Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 CSA Week 9

Heat wave! By last Friday, when the temperature topped 100 degrees, the farm was an arid landscape. Whirlwinds of dust moved across the paths between our fields, and we felt seared by the afternoon glare. We had recently made the difficult decision to transplant our entire fall brassica crop from the greenhouse to the fields--we knew temperatures were going to rise, and rain was not forecast, but the plants had outgrown their cell trays and were suffering from the constriction. We risked the imminent weather and planted them into dry soil and then watched on Thursday and Friday as they wilted in the heat. We are not equipped to water our fields, but we are farming a piece of land that has a high water table and is generally wet enough that in normal conditions our crops find the water they need. In this case, the crops were too newly transplanted to have fully established themselves before the heat struck, and while our other plants weathered the heat well, the new brassicas suffered unduly. And we suffered to see them: The sight of a full block of young plants prostrate beneath an unrelenting sun is painfully evocative of a genuine thirst most of us have never known, and by mid-day Friday Joshua had made the decision to get water to the plants by whatever elaborate series of contrivances necessary. Arduous work on a hot day, but with a semi-functional pump, a nearly-dry well, and a craftily modified tractor attachment, plants were watered in the field for the first time since we have been at Dover Farm.
And the next morning? We woke to the improbable sight of consistent, fully un-forecast rain. And this evening? Temperatures barely higher than seventy and a gentle rain better suited to springtime than late July. So easily can the universe make our worry unnecessary and our work redundant, but we are once again grateful it has done so and we remain prepared for the day it does not. The fall brassicas--the cabbage, the cauliflower, the broccoli, the kale and the rest--are upright, refreshed and recovered. And we feel the same way--slightly cooked, but perhaps stronger for the temporary discomfort.

The share this week:

Green Curly Kale
Rainbow Chard
Chioggia Beets
Summer Squash / Zucchini
Genovese Basil
Torpedo Onions
You-Pick Raspberries

Notes about the food:

* We have struggled to grow carrots this year. They are one of the few crops we don't start from seed in the greenhouse (their roots are sensitive when young, and the seedlings would not survive the transplant shock were we to uproot them from cell trays and re-plant them outdoors), and because we sow them directly into our outdoor planting beds they present us with several specific challenges. They require a regular input of water prior to germination--in the greenhouse we water seeds once or twice daily to sustain a consistent level of moisture, but we don't water our fields. This means that once we sow the carrots we are reliant on rainfall to provide the water the seeds require to germinate, and this year we have had either too much or too little: We have sowed carrots in advance of rain that when it materialized was so pummeling that those seeds not washed away were impeded by the soil compaction formed in its aftermath, and we have sowed carrots in advance of rain that was expected but never arrived, so the seeds remained dry. In both cases germination was inconsistent.
Even with appropriate inputs of water, carrots germinate slowly, and those sown into a clean planting bed take longer to appear than most weeds. By the time we see the first sign of carrot greens, they are in the midst of young, faster-growing plants that we did not sow, and there is nothing for us to do but carefully pull the weeds by hand while trying not to disturb the carrots (remember--they are sensitive when young, and won't tolerate disruption in their root zone). It's one of the pickiest, most labor-intensive tasks we perform on the farm. To our work-share CSA members and other volunteers who have crouched with us on hot days and helped excavate row upon row of the things, these might be the most delicious, hard-won vegetables you eat all year. To everyone else they might seem like ordinary carrots, possibly on the small side. In either case we are happy to finally have any carrots at all, and we continue to sow seed and tweak our methods in pursuit of a more perfect carrot crop. From Still Life With Menu:

Cabbage, Carrots, and Onions with Sesame

6 tablespoons sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 medium-sized onions
1 large or 2 medium-sized carrots, thinly sliced
1 small head green cabbage, coarsely chopped (6 to 8 cups)

Comine the sesame seeds and salt in a blender, or in a spice grinder or a clean electric coffee grinder. Grind until they achieve the consistency of coarse meal. (This is called gomasio or sesame salt.) Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized wok or a large deep skillet. Add the sesame oil and the onions. Stir-fry over medium-high heat for several minutes. Add about a tablespoon of the gomasio. Keep stir-frying until the onions are soft and translucent (5 to 8 minutes).

Add the carrots and cabbage, and sprinkle in about half the remaining gomasio. Keep stir-frying until everything is tender (another 10 to 15 minutes). Sprinkle in the remaining gomasio, and serve.

* Of the four types of basil we grow, we consider three--cinnamon, lemon, and Thai--to be specialty varieties. Each of those is imbued with a subtle variation of flavor that differentiates them from one another and from the more common large-leaf Italian variety that we offer this week. In most of our cuisine, this basil is the standard, and its scent and taste are immediately evocative of summer. Try it with summer squash in this soup from Food & Wine:

Summer Squash Soup with Basil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 pounds summer squash or zucchini
1 large baking potato, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium broth
1/4 cup shredded basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the potato and squash and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the basil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

* Finally, cookies. Possibly the only food for which I have a greater affection than vegetables. A CSA member has shared a recipe that will help us take baby steps (basil is more of an herb than a vegetable, right?) toward combining those interests:

Cinnamon Basil & Lime Icebox Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax seed, ground
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons nutmeg, ground
2 tablespoons grated lime zest
6 tablespoons fresh cinnamon basil leaves, chopped
2 cups pecans, chopped
parchment or wax paper for wrapping dough

Combine flours, flax seed, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix and set the mixture aside.

Place the butter in a different bowl and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and eggs; beat the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy. Add vanilla, nutmeg, lime zest, cinnamon basil; blend. Take a measuring cup, scoop a cup at a time from the flour mixture and add it to the butter and blend. Add the nuts and stir gently.

Once dough is mixed, remove from the bowl onto a piece of parchment paper that has been dusted with flour. Shape the dough into a log shape and then wrap it completely with the parchment paper. Put in refrigerator overnight until the mixture gets hardened so that you can slice the dough. Take the dough that was refrigerated overnight and using a serrated knife cut the dough into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the cookies on a cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 for about 10 to 12 minutes until the cookies become golden brown. Place on rack to cool.

Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 CSA Week 8

It is possible that my most notable accomplishment between the ages of 6 and 10 was precocious use of the word "crepuscular." It is also possible that while using it during those years to describe animals such as crocodiles with which it has a relationship more alliterative than factual I was fully unaware of the loveliness of the hour it denotes. I mention it now because it is at this time of year that my waking hours most closely correspond to the hours of daylight, and I find myself rising each morning and later preparing for sleep in the same degree of crepuscular twilight. These mid-July days are long and hot, but I feel eased through them by their bookends, the hour when the sky grows light and the hour when the sky grows dark. And I feel grateful for the opportunity to work in a way that allows me to feel attuned to the full progress of each day, to know that the cool air of a hot day's early morning is a refreshment that will return to us at day's end, and to know that the gradations of color between dark and blue in a brightening sky will be repeated in reverse as the same sky dims. And that's all. At this time of year I like to wake up early and go to bed early: A short thought for a warm season.

The share this week:

Rainbow Chard
Green Curly Kale
Red or Chioggia Beets
Summer Squash / Zucchini
Spring Onions
You-Pick Sugar Snap Peas
You-Pick Raspberries

Notes about the food:

* With apologies to those whose appreciation of these summertime staples is more nuanced than my own, I use summer squash and zucchini interchangeably. We will occasionally offer them as separate items, but more often they will be grouped together in the share and you will have your choice of the three varieties we grow. Pictured left to right: The zucchini is dark green-skinned and will usually be harvested when it is the largest of the three; the zephyr squash is a variety of yellow crookneck notable for its dual coloration; and the magda is a mid-eastern variety of squash, shorter and less slender than the other two. All can be eaten cooked or raw, and I've noticed when reading seed catalogues and other such resources that their flavor is often described as "nutty," an adjective I'd like to think is synonymous with "zany," but which in this case probably refers to flavors too subtle for my palate. If I enjoy these summer foods thoughtlessly, it's because I'm hot. I certainly appreciate their abundance, though, and their versatility. Try an easy raw salad, or consider marinating and adding them to whatever else you have on the grill this July (From the June 2011 Bon Apetit and The Food Network, respectively):

Shaved Summer Squash Salad

3 tablespoons whole almonds
1 pound summer squash
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 minced garlic clove
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roast almonds and coarsely crush. Meanwhile, trim the ends off summer squash. Using a vegetable peeler, thinly slice the squash lengthwise into strips and transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic clove, and kosher salt to taste. Pour dressing over squash. Let stand for a few minutes and then add handfuls of arugula. Shave a little Pecorino over the squash and toss. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with the almonds.

Marinated Zucchini and Summer Squash

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, trimmed and sliced diagonally about 1/4-inch thick
1 pound yellow squash, trimmed and sliced diagonally about 1/4-inch thick

Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and thyme in a large bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the oil. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the marinade into a small bowl. Cover and set aside. Add the zucchini and yellow squash to the remaining marinade in the large bowl and toss to coat. Transfer the mixture to a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Cover and marinate at room temperature at least 3 hours or cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Prepare the barbecue for medium-high heat. Grill the vegetables until they are crisp-tender and brown, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a platter. Drizzle with the reserved marinade and serve hot or at room temperature.

We are lucky to have friends who are not only CSA members but also enthusiastic volunteers on the farm. And we are even luckier that of those some are not only enthusiastic volunteers on the farm but also excellent cooks who bring us samples of the things they make with our vegetables. Thanks to Kathy Warburton for the weekly help, the company, and for sharing her ongoing hummus experiments with us. Here is one of her recipes, apropos of the ingredient at hand:

Zucchini Hummus

1 large or 2 medium zucchini
1/2 cup tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1-2 cloves garlic
sprinkle of cayenne
sprinkle of paprika

Process zucchini, olive oil, and garlic in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

* Fennel is not something we usually offer two weeks in a row, but we want to plant some of our fall crops in the bed space it is occupying, so we are going to harvest the rest of what we began to harvest last week. I like this recipe from Eating Well magazine because it uses the bulb as well as the fronds of the fennel:

Seared Salmon with White Beans and Fennel

3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small bulb fennel, halved, cored and thinly sliced, plus 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
1 medium tomato, diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 teaspoon fennel seed
8 ounces center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut into two portions

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add sliced fennel; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in beans, tomato, and wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato begins to break down, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in chopped fennel fronds, mustard, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Rinse and dry the pan. Combine fennel seed and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly on both sides of salmon. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the pan over medium-high heat until simmering but not smoking. Add the salmon, skinned side up; cook until golden brown, 3-6 minutes. Turn the salmon over, cover and remove from heat. Allow the salmon to continue cooking off the heat until just cooked through, 3-6 minutes more. Serve salmon with the bean mixture.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 CSA Week 7

The heat and dry conditions felt sudden last week, but we have since had a decent rainfall and time to come to terms with the fact that it is, after all, July. Before last week I had since March 1st ridden my bike to the farm every workday but one. Riding not without a significant tendency toward distraction and wobble, laden with soil from the farm and wearing a backpack over-filled with vegetables, singing top-40 radio hits in my head and sort of out loud, thinking of myself as a solitary, begrimed counterpoint to the spandex-clad pelotons that populate Dover roads, it could be obstinacy--a simple pleasure congealed to compulsion--that kept me uncovered on the occasionally cold and wet days of our extended spring, but whatever the reason you'll know that the single day I chose to drive was particularly inclement. I think of it now because it was the day in early April on which we planted the beets that were in the share this week and last. We worked that morning in a cold, unremitting rain, transplanting the beets one at a time into soil saturated by water enough that we could call it mud and watch it harden in the following days to a slick crust hardly conducive to the production of healthy plants. We dried ourselves at intervals by the woodstove and completed our work with a semi-useful stubbornness, and the beets eventually overcame their disadvantageous origin and found their way in the compacted ground. Their harvest during this first week of summer weather reminds me of their beginning, and of the fact that however jarring the sudden arrival of this season may feel it is inextricable from the season past, stitched to it by the work we began in April and continue today. We've followed a thread through sucking a mud and a cold day that would keep anyone off their bike, and here we are: a warm month and an abundant harvest.

The share this week:

Red Russian Kale
Rainbow Chard
Collard Greens
Red Beets
Napa or Green Cabbage
Summer Squash or Zucchini
Green Beans
Sugar Snap Peas
Cinnamon Basil
Spring Onions

Notes about the food:

* Parsley, which for the purpose of this week's photo shoot I have inexplicably situated on top of a toy wooden bus, is another one of my favorite things we grow. Although it is often relegated to the role of garnish, I insist there is no shame in enjoying it--stems and all--as a stand-alone snack or prominent component of any meal. But, because I suspect you are unlikely to share with me the lonely joy of eating a full bunch of parsley like it's a candy bar, I am including two recipes that are not shy about the fact that parsley is an intensely nutritious, intensely flavorful dark leafy green that deserves better than use as a neglected scrap alongside your hamburger. The first is from The Food Network, the second from a 2003 issue of Gourmet:

Parsley Salad

4 ounces Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
6 tablespoons walnut oil
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Wash and dry the parsley. Remove leaves from stems and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, walnut oil, sesame oil, honey, and salt and pepper, to taste. Add the parsley and sesame seeds and toss to combine. Allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving so that the flavors to meld.

Beet and Parsley Salad

2 medium beets without greens
1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Trim and peel raw beets, then cut into very thin slices. (If you have one, a mandoline is the best kitchen tool for this.)

Toss beets with parsley, salt, sugar, and pepper in a serving bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle vinegar on salad and toss again. Serve immediately.

* The first thing to know about fennel is that its taste is reminiscent of black licorice. When used as a garnish, the fronds will imbue any dish with this flavor, and a small amount of them will go a long way. The licorice taste is more subtle in the bulb, and will be affected by cooking. The bulb is versatile: it adds crunch when chopped into salad, it is easily sauteed or baked, and it is delicious when lightly glazed with olive oil and grilled. I hope you'll experiment freely. For more involved recipes that incorporate fennel, as well as beets, chard, and kale, consider the following soups:

Beet and Fennel Soup with Kefir
From Bon Appetit, January 2011

Note: Kefir is a drink that looks and tastes like yogurt, usually made from cow's milk or goats milk. It's in the dairy section. Can't find it? Substitute plain yogurt. I think this soup is also good served cold.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped fennel bulb
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 large beets, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 cup unflavored kefir
Additional unflavored kefir
Fennel fronds (for garnish)

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion, chopped fennel, and fennel seeds. Saute until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add cubed beets and stir to coat. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until beets are tender, 18-20 minutes. Puree soup in batches in blender. Return to same saucepan. Whisk in 1 cup unflavored kefir and season soup with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rewarm soup, but don't boil.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with additional unflavored kefir; garnish with fennel fronds.

Barley Soup with Greens, Fennel, Lemon, and Dill
From Bon Appetit, February 2010

4 cups water
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
3 cups chopped onion
8 cups coarsely chopped kale leaves (one 7-ounce bunch)
6 cups coarsely chopped chard leaves (one 7-ounce bunch)
5 cups spinach leaves (about 5 ounces)
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh fennel fronds
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 7-ounce package feta cheese, crumbled

Bring 4 cups water, 2 cups broth, barley and 1 teaspoon sea salt to boil in a large pot. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with sea salt, and saute until golden brown, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add sauteed onions and remaining 6 cups broth to pot with barley.

Add kale and chard to soup. Simmer until greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Add spinach, green onions, dill, fennel fronds, and mint; simmer 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season soup with sea salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice, thinning with more broth, if desired.

Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle each with feta cheese, drizzle with oil, and serve.

* We are introducing the summer squash and zucchini slowly. The plants have begun to produce enough for the CSA, but barely. Beginning this week we'll harvest everything and divide it among the shares, and as the summer continues the plants will produce more and they will be joined by a second succession of everything squash-related, so don't feel antagonized if you receive as few as 1 squash per share this week--more are on the way. I'll provide further notes about the varieties we are growing as their abundance increases.

Miscellaneous Notes:

* Have you been to the movies recently? I saw The Tree of Life last weekend, and I've hardly stopped thinking about it since. If you think that ours might be a world in which gain and loss are constant and simultaneous, and that any accounting of such things must consider equally the cosmically-scaled and the infinitesimal, you might enjoy this movie. Anyway, it's something we can talk about while you collect your vegetables, if you want.

Monday, July 4, 2011

2011 CSA Week 6

It's a holiday but the plants don't know that; they didn't take the day off so neither did we. We staked our second succession of tomatoes, and we hoed carrots and beans, and it was hot, but although it was a regular workday I am still going to use the Fourth of July as an excuse to write an update of meager length and scant information. Rather than coming home from a full day of work and dwelling on my usual fixations both fleeting (the weather) and morbid (that fact that in the beginning of every object and living thing is its end) and then cobbling those thoughts into an overly earnest wet-blanket of a paragraph, Joshua and I and some friends who are farmers celebrated the holiday with a swim and a cookout. Which means, actually, our afternoon was not unlike that of many Americans who didn't begin the day by hoeing carrots, and I trust you'll forgive the fact that it leaves me with time only for a brief note and one recipe.

The share this week:

Lacinato Kale
Rainbow Chard
Dandelion Greens
Red and / or Golden Beets
Kohlrabi or D'Avignon Radish
Hakurei Turnips
Sugar Snap Peas

Notes about the food:

* I have lost track of whether I grow vegetables because I love to eat them or if I love to eat vegetables because I grow them. Either way, I eat a lot of vegetables, and I rarely leave the farm with a backpack that isn't full of the things we grow. The first thing I do when I get home is rinse what I have harvested in cold water and then cut the stems of any greens and arrange them in a dish of cold water so that every day there is a bouquet of greens at my house. I recommend that to increase the shelf-life of your summertime produce you do these things too, especially as the days get hotter. We harvest as early in the morning as possible and we rinse what we harvest in cool water, but as the day continues the recently harvested produce will return to air temperature, which means that on a hot July day it may be warm by the time you arrive at the farm to collect your CSA share, and the greens may appear limp. A rinse in cold water at your home will take the heat off the vegetables, and by cutting the tips of the stems of the leafy greens and placing them in cool water you allow the leaves to draw water through the fresh cut and rehydrate themselves. After taking these steps, everything is best stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a breathable plastic bag or in the crisper drawer.

* We have time to continue the beet primer we began last week. Red and golden beets are in this share; you'll receive a bunch of one or the other, or a mixed bunch that includes both varieties. And there are many more beets in the ground--red, golden, and chioggia--and you'll be seeing more of all of them as the season continues. (Any combination of the three makes a lovely presentation when prepared together.) Here's a quick recipe that is refreshing in the summertime. It calls for more beets than are in the bunches we are making this week, but more are on the way, and until then the quantities of the other ingredients can be modified. From Bon Appetit:

Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges and Beet Greens

6 medium beets with beet greens attached
2 large oranges
1 small sweet onion, cut into wedges
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 400. Trim greens from beets. Cut off and discard stems. Coarsely chop greens and reserve. Wrap each beet in foil. Place beets directly on oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Cool. Cut beets into wedges and place in a medium bowl.

Cook beet greens in large saucepan of boiling water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Cool. Squeeze greens to remove excess moisture. Add greens to bowl with beets. Cut and peel white pith from oranges. Working over another bowl and using a small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release segments. Add onion and orange segments to bowl with beet mixture. Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic and orange peel in small bowl to blend; add to beet mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Serve.