Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What a difference a day makes - gah!


So, might as well let you know that I'm in a huge fight with the meteorologists of Environment Canada - and it might just mean the end of our relationship.  

You've likely all noticed that early winter weather appeared (a bit like an uninvited guest to a dinner party) rather suddenly Monday afternoon.  I would be quite content with this in a different time and place  - I think winter is definitely to be enjoyed, and also really appreciated, both for the change of pace to daily work (and the change of work itself) it brings, but also because it really leads one to relish the last lovely days of fall, and to revel in the return of the sun and warm in early spring.  It helps put the other seasons into perspective, and might be a little like needing to struggle with life occasionally to help snap one's attention on all that's good back into sharp focus.  I'm also a real nester - and as much as I love a sunny day's trek through a snowy woods, or being able to do some hard work in the out of doors without breaking into an epic sweat, I really love messy, snow-squally afternoons that send me straight into the kitchen to make stew and bake something involving a lot of butter and sugar and flour (truthfully, salad optional sometimes).  Or that motivate some hardcore tidying of shelves and drawers, and scrubbing of floors, or whole farm planning where one can map out potential-filled gardens and fields to come. 


But, much like in the fall of 2008, this November cold snap swept in without much warning at all, and uh, caught this farmer rather off guard, despite the (frankly) obsessive-compulsive forecast monitoring going on over here recently.  One minute our (alleged) friends at Environment Canada are telling us this whole week is to be clear and sunny, with daytime temps in the low-to-mid single digits, and overnight lows no colder than - 3 degrees C (perfect root pulling/digging weather!)....and literally the next they are posting up the first snow squall warnings of the season, calling for overnight lows of -5 degrees C (or colder! on successive nights!), and informing us that the days will be cloudy and possibly stay below freezing too.  "Nooooooooooooo..." is all this farmer girl could slowly and softly manage to mutter to herself midway through Monday evening when those minor forecast changes were confirmed.  (Though quite possibly the "nooooooooooooo..." was replaced by something a little stronger).    

So, here we now sit, waiting in an exercise of great patience and optimism, that the less hearty of the cold-hearty veggies still toughing it out in the garden (that were slated for bulk harvest yesterday, but never thawed out to be pulled, as it would happen - gah!), will be fine, when they do in fact thaw out this afternoon or tomorrow.  We're talking beets, celeriac, rutabaga, and napa cabbage, which I've always had harvested before we've had weather this chilly, so I really am not sure exactly what they're up for taking.  All I could do yesterday was row cover what hadn't already been row covered, and put the finishing touches on the cold storage area of the barn in preparation for everything coming in.  Also, try not to gnash my teeth too hard. Couldn't keep from doing some soft gnashing though, that is for certain.  


The carrots, storage cabbage, parsnips, and leeks (among others) are not to be fussed over quite yet - I know they can handle this kind of weather with aplomb.  And the brussels sprouts sit on the fence - I'm hoping they took this particular cold like their brassica family cousin winter kale did, with it's amazing system of anti-freeze - we'll just have to see though, as the wind was mighty frosty galing over the ridge where they reside, and might be more problematic than the absolute low temp we got.

So yes, I'm feeling this might just induce a dalliance with the weather network again.  I thought I had quit  them for good a number of years ago when their forecasting just never seemed to jive with the actual weather received in the end.  As recently as this summer as well, I had a friendly and funny argument with my landlord's father about the veracity of their reporting and competency of their meteorological staff - but I may be forced to eat my words and come crawling back, if at least for a second opinion.  When it comes to fall weather, maybe it's just better if I really do prepare for the doom-iest and gloomiest.  In any event, I encourage any and all to send whatever warming thoughts you can spare towards the garden and barn this week, please and thank you!

(Obviously, I do not hold meteorologists at all responsible for the decisions that get made, for better or worse, with foresight or viewed with the perspective of hindsight, on this farm.  It's just a good little bit of escapism to pretend sometimes to share the outcome and consequences with them!  No, it's all part of what a life rooted in natural systems teaches over time.  And there are indeed great lessons to be learned.  But truly, I feel they're so worthwhile and important I'll take their challenging nature most any day.)  

The lovely Fairmeadow Farmhand minding the market table

On a much more fun (though very belated) front, some recipes!  A few below for you to try - for London members to free up a bit more fridge space before this Saturday's pick-up (or to make note of in anticipation of this Saturday's pick-up!), and for farm and Toronto members to keep working through the veggie haul from last time around. 
            

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Moroccan Root Vegetable Stew
From “Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special” by The Moosewood Collective
Serves 4 to 6 (yields 8 to 9 cups)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups peeled and diced carrots
½ cup diced celeriac (aka celery root)
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne
4 cups stock or broth or water
1 cup peeled and cubed squash or sweet potato
1 cup peeled and diced turnips
1 cup cubed potatoes
1 ½ cups peeled and diced rutabaga (optional, see Note)
2 bay leaves
¼ cup currants
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Warm the oil in a soup pot, add the onions and garlic, and sauté on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onions soften and the garlic is golden.  Add the carrots and celeriac, cover, and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the carrots have begun to soften, add the cumin, paprika, coriander, salt, pepper, and cayenne and cook, stirring contstantly, for 2 or 3 minutes. 

Pour in the water or stock and add the squash, turnips, potatoes, and rutabaga, if using.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, add the bay leaves and currants, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  Discard the bay leaves.  For a thicker stew, puree 2 cups of the stew in a blender or food processor and stir back into the soup pot.

Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.

Note: Rutabaga adds a nice touch to the stew, but it seems to absorb the spices and make the final flavour quite mild.  So, if you use rutabaga, we suggest increasing the spices: add and extra ½ tsp of cumin, ½ tsp of paprika, ¼ tsp of coriander, and ¼ tsp of salt.

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When I was at the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, I worked with the amazing Karen Maitland, who is among other things an excellent cook.  This is one of her recipes, which she prepared at one of our annual potlucks and was greatly enjoyed by all!  

Karen’s Parsnip Gnocchi

Peel and slice 3 lbs parsnips.  Steam until tender. Roast until light brown about 45 min.  Puree.  Bring 3/4c water, 1/2c butter and 3/4 tsp salt to boil.  Reduce heat.  Add 1 c flour all at once and stir until ball forms.  Transfer to mixer and beat in 4 eggs one at a time. Keep beating 1 min.  Add 2 c parsnip puree and beat until mixed.  Stir in 1/2 tsp pepper or more.  Pipe or spoon onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 until crisp approx 25 min.

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Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
From the Barefoot Contessa

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the core
4 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch-diced
1/4 cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, including some of the loose leaves, which get crispy when they're roasted. Add the pancetta, olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, toss with your hands, and spread out in a single layer. Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes, until they're tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is cooked. Toss once during roasting. Remove from the oven, drizzle immediately with the balsamic vinegar, and toss again. Taste for seasonings, and serve hot.


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Warm French Lentils
From “Barefoot Contessa: How easy is that?” by Ina Garten
Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp + ¼ cup good olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 carrots, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup French du Puy lentils
1 whole onion, peeled and stuck with 6 whole cloves
1 white turnip, diced
1 tsp unsalted butter
4 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and sauté the leek and carrots for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the lentils, 4 cups of water, the onion studded with cloves, and turnip in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, add the leek and carrots, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are almost tender.  Remove and discard the onion, and drain the lentil mixture.  Place in a medium bowl and add the butter.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ¼ cup of olive oil, mustard, and vinegar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add to the lentils, stir well, and allow the lentils to cool until just warm, about 15 minutes.  Check seasoning again before serving, adjust as needed and enjoy!     
  
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Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top
From “Jamie at Home: Cook your way to the good life” by Jamie Oliver
Makes 12 muffins

He writes: “My kids love these squash muffins.  They taste a bit like carrot cake… The skin of a butternut squash goes deliciously soft and chewy and soft when cooked, so no need to peel it off.  Give these little cakes a go – they’re a perfect naughty-but-nice treat…”

For the muffins:
14 oz (little less than a lb) butternut squash, skin on, seeds removed and roughly chopped
2 ¼ cups light brown sugar
4 large eggs
sea salt
2 ½ cups flour
2 tsps (heaping) baking powder
handful of walnuts (optional)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the frosted cream topping:
Zest of one small orange
Zest of one lemon
Juice from ½ of lemon
½ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp (heaping) icing sugar, sifted
Optional: 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out; few dried lavender petals

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line your muffin tin with paper cups.  Whiz the squash in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add the sugar, and crack in the eggs.  Add a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, walnuts, cinnamon and olive oil and whiz together until well beaten.  You may need to pause the machine at some point to scrape the mix down the sides with a spatula.  Try not to overdo it with the mixing – you want to just combine everything and no more.

Fill your paper-lined muffin cups with the cake mixture.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  They’re done when a skewer or cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack.

While the muffins are baking, make your runny frosted topping: Place most of the orange zest, all the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a bowl.  Add the sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds and mix well.  Taste and have a think about it – adjust the amount of lemon juice or icing sugar to balance the sweet and sour.  Put into the fridge until your cakes have cooled down, then spoon the topping onto the cakes.  Garnish the tops with the rest of the orange zest sprinkled over.  For an interesting flavour and look, a few dried lavender flowers are fantastic.    

          

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