For the love of chicory

chicory loveThis time of year we hear the same thing from most everyone we run into–the craving for fresh, green food is intense for those folks eating mostly what they grow themselves or from the farms around and about them.  There are greens to eat in the winter here if all goes well, but they are not really green, they are overwintered.  They sit through those cold, dark months of December and January, freeze and unfreeze often, and wait.  We harvest what grew before all of that, and it is usually not pretty nor tender.  They are greens that beg to be cooked.

By now, our desire for green is for fresh.  And new growth is happening, it feels like finally, after all that wait.  Fresh leaves are making there way to our plates again.  The greenhouse is fully planted and we are working arugula thinnings into our salad mix.  Before we know it, there will be lettuce again!

But while we wait for the traditional and tender lettuces to be in the mix, what is fresh in February and early March make me quite happy to eat.  More than happy…I almost don’t want to move on.  The inner leaves of sugarloaf chicory are as easy to eat as lettuce but with so much more to offer, I may love them more than anything.  And the smaller, spoon shaped inner leaves of radicchio are so sweet and bitter, royal and right. The mid -summer lettuce leaf salads really can’t compare with the mix of colors and textures of right-nows green salads, except that we love those for all the other fresh vegetables that are able to join in on the fun.

I sit down to eat this salad every day and the sight of it, its beauty, steals my heart.  And then I do bite into it and the flavor is almost too much, it is so good.  After roasted roots and meat, and cooked kale and collards, all winter, my body sings kind of like the rest of the animal kingdom outside.  The birds and the frogs and I are enlivened right now.

And I am over the moon in love with my plate.

Just as I am with one thing or another, each season,  in its turn.  Rapinis will come soon to sweep me off my feet, then peas.  Peas!  Then summer, the season that rarely offers itself monogamously, will bring so much to love it is ridiculous (and why we love it so).  Then come autumn-year after year after year–arugula will bring me to my knees.  And delicata squash, oh my!  Osaka purple mustard. Tat soi.  Even come next winter, I will sing, again, the survival instinct that cabbage and turnips inspire in me.  Then, the whole wild love-fest will begin again.

It has been seven years for us out here on this farm, that same length of time since we learned about our food allergies.  Our diet is so different now.  But it is also so simple and so good.  All the pleasure it brings feels like the same natural pleasure the earth itself takes in bringing it forth for us as it circles around the sun.

These love affairs I have, they feel so nourishing and healthful, that is how I dare say eating should be.  This is not to say I don’t have my weaknesses (coffee), and not to say that we don’t eat some things from miles away every single day of the year in bland repetition (bananas).  But the heart of all of our meals is this land.  And there is more joy in that than I think we know until we are experiencing it.

There are so many food movements, so much divergence in opinion.  There are external factors and internal ones.  I naturally shy away from dogma, I try to keep my vision clear and focas on myself…and those eating at my table each and every night.  There can be so much confusion about what to eat, guilt over what you are eating, and so much that does not nourish you to pick up on the cheap.

Whatever you choose, my hope, my own two cents on what it should do for you, is this–that it deeply feed your body and soul.  Not in any one night stand kind of way, cheap and wrong even if it seems right in the moment.  Deeply.

My argument for seasonal eating, aside from any social-economic-political-environmental reasons is that this will be the side effect either way.  And that this may just teach you, if you listen closely, how to eat as you need to in order to feel alive and joyful.

Because chicory is truly and amazingly healthy to eat; but that is not the reason I came to endear it.

Simple Pleasures

It probably isn’t a good idea to star the mushroom in this weeks CSA newsletter-blog post since there weren’t enough for everyone today; but when you are walking out of your front door to harvest shiitake mushrooms your husband “grew” to bring inside and saute with the spring green garlic–or perhaps with the fleetingly appearing garlic scapes–to start your meals, then it is hard not to stop and snap a picture and get a little excited.

Growing our own mushrooms has been a bit of a trial and error deal, but we have started getting some every year now, so that is definitely a step in the right direction.

And of course, it is really nice to gorge on all the funky or slug bitten ones ourselves.  It is a lot of fun and the whole thing is so different from growing vegetables.  The flavor, too, is a special and wonderful thing.  I have never–not even when I have bought mushrooms from local producers–tasted mushrooms like these, eating them right after plucking them off the oak logs they were grown on (except of course when doing the same with mushrooms in the wild).

All of that is part of the beauty of choosing small and local.  A farm member remarked today that she barely ate any salads through the winter when CSA harvests were off, the flavor of the farm’s salad mix lingering in her memory with nothing available at the store quite the same.  I know what she means–it is hard to find produce that comes close to what you are going to receive from your CSA or find at your local farmer’s market–or better yet, grow yourself.  Even market shops that hope to include truly local produce in their selections have a hard time finding farmers who want to go that route.  Although there have been a handful of times when we have sold extra produce to our local market, this is definitely our last stop.  We prefer selling things directly to the eater, it is much better for us and a lot funner for them.

As I found myself mentioning to anyone looking curiously at our green garlic on the farmer’s market table these last few weeks:  there are foods that are “farmer’s market only”  kinds of things.  In general, anyways.  I don’t make it to the city often, so I don’t know what markets offer there; but for the most part, green garlic is a spring treat you are only going to see at your local farmer’s market or in your CSA harvest.

And there’s a lot to say for that.  As simple and humble as what we offer is, it is as equally gourmet and foodtastic and unique and special.  The amazing flavors of things as mundane as lettuce and the offerings as special as ultra fresh mushrooms and spring pulled garlic are a small bit of what makes this adventure–for all of us–pretty awesome.

What I love about this the most is that these are all simple, tiny pleasures we bring to the table, but they really do add such an inordinate amount of depth and beauty to our lives.  Food is the most basic of human needs and human pleasures.  For very little and with very little effort, we can magnify the delight and joy of “eating” a hundred fold.

Another farmer that we know–probably not the first to do so–turned the old phrase “dirt poor” on its head when he was being interviewed about his life as a farmer by claiming that yes, he was poor, but not dirt poor…he was dirt rich.  It is true, there are things a farmer is rich in beyond measure.  We, alas, would also probably be classified as the stereotypical poor farmers because even though this model of farming can be quite lucrative, we have many extenuating factors that keep our bottom line lower than we would like.  Still, besides being rich in land, we are also exceedingly rich in food!  Those mushrooms!  So good.  All our meals, really.  We can’t even go out to eat except for at a few special places because with the ingredients we have access to, we are eating like kings at every meal, even if we aren’t living like them.

But really, that all depends on how you define living like kings…because I think that we are.  And I hope all of our farm members and market customers are enjoying their food this much too.  I hope that these humble vegetables and our weekly interactions around them ultimately result in happy tongues and full and fulfilled bellies.   I hope that for all of us, our meals bring us the most simple of pleasures.

This Week at Market: The Flavors of Spring

Spring it still is, even though today marks the start of our “summer” farmer’s market, the McMinnville Farmer’s Market.  Farmer’s growing in hoop houses or on black plastic can nudge the season ahead a bit, but with the long lasting springs we have been having last year and this, even our friends who use these growing tools more extensively than we do will most likely still be offering “spring” produce as we start the market season today.  Baby beets, large spring onions, turnips…these are crops a week or two away for us, but have been ready for the last month from other farm’s at our Saturday market.

Otherwise, the main crops that spring offers in abundance are greens, greens, and more greens!

Some, of the lettuce variety.  In fact, there is always so  much lettuce at the market’s at this time of year that we no longer worry about growing too much head lettuce to bring.  Instead we focus on our salad mix, many a local’s favorite and one of our signature offerings.  Right now, we especially love the mix which includes not only baby lettuces in a wide variety, but young greens as well as small brassica florets.  It is so beautiful and delicious!

All of our other greens fall more into the cooking greens category.  This week we are bringing a braising mix full of young greens, dandelion greens, nettles, baby kale mix, full size kale, and rainbow chard.  The color of spring for us is definitely green!

But saute a little green garlic, another spring treat that you really are only going to find at your local farmer’s market, perfectly light for spring cooking with its pleasantly mild garlic flavor, and add this to your cooking greens and you have everything you need–delicious!

But what is really exciting (even though it is equally depressing in some ways) is that we will also have spring rapini at this first market, and maybe for a while longer!  Because it has been so cool this spring, our brassica plants that we overwintered in the fields began to go to seed later than usual.  When these relatives of the ever popular broccoli go to seed, they produce equally edible florets that are yet another spring crop usually only offered by your local market farmer.  Similar to broccoli raab in appearance, but with each kind offering a unique flavor depending on which plant it comes from (turnip, kale, cabbage, etc), these are one of our spring favorites!  We wouldn’t normally have them at this time of year because their push to set seed would be stronger than our ability to harvest them if the weather were just a bit warmer.

But it isn’t really warm nor very summery yet, so relish these spring flavors we will!  They are just as yummy as the produce to come, and for those of you who might otherwise miss out on being able to shop from a farmer’s market when our Thursday market isn’t happening, what a treat for all of you!

At market and in the farm kitchen this week

Pickings were slim this week at our market booth and a few others as the cool weather and gray days were again here more than gone.  We could hardly believe that there was so little growth from last week’s harvest to this week’s.  This happens in early spring, but the pace of growth usually continues to get faster and faster as we approach the summer solstice.  The longer days usually mean more sun and warmer temps, but not so this spring.  We have had funny (although really, not so funny) conversations with a few other farmers, commiserating over wet fields that can’t be tilled and spoiling crops and worries about the rest of the season.  There is some solace in this, knowing we are all in the same boat.  It’s wild that in every year of this farming adventure, the weather has provided such a hurdle in one way or another.  It is one of the constants of farm life, I suppose.

Still, the farmer keeps smiling; and as hard as it has been to have lower than average harvests (and thus, sales) at market this first month, the CSA harvests have been good.  And as much as I go back and forth these days, becoming irrationally worried that it really will never warm up this year…I am sure that it will (right?)!  Either way, we are happy that we plant diversely enough to squeak by even if we had a crazy year that just stayed cool.

Even this guy, who is ever so serious as you can see, isn’t too worried even though each week he struggles to find enough flowers to fill his bouquets and this year’s annual flower  seed plantings are no more than an inch high and only barley inching there way higher each week.

In the meantime, market shoppers, CSA members, and us alike are all eating well from the springtime bounty that the earth is providing.  Salad turnips, eaten peeled and whole by the children, or sliced and added to our salads, or in tasty recipes like this turnip slaw (minus the sweet pepper), are so good.  We also saute them a lot, simply by themselves as a side dish, or in a dish such as this, with chard..mmm.  The turnip greens are some of our favorites, too.  They end up in soups or curries, lending to dishes their small mustard tang and nutritious greens goodness.

Kohlrabis are one of those fun, unique vegetables that are such a joy to look at, and after peeling away all those knobs and the thick outer skin, make a mama’s life easy by being a fast snack to set on the table, tasty just to munch on as they are.  But since we end up with so many, we use them in many of the same ways we use salad turnips as well.  Grated and made into kolrabi slaws with turnips or alone, or used as you would cucumbers in the summer to make this yummy salad.  Someone just mentioned to us at market this week that when they lived in Germany, in the winter they always made that sweet, creamy cucumber salad we all love in the summer with turnips instead.  We are trying it with the kohlrabi this week!

Spring always means lots of parsley and green onions, thrown in many, many dishes, but especially any kind of cold vegetable or grain salad (our go to market day make ahead lunch standbys).

And of course, sweet, beautiful lettuces!  This we eat for the rest of the season, but it is always the best in the spring, after a winter without lettuces.  And, for Farmer’s market shoppers, it is always nice to be able to get good quality meat easily each and every week.

Spring, too, brings about the time when our family begins to harvest some of the years first meat chickens and some of last year’s baby goats, finished on freshly growing spring green growth.  And finally, after almost a whole year, the last half of our spring piglets from last year were processed as well.

We don’t eat a lot of meat, and we especially don’t in the winter unless our freezers are stocked from our farm or others sources we trust.  We round meals out with legumes a lot of times, but we also can’t eat wheat and dairy, and most other grains aren’t really very good for us either, so good meat is definitely a spring blessing for us.

And we have, of course, been enjoying those special treats of spring that we don’t yet have growing on our farm.  We picked up asparagus last week, roasted it and swooned.  And strawberries, twice a week, from each market, get brought home and devoured.  We planted both of these crops this year.  The strawberry planting looks good, the asparagus…questionable.  We will just have to wait and see next year.  This year, we are waiting, as well.  Waiting for summer to come, but enjoying what we have right now as well.