Spring Green

During these times of perceived scarcity, it’s always good to recognize that nature offers up gifts to those who’s eyes are willing to see them.  Our land during Civil War times was a brickyard.  The clay was ideal for profits from this product and bricks were shipped by rail between Detroit and Chicago.  In World War II, the land was turned into an onion farm to help feed the troops.  This is where our story begins today, as the land is covered with wild chives by the thousands waiting for someone to notice them.  I dry them in our food dehydrator to use in the winter, but the real treat is when they are turned into pesto.  Now there are as many pesto recipes as there are cooks, but isn’t it wonderful when you have something randomly growing that can be used?  I think so.

This morning I put a teaspoon in my scrambled eggs; whipped it into the eggs with a little half and half and it was delicious.  The options for using wild chive pesto are only as limited as our imaginations.  Try using it as a base for a vinaigrette, or thinning it with additional olive oil, vinegar and mustard then tossing it with hot red-skinned potatoes for a French take on warm potato salad.  Don’t be afraid to add other herbs to it like dill or parsley; it makes a good dip when mixed with sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Swirl it into a brothy soup for a touch of spring.  I think you’re getting the idea.

WILD CHIVE PESTO

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups cleaned, lightly packed wild chives, cut into manageable lengths with scissors
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts or pistachios)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup olive oil

 

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. You will need 3-4 4 ounce canning jars ready, as these are perfect size for freezing this pesto.  Then with your food processor running, drop your garlic cloves in one at a time until they are minced and clinging to the sides of the bowl.
  2. Open up your food processor and place your 4 cups of lightly packed wild chives in the bowl.  Add to this your pine nuts, and salt.
  3. Pulse your ingredients for about 5 times, so they are blended together; then with you processor running, slowly pour in a 1/4 cup of your olive oil.  Stop your processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  4. Turn your processor back on and pour an additional 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Open your processor and check to see if it’s at the consistency you want (I usually look for a loose paste).  Taste to see if the salt component is to your liking.
  5. Spoon into 4 ounce canning jars and top with additional olive oil.  This will easily keep in the freezer for up to a year.

Yield: 3-4 4 ounces jars

“The real voyage of discovery is not seeking new landscapes, but seeing with new eyes.”

—Marcel Proust

 

Grandma Knew Best

Entering week five of sheltering in place, during the novel corona-virus pandemic; and  I’m discovering skills I didn’t know I had.  I’ve never been much of a baker.  Not because I don’t like wonderful baked goods, but because I have an aversion to measuring.  Writing cookbooks was challenging when trying to deliver a consistent product.  I basically wing it, taste, adjust, taste again as I go along.  Being at home consistently for this length of time has taught me several things.  One, why should I be talking myself out of something, when I really should be talking myself into something new?  I’ve always played with food, why not play with baking?  So I’ve been starting with savory quick breads and muffins with great results.  If there’s a down side to this exploration, it’s that  I’m now slightly obsessed, and one thing is leading to another.

This week it’s soda bread.  My wife Val inherited a 100 year old cast iron skillet from her Grandmother years ago (along with a classic potato masher), so I wanted to try out a soda bread using a skillet, rather than a free-form shape.  I’m coming around to the beauty of these old skillets for many uses, and I enjoy the historical continuity of using something that was handed down from a previous generation.  I mixed the bread in my Grandmother’s pottery mixing bowl, so I was channeling traditions from both families.  It felt wholesome somehow, and a basic quick bread like this could have been made by either of our Grandmother’s.  Val makes a delicious golden raisin and candied ginger scone that I love, and this reminded me of that texture with a savory profile.

I’m afraid that I will run out of flour, before I run out of ideas; but the experimentation was certainly worth it.  Next challenge, homemade pasta.

SKILLET SODA BREAD WITH ROASTED RED PEPPERS & FETA

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 whole roasted red pepper, (I used jarred), drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, oregano, black pepper and cubed butter, using a pastry cutter or fork to incorporate the butter.  The mixture should resemble course crumbs.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk and add it to the flour mixture.  Combine the dough using a large wooden spoon or spatula until it’s almost incorporated.
  3. Add the roasted peppers and feta and finish mixing.  Kneed the dough with your hands for a few minutes until comes together and transfer it to a greased cast iron pan (I use ghee).  Using a serrated knife, score the bread into four sections to help prevent it from bubbling up in the center.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Serve warm with butter.

Serves: 8

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“People who give you their food, give your their heart.”  –Cesar Chavez

 

Made To Order

Well, we’ve been self-sheltering for a month now and we are entering that phase of searching through the freezer, pantry and reduced items in the refrigerator.  As vegetable farmers we are fortunate that we do a lot of canning and freezing during the optimal summer months; and for that we are grateful.  With a little thought and creativity, it’s amazing just what you can come up with that is not only inventive, but delicious!

We don’t eat many sweet things in our household.  We lean more to the savory spectrum.  I can enjoy a quick bread like zucchini or pumpkin as well as the next person; but this….this savory quick bread has multiple options galore.  Remember that piece of ham you froze during the holiday’s?  Perfect.  That hunk on cheese in your refrigerator?  Yes!  Don’t like Gruyere ?  Ok…use cheddar.  Those herbs in your crisper that need to be used or composted soon? Yup.  Vegetarian?  Leave out the ham and toss in some olives, or sun-dried tomatoes.  You can make two loaves and freeze one.  I love it toasted the next day with butter and a fresh slice of tomato and sprouts.  You are only limited by your imagination.  Enjoy.

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SAVORY QUICK BREAD

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 tablespoons), melted and cooled
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup ham, chopped in small cubes
  • 1/4 cup scallions, using both green and white parts, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or dill, chives or tarragon)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) Gruyere, Swiss or cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk *

Note:  If you find yourself without buttermilk on hand, use 1 cup whole milk and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar.

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour a metal 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and set it aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, salt and baking soda.  Stir in chopped ham (or olives and sun-dried tomatoes), scallions, herb of choice, and all but 1/4 cup of your selected cheese (you will use the rest for topping).
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs and buttermilk.  Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine.  The batter will be thick.
  4. Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan.  Spread batter out evenly with a spatula.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.  Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed, about 45-55 minutes.
  5. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from loaf pan and let completely cool on wire rack.

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Yield: 1 loaf

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Give Me Shelter

As I sit at my desk right now, my home is silent and I recognize the daily importance of silence in my life.  Silence is a dear friend, the kind of friend that can sit with you and not feel uncomfortable when listening to the sound of the heart.  We are so bombarded with noise; we are plugged in and turned on.  Unabated noise can be an onslaught of constant stimulation in a way that confuses, rather than comforts.

During this period of sheltering in place or social distancing,  we are offered an opportunity to listen to our own thoughts. Living a rural life offers periods of time when you don’t see many people, yet I am never lonely.  Our social time largely centers around our weekly appearance at our farmers market to sell our wares.  I can be quite a talker and this is a great time for discussion and sharing.  Now that this is not an option, I do miss the absence of that scheduled human contact; the hugs, the warm conversations with customers, friends and vendors.  However this extended time away from our social connections, allows us to pare down even further in the discovery of what we really value in our life.

Adversity has the power to change us if we are open to that change.  It is my sincere hope that people pause and reevaluate what is most important to them and then act on that knowledge.  May this challenging time provide the reset needed, and the catalyst for manifesting better lives for ourselves and each other.

SALMON WITH ARTICHOKES, CAPERS AND SPINACH

Make sure you have all you ingredients measured and prepped, as this comes together rather quickly.  You don’t want to overcook your salmon!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-4 wild caught salmon fillets, weighing approximately 6 ounces each
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 large garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can 15 oz. artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 6 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1.  You will want to sear your salmon in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet.  Generously salt and pepper your fillets.
  2. When your oil is hot, add salmon fillets flesh side down (skin side up).  Sear for about 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and turn each fillet over (skin side down).  Sear for another 4-5 minutes until salmon is almost flaky.
  3. Remove salmon from skillet.  In the same skillet, add chopped sun-dried tomatoes, grated garlic, chopped artichokes and capers. Cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add fresh spinach, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until spinach wilts, 1-2 more minutes.
  5. Add heavy cream and paprika.  Bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 1-2 minutes more.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  6. Add fillets back to pan with vegetable and cream.  Heat gently for about 2 minutes.
  7. Serve with sauce spooned over fish.

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“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.  –Proverb

Opportunity Knocks

As we all creep forward during this time of uncertainty; nature, reading, planting our vegetable farm and cooking are keeping me grounded and hopeful.  Rural living is a calming lifestyle that continues to nourish us.  Even with the farm year slowly ramping up, we have an established rhythm for daily life, that is forward thinking and hopeful.  Regardless of how this crisis plays out, if we can’t get to the farmers market to sell our food, it will certainly not be wasted.  We will be canning, along with making sure that our neighbors have access to fresh food. I respect that our farmers market is staying open, with a plan of action and necessary precautions.  Young farmers and businesses need to serve their communities and stay open as long as possible.  As elders, with my wife having a compromised immune system, we have been self-sheltering with the understanding that growing food is the very best use of our time.

It is often said that the character of a individual is how they respond to adversity.  After all happiness is an inside job; but I admit to having several sleepless nights. I am keenly aware of my privilege in feeling relatively safe during this time.  My heart hurts for people who have lost their jobs, businesses that have had to close, people without a sufficient safety net to get them through this time of uncertainty.  I trust the creativity and innovation of people, much more than the total lack of leadership at the federal level.  I know we will collectively get through this stressful time.  It is my hope that lessons will be learned that can lift all of us up, in the face of future challenges.

Actually, self-sheltering has been our rural life style.  When people come to the farm to laugh, cook and eat with us, they often say how they need to be a part of something with purpose.  Urban living has its own forms of signature stress.  They see a well lived in home, with a rich history, surrounded by land and vegetables, as something distant from their own reality.  We look forward to being able to welcome our friends back into our home and break bread together.  In the meantime, reading, writing, planting and preparing food is our devotion.

I usually make the following recipe during the summer months, but I have found that the use of frozen corn and the frozen cherry tomatoes that I put up during the last farm season create a beautiful and delicious alternative.  Depending on your circumstances and location, most grocery stores have cherry tomatoes even this time of year.

FRESH CORN POLENTA WITH ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 ears of fresh corn (or 6 cups frozen)
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 7 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 cups fresh or frozen cherry tomatoes
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish

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INSTRUCTIONS:

FOR THE TOMATOES:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour cherry tomatoes and garlic onto sheet pan and drizzle 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.  Roll the tomatoes around with the palms of your hands to evenly coat.
  2. Sprinkle the tomatoes and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and toss the tomatoes.  Return to oven for 20-30 minutes more or until the tomatoes have slit and are slightly brown in some places.

FOR POLENTA:

  1. If using fresh corn, peel the leaves and silk from each ear, then chop off the pointed top and stalk.  Use a sharp knife to shave off the kernels, taking care to remove as much of the ‘milk’ below the kernels as possible, while stabilizing the cob on a cutting board.  You will need 6 cups of kernels.
  2. Place the fresh or frozen kernels in a medium saucepan and barely cover them with water.  Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the kernels from the water and into a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid in a Pyrex measuring cup.
  3. Process for several minutes; you want to break as much of the kernel case as possible.  Add some of the cooking liquid if the mixture becomes too dry to process.
  4. Return the corn paste to the pan with some of the cooking liquid and cook, while stirring, on low heat for 10-15 minutes; or until the corn mixture thickens to a mashed potato consistency. (the more liquid you use, the longer this process will take; watch carefully in case it sputters)
  5. Fold in the butter, the feta, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Spoon some of the polenta into individual shallow bowls,.  Spoon roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic on top.  Garnish with fresh basil or parsley.

Serves: 4

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“When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them— some food, a place in our homes, our time— not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched.”  —Pope Francis

 

 

Safe Harbor

These are challenging times.  There is anxiety and confusion as we take in information and make decisions on how to best weather this storm.  Val and I are are sheltering in place for the time being.  I know many who are doing the same; I also know many who are not.  It’s sad that in this country the slightest inconvenience is seen as something insurmountable.  People hoard, people party, people refuse to see our interconnection.  What affects you, may also affect me, and vice-versa.  Val and I are evaluating our presence at our beloved farmers market.  Our schools are closed for 3 weeks.  The corona-virus is spreading faster than testing kits are available.  As interconnected individuals, what can we do?  Pause….stay calm….be kind.

I came across a meaningful Facebook post which I will pass along:

Conversations will not be cancelled.  Relationships will not be cancelled.  Love will not be cancelled.  Songs will not be cancelled.  Reading will not be cancelled.  Self-care will not be cancelled.  Hope will not be cancelled.

May we lean into the stuff that remains.

I took a walk in the sunshine this morning.  I could smell the land opening up to the approaching spring.  We will be planting our garlic soon.  I will be tilling the soil this week.  Is it so bad to take a step back and breathe?  Unplug for a while?  My new cookbook, Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat!! invites you to do just that.  Slow down, make meals with your family, break bread together.  Dig a little deeper into our relationships with other.  Technology has opened up a whole new world; it has also separated us from each other.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology; I’m suggesting that we discipline ourselves, so that it’s not a 24/7 onslaught.  We need to think our own thoughts, make our own discoveries, nourish our human connections.  Nothing helps us reach that goal better than creating meals together.  The other suggestion I would make is that each of us spend a few hours a day in silence.  In silence we can calm ourselves, breathe, feel gratitude, be not only prayerful,  but hopeful.  It certainly starts within the safe harbors of our homes.

Zucchini Muffins:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large farm fresh eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups (280g) cane sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups packed grated zucchini
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 3/4 cups (400g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
  • 12-16 paper muffin cups

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INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Mix in the sugar and vanilla extract.  Stir in the grated zucchini and the melted butter.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and salt.
  3. Stir in the dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. (Be careful not to over-mix!)  Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
  4. Place muffin cups in muffin tin.  Using a spoon, fill the muffin cups just to the top.  If you are using parchment liners (which I love), you can be slightly more generous.
  5. Bake on the middle rack of oven, until golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 20-30 minutes.
  6. Let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes; then remove from muffin tin and let cool completely.

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Yield: 12-16 muffins

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook Eat!

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I am pleased to announce my second cookbook, Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat!  will be available for purchase in late April.  I’m so proud to advocate for local farmers markets and entrepreneurs.  This is my love letter to our local Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids, MI; where we have been vending for 20 years.

The focus of this particular cookbook is about creating intimacy through cooking.  After all, humans have been obsessed with food since the beginning of time.  It defines us geographically, ethnically, culturally and economically.  It has been a focus of my life since childhood.  It is my vocation, entertainment, art form and passion.  I hope it will become your passion too.

Recent studies have shown that the average American eats out 4-6 times a week.  The fast pace of contemporary living sells the idea that there is no time to cook.  Cooking seems old-fashioned; but what has really happened is that the public has collectively been sold a bill of goods.  Premade entries, extensive deli’s and takeout lure you away from something that feeds you not only physically but emotionally.  Cooking done with care is an act of love.  Julia Child has said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.”

The emphasis of Twisted Basics: Laugh, Cook, Eat! is veggies.  There are guides for a well-stocked pantry along with assorted tips and variations for many recipes to personalize ingredients for individual tastes.  The chapters are organized by type of vegetable such as greens, alliums, tomatoes, root vegetables, etc.  Most are easy to prepare.  All of them are nutritious and satisfying.  You do have time to cook!  Get your spouse or family involved.  Make cooking a bonding and conversational time.  Sharing a simple meal together will increase the intimacy between you and your loved ones.  Get off your phones and into your food.  What have you got to lose?

May there be joy at your table.

“There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal.  Eating together, breaking bread together, is one of the oldest and most fundamentally unifying of human experiences.”    —Barbara Colorso