sun got so hot that watering the plants would do more harm then good. The tractor fired right up, the promptly stopped engaging into gear. Damn clutch went. No time to worry about it now though, we still had much to do.

Finally, it was light out, and Kim started filling the water tank now in the back of the pick up. While the tank filled and she loaded chicken grain, I clipped herbs for the mini-bunches for this week’s share. The rooster starting crowing-- nice of him to finally get moving. Somewhere, in the midst of all this, Kim also managed to bake a loaf of bread. She's amazing, that girl.

We headed out into field and began the task of pulling up the stakes in the first chicken tractor. We stake them down daily after moving each pen to fresh grass. It keeps them stable in the wind or in case of a hungry raccoon (caught three and an opossum last week, all trying to eat the birds).

Once the door of the tractor was open, a flock of 5-6 week old birds fluttered out, looking for a snack. I slid the tractor to fresh grass, Kim filled the water tank for them and threw some grain in, herding them back into safety. I began the process of putting all 8 stakes back in, checking to make sure the base was firmly touching the ground on all sides while she moved to the next tractor.

Finally, all of the livestock were taken care of for the morning. We moved the truck into the vegetable field. The truck can’t negotiate in between the rows without destroying plants so we parked it as conveniently as possible, so Kim could refill her watering implements and at least mitigate the thirstiest of crops. We are searching avidly for a pump to convert a really great spring near by for direct watering, but for now, we have to haul water. While she was on hydration duty- I set up the scale and picking containers, and got to work clipping kale.

I picked bunches of kale, cabbage and several lbs of salad greens. I tried to take note of what would be ready next week, and what needed tending. A list of crops to weed grew longer by the minute. Then I set the veggies in the shade, even though it wasn’t even 7 am, I was really worried about the heat already. We always want the crops to look great during a pick up, even if they taste the same wilted.

Then it was time to pick sugar snap peas, and I snuck a few as a second breakfast treat. We were both working at top speed now, practically at a jog. Kim had noticed the eggplants were under siege from aphids, and wanted to get them sprayed down with organic neem oil before they were destroyed. At 7:10 we raced back to the farm house.

We then set up the rinsing station, and consulting the order form, washed and packed all of the salad greens, checked the bunches of greens for size/quality, and packed the sugar snap peas. Everything was tossed in the fridge and we ran inside to feed the dogs, change, brush our teeth and pour another cup of coffee.

I adjusted the heat lamps in the rabbitry again, noting that the chicks were comfortable. Kim checked the coolers to make sure they were clean, and starting loading all of the days harvest. I set aside our farm pick-up orders with a label in the CSA fridge, and loaded ice packs on top of all of the freshly butchered chickens. Once everything was loaded into the car, we did one more round to check on the rabbits, which are very heat sensitive and loaded up a buck and a doe into carriers. We were delivering them this morning too-- to friends and fellow farmers. I debated if we could fit a bale of hay for them also, but the prius was already brimming and we needed to go.

Finally, we cranked the AC to keep the produce crisp, and settled in for the hour car ride.

It was 8 am.