Stand By Me

“Have a little kindness for your fellow man.”  I learned this directly from my father.  Yesterday was Father’s Day and my father William Howard Sanwald has been on my mind.  He died of early-onset Alzheimer’s in September of 1980 long before much was known about the disease or the treatment to keep it at bay.  He was only 53 years old.

When I was a small child, it was my father who bathed me.  I still remember how he went in between each toe to make sure it was dry.  It was a tenderness I will never forget.

I am grateful for the many mental pictures of our time together. As a child I remember  my parents had an evening cocktail hour.  I carry this tradition forward to this day.  My parents didn’t go out much, but when they did, I remember that it was a big deal.  My mother would get dressed up and my father always the gentleman’s gentleman, would light my mother’s cigarette, cupping his hand around the flame, my mother’s lipstick surrounding the filter of her cigarette as she exhaled.

When I turned sixteen, my parents took me to Chicago to celebrate my birthday.  My June celebration was delayed until it worked in my parents schedule, so it actually happened in January.  My mother didn’t like being outside, but my father and I walked several miles down Michigan Ave. in brutal winds, taking refuge in a small cafe to warm up before we headed back to the hotel.  In companionable silence, we sipped our coffee and hot chocolate.  It did not matter that I was frozen to the core.  What mattered was that I was doing this with my father beside me.

When I remember my father, I remember a man who was generous and kind.  My friends loved him.  He was quiet yet interested.  Serious, yet playful.  He had many sayings that he would share on a regular basis.  Such as, “Kindness is free.  And “Do not judge someone’s history that you have not lived.”  Or “Do not make a federal case out of a county courthouse issue.”

He was a man with depth and compassion.  He felt that education taught people to open their heart and minds to a deeper reality.  He loved classical music and was a grill master.  I begged to go with him on any errand.  He had a FM unit in his Volkswagen beetle and he was surprised that I enjoyed his FM stations.  He called the car wash the ‘the sea monster’ and we loved going through the tunnel together.

My most vivid memory was our last walk together.  Walking was soothing while my father was losing is cognitive abilities.  While we were walking we came across a field of cows.  They were close to the fence.  We stood there for several minutes, when he said, “I can see my soul in the eyes of this cow.”  This was a reflection of how my father saw life.  It was real, spontaneous and true.  He lives in my heart and I hope to honor his memory.  The men in my life that are dear friends, have personality traits similar to my father; somewhat reserved, the ability to laugh easily and are loving and kind to others.

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My father loved all the things that fed him.  Nature, people, food and drink.  This salad satisfies on many levels.  Wild rice, harvested in long-boats by hand, mushrooms growing from the spores of things ended, interesting textures and a vinaigrette that elevates the salad to perfection.

WILD RICE SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 10 slices bacon, chopped, fried and drained on paper towels.
  • 1 cup celery, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup avocado oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a heavy medium size pot, combine 1 cup wild rice with 4 cups salted water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes, or until soft and chewy.  Drain in colander and let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, fry up bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine celery, green onions, pecans, mushrooms and parsley.  Add cooled rice.  Mix gently but thoroughly.
  4. In a pint Mason jar, combine avocado oil and lemon juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Shake thoroughly.  Pour over salad, combining dressing with other ingredients.
  5. Arrange salad on a platter or bowl.  Sprinkle with fried bacon.  Serve.  (salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days)

Serves 4-6

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“When my father didn’t have my hand, he had my back.”   —Linda Pointdexter

 

 

 

 

The Power of Tenacity

It’s looking like our cool wet weather is finally coming to a close.  Although we are 2-3 weeks behind in our planting, we know that when we actually get in the fields, things seem to straighten themselves out.  One of my favorite jobs on the farm is tilling. Our tractor was purchased 11 years ago and christened Towanda, from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.  It wasn’t long after, that I too was christened T.B., short for Tractor Bitch.  If anything needs to be tilled, scooped or plowed, I’m your gal.  I loved learning the nuance of all the attachments and hydraulics.

If my passion is cooking, my wife Val’s is farming; and she’s darn good at it.  We literally limped through last year’s farm season, while Val was recovering from emergency brain surgery.  Thank God for volunteers that came to our aid!!  The hardest part of her recovery for her was not what you would expect.  It wasn’t learning to walk, read or working to regain her cognitive skills; she was depressed about not getting out in her fields.  Val is happiest when she is dirty.  Yesterday was the one year anniversary of her surgery.  We were advised that her recovery would take 2-3 years, and she is making an amazing comeback.  Those that have spent any time with Val know how incredibly funny she is; and she amazed both nurses and doctors alike with her wit.  I still remember when they wheeled her into NCU, she was in rare form, just hours after surgery.  A first year resident was examining her and asked if he could look into her eyes.  She responded with, “As long as I can keep them closed.”  After several series of  questions from him, she said, “Questions, questions, questions! Is this a slow night?”

Val came home from the hospital in just two days, refusing to consider a rehab facility.  She felt she would do best at home, and she did.  She was up walking around the island in our kitchen several times a day without prodding.  She began reading as soon as she could and did not watch television.  I have never known a more motivated and tenacious person.  She rarely complained, was determined to improve each day and stayed her beautiful stubborn self.  Val works in spurts of energy.  She is good for about 4 hours, then requires a 1-2 hour restorative nap.  Sleep is the only time her body and brain can continue to heal.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.  It’s not often you meet someone with such a can do attitude.  It certainly is a testament to the power of tenacity.

This week we planted 500 tomato plants, with Val beaming the entire time; and mind you it only took 8.5 hours!  This is largely due to Val’s invention, the Potato Rickshaw.  For tomatoes she sits on it backwards with a flat of plants on one side and fertilizer on the other, while I pull her with the tractor, tilling as I go.  We use it to plant garlic, onions, shallots, potatoes and tomatoes.  It’s amazingly efficient and saves our knees in the process.

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Michigan asparagus are coming to an end and I’m always surprised at how fast the season for it goes each year.  We’ve gone through 2-3 pounds a week for a month and can’t get enough.  Today I finally made asparagus soup.  In cooking, it is sometimes surprising how small adjustments really make a difference.  For example, I like to use butter, leeks, green garlic and white vermouth.  Two herbs that are a must are tarragon and dill, along with a little heavy cream.  But oddly enough, it was the chive finish oil that made it something special.  I know, I know, for those of you without homemade chive oil on hand, feel free to use extra-virgin olive oil.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I use Kerrygold)
  • 1 large leek, white and pale green parts, cut in half vertically and thinly sliced
  • 2 green garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white vermouth
  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cups organic or homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chive oil or extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium-sized heavy pot or Dutch oven, melt butter on medium heat.  Add green garlic, leeks and tarragon.  Saute until the leeks are soft and translucent.
  2. Add vermouth, and salt and pepper; continue to cook until most of vermouth has almost evaporated.
  3. Add asparagus and chicken stock.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until asparagus is very tender.
  4. Blend with a stick blender (or in batches in a regular blender).  Add cream, blend again; adjust seasoning adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
  5. Ladle into shallow bowls, and top with chopped dill and olive oil if using.

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Serves 4

“Being cool is about keeping your blood pressure steady. So no. Don’t be cool. Be passionate. Be dedicated. Be tenacious. Be uncompromising. Be pissed.”  —Justin Timberlake

 

 

Eating With Our Eyes

Although it is technically June here in Michigan, it feels more like April.  It’s been unusually cool and wet and most crops are more than two weeks behind.  We are watching the garlic closely for signs of stress.  So far, so good but the deer, bunnies and woodchucks have had their way with all three varieties of beans we have planted.  I tilled once again and we have replanted, hoping for better results.  All things flowering have literally exploded in color which is a feast for the eyes.  The dogwood, lilacs, honeysuckle and any wild flower imaginable are in full flower, and my Korean lilac outside our kitchen door would bowl you over with its fragrance.  It challenges one’s perspective; is the glass half empty or half full?

I read last week that normally 73% of Michigan crops would be planted by this time; and the records have shown that this year farmers have only planted 33%.  This is stressful both financially and emotionally.  The mood at our farmers market is not as upbeat as it normally is at the beginning of the season.  The jury is out; we will have to stay patient and see what unfolds.  Farming is an act of faith, and we are being tested; we do not control the weather.  Tomorrow we will be planting potatoes if the weather prediction holds true.

Meanwhile, during our quieter moments, we revel in the beauty that surrounds us and feel gratitude for each day.  When creating meals we often combine both color and texture as much as possible.  The visual appeal of food is hard-wired into our brain.  The sight, aroma, taste and even the sound of food all factor in one’s decision in choosing what we eat.  The expression “you eat with your eyes” is certainly true since when a dish is visually appealing, it’s more appetizing.  Healthy food is not only beautiful, but for me its creation is an act of love.

For example what seems more appealing to you; an Egg McMuffin or a Red Pepper, Onion and Duck Egg Gallette?  I certainly know which one I would choose!

SWEET PEPPER & DUCK EGG GALETTE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large sweet bell peppers, (I use one red and one yellow), cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 2 small red onions, halved and cut into 1/2 inch wedges
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 farm fresh egg, beaten, for brushing the pastry
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 farm fresh duck eggs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Mix together the pepper, onions, thyme leaves and spices in a medium bowl.  Add the olive oil and toss well so that everything is coated with the oil and spices.
  3. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring and rearranging the vegetables a few times so that they don’t burn.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with half of the fresh herbs; set aside.
  4. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees F.  Roll out the pastry sheet on a floured surface until it reaches a 12 x 12 inch square.  Cut into four 6 inch squares.  Transfer to two parchment or silpat lined baking sheets.
  5. With a butter knife, score a 1/2 inch frame around each square (don’t cut all the way through).  Prick the inside of the square all over with the tines of a fork.  Put back in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush all over with a beaten egg.  Spread the inside of each square with 3 teaspoons of sour cream.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, until rising and starting to brown.  Remove and carefully crack an egg into the center of each galette.
  8. Put back into the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the egg is set.
  9. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and remaining herbs.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

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             “In the spring I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.”                       —Mark Twain

 

Frittering Our Time Away

Time.  It’s slippery isn’t it?  It never seems as though we have enough, while our lists keep getting longer.  Time has been on my mind in a big way these days; particularly when thinking about the family and friends no longer with us.  We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the passing of our dear friend and neighbor Lynner.  Not a day goes by that we don’t miss her.  We have dozens, upon dozens of photos with her, usually eating, drinking and generally being merry.  She had one of the biggest hearts I have ever known, not to mention being an excellent sous chef and Small Engine Goddess.

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When you loose someone unexpectedly, I feel that there is a responsibility for the living to celebrate and remember that person.  I ask myself what would Lynner expect from us?  How would she want us to live?  Perhaps the answer is in the question itself; to stay strong and continue living.  Lynner will always be a part of our lives.  I feel her when I appreciate all things in nature.  I feel her when her dog Willow licks my face, when we sit down with our evening cocktail, or when we prepare a meal.  Our cherished memories are salve for our hearts, as we understand that we are only promised today.  We must learn to be grateful and use each day wisely.

Lynner was often at our house, or we her’s for dinner and drinks.  She loved all things vegetable, as do we.  These zucchini fritters would be right down her alley.  I can hear the laughter in the kitchen now….

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ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 2 large), grated
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan or pecorino, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 large farm fresh egg, light beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sour cream and chopped chives for garnish

 

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place grated zucchini in a colander over the sink.  Add salt and gently toss with your hands to combine; let sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the salt to extract the water in the zucchini.  Using a clean kitchen towel, drain zucchini by gently squeezing the liquid out completely.
  2. In a large bowl, combine zucchini, flour, cheese, garlic and egg; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Using a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop up a scant amount for each fritter; and then flatten with a spatula.  Cook until the underside is golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.  Work in batches, placing the cooked fritters on a plate lined with paper towel.
  4. Serve immediately with sour cream and chives.

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“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”  —Eleanor Roosevelt.

Nature is Nurture

Sunday….a day of much needed rest.  We are getting back to the swing of things here on the farm.  Spring is indeed a beautiful time of year.  We got up early this morning to enjoy coffee in the screen porch.  It is peaceful listening to the birds waking up around us.  We are fortunate to have lake, marsh, meadow and woods on our land.  We spotted several pair of Baltimore Orioles, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Hairy, Downy, Red-Headed and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, along with Yellow and Purple Finches, Sandhill Cranes, Canadian Geese and Blue Heron.  We also have two pairs of Loons and Bald Eagles on our lake.  If there is a bird nirvana, this is it.

May is an intense time on the farm.  Tilling, sowing and transplanting are the order of the day.  This spring has been very cool and wet.  Just keeping up with the mowing can be a challenge between raindrops. (I swear you can hear the grass grow!)  The garlic and onions, along with carrots, beets, sugar-snap peas, chard, spinach, lettuce and herbs are planted.  Tomorrow we start transplanting tomato seedlings from their 48-packs to 4 1/2 inch pots.  This will allow them to beef up and receive full spectrum light before they are transplanted to our field.  Unfortunately we do not grow my favorite vegetable, asparagus.  This isn’t for lack of trying, but between our dense clay soil and accidentally tilling in our newly planted starts a few years ago, I’m happy there was an abundance of them at market yesterday!  There are so many ways to use them, whether it is breakfast or dinner.  I gorge on them when they are on, because it is the one vegetable I will only eat fresh.

One of our favorite ways to enjoy them is in a vegetable tart.  It looks impressive and comes together with ease using pre-made puff pastry dough.  A little Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese and balsamic syrup and you have yourself a beautiful meal.

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ASPARAGUS GRUYERE TART WITH BALSAMIC SYRUP

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed according to package directions
  • 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, washed and tough ends trimmed (about 20 stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere or Comte cheese
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. One a floured surface, roll out puff pastry to approximately 11×14 inches.  Transfer to a parchment lined sheet pan or silicone mat.
  3. Create a 1 inch border (do not cut all the way through); and then prick pastry all over the inner area.
  4. Brush evenly with Dijon mustard, leaving border untouched.
  5. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese, and then top evenly with asparagus spears.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and tart is golden brown.  Serve warm.

*Balsamic syrup:  In a small saucepan over medium high heat, mix together vinegar and brown sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce by half.  Allow to cool.  Place syrup in a baggie and snip a very small hole in the corner of bag.  Drizzle over tart.

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Serves 18 as an appetizer or 6-8 as an entree.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” —Margaret Atwood

When Tart & Sweet Collide

It’s one of those days that our wood burner is too warm and the doors and windows are flung open to moderate the heat.  This is what happens when temperatures fluctuate 30 degrees in 12 hours.  But spring throws her curve balls with a great deal of dark humor.  The good news is that the farmers market is brimming with two definite signs that spring is indeed here: asparagus and rhubarb!  I have to hold myself back from purchasing more than I can use, swept away in  the enthusiasm of the moment.

Rhubarb is like a red version of the green celery. … They have thick fleshy edible stalks with a crispy structure resembling that of celery. Their leaves contain a very high level of oxalic acid and are therefore not only inedible, but poisonous. Rhubarbs are often confused with being a fruit because of their sour, tart taste.  But rhubarb is actually a vegetable.  No matter.  Typically Val and I are not sweet or desert eaters; but rhubarb is clearly an exception.  Spring rhubarb with its combination of sweet and tart is just the kind of desert I go crazy over.

Rhubarb is one vegetable that not only freezes beautifully, but will allow you to stock up when the stalks are at their very best.  To freeze, simply cut the stalks in 2 inch lengths, place on a sheet pan and  freeze individually in a single layer; then vacuum seal them in two pound increments until ready to use in tarts, crumbles, pies or in this case a light and delicious version that doesn’t hide its tartness or try to cover it up.

ROASTED RHUBARB WITH MAPLE YOGURT & PISTACHIOS 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds fresh rhubarb (look for the read varieties, with crisp red stalks), cut on the diagonal in 2 inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup turbinado (light brown cane sugar)
  • 1/2 cup crisp white wine (I use Pine Ridge  Chenin Blanc & Viognier)
  • 1 vanilla bean split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 16 ounce container Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons organic maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons raw pistachios

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and reheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Put the rhubarb in a Dutch oven or other deep oven-safe pot.  Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean or extract, and stir to combine.  Bake uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, or until very tender, giving the pot a gentle stir about midway throught to ensure that the rhubarb cooks evenly.  Let cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, while the rhubarb is roasting, prepare the yogurt.  Whisk together the yogurt with the maple syrup.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.
  4. In shallow bowls, spoon 1/2 cup of maple yogurt, then top with 4-6 pieces of rhubarb.  Spoon sauce over and around rhubarb and yogurt allowing for distinction for all ingredients.  Top with a few pistachios.

Serves 4-6

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“In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” 

Mark Twain

Simple Pleasures

 

As spring continues its bipolar journey, kicking and screaming into the next season, I am warmed by our wood burner.  Our home is quiet.  A steady rain drips its cadence on the metal roof of our porch.  Val is reading; our dogs are sleeping next to each other.  I hear one of our wind chimes begin to sing.  Whenever I experience this pause in our busy life I am grateful.  There is a rhythm to the life on our farm; the days start quietly.  We make time for coffee, building fires, observing nature, watering plants, playing with dogs and of coarse conversation.

I consider it a luxury when we wake up naturally, without an alarm.  Most days are spent either on the farm or working in the soap kitchen.  There is movement, labor and chipping away at our unwritten list of to do’s.  We are never caught up, yet this does not concern us.  We stay directionally correct; always heading forward, but never completely arriving at our goals.  We aren’t driven by more, we are grounded by enough.

Most of our days are dictated by the weather; something to adjust for rather than complain about.  After our block of labor is complete, we may bring out the Cribbage board or dominoes.  We laugh, in a world crushed by endless technology, does anyone still play board games?  I write on a computer and I have a smart phone, but our time spent “unplugged” is meaningful to us.  We can’t think of anything more important than our relationships with friends, family and each other.  Overdosing on technology takes us away from our hearts, while shared activity bring us closer together.  It’s important to strike a balance between the immediate and the gradual.

We decide in the morning what we might like for dinner.  Our evening meal is always made together, with music in the background and a glass of wine in hand.  The kitchen is the heart of our home.  Nourishment comes in many forms, and we are mindful of how our labor feeds us both physically and emotionally.  Tonight we have decided on roasted red pepper, red onion,  and Italian sausage over white cheddar polenta.  One delicious bowl in a day filled with simple pleasures.

RED PEPPER, ONION & SAUSAGE WITH WHITE CHEDDAR POLENTA

INGREDIENTS:

FOR TOPPING:

  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, or a combination, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
  • 1 medium red onion, vertically sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water

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FOR POLENTA:

  • 1 1/4 cup instant polenta
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (6 ounces) freshly shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped for serving

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss peppers and onion in olive oil; spread on large baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for 30 minutes; tossing vegetables halfway through.
  2. In the meantime, brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat, about 10 minutes or until there is no pink left.  Add tomato paste and water, combine and continue to cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes more.  Remove from heat.
  3. Bring 5 cups of water to boil in a heavy medium saucepan.  Add the salt.  Gradually whisk in the polenta over moderate heat.  Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened and smooth, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir the half & half and pepper into the polenta.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.  Spoon polenta onto a warm platter or individual bowls.  Top with meat sauce, then roasted vegetables.  Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4

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“Happiness is an inside job.  If you can be happy with simple pleasures, you will discover the joys of slowing down, and being present.”

 

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