Celebrations

I didn’t want to celebrate the 4th of July. I’m having very ambivalent feelings in the patriotism department, and, since the car accident, I just haven’t felt much like celebrating. But the day took on a life of its own, unrelated to any sort of officially declared bank and postal holiday. Duck and I were joined by Farmer B and another friend and we had a sparkly wonderful day that flowed from Indian-buffet brunch at our beloved “all fresh! never frozen!” vegetarian Indian restaurant down the street to playing our favorite board game, Settlers, in the backyard of our favorite local coffeeshop.

Nectarine clafouti

Then home to our newly set-up art room where Duck worked on his graphic novel and the rest of us made buttons and collages while the pets ran about, and then our visiting friends and I made a fresh-from-the-box meal while Duck worked furiously to complete his project and we all had this gorgeous dinner by candelight and then Duck washed all the dishes and we had coffee and dessert and played two more games of Settlers. We ended our glorious day by sitting together on the couch in our pajamas while Duck gave us the first look at his newly finished piece.

This was truly a celebration. Ever since the accident, I’ve been flipping back and forth between “Oh man, this is really, really an awful thing to have happened” and “Thank all that is holy that everyone is okay.” But mostly I’ve been floating through space, able to connect with how heartbreaking and terrifying it would have been if something worse had happened, but predominantly squashed by the weight of all that did happen and all that is still to come. So it was a gift to have this day, this seamless day of friends and games and art and food, where one moment flowed perfectly into the next and, as cheesy as it sounds, I got to really remember in my body why life is so precious.

And of course it wouldn’t be a celebration if it didn’t involve food – lots of it and only the good stuff, please! Our menu was drawn directly from the bounty of my box: Warm arugula with tempeh bacon and garlic over soft, creamy polenta made with scrap stock (batch IV), and chard with toasted walnuts made following Duck’s mom’s recipe. Farmer B found a bottle of wine someone had brought to a party years ago, way up on a shelf in my pantry, and we had this surprisingly good wine, and ginger beer for the non-drinkers. And while we ate dinner, dessert was baking in the oven. We would be having plum and strawberry clafouti, my first clafouti of the summer, which is for me a celebration all by itself.

Plum and strawberry clafouti

Plum and strawberry clafouti

Clafouti (or clafoutis) is a French dessert that is sort of like a firm fruit custard. Although traditionally made with cherries, the term clafouti is now used to describe this dessert when made with any kind of fruit. I made my first clafouti (a cherry one) in high school to accompany a French class report on the regions of France. In summers past I have made one after another all summer long, using surplus plums from friends’ trees, nectarine bounty from the farmer’s market – whatever stone fruit or berry comes my way. This is my second most frequently requested recipe (someday I’ll tell you about my ginger chocolate torte…) and now that we are getting all kinds of cherries and berries and lovely stone fruits in our boxes, I wanted to pass the recipe along to you.

French Summer Fruit Clafouti (adapted from epicurious.com)
This is one of the easiest dessert recipes I’ve ever encountered, and to make it even easier I’ve converted it to a “one-pot” style recipe. As long as you keep a bottle of Riesling or other sweet wine on hand you’ll be able to whip this up with whatever fruit you have. (Last summer I didn’t end up using all of the $5 bottle of Moscato I got from Trader Joe’s for making clafouti, but it still tasted perfectly good when I used it last night, a YEAR later, after sitting, re-corked, on top of my fridge!)

4-5 ripe nectarines (or the equivalent in weight of plums, peaches, berries, cherries or any combination thereof)
1 C. Riesling or other sweet, fruity wine
5 T. butter
4 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
1/8 t. salt
1/2 C. flour (to make a gluten-free version, use half a cup of whatever GF flour combo or mix you would usually use for pancakes)
1 C. milk/hemp milk/rice milk/soy milk
1 T. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Cut fruit into 1/4-inch wedges (or pit and halve cherries) and macerate in a bowl with the wine for 15 minutes. Leave peels on fruit – they add to a colorful presentation.

Melt butter in a medium-sized pot over low heat. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then whisk in eggs, sugar, salt. Whisk in flour until combined well. Whisk in, until smooth, milk, vanilla, and 1/4 C. wine from the fruit mix.

Transfer fruit to bottom of baking dish using a slotted spoon. Pour batter over fruit (fruit will float to top). (The rest of the wine the fruit soaked in can now be used for sangria or just sipped straightaway!)

Bake in upper third of the oven until puffed and set in the center, 55-60 minutes. Transfer clafouti to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers make a decadent but still vaguely “healthy” breakfast – hey, it’s fruit and eggs, right?

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Strawberry Day!

I am, ever and always, a research queen. I no longer do it for a living (or a degree), but if there’s a decision that needs to be made, whether it be major and life-altering or embarassingly minor and petty, you can bet I’ll come to the table armed with all the facts, opinions, and perspectives I can dig up. So understandably a lot of considerations went into such a significant decision as my choice of CSA.

A field of many lettuces at Eatwell Farm
Lovely lettuces at Eatwell Farm

Because I’m so tired, so often, I wanted food brought to me, rather than having to go to the farmer’s market each week. But I also wanted local food, and to be directly supporting specific, tangible growers, so that eliminated many of the grocery delivery services and produce-box services that box up an amalgamation of produce from all over the country and world. And I also, in my secret heart of hearts, wanted a farm that I could visit, where I could touch the soil my food was grown in and meet the people who nurtured it towards my plate.

Close-up of wheat growing
Nothing says “farm” quite like 40 acres of wheat

During the month I was researching CSA options, there was a medfly quarantine in the town of Dixon, where Eatwell Farm is located. It was late summer, and thousands of ripe tomatoes, waiting on the vine to go into CSA boxes and to farmer’s markets, were suddenly quarantined, forbidden to leave the farm unprocessed. So Eatwell threw a tomato-canning party. I watched with delight through the farm’s blog as hundreds of Eatwell members headed out to the farm for an afternoon of cooking up sauce and drinking bloody marys. Nigel, the farm’s owner, wrote in the blog, “When I got a few moments to myself I looked upon everyone working hard and having a great time and thought ‘this is exactly the farm and community that I have always wanted’. So it took a few Med Fly in Dixon to realize that what we all have here is something very precious.” When I read this, I knew I had found my farm, my box.

Farmer B picking strawberries in the field at Eatwell
Farmer B picking strawberries in the field at Eatwell

I missed the tomato-sauce party, and winter isn’t the best time for farm days, so my first opportunity to take part in this new community I’d bought into with my weekly box didn’t come until May. Earlier this month I headed out to Dixon for the first time, to take part in one of Eatwell’s “Strawberry Days.” We were invited to come and pick strawberries in the fields, welcome to eat as many as we could stuff in right then and there, and then pay just $1/pound for whatever we wanted to take home. I brought my good friend Farmer B with me (so called because, thanks to her interest in and dedication to farming, we are all counting on her to guide us through feeding ourselves post peak-oil apocalypse when there is total collapse of the massive network of trucks and boats and planes that currently shlep our industrially fertilized food around the world) to check out “my” farm.

Me picking strawberries
Me picking strawberries in the field

While we were there we picked many strawberries (and took our loot home to freeze for future smoothies – yum!) and also had the opportunity to tour the farm with Nigel, the farm’s owner. He showed us the 40 acre wheat field they are leasing to grow organic wheat for chicken feed, and took us through the rest of the farm, which is about 60 acres. We learned about the particulars of running a farm that must yield a constant variety of produce, to keep our boxes interesting each week. I hadn’t thought about it before, but Eatwell can’t just decide, “We’ll sell lettuce in spring and tomatoes in summer and squash in the fall” or whatever, because they aren’t just taking a bunch of stuff to market and selling it to people who are stopping by many stalls. They need to make sure our boxes have both novelty and variety each and every week.

Nigel giving the tour
Nigel leading the tour in front of the wheat field

On our tour we got to pick sugar snap peas off the vine, which was decadent for me, as sugar snap peas, even more than strawberries, are what I associate with “luxury” produce. We learned about the stands of trees that were the first thing Nigel planted when he got the land, to provide windbreaks for the crazy winds that can get up to 25+ miles an hour and just suck the moisture from plants and soil. We also learned that Eatwell gets their compost from the company that processes San Francisco’s food and yard scraps (we have a city-wide composting program here) which is pretty awesome, on a symbolic level. As Nigel pointed out, every time they pick a truckload of food from the farm, they are hauling nutrients away from the land, and now, because of the composting program, those exact same nutrients (barring, of course, the ones we have absorbed into our own bodies) find their way back.

Eating sugar snap peas off the vine
Eating sugar snap peas off the vine. Decadent!

And then, of course, we met the chickens. They were definitely the celebrities of the hour, with tons of questions asked and long lingering at their enclosure, whereas for the rest of the farm we’d been content to just let Nigel lead us from field to field. I learned that the beautiful green and blue eggs, which I love, come from araucana hens who are being “phased out” (stockpot, here they come) because they take three months off in the winter, producing no eggs but still chowing down on their pricey organic feed. True free-ranging chickens, although they eat plants and insects as they forage about, still need more supplemental feed than factory-farmed chickens. This is because outdoor hens use a lot of energy moving around all day and keeping themselves warm, unlike chickens who are packed in together tightly, keeping each other warm and unable to move.

The chickens with their chicken house

The chickens with their chicken house, one of five houses. The enclosure is an electric fence, turned on at night to keep out the coyotes. The chickens seem to have no problem flying over it when they like the looks of the neighboring pasture!

Altogether, it was amazing to be at the farm. It’s sad how disconnected I have been my whole life, and still mostly am, from my food and its origins, but this was a small and meaningful step in bridging that gap. I didn’t walk away with entirely fuzzy feelings, however. At the end of the day i found myself sitting at a picnic table with Nigel. Most everyone had gone home, and Farmer B was out in the field gathering one last bucket of berries. Nigel, who has a kind of reserve and brusqueness, didn’t seem like the kind of person to whom I could give a real soul-baring expressing of gratitude, so I started with, “You guys are a big part of my life. I write a blog based on my box and what I do with the food you grow.” His response was, “Oh yeah. A lot of [Eatwell customers] have blogs.”

Portrait of farmer with wind break and cell
Portrait of farmer with windbreak, sprinklers, and cell phone

Oh, okay. So much for my conversational opener. That was too bad, but a good reminder that this isn’t all a fantasy farm fairytale. What’s a food blog, in comparison to twelve hour days of actually growing the food? I mean, I want the people who grow my food to see what I create with it and how much it touches my life, but maybe that’s not why they grow it or what gives the work meaning for them. I can sense a kind of forced resolution in my desire for things to come “full circle,” an uneven equation in which I want my end of things – the consumer end – to have the same weight as the producer end. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to express here, just the sense that this may be one of those situations where the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I still feel essentially naive about the origins of food, and the little bit of knowledge and understanding that I’m acquiring is like lifting the lid off a deep well and peering inside, totally unable to fathom the bottom.

Rooster
There are something like five roosters for 1600 chickens. Those are some busy birds! (I mean busy protecting the flock, get your mind out of the gutter!)

For what it’s worth, I’ll say it here, and hopefully find a way to say it more personally some day. Anna, Agustin, Arturo, Daisy, Fernando, Jesus, Jose, Molly, Nigel, Nikko, Ricardo, Roberto, Sadie (RIP), Yvette, and anyone else whose name I don’t know, Thank You. Every time I open a new, thrilling box, I thank you. Every time my body gets that tingly “healthy!” feeling from eating a whole bunch of kale in one sitting, I thank you. Every time I smile with delight to see another stranger has found my blog by googling “spinach for breakfast,” I thank you. When I read Omnivore’s Dilemma or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and, instead of feeling panicked and overwhelmed, I feel secure and even slightly smug, knowing the majority of my food comes from my local, sustainable foodshed, I thank you. Even when I’m finding out I don’t like turnips, or having a strange allergic reaction to radish greens, I thank you, because this is what it means to eat what’s local and in season and not live in a bubble of banana-scented safety and routine. For all your work, for the tremendous investments of time and energy and money you make and the risk you assume so that I can have safe, healthy, delicious food delivered to me week after week, I thank you, and I cannot thank you enough.

Farm Princess with wheat

Too hot to cook

It is really hot here right now. Here in the Bay Area we may not know much about weather as it is customarily experienced by most of the world, but that means when it does get really hot we are all totally unprepared. No air conditioning, no screens on the windows (my mom was horrified to find mosquitoes in the house) – I barely own one entire outfit suitable for 90 degree weather that I would be seen in public wearing.Strawberry Smoothie

So it was way, way too hot to cook dinner, even when I got home at 9:30 tonight. Luckily, my box came to the rescue once again! Saturday I went out to Eatwell for one of their “Strawberry Days” where CSA subscribers are invited to come pick strawberries for an afternoon. It was all-you-can-eat for free and then $1/lb. after that. I came home with enough to fill a large freezer Ziplock, and it gives me a nice sense of abundance every time I open the freezer and see that huge pile of deep red. A little yogurt, a little Santa Cruz Organic Berry Nectar, a little agave nectar, and a LOT of luscious frozen berries, and my dinner was blended and ready to be taken outside to eat on my stoop in the dark, hot evening.

Foiled again!

I report to you live from the salad front, your brave investigator into the perverse and often baffling world of salad dressing. It saddens me to have to report that, once again, and despite a rousing attempt involving lettuce, fennel, sugar snap peas, Point Reyes Farmstead blue cheese, and strawberries, for goodness sake, we can add another strike to the list. This time the no-go concoction was a balsamic-shallot vinaigrette from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Strawberry salad, before the unfortunate dressing

Is it possible that I just don’t like dressing? The way it turns out I don’t like turnips? No, I like salad. And I often like salads in restaurants. And those generally have dressing on them. I just never seem to be satisfied with the dressings I make, no matter what I do. Whether I wing it or carefully follow a recipe, they are invariably too oily or too vinegary or too bland or too seasoned.

I feel like a salad idiot. It seems like one of those things you would joke about someone not being able to cook. “She can’t even boil an egg! Or make pasta! Or salad! Ha, ha! She can’t even cook salad!” Well, I can’t. And I am feeling quite disgruntled at this point, let me tell you. But my box continues to bring lettuce upon lettuce. And so we soldier on.