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.

the quickening

quickeningmoon

The quickening.  Can you feel it too?

That is the word that has been coming to my mind again and again  these past few weeks.  And lo and behold, it is also one (of the many) names given to this week’s full moon.

The beginning of things.  Or more accurately, the middle.  Almost the tipping point, but not quite.

The slow, gradual journey to fecundity, started with tiny seeds, and now itching our skin from the inside, almost ready to be found on the outside, in our bodies moving, full again.  Full of life, which of course we are all through these sleepy winter months, but still, full in louder ways, full and abundant–that is what we are now stepping foot after foot towards. It’s thrilling.  And the word on the tip of my tongue so perfect, so encapsulating of these feelings stirred in the blood by so little a thing as earlier sunrises and daffodil shoots.

When you feel those first few butterfly flutters of new life in your womb, the moment is a rush of excitement and awe, wonder and delight.  But everything is wrapped in the yarn of anticipation.  Don’t we love those little fingers and feet brushing against us from the mystery of inside out?  Even when all that is to come is still hidden.  Everything is unknown.

the mystery of seeds

Of course, we feel this way about a farming season too.  The eager anticipation that begins with making the plans, ordering the seeds. Germinating before germination. Cleaning up the seed starting greenhouse, mixing the potting soil.  And then, sowing.  Tediously filling up a large space with very tiny things.  It is all so good.  Good because of what it means, what it intends–because the real birth of a season comes much later when we see what kind of spring weather we’ll have, how much rain and when and for how long, and whatever other particular awesomenesses or challenges arise from the earth along with those plants.  A mystery teasing us now in its all promising way, quickening our pace bit by bit until soon it will require full laboring.

And then, reaping, always abundantly, one way or another.

But for now, I will stir that word around in my mouth a while longer.  I know too well that the cycle goes by faster and faster with each breath.  The quickening.   For now, while we are still able to pause and savor it all easily, without too much weight or worry, we will revel in the magic that is the unknowing, in the promise.  Spring is magic.  And hope, faith.

All things sweetly anticipated and reverently moved towards are more graciously received.  The whole process is a joy, each part inseparable from the whole.

My pulse quickens at the thought of those long, ripe days of summer; I seriously long for hot and sweaty skin, I do love the sun so.  But when it arrives, it will be all the better because of this season of calm.  Watching those perky daffodils grow without any hurry, their greens a cheery sight, there yellow bonnet flowers so much the more, I attempt the same myself.

It is the quickening, but that translates to slow and steady, inch by inch.  It is a happy pace, and definitely a picked up pace.  But not rushed, nor wild.  It is that special place between worlds.  It carries movement towards, healthy, sure growth.

Like an expectant mother, we wait.  But like her too, we nourish ourselves while we can.  We prepare for the birth of the season.

the quickening

The slow waking

IMG_0714IMG_0721There is something about January that quiets me.  It’s like all that beginning energy that comes with the flip of the calender page and the excitement of planning for a new year through the holidays hits the wall of the slow, short, and still days of this first month, and with that bang, a hush falls.  Last year I didn’t get around to this space from the solstice through Chinese New Year, this year even longer.  What have I been doing?!

Truly, January, and February are the two months my children get nearly all of me as we cram in, more dutifully, our school work for the year than we do at other, busier times of the year.  The farm is sleeping.   The world, really, is too.

And so, I guess, I find myself hibernating even when my to-do list is quite long.  And almost like clockwork, the halfway to spring mark arrives with the first of February (Imbolc, as it was once called, now, roughly speaking, Groundhog’s day), and the energy inside my beating heart and outside in the pulsing earth begins to pick up speed.  I never really think of this quiet time as the doldrums, but this year it felt a bit like that.  Probably because I had my own set of expectations for those “lost” weeks that didn’t fit with the rhythm of the seasons, outside or in.  I think next year I will be more gracious with myself and accept that I too, might need to winter in January.  I guess that means I will either need to get some of my winter “office” work done in December or be cool with putting it off until February.  It seems there is a pattern forming…

Nevertheless, the point of this story is that things are picking up again around here.  Coming back to life.  Warm, sunny days too good to be true.  New growth on old winter produce, so tasty!  And new growth on brand new baby seedlings.  The cycle starts again.  And that it does, every year, again and again, that is so completely refreshing.

IMG_0838

We started the year with three days at the beach.  It was just what we needed because up to the holidays, the farmer had been working hard and long since about this same time last year.  A real getaway!  We wrote down those things we wanted to let go of from 2012, as well as those things we wished to bring to the new year, on tiny scraps of paper and threw them in the fire.  We held each other close and watched the sun set on a pivotal year in our lives, not our hardest or most challenging, but the first in a long while to redefine us.  We really are excited for the clarity this year brought us.  And we feel so positive about 2013, even though we have come to it with these whispering footsteps, and here it is, almost March already.

February sun here in the Willamette Valley is tricky, because the rain begins again, in earnest, and lasts sometimes way too long.  Still, it fortifies us.  We’ve been soaking it up, working outside, steeping tea leaves in it.  The truth is, even with all the rain to come, the season has changed.  The nettles have sprouted, the greenhouse is full, we are harvesting both the first rapini and sprouting broccoli from overwintered plants as well as the first baby arugula leaves from brand new plants.

sweet sunny babysun tea in winter!fresh green!Our plates feel fresh again!  So does my mind.

I can’t help but worry if it is wrong to let myself slumber so?  It feels so contrary to much of the modern impulse to be busy all the time.  But really, I have been busy; I am the mother of four after all, come winter or summer.  But to let the tempo of the natural world resonate within us, that can not be all bad.  And perhaps, for better or worse, that is part and parcel of being farmers, of living close to and working the land.  One of those things about this farm life that can be both overly romanticized–because I really could have got a lot of things done in these last many weeks–or rightly praised.

That judgement I cannot make definitively, I can only say that for me, it simply is that way.  And that for me, it feels right.  The seasons have always been my guide, marking the passage of my time here on earth, entwined tightly with all the memories I have laid down, I can’t help but live by them.  I swore to always live somewhere with all four of them, distinct.  And here, they are, albeit in a way quite different from my Midwestern home.   And here, on this farm, they mold me more than ever.

So now, we are waking up again, bit by bit, to the new year.

 

 

I’m in love with purple leaves and a shining farmer.

Sometimes, the joys that come from this journey of farming and loving and life are the small and random things, like falling in love with the color of these Osaka purple mustard greens.  So gorgeous, you salivate at the site of them,  ooh and awe all through the washing and bundling of them, take a whole slew of pictures of them, hoping to fully capture their unreal–but so real–beauty, and with inspiration, conjure up metaphors of food as poetry.

You want every meal to be a work of art, all the tastes on your tongue, sublime.

And with ingredients this fresh and flavorful and pretty, they are, even when most of the time the cooking here is more slap-dash than slow and meditative.  This small bit of grace– amazing food–a substantial joy we get to experience and share thanks to this farming gig.

But what my heart is equally filled with today is this tiny moment of silliness between the farmer and I, as we washed these beautiful mustard greens (please forgive the poor quality of the photo and the less than flattering neck cropped and eyes half closed pose I’ve captured of myself).

Starting and running a business together, one that is almost completely centered around our home, is not without challenges.  But over the course of the years, working side by side with my best friend has almost always been a joy.  There are stressful moments, no doubt; but we learned in our first few years of doing this that those could either be moments to divide us or moments that allow us to lean on each other even more.  We are, after all, in it together.  We can commiserate.

And we can play.  Working together is different than anything else we do together.  And maybe after a long day harvesting for the farmer and a rush to finish washing everything for CSA pick up and market the next day since we have plans for a once in a blue moon night out together, you goof around just a bit, to lighten the mood.  To not worry about getting it all done, to enjoy being together.

And we did and do.

Tiny moments and leaves cut from the ground.

Nothing much, but everything in the world.

Gathering, together.

The farm crew got together this week to harvest our last variety of apples for the year, save one stray Gala tree at the top of the main field we decided not to collect so we can still have something to tell the big children to go and nibble on when they are hankering for a snack.  That simple pleasure is slowly coming to an end.  They can’t go grab a cucumber and eat it straight from the vine anymore.  There are no fresh green beans to nibble, the peas and strawberries a very distant memory.  We had the most luscious fall raspberries this year, but the ones now left on the brambles are decidedly not tasty, and my own garden’s fall carrots a bust while the farmer’s carrots are a prized possession not for the children’s free plucking.  That leaves one last apple tree and what remains of the grapes left for them to run outside and snack on, straight from the land.

Oh, the ease of summer eating.

I, too, already miss the quick meal of piled tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce–almost ready to eat as is, so little time needed to prepare.  I guess the fact that we are moving into stew and roast and soup season, where time is an essential part of the equation, is apropos for the simple fact that there now is more time.  We are not filling a day with garden work and harvesting while preserving well into the wee hours of the night anymore.  The sun sets at dinner time.  There is no push to keep working in spite of grumbling bellies, a feeling those long summer days have built into them.

Bringing in the last of the apples the other day, with this whole crew of silly people, was so symbolic:  collecting the near end of the sun’s energies for a season, culminating in those sweet red fruits.  All of us, filled too, with vitality from a season in the sun.

I always feel like summer is a bursting open, an expansion that almost goes too far, pushes us wide to our very tips.  Then autumn comes and the earth slowly wraps itself around us, everything contracts, and we come and turn inward.   There is time to think, again.

Thankfully.

But this kind of day on the farm–all of us gathered together, gathering together the fruits of the combined labor of this very earth and our own twelve hands, the sweetness of working the land together, the sweetness of fresh fruit on our tongues, the ease of being free in the sun and playing till dusk with wild abandon–this kind of day on the farm is one of the last.  Even though they don’t stop producing for us, the fields don’t really need us in the winter.

Our bodies have stored the summer just under the skin to warm us from the inside out through the cold season,  and we have stored these apples to fuel our bellies with the taste of that sunshine too.

We bring it all inside and work together in other ways now.   Gathered together by the fire, ideas and stories and the worlds of the mind are our work, thoughts and creations to grow and tend and harvest, together.