In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.

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Greens, Roots and Eating

I feel like starting off by saying, “I’m back folks”, although I think that would be silly and out of place.  I am back, from farming, from the 2010 season and from my other blog.  I have a ton of food posts I am dying to write, although some of them might be a bit out of season since I have been saving them up since June.  Oh well.  I always knew I’d be one of those “promising to write” bloggers.

Frosted Cold Frames

We did a stellar job making sure we have some good greens and roots this winter.  Three cold frames full of greens; 100 feet of kale, 25 feet of raab, and 10 feet of chard in the field; and some spinach, cabbage and mustard scattered about.  Not to mention the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, radishes and parsnips.  There’s more, but you should just wait for the post titled “My Winter Pantry.”  I might not have made money this year, but I sure am going to eat well.

Sam is working two jobs now, and comes home at 8 every night.  I, on the other hand, work the total of half a job, and have been home all day.  So I have taken up the task of obsessing over dinner.

Here’s my stellar menu plan for this week:

Linguine with Vodka Sauce and Garlic Greens*

Mole Poblano Enchiladas (homegrown black beans!)

Cabbage Gratin with Potato Galette

Braised Tofu Soup with Buckwheat Soba and Seaweed Salad*

Leek Quiche with Potato Crust

Mushroom Stroganoff with Roasted Parsnips

(*already eaten)

I always make enough to serve for lunch the next day, which has made life considerably less stressful.  Sam and I both hate waking up in the morning and making lunch before heading off to work.  Sam will just eat bagel chips all day, which is a sin, and I will go hungry, so skimming lunch portions from dinner is really the best solution for everyone involved.

Since I have had a very tiring day of sleeping in, watching sleeping kitties, browsing seed catalogs and facebooking, I have only the energy to post a very simple parsnip recipe.  I won’t even put it in proper recipe form.  But oh my is it delicious.

Roasted Parsnips with Maple and Lemon

4 servings

Preheat oven to 375.  Peel and cut 2 pounds of parsnips into chunks.  Toss with 3 TBS grapeseed oil, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, 2 TBS maple syrup, salt and a dash of nutmeg.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until golden on the outside and creamy on the inside, about 30 minutes.  Turn them at least once during the roasting process and do not burn!





The Day We Picked Dandelions: A Prelude to Wine

Now that last week is over, and the rain is watering in seeds, seedlings and onion plants today, I can relax a bit.  Sam and I had quite the stormy affair last week, not the romantic kind.  Last year, we had all kinds of blow-outs that all stemmed from broken expectations, full schedules and the stress of the season.  This year, starting in the winter, we planned certain perimeters and schedules that we thought might help the tension caused by running a small farming business together.  It’s actually funny to me, looking back on all that planning, and all the planning we always do.  We are like two busy little relationship bees, building a hive of security.  We are so eager to fix our issues that sometimes we miss the whole point, and it inevitably comes in a thunderstorm and knocks the whole hive over.  Every time.  And still we never see it coming.

We have been planning on making dandelion wine for months now, ever since we had a vintage bottle of Jay and Polly’s dandelion wine that blew us away with deliciousness.  Yesterday was the day we had planned on the arduous task of picking 5 gallons of dandelion petals for the wine.  Yesterday also began with a nice little argue fest, the forth argue fest day in a row.  After an hour or so of tense arguing, I told Sam to go pick dandelion flowers by himself.  It’s funny how fast feelings of anger and urgency diffuse once the setting changes.  It took me 10 minutes to recompose myself once alone, and I spent the next couple of hours running errands around town and taking in the beautiful spring day.  I held the awareness of our rocky week together in the background of my mind, not quite sure what to think of it, but not quite uncomfortable with it either.  I pulled up the farm when all my errands were complete, singing, “I’m a man-man-man eater” loudly along with Neko Case, and spotted Sam sitting silently in a patch of dandelion.  (Sam later told me he was a little worried for his safety by my song choice, I told him I had been listening to it on repeat.)

I joined him with my yellow pot and he showed me his seasoned technique for de-petaling the dandelions.  After all, he had been doing it for two hours.  We moved from spot to spot around the farm, chatting every so often, but mostly silent.  At one point, we were in a nice patch and I noticed that the dandelions were big, fat, and had full, pollen filled manes.

“I read somewhere that dandelions were brought here by settlers for their beauty,” I said.

“Yeah, I read that too,” Sam replied.

“I feel like I am seeing these dandelions for the first time today, as I am ripping out their petals.  They really are beautiful.”

“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.”



Holy smokes, my life it out of wack!  I keep saying out loud “everything that can go wrong is going wrong.”  Seriously.  And I think I just might even be jinxing myself even further by stating this new saying over and over again.  I won’t go into all the gritty details (hint: its mostly farm related) but I will say that I have injured my knee, my left thumb and and left wrist.  Then yesterday I stabbed a toe on my right foot, through my shoes, with a pitch fork.  Seriously, I think there is something wrong with me, I am not quite sure if it is emotional, karmic, dietary or what.  Someone said to me today, “This is a sign that you need to slow down…but you can’t right now.”  Nope, certainly not, but this new found clumsiness just might do me in if I don’t reign it in fast.

Which reminds me, I am beginning to wonder if I just might start my own health care co-op.  Probably not, but it sure would be nice.  A group plan run collectively by like minded individuals.  What the heart of health care should be…I would really like my very own specialist, you know, liberal-hippie-farmer-style–someone who can use their expertise in healing herbs, remedies and food to guide me a bit when I am feeling out of wack.  And if there were ever something really wrong, well, they could help guide me through that too.  So, who is this specialist and when I am forced to purchase a health care plan, will they be on the list?  Just some considerations I have been having quite a bit.

In good news, spring is here.  When I look out at the gorgeous views around here my heart fills with warmth and gladness.  I am making a spring greens ferment–a sort of wild kimchi–and I will certainly report when it’s done.   This year I discovered garlic mustard, a petite wild brassica that has garlic notes to start followed by a strong, bitter flavor.  It will be the main ingredient.

The fermenting season has definitely begun.  It’s time for kombucha drinking, which means mad kombucha brewing (beware the teeny fruit fly infestations…).  I am starting to make yogurt again, and with the warm weather comes the desire to use the outdoor oven at the farm, which means I have got to keep my sourdough starter fresh and fed every week.  With all this weekly fermenting,  am actually going to make a fermenting schedule.  I have decided that fermented foods are important enough to my well-being that they deserve top priority.  Last summer, I often put off my fermenting projects at the end of the day, only to regret it later. Perhaps for all the readers out there who might not understand this love of mine for fermented foods, I will make an effort to expound upon the benefits of these foods when I get around to writing about them.

On the writing topic, I started another blog a couple of months ago for the CSA.  It’s funny, having the new blog has made me feel more open in this one.  Come June, the CSA blog will start filling up with recipes and interesting farm news.

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Heating Things Up

The hot, fresh compost in one of the walls of the greenhouse. Notice the bed in the center of the greenhouse on the right. Up till now, it has had kale, swiss chard and other greens growing all winter long, without any heat except that from the sun.

A couple of weeks ago, we moved piping hot compost into the greenhouse.  The greenhouse at the Four Winds Farm is not heated with electricity or fossil fuels.  In February of each year, two dump truck loads of unfinished compost are moved into one of the brick walls of the greenhouse.  The brick walls are covered with wooden palates and become the benches that the seedlings live on until they are transferred outside in May.  The micro-organisms present in the composting mass produce heat as they digest organic matter.  In the Spring, as the greenhouse fills with temperature sensitive seedlings, the composting process produces enough heat the keep the greenhouse at ideal seed starting and seedling growing temperatures.  In addition, the compost moved in from the previous year is screened into a fine soil and used for all our potting needs, from vegetable starts to seedlings for the annual Four Winds Farm Seedling Sale.

A bin of screened, finished compost.  The screen (leaning, on right) fits on top of the portable bin.  The finished compost is piled on top of the screen, then, by hand, is pushed through by simply rubbing the compost back and forth over the screen.

A bin of screened, finished compost. The compost is screened by hand with the screen (leaning against the wall) when it is fitted on top of the portable bin.

The raw materials for the compost are a mixture of organic matter and animal manure.  The bulk of the compost comes from a nearby horse farm.  Horse farms regularly clean out the stalls for the horses, leaving them with a mass of bedding filled with manure and urine.  The piles of horse bedding are considered a water pollutant, and therefore the the horse farms are required to remove them from the premises.  Instead of shipping them off to a landfill, many farms in our area pick up loads of this waste material and turn it into a valuable resource.  After a year of composting, the horse bedding turns into a rich source of nutrients for plants.  Animal manure lets off ammonia during the compost process, which is actually toxic to plants in an enclosed area.  This issue is easily remedied in the greenhouse by adding a thick layer of year old, finished compost to the surface, which acts as a filter for the sensitive seedlings.

Of course, forgoing fossil fuels to heat the greenhouse takes a lot of man power.  We moved the compost into the greenhouse with pitchforks and wheelbarrows.  For me, this work is like the annual rite of passage into the growing season.  We all put our winter selves into a day of tough work, which inspires us for the work load ahead.

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The Onions Have Sprouted

Glorious sprouted onion seeds.  I think I actually put too many seeds in each row.  Oh well, live and learn.

Here are the tiny celeriac seeds.  So tiny!  2,500 seeds in less than a tablespoon!

We finally moved the manure into the greenhouse, so its time start the temperature sensitive seeds.  More on that later.  For now, here is some more seed starting porn.

They look bare, but there's a lot of life going on in there.

Of course, no greenhouse experience would be complete without some instant gratification.  Soon-to-be-pea-shoots (above) and radish sprouts (below) for fresh eating.

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A New Season Begins

A bin of screened finished compost. The screen is leaning against the side of the greenhouse.

Wednesday marked the first official day of farm work for the Second Wind CSA in 2010.  We have long passed the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  This means the days are rapidly getting longer (4 extra minutes of daylight yesterday!).  These conditions signify the season of starting seeds.

The first seeds to start in the farming season are always onions.  “Starting seeds” refers to the process of putting the seeds in to a growing medium, watering them, and placing them into a heated area where the seeds will germinate.  At the Four Winds Farm, we use homemade potting soil, which consists of screened compost, peat moss and soil amendments.  (The compost is actually screened from the greenhouse itself.  The greenhouse at the Four Winds Farm is heated during March and April from the heat produced by the composting process, but more on that next week when we actually move a hot, composting mass into the greenhouse.)  The potting soil is placed into “flats” and the seeds are placed in thin rows and covered with the soil.  The seeds are watered, left to drain and then placed in the refridga-germinater (see below) to germinate.  Once the seeds start to sprout, we place the flats in the unheated greenhouse.  The onions will grow in the flats until April, when it is time to transplant them outside.

The refriga-germinater filled with flats of onions seeds. The refriga-germinater is simply an old refrigerator with a light that is controlled by a thermostat. The light produces enough heat to keep the closed space at the perfect temperature for germinating seeds.

Onions  are the first vegetable seeds we start because they require very particular temperatures and day lengths in order to grow good size bulbs.  In the north, we grow long day onions because we have much longer days in the summer than in the warm south.  Long-day onions put on green growth, or grow tops, in the beginning of the season (April and May) when the weather is mild.  They start to increase bulb size when the day lengths are very long, between 14-16 hours.  A July harvest is ideal.  The onions will stop putting on mass as the days start to shorten.  A July harvest also means we have plenty of time to plant a different fall crop where the onions once were.

Other seeds are started based on the last frost date for our region.  Our frost date is usually around May 15, which means we can expect the last Spring frost around that day.


Body Consciousness

I feel a need to exercise.  If I do not exercise on a regular basis, I become very displeased with myself.  For at least 15 years now, I have pressured myself to exercise on a regular basis, with periods of non-exercise here and there.  Which is why the past two winters have been very trying for me.  I have gone into pretty dark slumps, mainly due to a lack of exercise and the resulting winter weight gain.

It is true that I enjoy, to a great degree, the benefits of physical activity.  Let me be clear here, the word “exercise” signifies something I feel I am obligated to do, whereas the phrase “physical activity” signifies something I love to do.  I make this distinction for many reasons, but the main one is that I feel people, mainly women, are pressured to exercise on a regular basis in our society in order to become or to maintain the thin physical appearance the media constantly and overwhelmingly displays.  I duly acknowledge that obesity and the modern American diet are awful, but I am not obese.  The problem is that I think of myself as if I were.

Along with that mentality, i.e. “I am fat,” comes a lifestyle that always seems to be working against our bodies.  Everything we strive to do ends up being an action to change our bodies, to work against ourselves.  I will eat to change, I will exercise to change.  On the other hand, we have our heritage, which overwhelmingly medicates every single emotion with food.  So, we’ve got the message to be thin, but we’ve also got the message to eat eat eat.  I believe I am not alone as a woman who, very uncomfortably, straddles both realms.  For me, these two seemingly opposed worlds are in my bones, in my blood.  Sometimes the thought of being at ease seems impossible.

Yet, I know that my life is moving towards truly addressing these issues.  There really isn’t much room for my obsession about my appearance in a life where I strive to build a better world than the one I find all around.  I also admit that I am learning a lot about my body-conscious issues from paying attention to the messages that farming can teach me.  Respect, kindness, harmony, submission and strength, just to name a few.  When I truly listen to myself, the message I hear is that I should eat respectfully and responsibly toward myself, others and the Earth, and that I need regular physical activity.

I want to take care of the Earth, why not my body?  Regular physical activity keeps my metabolism going, wards off depression, brings out mental clarity, evens out my hormones, encourages healthy sleeping patterns, keeps the blood flowing, increases libido, and so on.  And those are actual, physical results of physical activity.

During the growing season, I must say, I hardly need much more activity than what is necessary to keep the vegetables coming out of the ground.  I am so incredibly happy farming, and a lot of that well-being comes from the physical activity.  However, I do often become sore during the summer, and I actually, for the first time in my life, experienced some real pain last year due to being on my knees a lot.  I found that a regular yoga practice was a welcome addition to my life.  Sure, yoga is very trendy, everybody is doing it.  But there is a good reason why so many people love yoga.  Yoga, if practiced properly, teaches proper alignment and breathing techniques that actually come in handy while farming.  If farming makes me feel stiff, yoga stretches me out.  And, if I can return to the whole body issue again, there were many moments in my yoga practice where I felt strong, graceful and beautiful, feelings I rarely ever feel throughout my day to day life.  Yoga helps me feel at peace with my body.

I’ve got two more months before the work season begins in full swing again, and have made a promise to myself to try to really take care of myself until then.  So aside from adjusting my eating habits, I have been at a loss as to what kind of physical activity to engage in.  I kind of have a “thing” against gyms.  Florescent lights, equipment, electricity, locker rooms, no thanks.  As someone once pointed out, it would be really cool if we could harness the energy produced by working out at the gym to power our homes, but since that is not the case, I would rather just use my body to get a good work out.  I understand gyms, they are warm, easy, but I just can’t.  Recently, and I mean really recently, I have taken to hiking daily.  I got a hiking pass to the Mohonk Preserve, and honestly, hiking makes me happy.  Seriously giddy.  Although it is cold outside, I find the brisk air brings a kind of clarity to my thoughts that doesn’t quite happen when it is hot and humid.  I also bought some spikes to go on my hiking shoes for the treacherously icy terrain that’s going on on the mountain these days.  Now all I have to do is stick with it.  My intuition tell me that if I do, I’ll be better for it.  Not in order to become thin, but just because I want to and it makes me happy.

A little bit of pressure on myself is actually a good thing, as long as it is really coming from me, and not some twisted regurgitation of everything else.