Monday, April 30, 2007

The First Rule of Pie Club...

is, bring your own butter. Living with 45+ people, butter goes fast, and by Sunday night, there's not a whit of dairy in fridge, nary even a drop of Almond Breeze for morning coffee.

Besides the butter (which we brought in from Trader Joe's), Sunday's teaching pies were almost all home-grown. If we'd had the time, we could have ground the flour from wheat grown here last summer. The rhubarb was pulled from an overgrown patch down near the quince trees, while the strawberries came from the sweet and juicy rows next to the garlic and leeks. With a paper bag full of rhubarb, I kept foraging, slicing a few late-season purple asparagus, nipping off a couple of baby violette artichokes, and pulling up some thumb-sized purple potatoes that had volunteered in a spare uncleared bed. Everything was purple!

Anne had never made pie before, but before the end of the night, she'd been anointed a true Pie Princess, for fearlessness in the face of lattice. The diehards who stuck around til 11pm were rewarded with hot-from-the-oven strawberry-rhubarb pie. Another pie was surreptitously brought out at breakfast, mmmm. A proposal for an every-other-Sunday night pie club has been bandied about, with plans for Meyer lemon tart next up.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

but this one is just right....

Many things are in abundant supply here on the farm: quail; pocket gophers; gopher snakes to eat the gophers; and of course, the aforementioned kale, now making an appearance at every meal, even breakfast! But glamour, alas, is not one of these things. Not until this morning, however, when former apprentices Daryl, Matthew, and Doron showed up to make our breakfast much more fabulous than usual.

You'd be surprised how much more alluring oatmeal can be when it's spooned into a waiting bowl just for you by a guy in a red feather boa, mardi gras beads, and a kimono jacket. The oatmeal was divided into 3 vats, descriptively labeled "Lumpy", "Smooth but Runny", and "Mortar". Chopped kiwis (from the farm-yes, they grow here, on long vines), walnuts, raisins, and brown sugar were on offer, and even if you'd never had an opinion about oatmeal before, the outfits and ceremony cheered everyone up. And at dinner, there was tempeh mole, tortillas and hot sauce, yellow rice, sauteed kale, even warm vegan chocolate cake.

But what I want even more than lumpy oatmeal and chocolate cake is poetry. Send me your favorite poems! Especially if there's some kind of nature component. Ok, to be honest, a real bed is what I want most, but showering in the outdoor solar shower this afternoon, with the blue sky and green leaves visible above the hot shower spray almost made up for 2 weeks of damp and chilly sleeping on the ground.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I can't give you anything but kale, baby

It's chilly out here on the top of the hill! Not 6 inches of snow on the car chilly, as it was in Lake Snowbegone last week, but living outside all the time is taking some getting used to. Going inside one's tent doesn't raise the temp any, a fact I'm still not quite adjusted to. And going from work clothes to pajamas--and then back again in the morning-- well, it takes some teeth-gritting for this steam-heated city girl.

But the farm and the view over the fields of Monterey Bay is just crazy beautiful, and it's very peaceful to wake up to birds (and my fellow farmie's alarm clocks) instead of trucks and cars revving by. I'm achy from chopping down the cover crops (bell beans and oats) with my brand-new spade and fork, but the reward is all the steamed kale and chard you can eat. Next week, I'll be on "bread duty" with Ben from Pt. Reyes's fab Brickmaiden Breads, so expect plenty of good tips on working with sourdough and making 20 loaves in a couple of bakings.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Westward Ho!

Today is my last day in the tiny apartment in Lake Snowbegone, soon to be replaced by an even tinier tent on the top of a hill in Santa Cruz. So, in honor of using up the stuff in the kitchen that K. wouldn't (like lard, yeast, chickpeas, and poppy seeds), I went on a bit of a cooking binge yesterday, making stuffed eggplant with onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, and feta, followed by a puffy loaf of whole-wheat-oatmeal bread and a big apple galette. Mmmm.

The bread was completely made up and thrown together. One packet of dry yeast, dissolved in about 1/2 cup water and thrown into the quart-size empty yogurt container doubling as my whole-wheat flour cannister. There was maybe a cup of flour in there; I mixed in the yeast and water and added enough water to make a goopy batter. Let it rise as a sponge for an hour or so, then stirred it together with more water, a teaspoon or two of salt (honestly, I just poured out some into my hand and dumped it in), an egg because our supermarket carries good marigold-yolked local eggs, about half a cup of rolled oatmeal flakes, a good glug of the Cobble Hill honey Amy gave us as a leaving-Brooklyn present, and enough white flour to make up a smooth dough. Kneaded it, let it rise, rolled it into a ball, let it rise again, then glazed it with egg yolk and sprinkled with poppy seeds, to bake until brown at 350F.

Once you've made bread a bunch of times, you realize that there's no real need for measuring. As long as you have a rough idea of the proportions of water, flour, and salt, you'll get a nice loaf. You can do with a lot less yeast than you think; I usually use one packet for 2 loaves, about half of what most recipes call for. Yes, the rise is slower, but you don't get than beery-yeasty taste that can plague some homemade loaves, and the bread stays fresher longer. I still use recipes when I want to be sure of a particular result, or when I want to try out a new method or combination, but it's relaxing to know that there's no need to get out the cookbooks and teaspoons just to make an ordinary toast-for-breakfast loaf.

Why bring this up? Not to toot my own bread-making horn, for sure. But to encourage all you bakers out there to loosen up in the kitchen. Bread is remarkably forgiving. Short of killing the yeast with too much heat (dissolving it in hot water or using a really hot rising place--for example, don't leave the bowl full of dough on top of the stove when you're preheating the oven), your bread dough is more friendly and flexible than you think.

And the galette was a happy, not really measured treat too. Not having a pie pan or a rolling pin up here, I made do with a Grandma's molasses jar and a cookie sheet. The dough was 2 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 TB of sugar, with 4 oz of Flying Pigs Farm lard and 4 TB (2 oz) of salted butter cut in. Enough cold water to make a just-holding-together dough, flattened and wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled in the fridge for a few hours. Rolled out into a rough circle on the counter, then slid onto the cookie sheet. Peeled and sliced a half-dozen Empire apples, then tossed them with a little raw sugar, some crumbled maple sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a few shakes of salt. Heaped the apple slices in the middle of the pastry, then flapped the dough over the apples, leaving a hole in the middle. Glazed with an egg yolk beaten with 1 TB of water, sprinkled on some more raw sugar, and baked until the crust was deep golden and the apples tender at 400 degrees.

Thanks to the lard, the dough was lovely and flaky, and not as hard to work with as a shorter butter crust.

Now, back out the best coast, and life on the farm!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Je me souviens les neiges d'antan

Snow on Easter. That's not the only reason I'm fleeing Lake Snowbegone for California come Friday, but it's certainly one reason I'm happy to be kissing upstate NY bye-bye. Actually, though, the fact that we were dodging snowflakes on Sunday may have had something to do with being in Canada. Yes, who knows why, but we went north last weekend, to a place even grayer and colder than this one: Montreal!

It was freezing when we arrived, and as we shivered down the street we did look at each other to wonder why we weren't in Florida, K.'s warm and lovely home state. When K. called her mom on Sunday, she said they were having a bit of a cold snap, so it was only 70 degrees. If she weren't such a nice lady, I'd have cussed her out.

But, weather aside, Montreal was as close to Europe as we could get driving. We didn't have too much time, but we did see lots of old stone buildings, the inside and out of the Basilica Notre Dame, carriages drawn by horses wearing bunny ears, and the gay Timmie's in Le Village.

What did we drink? Vin chaud, hot chocolate with cinnamon and cardamom at the hip, cute Au Festin de Babette tea salon and chocolate shop, locally brewed beer with polar bears on the label. And we ate maple everything, from the divine "danoise" (that's danish to you, mate) pastry smeared with pale maple cream at the Patisserie Premiere Moisson to chewy maple taffy poured out on snow and rolled around a stick (known there as tire d'erable, or what we'd call sugar on snow). There were maple products everywhere: tiny ice-cream cones filled with maple syrup, maple sugar hard and soft, even maple liqueurs. Maple syrup in a can was in every shop. The Quebecois maple obsession makes the maple-makers of upstate New York look like pikers, I can tell you.

What else? We went to the wonderful Jean Talon Market, indoors for the winter, and lined with shop after shop selling veal, pork, lamb and sheep's milk cheese, fromage cottage in numerous flavors, sticky Moroccan pastries and hot mint tea, rabbit sausage, live spiky-legged crabs from the Gaspe peninsula, and fabulous French-language cookbooks . After sampling everything in the market, we didn't have the appetite to brave the trotters and blood puddings at Au Pied de Cochon; instead, we ended up with cheese and beer and apples in our room, watching Charlton Heston perform all his own miracles.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Just back from a speed-dash down to NYC for Passover. Sharing the horseradish and charoset with my old college pal Mike and his family was the ostensible reason for hopping on the Jetblue express to JFK, but I was really there to walk, eat, walk and soak up as much culture as I could, after a month without any up in Lake Snowbegone.

I was a little too hopeful as to how spring-like NYC would be in comparison to the North Country, and so I ended up underdressed and chilled for three nasty cold, rainy days. But the flowers were out--daffodils, frilly tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, magnolia buds on the trees overhead. Arriving mid-afternoon on Sunday, my pal (and former neighbor) Amy and I headed out to always-open Bocca Lupa (ok, not really, but they do offer lunch from 11:30am to 5, then dinner til late-ish, so by a freelancers' sleep-in standard, they're always available). Amy got the zampone-piave-pickled peppers panini (say that 10 times fast) that she'd been craving, and I went for my comfy fave, the roast chicken with arugula and provolone. Lovely, as always--such a great little place to have in the neighborhood. Then, oh bliss, it was just a few blocks' walk over to Cobble Hill Cinema for the stunning Lives of Others, the German flick that won the Best Foreign Films Oscar. A great film.

The next day, perfect-as-always pear danish at Almondine, and a spin through the Easter candy offerings at Jacques Torres. Dark chocolated matzoh for the Jews, rows of chocolate-dipped marshmallow Peeps (in the bunny shape) for the gentiles. Oh, and carrot-shaped tubes of chocolate-dipped Cheerios for those of you who, sadly, have had your taste buds surgically removed. They were offering free samples of the cocoa-rolled chocolate almonds. Resisted the urge to tip the whole bowl into my purse.

Then, into the city for a slice at Joe's Pizza in the Village, followed by a French movie (Avenue Montaigne, a dull movie for old people, despite its Amelie aspirations) and a spin through the genteel rooms of the Neue Gallerie, whose dark wood-panelled walls always look carved out of chocolate. A robust crowd in town for the Van Gogh and German Expressionists show, which was small but potent. Followed, of course, by the last slice of topfentorte in the house at a marble-topped table in Cafe Sabarsky, where I would happily live if only one could get a glass of Riesling for less than $14 (and a cup of coffee for less than $5). But ah, that topfentorte-- fluffy quark filling, light layers of genoise, melting slices of pear on top, lovely.

On to Central Park West for eggs in salt water, horseradish and brisket, four kinds of kugels and a platter of asparagus, chocolate-chip macaroons and next year in Jerusalem, amen.

Matzoh brei and leftover cheesecake for breakfast, then onto the bus out to Nyack to see my aunt for lunch at the elegant Restaurant X, with nosegays of roses on the tables and a pastoral view of just-barely-greening willows around the pond.

That night, back in Brooklyn, Amy and I had just enough energy to walk around the corner to the new Japanese place, Hideno, which looks better than it is. Warm housemade tofu comes in a little glass pot with a pitcher of soy sauce and a tiny spoon; it has a gentle, silky texture but tastes, as I guess we should have expected, like nothing. Or more exactly, nothing with an aftertaste of masking tape and chalk. A bowl of rice will run you $3, a pot of tea $2. Tuna tataki, with a small mound of avocado-topped salad, was too salty to eat.

The next morning, high hopes of checking out the new feminist-art wing and Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. But alas, cold rain and boring errands ate up the morning, and then there was only time for a quick bowl of lamb soup (a brown, intensely lamb-y broth with bits of onion and green herbs, $2) at the Yemen Cafe on Atlantic Ave, and a plan to come back for the grand platters of roasted lamb and rice ($8) being shared by tables of men around the room.

Woke up this morning to several inches of snow on the ground, and more falling. Welcome back to Lake Snowbegone...but we're off to Montreal for Easter tomorrow. Any Montreal tips, please let me know!