We have a lot already planted in the fields and Farmer Derek just keeps on plowing, making room from more!
It’s been a few months since I’ve written. Many things have happened in that time and life as I knew it has changed. With any change, there usually comes a healthy dose of fear and that certainly applies to me. To make it through to the other side, I have sharpened my coping skills. I have tried to make more time for things I enjoy, for things that fill my cup. One of those things is cooking – not just dinner in 30 minutes or less, but really cooking. Having the luxury of spending all day in the kitchen surrounded by the smells, sounds and textures of the season’s bounty. Derek has kept me supplied with loads of his amazing vegetables throughout the summer, encouraging me to try new things. There is nothing I love more than cooking in the summer – everything is so easy because so little has to be done to make the food shine. Tomatoes only need a dash of salt, olive oil and basil to have the most luscious summer lunch. Sautéed squash, eggplant, tomatoes and basil, all topped with fresh mozzarella is divine. And the corn? It really hardly needs anything – not much is better than that.
But my life is not the only thing changing – the days have grown shorter and cooler. We have moved into fall, my favorite season. I love the crisp air, the intensely blue sky and the changing leaves. Fall foods are here – kale, collard greens, lettuces, spinach, chard, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes. The perfect ingredients for a warm bowl of soup, a hearty meal by the fire and even some sweet pies. I was lucky enough to have my dear friend and chef extraordinaire, Coby Ming come cook with me yesterday. I had two bushels of goodies from Derek – five different types of greens, beautiful salad mix, beets, red onions, butternut squashes and the biggest sweet potatoes I’ve even seen outside of the state fair. Ivor and Seamus supplied a beautiful chicken, garlic and basil. I had the goal of making a soup, something to nibble on in the fridge, a couple of go to helpers and dinner. For the soup, we roasted the butternut squash and blended it with onions that had been cooked down with plenty of butter and salt. I ate a quarter of it for lunch yesterday, froze half and will probably finish the rest today. Divine. For the fridge, we cooked some french lentils and mixed them with more roasted butternut squash, caramelized baby red onions, beets, basil, feta cheese and oil and vinegar. I think I ate half the bowl while checking for seasoning. It was so good. The go to helpers were garlic oil and a vinaigrette. For the garlic oil, we filled a little pan with plenty of garlic cloves and covered with a mix of olive and canola oil and let it simmer for a couple of hours. After the oil had deepened in color and absorbed the flavor from the garlic, we strained it. With the super soft sweet garlic, we took a few cloves and mixed with with olive oil, a raw egg yolk, honey, vinegar and salt and pepper. Some people might be leery of eating raw egg yolks, but I know exactly where these eggs come from.
Dinner was all of those greens cooked down with onions that had been caramelized in butter, vinegar and spices; mashed sweet potatoes; Derek’s beautiful salad mix with fall apples, pumpkin seeds and garlic vinaigrette; and the pièce de résistance, fried chicken. Coby had marinated the chicken overnight in buttermilk and spices. We dredged it in seasoned flour and fried it in my grandmother’s cast iron pan. There are not many things that can top that, I am here to tell you. My son came in the room and said, Mmm mmm, something smells good! Eating food grown with love by dear friends, prepared with friends and shared with family and friends is a very healing experience indeed.
Whether you are just dealing with the daily stresses of raising children, working at an unsatisfactory job or going through a major life trauma, find your happy place. I think I found mine in the kitchen.
Recently, I took the children to the Pine Mountain Settlement School with some friends from school. We had a marvelous time hiking through Blanton Forest, Kentucky’s largest known old-growth forest, while being hosted by the fine folks of Kentucky Natural Lands Trust.
While there, a friend told the story about cooking dinner for his 2 year old daughter while his wife was away. He was making tortellini and conveniently found a pot of warm water on the stove. He simply heated it to boiling, dropped the tortellini in the water and a few minutes later, dinner was served. His daughter was shoveling the tortellini in her mouth as fast as he could give it to her. Wow, he thought, she must be really hungry. “What do you call this???” she exclaimed. By the time she requested her third bowl, he was getting suspicious. After tasting a bite, the mystery was solved. He had cooked the tortellini in a pot of hummingbird food. That’s right, a pot of water, 3 pounds of sugar and a box of tortellini – yum.
I had the same revelation Monday evening. I was exhausted from the long weekend and not really in the mood to cook. I found a bag of something green in the fridge, tossed it with a bit of olive oil, salt and champagne vinegar. Whoa – flavor explosion. It looked like baby spinach, but it didn’t taste like it. It didn’t have that gritty after taste that comes from eating a big spinach salad. “What do you call this???” I thought to myself as I shoveled huge bites into my mouth. I went back for a second bowl and felt so smug eating such a healthy dinner that was unbelievably delicious and sinfully easy. After a fact-finding mission this morning, I discovered that it was, indeed, spinach. Who knew spinach could be so utterly amazing? I already liked spinach, but this was something different – so fresh and clean tasting. This, I imagine, is Coby Ming’s secret to my favorite side dish at Harvest – the kaffir lime spinach slaw. I could eat a giant bowl of that stuff. It really makes you realize that when you start with the freshest ingredients, it isn’t that hard to make your side dishes shine.
Tonight, Stella finished off the rest of the spinach and I ate an entire half pound bag of salad mix from the garden. In my last post, I remarked that ramps are sometimes called a spring tonic. Well, I’m here to tell you there is no spring tonic like Derek Kelley’s greens. To get in on the action, sign up for our CSA or find us Saturday mornings at the St Matthews Farmers Market.
The past few weeks Austin has been our family forager. It seems every time he comes out of the woods, he has a treat – turkeys, ramps and morels, to be exact. Ramps are a wild onion sometimes called a spring tonic. They are just what the doctor ordered after a long cold winter. Tender green leaves shooting up from the forest floor. Now we are scanning old fence rows for my favorite, wild asparagus. Usually, not much makes it home because we eat so much as we are picking. Fresh asparagus is like fresh berries – pick one, eat two, pick one, eat two.
Morels offer a wonderful earthy taste that are even more special because they are so hard to come by. They are only here a short while, so we get them while we can. Austin has brought huge bagfuls home after turkey hunting. It led me to think about our farm in a new way. I know we grow lots of food here – beef, pork, eggs and plenty of vegetables. But, what about the other things? What about the things that we can’t legally sell because they are “wild”? The turkeys with the yellow fat and richer flavor. The venison with the lean dark meat that you only find in wild game. Doves signal the beginning of fall – tender breasts wrapped in rosemary and bacon is hard to beat. Our kids have grown up eating quail and rabbit without a second thought. Summer brings fresh bluegill and small mouth bass from our farm ponds, caught equally by Austin and the kids. And that huge snapping turtle that was roaming across our yard last week? That also became someone’s dinner – turtle soup. I’ve heard it’s great with morels.
For Easter this year, I decided to cook brisket. It’s a long standing tradition for the Passover Seder, so I figured it was as good of a seasonal dinner as ham and asparagus. For such a cold rainy day, it seemed much more comforting as well. After a bit of internet surfing, I found a great recipe from Ina Garten, one of my favorite cookbook authors. Her recipe called for tomato juice and I had recently gotten a jar of a very intriguing tomato cocktail from my Grasshoppers CSA, made by Eco-Gardens in Scottsville, KY. This dish was very similar to a nice chuck roast with carrots and potatoes, but a little different. The meat had less fat, but was still super tender. The tomato cocktail gave it a richness and silkiness that my pot roasts have never had. If I had local potatoes and carrots it would have been even better. I think this is a dish I will definitely bring out during the fall as well, maybe even with fresh late summer tomato juice from our own garden.
Hope you all have had a wonderful weekend ~
Check out the menu from a true farm to table restaurant – from the 1950’s. All fruits for pies and preserves came from the farm’s orchards. All beef and chicken came from the farm and was processed in La Grange at the Meat Locker. All eggs and seasonal vegetables were grown on the farm. Amazing, isn’t it?
Take a ride out to La Grange and visit the Oldham County Historical Society for more interesting information about our farm and agriculture in Oldham County. They have a fabulous exhibit running through the end of the year.