Archive for February 2010

mob mentality

February 28, 2010

From today’s New York Times:

 The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields.

 “The more tedious the work we have, the better,” Jones said, smiling. “Because part of Crop Mob is about community and camaraderie, you find there’s nothing like picking rocks out of fields to bring people together.”

In a rural hamlet like Roseboom, community and camaraderie are naturally occurring phenomena. One neighbor can be counted on to come by with his tractor and till up my plot in May; another is happy to share some old manure. Last year, I left town for a few days not long after planting some apple trees. When I got home my hose had been unspooled and stretched to their site; not knowing how long I was going to be away, my next-door neighbor walked across the lawn each day to give the saplings a healthy soaking. 

Next to these sweet habits of small-town life, the internet-based pop-up communities of today’s fashionable farmophiles might appear vaguely artificial. But this is the time in which we live, and it’s as much a part of our ecology as the climate in which we garden. The smart farmer gets to know his dirt and works with it, not against it. 

This weekend a big snowstorm hit Roseboom, so I stayed in New York. (We had snow here, too, but I didn’t have to drive in it.) And yesterday–via facebook–one of my neighbors offered  to pick up her shovel and attack the pile of snow at the end of my driveway. Good fences may or may not make good neighbors, but good communication is key, and we’re lucky to have so many ways of doing it.

bring me a squash in the wintertime

February 25, 2010

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that summer squash and winter squash come from the same family. They’re so different in flavor and texture. And they’re especially different in the responses they elicit from us.

When you invite summer squash into your garden, they come at you tender and exuberant and unrelenting as a two-year-old. Don’t think too hard, just do something! Fritters. Frittata. A quick sauté. Mixed grill. Chopped fine and marinated. A play date with pesto.  Zucchini bread, anyone? You don’t really have the time to imagine which of several potential flavor combinations might work best, and that’s OK, because there is always another harvest around the corner. Last summer I went away for a couple of days in the heat of squash season. I made a quick sweep of squash hills before leaving but somehow this managed to happen in my absence…(The smallest ones pictured here are about the size of my fist.)

Meanwhile, their hard-shelled cousins swell slowly in the back of the garden until the first frost warning. Compared to the yellow crooknecks and green scallops that keep me busy through July and August, the harvest of butternuts and acorns is meager indeed. It’s also finite. Which may explain why I tend to be so miserly with them… they are the jewel of my pantry, one of the few unadulterated homegrown ingredients that is available during the dark months.

Yesterday baked a couple of acorn squash in a curry-like concoction that included the first “harvest” from my windowsill garden—a few leaves from the kaffir lime tree.

These were the last of the precious acorns, but I guess I shouldn’t be too sad about that. While summer squash bless you all at once, these guys sustain us in a different way. And of course, I have seeds set aside for every variety… what seems like an ending is only the quiet part of the cycle.

winter garden

February 23, 2010

Much as I love to garden, indoor plants have never been my thing. I made a half-hearted effort with some funny-looking succulents in my office once, but they would not have survived without some intervention from my colleagues.

But sometimes one thing leads to another… I ordered seeds for the Roseboom plot in January, and soon after that began looking at sources for fruit trees (I’m considering a blueberry hedge). Somehow I found myself staring at a site selling dwarf citrus, suitable for growing indoors. Sometimes it’s just a little too easy to point and click.

So, I had to go to Home Depot to buy a pot. And some dirt. And it became apparent that these things are true:

Clay pots are cheap.

Dirt comes in large bags.

Seed packets contain way more than I need for Roseboom.

I miss having green things in my life.

confronting the cupboard

February 22, 2010

Every winter I’ve gotten a little bit better at provisioning. I don’t find it particularly difficult to cook for one (I’ve had a lot of practice) but I do find it challenging to do it for only 2 or 3 days and have nothing left over… nothing that won’t keep until my next escape to the country, that is. Starting with my first garden I began freezing several varieties of pesto. Two summers ago, I added stewed and dried tomatoes to my repertoire. This year I stocked the larder with winter squash, many kinds of beans, even jars of pickles.

By the time I arrived at the house on Thursday evening, I already knew it was going to be a night for cranberry beans, cooked with lots of olive oil and other fragrant things. I like this preparation best with bread for sopping, but it was too late to start bread so I settled on a bed of polenta instead.

One benefit of this kind of slow-simmering meal (besides its deliciousness) is that it really warms up the house. One drawback is that, after the long drive, my belly often requires immediate attention. Usually I have some cheese or nuts around, but things were looking pretty grim… until, at the back of the refrigerator, I found a carefully wrapped half-button of goat cheese. (This was obviously the work of an overzealous helpful houseguest—I would have probably deemed the piece too small for saving and enjoyed it as my reward for cleaning the kitchen.) It was hard as a rock, but it smelled the way it should and wasn’t growing anything extra, so I shaved it thin and took a taste. Creamy taste, crackly texture—very nice with a glass of wine while the beans bubbled.

When shell beans are fresh from the garden, I will cook them in olive oil only, but because these were a little dehydrated, I first covered them with water and simmered them with a few whole cloves of garlic and some thyme branches. I never got around to cutting and drying herbs this year, but as I always say, if you can’t find thyme for the important things, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Once the beans were tender, I doused them in oil and finished over very low heat until all the water was gone, then ladled them over polenta and added a few more thyme leaves.

The next day, leftover polenta with pesto from the freezer.

And breakfast potatoes make a fine meal any time of day.

My first winter in the house, I would always arrive with groceries from the city—a few pieces of fruit, a hunk of cheese, a beautiful boule. Now I have the confidence to skip that step. When it comes to putting food by, I’m still learning, as evidenced by the occasional storage failure…

But self-sufficiency is not so much about having done something right as it is about being willing to enter into the adventure.

marfax brown

February 1, 2010

I have a thing for vegetable varieties I’ve never heard of, especially when they are supposed to be well-suited for my climate.  And a reputation for exceptional tastiness doesn’t hurt. So I had high expectations for Marfax Brown. I planted more of them than any other variety. And they did not meet my expectations. Check out the results of the fall harvest. (They’re the pretty yellow beans that barely cover the bottom of the smallest bowl.)

Given their poor yield, I had pretty much decided against planting them again next year. Tonight, however, I cooked up the entire pitiful summer 2009 crop and now… I’m wishing I kept back a few for seed. 

I brought them to a quick boil before yoga this morning, then left them to soak awhile. When I tasted one later, I was startled to find that it tasted like a cross between a bean and a boiled peanut. Hmm.

Beans are something of a blank canvas, and I tend to throw a lot of strong flavors at them.  These guys are interesting, but subtle, so it’s tricky to enhance them without overwhelming. Here’s what I came up with:

 Beanut Ginger Soup

1. Thinly slice an onion and put it in a lot of olive oil, over very low heat for a very long time, until melted but not browned. At some point, add a heap of minced fresh ginger and let it cook along with the onion.

2. Simmer the beans until tender. Add a large diced carrot, a large diced potato, a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter, some salt.

3. Once the vegetables are soft, add the onion/oil/ginger mixture and cook together a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne, and add some chopped green stuff before serving.

next to normal

February 1, 2010

Ten years ago today, I was in a car accident that resulted in, in the words of one of my doctors, an impressive “constellation of injuries.” That same doctor predicted that once I graduated from the wheelchair, I would still have limited mobility, chronic pain, more surgeries, more pain… 

So I took up yoga in fierce pursuit of normal—“normal” being the range of motion I had had in my feet, ankles and legs before the accident. And yes, I’ve probably regained a hairs-breadth or so of movement with every passing year. But here’s what’s really cool: in the absence of full control of the feet, I’ve learned to strengthen other muscles that keep me upright when standing. When the ankles just won’t give in a seated pose, the hips have opened instead. And not too long ago, I figured out that normal isn’t something one pursues with ferocity. My norm is defined by the body I wake up in each day, by my genetic material and my experience (with a little influence from the barometric pressure). Sure, my gait would be different today if my legs hadn’t been smashed and screwed back together 10 years ago. But a decade on planet Earth is going to do a number on the human body no matter what. And when I consider where my body—my self—might be today if the accident hadn’t led me to yoga, I’m content with today’s norm.