Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who will come to my Prom?

(Spencer's Post - forgot to log in as himself...) We got our tomatoes planted in the hoophouse a little late this year, having planted the last ones just a week ago Friday. The reason? Fava beans. Our fava beans went in the hoophouse in early March (see the blog entry from March 30th) and were watered in by shovelling snow onto the bed! After all that we hesitated for several weeks to pull them out and put in the tomatoes. Besides, the grafted tomatoes took a little longer to recover and grow large enough to be ready to transplant. Then by the time the tomatoes were ready, the favas were almost big enough to harvest, so we decided to wait and let them get big enough for us to try. We harvested all the beans out on Wednesday, June 18th, pulling up the plants and picking the largest beans from each stalk. We ended up with 96 pounds from about 90 bed feet and sold 30 pounds to our accounts and 66 pounds at market one Saturday. Preparing and eating fresh fava beans was a first for us this year and we really enjoyed them. We found it was best to shell the beans from the pods, then blanch them for about 1 1/2 minutes, then pop the beans out of their second layer jacket and eat them without further preparation. They were also delicious raw as I ate many of them in giving multiple preparation demos at market. Overall, the fava beans were a hit and we hope to plant many more of them next year in our Haygrove hoophouse (still doesn't feel like a sure shot, but more on that later, when we know more).

The essential preparation for tomato planting in the hoophouse is to tie up the strings that we will clip the plants to as they grow. We tie exactly 482 strings in the whole house and even though we are planting half as many plants, we are training them with double leaders this year and so still need the same number of strings since each one now gets two. The string tying task is composed of two parts. First, cutting the strings, done while watching The Mole or Hell's Kitchen. Second, standing on a ladder, usually in the hot sun, reaching up and tying one half hitch for each string around a high tensile wire. I often gripped the structure's pipes for support and stability and each time would include a few flies in my grasp. The sound of the summer bugs in against the plastic roof is what we call "upside-down bug rain," mimicking exactly the sound of a real rainstorm on the outside of the plastic. I love the view of the hoophouse from the top of the ladder, a whole new perspective, and as the house fills with strings blowing in the breeze, I began to feel that it had a rather festive look. I told Mara, "I feel like I am decorating for the prom." Now, I never actually decorated for prom, but if I had, I am sure it would have involved some sort of tying up of handing streamers.
Mara asked, "What would the theme of your prom be?"

"The Tangled Web We Weave" I replied. Now I feel like this is a great name for a senior prom, incorporating both the sense of high school clique politics and the bright, yet uncertain future ahead.

Without any hesitation, Mara's immediate response was, "No one is coming to your prom."

Too nerdy, is the reason given. Well, I have been guilty of being far too nerdy in many occasions, as I have often thought of myself as a part of the uncool conspiracy, a member of that dark alliance who conspires to follow the rules (and where they are lacking, to write the rules and then, follow them) and by doing so, to make others feel conspicuous in not breaking the rules. Now, even my prom is deemed too nerdy, too academic for public consumption. Troubling as this may be, I think that when the tomatoes join the party, everyone will want to attend. For now we just wait for the VIPs (Very Important Plants) to arrive.

Meanwhile, we have been enjoying the bounty of our other crops and, today, fixing our garage door at home. The bottom panel of our door rotted away this winter and, helped by a gentle smash with the car, finally gave out in March sometime. After looking at cheap crappy doors for $200 at Home Depot and getting quotes for replacement wood doors in the thousand dollar range, we decided to rebuild the door with some scraps left from our deck project from last year. Total cost, about $25. This allowed me to get a vacuum sealer for frost-free freezing of our produce and the summer's berries. Huzzah! Now, I must get back to making my small batch of potato wine from last year's final blue potatoes. And just so you know, potato wine is different from vodka, since vodka is distilled from fermented potatoes. So nerdy!
Caption: Before
Caption: New panel made from 2x4s and masonite
The final result, a new-looking door!
Just for fun, Smeems and Bullet eating carrots during harvest last Friday. Mr. Smeems is a sloppy eater and is losing a piece!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Early Summer Recipes!

Well, we've been feasting on some of our early season goodies, and now that we have so much more than microgreens, we wanted to share just what to do with tons of lettuce, arugula, fun with escarole, and that early summer allium - garlic scapes!

LARB GAI (or, Vietnamese sausage salad with herbs) - Serves 2-3
~ 2-4 heads lettuce (preferably Boston, but any will do)
~ 1 medium red onion, chopped
~ 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
~ 1 bunch basil, chopped
~ 1 bunch mint, chopped
~ juice of 2 limes, approx. 1/4 cup
~ 3 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1/3 cup asian fish sauce
~ 1 T. sugar
~ 1 hot chile
~ 1 pound pork or turkey sausage
~ some hot rice (optional)

* Start rice, if using.

* Separate leaves from heads of lettuce. Leave the leaves whole - wash and let drain.
* Brown the meat - let cool in a large bowl.
* Prepare the dressing. Mix together the lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and hot chile. Whisk periodically to make sure the sugar is dissolved.
* Once the meat is room temperature, add the dressing, herbs and onion into the meat. Stir to combine.
* Divide leaves onto plates, and serve pork mixture and rice with the leaves. Use lettuce leaves like eggrolls to eat. This is a finger food! If preferred, mix the rice with the meat and have it over a salad for a very refreshing summer salad.

What to do with all of that arugula!!
~ 1/2 pound baby arugula
~ 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
~ 2 tsp. coarse sea salt
~ juice of 1 lemon
~ 1/4 c. olive oil
~ a piece of really good parmesan reggiano, romano or other hard cheese

* Wash & spin dry arugula leaves - tear if necessary - and place in a large salad bowl.
* Make the dressing, adding the olive oil last in a thin stream, whisking to emulsify.
* Toss the arugula with the dressing, arrange on plates, and top with shaved parmesan.
* NOTE: add the dressing to the arugula immediately before serving - the lemon juice "cooks" the arugula a little, and it will have a melted appearance if tossed with dressing long before serving.
You have about 10 minutes before the leaves loose their crunchiness.

Never eaten escarole in a salad? Get ready to live!!!

~ 1 large head of escarole
~ 4 oz. of good blue cheese (we love Gore-Dawn-Zola or Boucher Blue from Boucher Family Farm), crumbled
~ 1 c. toasted nuts - particularly good are walnuts or pine nuts
~ 1 tsp. black pepper
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt
~ 2 T. balsamic vinegar
~ 2 tsp. fresh thyme
~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~ 1 small red onion, cut into thin rings
* Wash escarole leaves, then chop or tear into manageable pieces. Spin dry, place in large salad bowl.
* Make the dressing. Whisk together the pepper, salt, vinegar, thyme and then drizzle in a thin stream the olive oil until well mixed.
* Add the crumbled blue cheese to the dressing. Mix well to coat, let stand for 5 minutes.
* Toss the escarole leaves with the dressing. Let stand for 5-10 minutes - then top with onion rings and nuts.
* ENJOY! It seems like a lot of salad, but then you start eating it and can't stop! Definitely try this if you think you DON'T like escarole or blue cheese - you'll be a convert, for sure! Don't balk at the amount of salt, either - it definitely cuts the bitterness of the escarole.

Last recipe this week to showcase the first garlic scapes!

~ 1 lb. skirt steak
~ freshly ground black pepper
~ kosher salt
~ 1 bunch garlic scapes (5-8 scapes)
~ olive oil
~ balsamic vinegar
~ 1 large head lettuce (summer crisp or a red romaine would be perfect)
* Preheat gas grill to medium hot.
* Prepare steak. Pat dry, and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.
* When grill is hot, put skirt steak on grill, and close lid. Cook on each side for 5 minutes for medium doneness.
* Tear or chop lettuce into pieces. Wash and spin lettuce. Arrange leaves on large plates.
* Prepare scapes. Wash and chop scapes to 2-inch pieces. Heat a saute pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. When oil shimmers, add scapes. Saute until bright green. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and remove from heat.
* Remove steak from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. When ready, cut into thin strips across the bias. * Lay several pieces of steak on bed of lettuce. Top with garlic scapes. Drizzle entire dish with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Enjoy these recipes! Please let us know if you try any and if you like them!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spencer's Post, non-hoophouse related

Mara said, "Nice photo, now give me my (Bleep) food."
"Yes, Chef!"
We have been watching Hell's Kitchen a lot recently, in many formats, on CD, live-streaming and on the TV. I enjoy the foul-mouthed Chef Ramsay, though I think the bleeped version is funnier, and I can't help but feel that most of the contestants, past and present are incompetent and idiotic. So last Friday, while I was picking the few radishes that survived the heat, and our first round of baby beets, I imagined that I was on Hell's Kitchen. Mara was off doing deliveries to restaurants, so I had an hour or so to run through a few highlights from my appearance on the show. By the time Mara got back, Chef Ramsay had developed a grudging respect for my work ethic and my intense desire to learn more. I was put forward for elimination once, (I can only assume my teammate was jealous and saw me as a threat) and when asked why I should remain on Hell's Kitchen, I replied that I felt that I have a good fundamental connection with food and, while I lack some of the technical skills to excel in the kitchen, I am learning fast and am a good team player. He seemed to accept that, since I was not the one eliminated. In my mind, Chef Ramsay, did doubt my commitment to victory on the show, since the prize is a position as executive chef at a new restaurant, and I already enjoy my farming work. But I explained I would use this chance to deepen the seed to table connection, and stated truthfully that my entire life is spent thinking about food in many ways. Hence, the grudging respect. Mara returned and we enjoyed discussing this as we finished cutting out all of our big planting of spring lettuce heads. I told her my signiture dish for the show would by my recent favorite of Saltimbocca alla Romana (recipe) with veal cutlets from the Bouchers. I have been doing a lot of pounded meat dishes these days using a small 3 pound sledgehammer in place of a meat mallet, because that is the tool I have on hand. All of this leads me to our annivesary dinner last night. We made it one of our business goals this year to go on more camping trips and so last night was the first step toward meeting that goal. Last year we went on a great backpacking trip to Maroon Bells in Colorado for our 10th wedding anniversary. This year we stayed closer to home. After a good market day, we went to Underhill State Park at the foot of Mount Mansfield. We got there at about 6 pm, set up camp and I started a fire to get some good coals for grilling. This is where Hell's Kitchen comes in. On the show, the aspiring chefs are continually overcooking or undercooking their meat dishes. It was Chef Ramsay's angry, bleeped-out voice that I was hearing as I put the two veal strip steaks (again from the Bouchers) onto the pre-heated grill. I toasted some focaccia and topped them with an harissa spread and a couple of basil leaves for appetizers. It grew darker outside, thunder rumbled in the distance, and still the meat cooked over the sparse coals. I brought most of the things needed for a successful grilling, but left the meat thermometer at home (I have been making good use of this tool to avoid the common problems of under- or over-cooking). We ate a second course of escarole and frisee salad using our favorite recipe (our first autumn recipe on our website), made special by using Gore-Dawn-Zola cheese from, again, the Bouchers. (Thank you, Dan and Dawn!) As the first raindrops began to fall and mix with the nervous sweat on my brow, I pulled the steaks off the grill. Perfect! Well, maybe a little overcooked, but still very good and delicious on top of the salad. Now, if grilling over a wet wood fire in the growing dusk with an impending thunderstorm moving in, is one of the competitions on Hell's Kitchen, I think I'll have an advantage over the others. Mara thought first of buttered popcorn, which I attribute to the buttery texture and deep savory flavor of the grilling combined with the seasoning that was just right. Just as we finished dinner in the dark, the rain started falling in earnest and we had to forgo the s'mores for dessert and hunker down in the tent. Though it rained most of the night and we found significant erosion on our tent site in the morning, we actually slept great and were ready for a nice, short hike in the morning. That, plus very well-behaved dogs on the camping trip was a great reward for a successful, if imaginary, completion of my Hell's Kitchen competition.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Farm Engineering

Now entering our 6th season farming at the Intervale, it feels good to be in a groove with certain things - specifically the infrastructure of our farming plans - trellising! We always feel like we're getting into the groove when the 2x4s come out and the tomatoes, eggplants, cukes, peppers and squashes have all been successfully cold-framed and hardened off and are ready to go into the ground. It always surprises me when I make the mental shift from greenhouse work to field work and find that we actually have the plants ready to go... as my plans said they'd be! Well, I guess that's testimony to the value of good farm planning in February! We also are getting the irrigation under control and making sure everything has a drip irrigation system in place for any unforseen non-rainy days (like this coming weekend scorcher prediction) - we want to make sure that the plants have everything that they need, and that all WE need to do is to turn on a faucet to make it happen!
In other interesting news, this year we made a $27.05 purchase that has revolutionized transplanting for us - it's the bulb auger from Johnny's Seeds company in Maine. This little gizmo took the work out of digging the holes for all our long-term crop transplants this year - what a huge deal for us! In about 30 minutes with a really good drill (DeWalt 14.4 volt cordless drill) with fully charged batteries - 2 of them, we could auger 400 perfect-sized 4" holes for transplanting! What a nice change from the old trowel-digging-on hands-and-knees system! At any rate - worth every penny!

Feels good to be in the groove with markets as well - the downtown Saturday market is off and running, and we start the New North End Market's 7th season next Thursday! Summer is definitely here.
Some pictures of our process....

Planting the squashes - squash blossoms, here we come!

In they go...

Spencer commanding our new gizmo to drill perfect holes into our soil.

All the plants in the foreground are waiting to go into those holes!

Everybody's in - time for drip irrigation lines to be placed. Spencer came up with our new drip line feed system - put a pole through the spool, place pole between two cinderblocks that are sitting up on our garden cart. Presto! Cart moves easily to next location with super-heavy drip tape spool already threaded and ready to go! Nice easy adaptation to our old system of one person holding the spool, the other drawing out the line - exhausting work!

Joining the tape with a coupler to a new roll, and laying the last section.

Tape in place, plants being watered! A super-nice system.

Spencer happily tying up the strings for trellising our tomatoes - tomorrow's project!

All the twine is in place and ready for the tomatoes!

In other news - the bumble bees are doing their job, and pollinating the fava beans in our hoophouse - we have little beans emerging; they must grow faster than that - the cherry tomatoes are ready to go in their place!