October 29, 2009

Starting with the seeds and soil

seed garlic

Gray skies, frosty ground, and nearly freezing air.  Its the tail end of the growing season here.  This is the time when longing for a comfortable seat by the woodstove is balanced with cheeks flushed as I warm up with physical work in the cold air. Of course I am not farming full time this year, but the other day I went to the community garden to accomplish the last task of the season:  planting garlic.

Like the tulip bulbs I planted all over yard in autumn as a child, garlic goes into the ground in late October.  Its nice to have one crop that is already taken care of when its time to start planting in the spring.  After a long winter's slumber in the frozen ground the garlic will sprout strong and green.  The smell of the cloves as I separate each one reminds me of the flavorful bulb that each one will become.

ready to plant for next season

On this quiet overcast morning, a few birds burst in and out of the trees.  The dampness from the frost on the fading green grass and the fiery colors of the leaves provides a bright contrast against the sky.  The air is cold, and the ground likely too, but to protect myself from this I wear a pair of dusty work gloves.  I hate to shield my hands from really getting into the earth but they would be way to cold to work if I didn't.  As I move the spading fork into the ground to loosen the soil in this bed my body becomes warm and the cool air on my cheeks and the smell of the cold damp remind me how good it is to be alive.  To be alive and outside in this small patch of earth, which, I hope has fed many this season.  We were able to harvest about 2500 pounds of produce this year, and hopefully this made a small difference to those who need.  Now is the beginning of the time for the garden's rest.

Garlic planting is often a welcome marker of the end of the garden year.  All the harvesting is done, the beds are cleared and each clove of garlic gets tucked deep into the soil to rest for months before the cycle begins again.  Even though I am putting the garden to bed, I find the smells of the soil, the garlic, the leaves fluttering down from trees to the earth, are all reawakening my desire to do more of this.  I have been in the kitchen a lot lately.  I love dreaming up new creations and the excitement of making something delicious, satisfying and sustaining.  Back in the garden, though, I am reminded of how much further I want to go into the process:  food starting with the seeds and soil long before it reaches the kitchen or a plate.

I admire, and slightly envy, those who have found their dreams and are pursuing them relentlessly.  I have my dream of growing lots of vegetables and of a small farm and I know that this dream will eventually sprout strongly out of the ground.  For now, though, I am part of an equally beautiful and fulfilling dream where Ray and I have to work together to figure out how our future will happen.  We're working on plans that will work for both of us and, while I hope to do a lot more vegetable growing in the next season or so, the larger dream will probably have to slumber in the ground until the time is right to grow further.  The soil is rich and soft and full of life.

End of the garden year

October 27, 2009

Cranberry Salsa

Living in America's Foodiest Small Town it should be expected that I am surrounded by good food.  Since I don't have lots of money to spend eating out, most of this comes from what I make in my kitchen.  However, it is truly fabulous to be able to get so many good ingredients that have been made or grown locally.  Aside from the economic and environmental reasons for rejoicing in the local, there is a certain indescribable deliciousness that I taste in local foods.  Maybe it is intertwined with my hopes to make and grow as much of my own food as I can, or maybe it really does taste better when you buy your food from someone you know.

I've been so excited to see new offerings from the farmers -- things that weren't sold at the market just few years ago.  Peaches, plums, pears, sweet potatoes, cranberries!  I first noticed the cranberries last fall, bushel boxes full of the little ruby jewels, shining in the pale autumn sun.  They are back this fall, piled and ready to bounce and rattle home in my bag.  There are so many recipes that can incorporate cranberries with their intense tartness and bright red color.  A few years ago I stumbled across cranberry salsa at a party and was instantly delighted by this different take on a great classic.  I love that this highlights cranberries, as opposed to giving them a supporting role.  I put together this recipe for a pot luck to serve with tortilla chips but it could also go on the table for a twist on the typical thanksgiving sauce and its really good with these quesadillas!

Cranberry Salsa

Cranberry Salsa
2 cups of whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
juice of one lime 
1/2 cup chopped cilantro 
1 cup of chopped apple 
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until everything is uniformly finely chopped.  If you are using frozen cranberries, you will want to let the salsa thaw for a little bit before serving.  

October 25, 2009

A Staple for Fall

Around here, squash is certainly a sign of the season and staple of fall meals.  I think the first time I was awakened to the glory of winter squash was when I was an apprentice at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.  I worked in the market garden and we planted rows and rows of winter squash: pumpkins, butternut, buttercup, acorn and delicata.  In June we had a long week of working well into the evening to get all the squash plants tucked into the soil and protected from those pesky and potentially detrimental squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  In September we harvested the squash, filling the back of a rickety little pick up truck many times over and leaving piles of golden-fleshed goodness in the greenhouse to cure.  In late October, under gray skies and fluttering snow we spent days filling tractor loads with the mulch we had put down early in the season to provide the squash plants the ideal place to grow.

Away from the garden, I supplied my housmates with ample opportunity to cook all kinds of squash filled recipes.  We roasted it, pureed it, made bread and pies.  Heather introduced us to a butternut squash soup, sweetened with baked apple and spiced with fresh ginger, that has been one of my go to squash recipes in the falls and winters since my time on the farm.  In the years that I haven't had a garden to supply squash for the winter, I have tried to accumulate a few from the farmers market to last at least a few months into the winter.  This year, so far, the only squash that have made it into my kitchen have been quickly gobbled up.  Eventually I will find a cool, dry place to store a few, but in the mean time I have made squash soup.

Last week, while the butternut squash baked quietly in the oven, I brainstormed a new recipe.  Instead of a sweet apple and ginger soup, I decided to focus on more savory flavors, starting with onion and garlic and then curry.  Instead of cream, I used coconut milk which went perfectly with the curry and added a flavor and texture of its own.  This soup is simple and bright with color and flavor and I'm sure this will become another frequently made winter meal.

Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk and Curry

1 small onion (1/2 cup) diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
olive oil
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 medium sized butternut squash (about 2 cups) baked until soft and scooped out of the skin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
A dash of cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut milk (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized pot over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil.  Add the onions and garlic andcook, stirring every so often until they are translucent.  Pour in the water or broth and bring to a gentle simmer.  Add the squash and stir, mashing the squash a bit to combine it with the broth.  Let simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, add spices and puree until smooth.  Return to the pot and add coconut milk, stirring to combine.  Bring the soup back to a simmer for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 2 generously

October 16, 2009

Growing with Wild Abandon

Every season has unique aromas. If they were bottled and brought to someone far away and if this person closed her eyes, uncorked the bottle, and took a deep breath, she would be instantly transported to a specific moment or place in that season. Of course, today, here, it is fall and the air carries the distinct perfume of dry leaves, perhaps some woodsmoke, and the clear smell of the cold that is slowly taking over this part of the world. There are other smells, too. Inside: freshly baked bread, apples simmering into sauce, maybe the steamy scent of a cup of tea. Outside: nature is shutting down and dying back for the year and the smell of drying and decaying mixes with everything else to create the unique scent of autumn.

Along with all the freezing, pulling up, and ending comes the abundance of ripe fruit when natures grabs at a last chance at life for a while. Acorns litter the ground, seeds floating on downy parachutes fly by on the wind. I have been catching signs of this abundant life all over. Riding my bike the other night, the air was flooded with the rich sweet smell of apples rotting and leaving their seeds back in the earth.
I've noticed fruit trees nearly every where I go. I tasted a grape with its thick skin and pungent flavor, but I haven't picked anything else. Instead I've been observing what the plants provide. If someone planted them purposefully, most are no longer being tended but they flourish and grow with their wild abandon in this mostly urban area.
Untrellised, not pruned, they reach for the sky while their fruit falls to the ground with a thud or a splat, becoming part of the earth or maybe just landing on the sidewalk. Their gentle decay draws bees, maybe some other small creatures, and the deep, sweet aroma becomes part of the air of autumn.

October 15, 2009

All in one place

In the process of organizing my knitting supplies, I realized that I had needles falling all over the place, so I made a simple wrap to hold them. I cut a piece of muslin slightly bigger than my longest knitting needles, and cut a pocket the right size for each set (I added an extra pocket for future needles and an envelope style pocket for a crochet hook and other tools). After I sewed the pockets onto the muslin, I sewed that to the outside fabric with a tie to keep the wrap closed. I also included a tie on the inside for my circular needles which also needed a home. Now they are nestled together, all in one place whenever I need them.

October 6, 2009

Undeniably Autumn

I've been reluctant to let go of summer, but in these parts it is undeniably autumn. Mornings of golden sunshine, dark dramatic clouds passing over bringing sudden showers and then moving on, crisper air and the need for layers, chilly nights snuggled under blankets. We went to the fair last weekend and soaked in all the ideas for rural and sustainable living, the amazing food, and the thousands of other fairgoers also absorbing it all. Its a good time to gather up ideas and inspiration for the cold, dark months ahead when they will simmer and bubble inside until, someday they can be used. This year, I was inspired by yarn as my interest in knitting reappears with the cooler weather and my desire to be cozy.

There were sheep, rabbits, alpacas and goats all displaying their knittable qualities and dozens of vendors selling wool in all its forms. After much browsing, I settled on two skeins from Hope Spinnery, one in a natural brown wool and the other in a sage green color. I wouldn't call myself an avid knitter, but I find it relaxing and I enjoy that it is a very portable craft. A couple of years ago I knitted a sweater for Ray and after working on that intensely for several weeks I didn't knit again for a long time. Last year I did a couple of projects and I hope to do a lot more this year. This is a start, anyway, and I am looking forward to a cozy hat to wear as autumn deepens. What fall projects are you working on?