Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Nibble of Green

 Although the warm weather is a little disconcerting for late December, it is a thrill to walk through the gardens, harvest knife in hand, to see what I can find.  Nibbles of green.  Flavor.  Nibbles of life even in this darkest time of year.  The bit of cilantro, celery, parsley, mustard green, and kale I find taste so vibrant after being pulled from a crust of snow.  I wonder, are the sheep equally content and wondrous with their mid-winter nibbles of pasture grasses and clovers?  As soon as the snow covers the pasture, it will be dry hay for them.  Out in the pasture, we find peace and an airy, but strong, sunlight unique to the solstice time.  Perhaps it is the longer nights that, in contrast, make this sun so special?  Perhaps it is the snow and cold earth that make the greens taste so wonderful...

 Around the farmstead peace does not last long.  We finished the harvest;  leeks and parsnips now join the rest of the winter crops, clean and snug in the root cellar.  Ruth has fallen in love with the root crop washer.  When she hears it starting up, she drops everything, throws on her rain gear, and heads outside to help.  Even with man-sized waterproof gloves covering her little hands, she is a great help.  After the work is done, Jeff lets her embark on a little fun, crawling around in the root washer while it turns!
We processed a couple of our pigs on the farm, just for us and a friend.  Following was a wave of cutting, curing, and smoking the meat in our home-made smoker.  Jeff has been all over the phone, email, and roads bringing the rest of our animals to be processed and coordinating distributing the meat to our meat CSA members. 

The phone and email also bring us a steady flow of messages from young people who want to apprentice on our farm this coming season.  While it is heartening to us how many young folks want to learn about diversified farming (integrating animals and plants into an ecosystem) and farming with draft horses, the number of applications we have to wade through is at times a bit overwhelming.  We wish we could welcome the majority of these wonderful folks into our farm family, but we currently only have the housing for one or two more. 

Friday and Saturday are busy days for us year-round, as we prepare for and head to Brunswick for farmers' market.  A couple Saturdays ago, we added the Portland Winter Market to the mix.  Jeff and Rich rise early, pack the coolers with meat, bins with winter veggies, eggs, salsa, yarn and lambskins, and pile it all into the truck.  Jeff drops Rich with half the goods in Brunswick, then heads to Portland with his half to sell.  I join Rich with the girls later, after dropping my sister off at her basketball practice.  It is busy, but oh those markets are so fun and delicious!  I highly recommend both: Portland Winter Market and Brunswick Winter Market

The rest of our days bring a bit of rhythm with the daily chores of feeding horses hay, moving the sheep fence to new pasture, feeding and watering chickens and collecting eggs.  As a family we join in the seasonal rhythm of celebration, lighting the Hanukkah candles nightly, stringing lights on our Christmas tree, making new wool felted ornaments with Nonnie (because, well, where DID that box of ornaments go?!), and joining Ruth's school in song at the Alna Meeting House to welcome the solstice.
In the kitchen I have been following my intuition a bit more than the recipes.  Nutmeg made its way into baked stuffed acorn squash along with rice, ground beef, parsnips, onions, garlic...  Not too bad for acorn squash!  Squash soup always starts off with caramelizing the onions and baking the squash with un-peeled garlic in the cavity.  One day I threw in sesame oil and coriander, along with the onions, garlic, and squash, made it silky-smooth in the Cuisinart, then added tender green cabbage, sliced thin and sauteed in sesame oil and a little salt.  Of course, Hanukkah is the time to make potato latkes, you can find the recipe in my Dec, 7, 210 post.  Also in an old post is a recipe for Turnips Anna, one of our favorite turnip recipes.  You can mix turnips and potatoes for this recipe, to try to win over non-turnip lovers!  And the kale from the last CSA share would be perfect for kale chips, as most of the leaves are small so you would only have to wash and dry them, no chopping/ripping; recipe found here in this old post (scroll just over half-way down.)

Happy Feasting, Nibbling, Light and Merriment Making!

Your Farmers,
Jeff, Amy, Ruth and Leah

December 6 CSA Share
Sweet potatoes
Winter squash
Savoy cabbage
Burdock root
Daikon radish

December 20 CSA Share
Acorn squash
German Butterball potatoes
Apple Sauce
Kale mix
 Watermelon radish

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Autumn in Motion

This fall is galloping along for us like a young filly, sometime glorious and coordinated in its movements, other times awkward and confused.  For, who could have planned for such weather?  Sure, the warm days have many benefits for the farmer: ease of outdoor work and sheep still grazing the pasture instead of racking up the hay bill, but it also brings its challenges. The fall radishes bolting in the garden being one.  To fill out the "awkward" section of our fall, Jeff wanted to be sure our CSA members know that they would have had more diversity in their share, if only:
  • The ewe lambs hadn't decided to bust out of their fence one day and gleefully prance down the rows of white remay (a season-extending row-cover), flattening the chard, beets and fall lettuce mix.  Why they couldn't have chosen to gallivant somewhere else, we don't know....
  • An unusual October snowstorm hadn't flattened the celery and mustard greens.
  • The carrot rust fly hadn't decided to descend on our storage carrot patch, tunneling though our otherwise gorgeous and sweet orange roots.  Most of the harvest is still good eating and will be in the CSA share, but it is not as pretty as it would have been.
  • The cows, lambs, and horses hadn't all gotten into the corn (different patches at different times).  Ah, the hazards of a diversified farm.  Next year we'll have to up the charge on the electric fence when the corn is ripening!
  • The cucumber beetle and squash bug hadn't found our winter squash patch so tasty.
Luckily, we plant extra, and we plan for diversity.  When one crop is damaged, we have another to take its place.  And some of the earlier losses in conjunction with the unusually warm late fall led to some crop re-growth, resulting in the bountiful, tasty, and nutritious braising mix we distributed in the share prior to Thanksgiving.  Nightly our dinner table is full, and our first two CSA pick-ups have been full as well:
November 8 CSA Share
Caraflex Cabbage
Black Spanish radish
Green meat daikon radish
Baking potato
Sweet potato
Sweet Dumpling squash

November 22 CSA Share
Pie pumpkin
Buttercup squash
Braising greens: kale (several varieties), radicchio, napa cabbage
Mustard greens
Tender sweet cabbage
Golden turnips with greens

The harvest has been smooth, if at times a bit rushed when the forecast suddenly changed to snow.  We cruise down the garden aisles, sometimes as a family, sometimes with friends, sometimes just Jeff and our apprentice, Rich.  Harvest time is a good time to have Leah in the field.  She can pull up whatever plants she wants, and there are no seedlings for her two-year-old feet to methodically stomp.  Ruth helps a bit, then resorts to setting up shop and selling us daikon radishes from the back of the truck.  Save the parsnips, the root crop harvest is now complete.  Before we pack the harvest into the root cellar, we spray all the roots down.  This is usually a tedious, wet, cold job.  This year we borrowed our friend Keena's (of Little Ridge Farm) root washer, making the task a little easier.  Rich's girlfriend, Kate, is pictured here helping us move the carrots through.

The darker, colder evenings pull the family inside earlier and lure us all to the wood cook stove.  We are putting our big farmhouse kitchen to good use fermenting kim chi and colored peppers, canning dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, sweet pickle relish, and endless jars of apple sauce from a neighbor's old trees.  And, of course, cooking endless dinners inspired by the root cellar below. 

As the kids get older, Jeff and I are becoming more practiced at leaving work behind and making time for family and fun.  While the fall erratic snowstorms were awkward for the farm, they were pure delight for the family.  After you put so much time into making a big snowman, why not turn it into a virtual ski mountain?!  We also slowed the pace to incorporate Ruth's school into our farm for two days this fall.  The kids washed apples, fed the pigs, romped to the brook, harvested sweet potatoes, learned about the horses, and went on a horse-drawn wagon ride.

Currently, I have a big stock pot on the wood cook stove, bubbling chicken, carrots, parsnips celery, garlic, and potatoes, that need to soon be made into soup for dinner.  Leah is insisting on painting, laundry needs to be hung, the sun has slipped past the bare branches to the west, and Jeff needs to head out to do the evening chores.  The cat is asleep on the lambskin on the chair, the kitten dozing on the lambskin on the other chair, and the dog following suit on the lambskin in the kid's corner of the living room.  I hope you are having a nourishing and restful Sunday as well!


Recipes:  Please look in our older posts for some of our favorite winter recipes, including Parsnip Pancakes, Winter Squash Gallette, Winter Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves, and O-Konomi-Yaki (Japanese economy pancakes) O-Konomi-Yakis can be adapted in many ways to use up other veggies you may have kicking around, like kohlrabi or even beets.  Another flexible recipe is the coleslaw.  Below is a new recipe shared with us from our good friend and long-time CSA member Mrs. Leigh.  Along with the cabbage and carrot, I love to throw Kohlrabi in to slaws.

Cabbage Slaw
  • 1 (3 inch) piece ginger, grated fine
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 head Napa (or other) cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienne fine
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, julienne fine
  • 2 serrano chiles, minced fine
  • 1 large carrot, grated fine with a peeler
  • 3 green onions, cut on the bias, all of the white part and half of the green
  • 2 tablespoons chiffonade cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chiffonade mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small bowl, or food processor, combine ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, oil, and peanut butter.  In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients and then toss with dressing.  You can save some of the dressing to dress noodles that can be added to this dish along with stir-fried pork to make an entire meal.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter Rhythm

Yesterday the whole family (my mother and step-father included) spent the day in the sun stacking freshly-milled boards to dry for my mother and step-father's house. The boards glowed fresh and clean, surrounding us with their singularly sweet smell: earth, sun, sap, snow... wood. Sunday has become an especially treasured calm family day since the start of the Portland Winter Farmers' Market in early January. Now every Saturday Jeff and Rich wake early to pack the truck for Brunswick (Brunswick Winter Market) and Portland (Portland Winter Farmers' Market) markets. Jeff drops Rich and a collection of our veggies, meats, eggs, yarn, and lambskins and my aunt and uncle's apples and cider in Brunswick, then heads to Portland with the rest of the goods to sell. The kids and I join Rich after we drop off my sister at her basketball practice. Although market makes the week just that much busier, we love interacting with our customers, bouncing to the live music, eating Penny's freshly-baked potato buns with maple butter, and socializing with other farmers. The rest of the week holds a steady rhythm for me of the kid's routine and cooking and for Jeff of animal chores and horse-logging. We treasure this small window of the year when a routine can be had; soon lambing, and then the variables of sun, rain, and crop demands will dictate our time.

Below is a glimpse of the horses in action:

Andy hooks a chain around the log that Jeff felled, makes the horses stand patient, then, "Come up Team!", and the horses eagerly lurch into action.The trick with driving the team is to get them to go slow and steady. We apply constant pressure to the reins while twitching a log. As the horses pull, the log first bounces over the snow, and Andy dances around it, jumping back and forth over the log, like a wood sprite. Once on the main trail, the trunk glides steadily in a well-worn trench in the snow.

Back in the log yard, Jeff and Andy work together with pole and peavy to hoist the logs onto the pile. The horses must again stand and wait. Mike Reed, a sawyer with a portable mill, has now turned all the logs below (and more) into fine boards.

Since I last wrote, Andy has left the farm for travels (and a bit of farming) in Ecuador. As he packed to leave, I watched him leap over the child's safety gate at the base of the steps (the one I always dutifully open and close), his mandolin under one arm and a caribou hide he acquired in Alaska under the other. Hosting farm apprentices never ceases to entertain us, and watching their life path's unfold is a joy. Although I may sometimes feel like I am still 21, watching Andy leap that fence reminds that I am certainly not. Rich is settling well into farm and yurt life. Below is a note from him, and you can learn more about his experiences on the farm in his blog. I think his blogging has some of his city friends and family worried that the fella is cold, based on the number of packages of warm clothing that arrive in the mail for him!

"Hi, my name is Rich Lee and I’m glad to have moved from New York City to Wiscasset! I’m enjoying the change of pace, weather, nature, and the food of course here in Maine. So far my favorite things to eat here at the farm are the carrots, kim chee and the tomatillo salsa.

Before I came to work at Buckwheat Blossom Farm, I was an environmental educator on eastern Long Island for an alternative education program based at a farm; my first job after graduating from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse New York where I earned a B.S. in Environmental Studies. The program I worked for is called Project SOAR and was administered by Cornell Cooperative Extension. There I taught environmental and agricultural studies to 13 to 17 year olds on probation. I miss working with them and trying creative curriculum ideas, but as I continued to learn more and experience the ins and outs of growing food, farming began to call me.

I found the MOFGA website and listings for farms and decided to do an August tour of farms I was interested in apprenticing at. When I met the Burchsteads last but not least, it was love at first site. Horse-farming and logging during the winter presented special experiences that I could not pass up and are inline with my own environmental and agricultural values.

Since I’ve begun working here in the beginning of January my time here has passed quickly. I’ve already learned a lot about working the horses, shoveling snow, and keeping the yurt warm among many other things. I’ve met many great people already and look forward to seeing and meeting more of you at the farm as the year continues along!"

February 15 CSA Share

winter squash: delicata
fermented dilly beans
tomato salsa
frozen peas
frozen summer squash
dried hot peppers

Below is one of my favorite turnip recipes; it can also be used for other root crops or a mixture of root crops (if you are needing to clean out that produce drawer before the next CSA pick-up!) The onions caramelize as they bake with the butter, and the result is a sweet and tender turnip dish!

Turnips Anna
From a long-time CSA member

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (olive oil is good, too)
4 turnips (about 1 pound) very thinly slices
1 shallot peeled and minced (I use onions, about 2 large))
freshly ground pepper
  • Preheat oven to 425 F
  • Melt butter in pan, saute turnips just until coated in butter and partially cooked (about 3 minutes)
  • In a 8” round cake-pan (or any available pan) arrange a layer of overlapping turnip slices
  • Sprinkle over the turnips the shallots, onions, salt and pepper
  • Repeat layering with remaining ingredients, ending with a turnip layer
  • Bake until crisp and golden, about 30 minutes

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ode to Basement, Bacon, & Bread

The sky is only hinting at first light this morning, and I find Jeff where he is every morning these days, studying the seed catalogs over breakfast. Yes, the seed order is almost done, launching our minds into another season. January brings one of Jeff's favorite farming activities; logging with the horses. The logging is now in full swing. Jeff, our old apprentice Andy (who is staying with us in the farm house), and our new apprentice Rich, head into the woods daily with chain saws. About 4 days a week the horses join them, hauling out logs that we will have milled into lumber for my mother and step-father's house. A new horse joins our team this winter, Carl. Carl belongs to Django, our 12-year-old friend of Swallowtail Farm, who apprentices with Jeff. Django is boarding Carl here, and our old mare Mary is happy to have his company. We have the two of them separated from the other horses so we can give Carl's feet the extra attention they need, and so we can feed Mary extra grain and oil to help her gain wait until the pastures green up. Just before logging started, after the harvest was all in, and after the holidays were adequately celebrated, Jeff captured a bit of time to organize and set up the basement. We moved here just over a year ago, when Leah was only 3 months old, and have slowly been establishing order and systems, stealing time away from family and farm to do so. And how beautiful the result! You may prefer to see pictures here of the rosemary flowering in the greenhouse, or the horses nobly pulling a log out of the woods among pine boughs laden with snow, but indulge me here a few pictures of my basement, yes, basement!

Above the basement, and not too far from the wood stove, is where I dwell these days. Our wood stove is a wood cookstove, and I have been putting it to good use. Tonight it is chicken soup, made from a couple of stew birds who once graced our farm as laying hens. Cubed rutabaga is great in chicken soup (along with lots of other veggies) if you are looking for another way to use them up. I must practice restraint not to cook up the "Bengali Lentil Soup" recipe (shared with you below) every-other-day. Another family and apprentice favorite was black-eyed peas with carrots, chard, onions, garlic, celeriac, and our own farm-smoked bacon. Jeff and one of our pork CSA members processed our own pig here on the farm, then cut and froze most of it, and cured, smoked and froze the rest. The smoke and salt flavor of the bacon is wonderful but a little strong alone. It is a great addition to a soup. Jeff sliced all the bacon on our mandolin. Ruth has been busy in the kitchen as well, learning to spell her name! Luckily her name is only four letters; my oven could not fit another loaf. We bake bread every Wednesday, a very fine smelling anchor to our home-schooling week. I asked her what she wants to spell on her loaves tomorrow. "Dad", she answered. Jeff asked what we would put on our fourth loaf. A heart, of course.

January 18 CSA Share
white turnips
winter squash: butternut
daikon radish
tomatillo salsa
frozen broccoli or cauliflower
frozen colored peppers

February 1 CSA Share
golden turnips
winter squash
kim chi
sun-dried tomatoes
sweet relish
frozen chard
frozen green peppers
dried parsley

Below is my new favorite lentil soup recipe. It calls for red lentils, but I have used french (the small black ones) and the regular green, not the red. Both were totally delicious! I also add carrots (for what is lentil soup without carrots?) and chopped chard. I triple this recipe, to make a full pot for the hungry farm family and a bit for tomorrow's lunch.

Bengali Lentil Soup
from Hope's Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe; serves 6

1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. yellow or black mustard seeds
2 tsp. jalapeno pepper (1/2 small), seeded
4 cups onions (2 large), finely sliced
5 tsp. garlic (3 to 4 cloves), sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (I don't have these handy in the winter, so I added a bit of coriander instead with great results)

Add lentils to water in a large saucepan. Add turmeric and stir. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes longer. Reduce heat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and saute until fragrant, for just a few minutes. Cook at a low heat and be careful not to burn the seeds. Add jalapeno, onions, and garlic, and cook until golden brown (about 10 minutes).

Add onion mixture to lentils and cook for a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Add fresh cilantro leaves to the lentil soup and cover to steep for a minute. Serve while hot. For a final touch, scoop a dollop of fresh yogurt on top.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Turning into the New Year

Happy New Year
From the People and Critters of Buckwheat Blossom Farm

The days have shifted to host a little more sunlight, if slightly, as they pass... the chickens sense the optimism and have started to lay more eggs. The sheep have given up on seeing green grass again and settle into the routine of feeding on hay twice daily, chewing cud to pass the time otherwise. The pigs are gone; the last of the lambs gone. The horses have a bit of ease until winter logging starts. They have the excitement of mealtime, scratching on young trees, and the occasional horse-drama they create amongst themselves. Oh yes, and then there was the other day, when Ruth un-intentionally terrified Millie, our youngest mare, with her snowman! Ruth had the kindness and good sense to stand in front of her new snowman, blocking it from Millie's view, so the large and frightened horse could brave walking past to get to her water trough.

“An old barn owl is the only one awake to greet the January of another year. No, here are the deer, come silently to the barnyard for a bit of salt and a little left-over hay. And the quiet fox is making certain the chickens are safe in bed this New Year’s Eve.”

-from The Year at Maple Hill Farm

December 21 Winter Pantry CSA Share:

golden turnips
winter squash: sunshine & sweet dumpling
Brussels sprouts
fermented pickles
frozen green beans
frozen tomatoes
dried dill

January 4 Winter Pantry CSA Share:

winter squash: acorn
dilly beans
frozen summer squash
frozen corn

Jeff recently reported that a few folks at farmers' market claimed to be sick of winter squash... WHAT!? All year I look forward to the cool days of autumn that bring me winter squash, and I never tire of the sweet orange flesh. So, here are some squash ideas to keep you feasting as happily as me: acorn squash is great cut in half, stuffed (grains, apples, nuts, ground meat, anything...) and baked, squash is wonderful with black beans in burritos, used instead of pumpkin in pie, as a filling for enchiladas, in sweet breads, in lasagna, in a sweet-style chili with cinnamon, or, in one of our family's favorites, the galette:

Winter Squash Galette
- Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone; serves 6

Yeasted tart dough, with olive oil or butter, or galette dough
2 1/2 pounds winter squash, such as butternut
1 small head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
1 Tbs. olive oil, plus extra for the squash
1 onion, finely diced
12 fresh age leaves, chopped, or 2 tsp. dried
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan (I often leave this out, and it is still great!)
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 egg, beaten

Make the dough. Pre-heat the oven to 375. Cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds, and brush the cut surface with oil. Stuff the garlic into the cavities and place the squash cut side down on a sheet pan. Bake until the flesh is tender, about 40 minutes. Scoop out the squash and squeeze the garlic cloves. Mash them together with a fork until fairly smooth, leaving some texture.
Warm 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sage and cook until the onion is soft and beginning to color, about 12 minutes. Add it to the squash along with the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Roll out the dough into a 14 inch circle and spread the filling over it, leaving a border of 2 inches or more. Pleat the dough over the filling, the galette will be partially or completely covered, almost like a two crust pie. Brush the edges with beaten egg. Bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes.

Galette Dough:
2 cups all-purpose or whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
12 Tbs. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water as needed
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in a bowl. Cut in the butter by hand or using a mixer with a paddle attachment, leaving some pea-sized chunks. Sprinkle the ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss it with the flour mixture until you can bring the dough together into a ball. Press it into a disk and refrigerate for 15 minutes if the butter feels soft.

Happy Eating,