In the Big Garden

In the Big Garden
The Farmer at work...

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Last Supper

I am writing this from the hospital, at a small dimly lit table in the corner of our pleasant delivery room.  Erin has been induced and is fitful, but in decent spirits….for now.
Last night, her mother Kathy joins us for dinner and for a sleepover.  When we left for the hospital this morning at 5AM, she would would remain to make sure Dylan gets to the school bus before heading here later.
Erin wanted a hearty dinner yesterday, as it would be her last solid food for a while.  I pulled out an old favorite from my cookbook, a "one pot" dinner that I used to make for the hunting crowd.  It is absolutely delicious and easy.
Roasted Chicken and Sausages with Pears and Onions
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Take apart a nice young chicken into parts and place them in a good roasting pan along with a few sweet Italian sausage links.  Always use chicken on the bone for this recipe, and if you can…good juicy thighs, arguably the best part of the bird.  Nestle in some cored fresh pear halves and a few halved yellow onions.  Season with olive oil, garlic powder, dried thyme, salt, freshly ground pepper and some fennel seed.  Coat everything to prevent burning. Toss in a couple of springs of fresh Rosemary and then roast for about 40 minutes.  Remove Rosemary sprigs and discard.  Remove everything to a serving platter and drizzle with a little of the copious juices that will accumulate on the bottom.  Always serve this with really good bread because believe me, people will be fighting to dunk their hunks into the goodness!
Anyway, need to get back to business here.  Epidural has just been administered….

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peach and Tacos

I am writing this early in the morning.  We had a nearly sleepless night, punctuated by Erin’s regular but distantly occurring contractions.  Today we head to the Dr. at 2PM; if Erin is dilated we will return tomorrow morning for inducement.  If not, she will be induced this afternoon and we will spend the night.  Time suddenly seems to me to be hurtling inexorably towards this moment of our little Peach coming to us. 
I feel strange.
I feel not ready.  I feel a little intimidated still.  I feel something akin to stage fright maybe, or the feeling you get when you stand on the edge before a bungee jump, that fluttering and knocking in your chest.
I wonder if I will feel the way I am supposed to when she comes out.  I don’t even know what that is. I feel like I am acting a part and it scares me because when you perform on stage you get to exit at some point and go home for the night.  And I won’t be doing that.
Oh Peach…I hope I am acting like any normal first time Daddy does, or as normal- no, as perfect a one as you deserve. I promise you that if I behave weirdly at first, it’s just because for the first time in my life I feel a little unprepared. I have no idea what to expect. Erin walked me through the steps of warming a bottle yesterday and I felt for a moment detached, like I was watching myself caught in the starring role in some comedy about a guy faced with…well, faced with what I am now.  I have been unattached most of my life, having had the luxury to take care of myself and my dogs mostly.  I was always that guy at the party who got up smiling and casually slunk away to grab a beer or check cell phone messages whenever baby pictures started being shown.  Oh, I have always been reliable for a couple of funny faces over some Mommy’s shoulder in the airport or a couple of polite diaper jokes.
But Holy crap.  Holy, Holy Crap.
Let’s get on to food because it calms me and makes Erin feel better (when it doesn't give her flaming indigestion).
Venison Tacos
These are awesome; of course, you can make them with beef or chicken, but last night, deer was what came out of our freezer.
In most parts of Mexico, a taco generally refers to a soft tortilla stuffed with meat and served with chilies and or a chile sauce on the side- not the crispy “shells” sold by Ortega-God help us. Born in Mexico City and with a parent still in that country, I retain many wonderful memories of eating them at small stands, especially with my father, who shared my love of them with fillings like Borego (mutton) and Carnitas de Puerco (roasted pork).  This version is nothing like those, but was terrific and easy. 
Season ground venison (if using ground meat) with cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder and a little dried thyme. Heat some canola oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and sauté a small chopped onion until  slightly browned and then add meat to pan, searing it, working a little carmelization into it. Turn down the heat and cover and finish until there is no more red left and then remove from heat.
On a baking sheet, place a couple of open tortillas.  Brush with a paste of roasted tomato (see my recipe for Jugged Harvest Tomatoes and just mash some into a lovely paste) and then top with shredded Monterey Jack and back at 400 until cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and top with whatever you like- last night I dolloped on some of my famous long simmered black beans, fresh avocado and chopped mesclun greens- basically cleaning out my fridge. AWESOME meal!
Talk you all soon...wish me luck!

Happy Farming.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fox in the House, Prolific Broccoli and a Super Desert

Yesterday morning as I harvest late season Broccoli from the field garden, I make a gruesome discovery.  On the southern side I find a large rabbit caught in between the links of the fencing, apparently while fleeing a fox.  The fox made an easy meal of the rear legs but was unable to pull the bunny through to finish and so the front end of the carcass juts through into the shade of my towering plants, incongruously plush and furry, eyes open and glistening. It takes me a while to extricate the carcass and while I carry him to deposit into the woods, the sun on my eastern slope reveals the sturdy frame of a young six point buck crossing the power line.  He pauses to watch me, his small horns in velvet.
The gardens are winding down for the most part.  Tomatoes are still filling basket after basket but that is as it should be now.  The big surprise is our Broccoli, which has been incredibly prolific through this hottest of hot summers.  I have never kept it in this long. I threw in a different varietal this spring called Heirloom Waltham.  The plants, 14 of them, grew huge, happy and leafy but delayed the formation of their heads to a point where it looked as though they were suffering from an over feeding of Nitrogen, not the case because we garden 100% organically and with fresh compost this doesn’t happen. The first compact heads arrived looking much smaller than usual and we harvested with not a little disappointment.  At that point usually I will let a few weeks more of tender secondary stalks develop before taking out the plants altogether.  But for some reason I left them longer and these massive plants have been pushing up quarts of shoots for the entire summer now.  And with the cooler weather returning again they have had a robust second wind, and we are piling up the harvests.
Fall Raspberries on our Everbearering shrubs are coming ripe now- sweeter and plumper than the midseason harvest.  We have six big bushes and they are prolific- they produce far more than we can eat or give away.  What we can’t use fresh Erin will freeze but believe me there are a lot of ways to eat them fresh, on cereal of course (in fact I will walk out with my bowl in a few minutes), pancakes, muffins, fresh in cream, on ice cream, on salads…the list is as long as your imagination.  Frozen, they can be brought out as a lovely sauce for pork or venison or my favorite dessert, Erin’s “Sophila”. The recipe was adapted by her from one given by a friend of Puerto Rican decent though am not sure from where this comes at all.  A “Sophila” is basically a fried fruit turnover.  They are addictive, especially when served hot over ice cream. Here is her basic recipe- try this with the best fresh summer fruit fillings like cherry, peach or raspberry below:
Erin’s Sophila:
Make the filling.  Use a couple of cups fresh or frozen raspberries. Add a lot of sugar, maybe as much as a cup, and then taste.  Frozen raspberries and some fruits can still be a little tart.  You want it sweet and for a little complexity, use some honey to round it out. Just don’t use all honey because you need thickener.  Let that mixture sit.
Take a medium store bought flour tortilla and lay on a work surface.  Scoop two or three tablespoons of the fruit, (letting extra juice drain) out onto the center of the tortilla and then fold into a neat package, essentially up from each side. Tie each package with thread.
Heat up canola oil in good Dutch oven and when ready to fry, gently place each bundle, one at a time to fry until golden brown, flipping once.  They should be crispy on the outside and hot in the middle.  Serve them on a plate in a drizzle of good melted chocolate or of course, over ice cream.  They are TO DIE FOR!!
And speaking of fruit, we have just harvested the last of our spectacular cantaloupes. To sit here and extol their virtues and superiority over anything bought from the store is an understatement.  They are simply exquisite, ambrosial.  Cutting them crosswise reveals a firm marigold flesh and almost floral bouquet…an assault of the senses- and that’s all before you put them in your mouth.  Which I have not had much opportunity to do lately because they vanish as soon as I bring them in and set them on our counter.  You see, my lovely Erin has developed a pregnancy fueled fetish for these delightful orbs and arises like some fruit loving vampire throughout the night to lap their nectar with Baby Peach, who undoubtedly shares her fervor from within.
Ah well, I will just have to grow more next year.
And speaking of Baby Peach, it looks like we will be inducing labor this Friday.  More to come!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Hard Question, A New Generator and Jugged Tomatoes

Another very cool and grey morning dawns.  Crows sit as still as black rocks in the field behind our house.

As I take Dylan down to wait for the bus after breakfast, he squats suddenly to look at something in the grass.  It is a small finch, still warm and soft. 

"Is it dead?" he asks me.

I stoop to get a better look. "Yes, she probably flew into the side of the house, buddy". 

I take the small carcass delicately by a tail feather and we walk down to toss it off into brush across the road.  Dylan is quiet as we stand and stare out over our pond.  I ask him what he is thinking and he leans his head into my belly. 

"The bird is dead", he says in a small voice.

I look up at the first color in the trees on the hillside to the east, at the heavy apples hanging in our trees by the road.

"Yes" I say.

After a moment he looks at me.  "Why do people die?"

The question takes me momentarily aback.  I have never really thought about that, at least not directly. I do not suscribe much to the precepts of organized religion or the biased answers that they proffer to soothe us.  An incredibly pragmatic and possibly Pagan reply comes to mind and without editing, I share it.

"Well buddy", I say, "I guess people die because it's nature's way of making sure that there is plenty of room for all of us.  Otherwise you'd have to share your bed with Ben Franklin or Grandpa Hank.  And both of them snored."

He considers this solemnly and I impulsively take his little hand and turn him to look at the spot where I have tossed the bird.

"And just because something dies doesn't mean it goes away forever. Where I put that little birdie, after a few months she will be gone...but in the spring, something, a flower or some grass will grow up where she was.  And so in a way, that little birdie will come back again and again and again, every year, forever.  Pretty cool right?"

He smiles for the first time and nods.  The bus appears shortly afterwards to collect him and then when he is gone and the road is silent I stand and think about my answer to him. And I think about how much children can amaze you, about just how crazy it is that a five year old boy can still ask a question that not the greatest scientist or war leader, President or philospher can answer any better than he probably could in the first place. Just some musings for an Autumn morning.

Yesterday, Erin and I pick up our new 5000 watt generator that will be hardwired into the house through a load balancing switch, essentially a computer.  The unit will be able to be easily activated in the case of an outage and capable of supporting all of our basic power needs including my home office.  It is an expensive configuration but we rely on heat and power in the winter more than most people and a failure of the heat for several hours in sub 20 degree weather can mean frozen pipes or much, much worse.  I cannot be worrying during my hectic traveling sprees about Erin, Dylan and of course, our little soon to be Genevieve.  I am leaving nothing to chance. Call it "Man Nesting"- expecting a baby will do that to a compulsive like me.

Erin has another bad night, bad dreams, discomfort and sleeplessness.  This little Peach has got to get a move on...Mommy needs a break.

Dinners are a challenge lately with Erin's indigestion and I have to consider choices carefully.  She is in the mood for burgers last night, so I acquiesce.  We consider our meat very carefully these days.  If you do not yet understand the magnitude of the issue that we face as consumers of beef and other meat, read "Fast Food Nation" and read it NOW.  I won't horrify you here but it is imperative that you understand what is going on and take actions to protect yourself from illness or worse.

We stay with pastured raised and local beef that supplies a specialty provider down the road. For our burgers last night I use my tried and true basic approach- a mix, approximately 60 to 40 of good organic ground beef to ground venison.  I am a hunter of deer and can tell you that venison is one of the healthiest meats you can eat.  More importantly, because it is lean, it imparts a flavor that is distinctive, "beefier" many say than beef.  I hear this often from visiting Italians who have told me that my Bolognese with venison tastes like the authentic sauce of their childhood memory. I form the patties loosly and season with garlic and onion powder, a little salt and pepper.  Once formed, I chill them on parchment paper for about a half hour and then salt the outsides of the patties before grilling or frying, to develop a good crust.  And oh yeah, we ALWAYS have a rich assortment of toppings including but not limited  to avocado, homemade pickle relish, caramelized peppers, sauteed mushroms, Gorgonzola, thick pepper bacon, homemade mango chutney, marinated fresh tomatoes, grilled onions, local Blue Cheese, etc. 

Yeah, our burgers rule, hands down.

After dinner, I make a tray of one of my favorite condiments of late summer.  I call these "Jugged Harvest Tomatoes".  They are awesome in pastas, on bruschetta, in wraps or even in omelletees or salads. You must try them. If you don't have your own tomatoes, head over to the farmers market and buy some to use. There are as many variations as you can imagine- the one below is a basic one, but delicious.

Jugged Harvest Tomatoes:

Pre-heat over to 300 degrees. Wash a few Roma (plum) or your favorite tomatoes.  Slice lenghtwise and squeeze out the loose pulp and seeds  and discard. Place tomatoes on a baking tray.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, finally chopped garlic and sugar and drizzle with olive oil.  Bake for an hour and a half to two hours until tomatoes are reduced in size and slightly browned around edges.  Allow to cool.  In a canning jar, pack tomatoes in with sprigs of rosemary or fresh thyme and cover with olive oil and seal.  Store in refridgerator for up to 4 days.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bomb Sauce

Tonight, I finish making the soup from this morning.  The temperature has dropped here soup seems the inevitable call for our dinner.

I have rendered the carcass plus some aromatics and salt and pepper into a rich broth.  I reserve and pick meat from the bones into a seperate bowl.  From our freezer, I take out fresh frozen and local sweet corn, Brussel Sprouts, string beans and chopped Chard stalks- all of our harvests from the summer.  From our storage pantry I pull a handfull of plump potatoes and two cured yellow onions and from the garden, two long stout carrots. All are chopped and diced and then added to a few tablespoonfulls of hot oil in a french enameled pot.  After a brief sautee, I add the turkey broth and then cook until the potatoes are tender. I toss in the juicy turkey meat and cook until heated through.

How do we serve it?  This is Erin's touch: a puffy white and steaming island of rice in molded in a big bowl  and the soup is ladeled in around it...and what a meal it is!

But I am always perfecting and trying to accompish that state from what is available fresh from our plots.  A couple of  days ago I bring in two harvest baskets of  cherry bomb peppers, a varietal that grows well in our cool summers and as the name suggests, these peppers release a powerful combination of heat and sweetness. I decide that a good hot sauce will liven up this turkey soup in just the right way.

If you have never made a homemade hot sauce, if you are one of those people who spends tons of money of "rare" and interesting sauces with cool names and labels- and you think you really know what a good sauce tastes like...guess again. Here is my advice.  Head to your local farmers marlet and pick up a bag or two of their best "in season" hot peppers and make your own.  Here is how we do it at the farm:

Bomb Sauce

Take a bunch of nice fresh chilies and rince and slice; we grow jalepeno and Cherry Bomb- so I use those. Add them to a medium saucepan along with some minced garlic, chopped onion, a bay leaf and just enough vinegar to cover.  Bring to a slow simmer and then cook covered for about 20 minutes, or until the chillies are tender.  Add salt and then honey or sugar, or even fresh fruit (like a few hunks of melon) and cook for a few minutes longer.  Using a food processor, blend the mixture and then correct seasonings. Let cool and then place in a canning jar and refridgerate and enjoy. Note:  it can be frozen!

A few swirls in our fresh turkey soup tonight makes stars fly.  Erin eyes me from where she sits.  Reluctantly, she slides over her bowl of soup and I mix a few drops of "Bomb Sauce" in for her.  She is ready to get the baby out and spice is reputably the best medicine.  We'll see.

For the rest of this meal?  A hot, crispy loaf of artisanal bread; a leafy green salad with fresh sliced figs, cured olives and red onion and of course a pile of our best, ripe heirloom 'maters, sliced and drizzled with good oil and vinegar.

Wish you could have been there :)

False Alarm #1 and an Awesome Chutney

This morning Erin wakens me just before 5 with her first discernible set of contractions.  We lay in the darkness together watching the clock, terrifically calm, but they subside.  A false alarm for now.

In the darkness of the early morning I put back to simmer a fresh turkey stock that I started last night after carving the carcass of a plump young naturaly raised turkey that we decided to pull out of the freezer and roast. Dinner last night was splendid and a welcome constitutional after 4 days of back breaking work around here.  I am getting closer to the end of the list now, carefully cleaning chimneys and polishing and refitting the pipes on our woodstoves.  Every drop of creosote must be scraped and removed. The fire systems of our house cannot endure a margin of error or carelessness- the cost would be too great.

But back to dinner: I'll talk about turkey quite a bit soon I am sure in the coming days but  it is arguably the best done simply. We serve it last night with a  spectacular homemade Rhubarb Chutney that we make fresh in the spring and then freeze.

Here is the recipe- and believe me, it is killer on pork and chicken.

Len's Rhubarb Chutney:

We make this with the tenderest of early season Rhubarb- it is a rite od Spring for us here. Start by dissolving about a cup of white and golden sugar (3/4 to 1/4 ration) along with some red and yellow curry powder, ground cardamom and Turmeric, and a stick of cinnamon in an enameled saucepan.  Stir until dissolved over LOW heat and then add about 4 and 1/2 cups of peeled and coursley chopped rhubarb, cup and a half of chopped onion, minced ginger and some chopped dried fruit such as dates, mission figs, sultanas or even apricots.  Stir over low heat until rhubarb is tender and then take off heat and cool.  Freeze if you cannot use in a couple of actually freezes very well.

Anyway, enjoy.

Dylan's first day of school this morning.  I just saw him off.  The bus driver looks like he could  star in a remake of Deliverance.  Oh man.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Wonderful Late Summer Meal

It has been a long holiday weekend.  But we are not your average people and even when we have a holiday weekend there is always work to be done here on the farm. "Labor Day" is an understatement.  There is a perennial list of tasks that must be done every year to batten down the hatches for winter.  This includes repairing windows, stacking firewood, organizing machinery in the barn, etc. I won't bore you with the details, but tonight, after a long weekend of sweat and toil and with aching muscles, we retire at 4 to start our dinner.

Erin remains pregnant and with all the attendant miseries -not least of which is her persistent heartburn; her only request is a good meal that will not inflame her condition.  When we head out for a lunch break at a local farmers market I gain inspiration; the first of the Butternut squashes are out. I decide to make some magic with these first freshest of the fresh:

Spaghetti with Roasted Butternut Squash

For up to to four people, take one large butternut squash and cut in half and then in quarters. Using your knife, trim tough skin and then cut into half inch chunks.  Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.  On a baking tray, toss squash with olive oil, garlic powder and salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven until golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in about 3 large tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sautee one large chopped onion.  Add the squash to the sautee pan with the onions when it is done along with a heaping tablesoon of chopped fresh Rosemary and a teaspoon of minced Sage.  Toss and then cook for about 5 minutes over low and set off the heat.

Boil water for the Pasta.  Add salt and then the spaghetti and then cook until tender to the bite.  Meanwhile, warm up butternut and onion mixture.  Add 1 large ladle full of starchy pasta water to the sauce and simmer.  Drain pasta and add to the sauce pan and cook, stirring , until creamy.  Add a generous handful of grated cheese to your sauce and toss and then mound into small bowls, topping with a smidge of additional cheese and a swirl of olive oil.  Killer!

This needs a creative seasonal salad . With Heirloom tomatoes piling  into our kitchen the choice is easy:

Simple Tomato Salad:

Slice your favorite heirloom varieties into thick slices.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a dash on onion powder.  Drizzle with Balsamic Vinegar and then a good olive oil.  Thinly slice a REALLY good Mozzarella cheese and layer a few slices on top.  Maybe one more swirl of oil and then you are done!

Erin loves good bread, and if we don't make it, we buy it.  Tonight, a big hunk gets popped into the oven in foil to heat through and get crispy. With the pasta and tomatoes, it is a killer foil!