On Liminality in Food and Life

Last week, as I made caramels for the first time, I found myself bent almost double over the stove, eyes glued to the mercury in the candy thermometer, utterly concentrated on watching the blue line rise to exactly the right number. Too hot, and the caramels would turn out tooth-wrenchingly hard; not hot enough and they’d stick to the wrappers and be impossible to eat. Turn away for a minute, I was warned, and you might return to find a pan full of scorched sugar. The stakes are high. The sugar bubbles and browns, my brow furrows. I add the butter and cream, the mixture froths and boils, my stomach clenches. 135 . . .140 . . . 145 . . . I rock back on my heels, grope for the bunched kitchen towels from the counter, grasp the hot handles through uneven layers of cotton, hold firmly while the golden brown cascade spreads to fill the papered and oiled pan. I exhale the breath I didn’t know I was holding. I am grinning, absurdly proud of myself for performing this amazing feat of alchemy, skirting pitfalls galore to turn plain cream and butter and sugar into something perfect. Something you can cut into pieces, wrap into little squares of wax paper, and give away to mail carriers, co-workers, family, bring to holiday parties, tuck in a padded envelope and send to friends scattered around far coasts. 

Two days after I made my first (double) batch, I made my second, this time stirring in ground ginger, cinnamon, and garam masala for a warming gingerbread flavor. I’m addicted. This afternoon I’m going to the grocery store for supplies for a few more batches. It’s not that I can’t stop eating them. It’s that I can’t stop making them. There’s something arresting about making this simple candy that comes into being between raw and burnt. Caramels are the delicious incarnation of a liminal state. Thrilling, dangerous, delicious. Liminality (excuse the $10 word), in fact, seems to be the path to my heart/stomach. All of my favorite food are consumed somewhere on the path to rot and decay: stinky, gooey, moldy cheeses, dry-cured meats, fermented vegetables, wine and beer, etc. I could even make the case that in baking bread, you arrest the water+flour+yeast in the perfect moment on the way to yeast+goo+hooch. In fact, every time I cook using the Maillard reaction (the most delicious of all chemical reactions), I am looking for a perfectly liminal state. Post-raw, pre-burnt. The broiler is the ultimate weapon in this dance with destruction, a tool to be used as often but attentively as possible. 

Maybe I lean towards hyperbole in these descriptions of everyday kitchen procedures. I should be glad to get my thrills from courting disaster in the kitchen instead of on a motorcycle or jumping out of airplanes. On the other hand, it is hard to deny that in some ways I have been living in a prolonged liminal state for quite a few years now - always on my way, but never there. Becoming a responsible adult, becoming a farmer, keeping myself from swinging too close to the precarious cliffs of insolvency, uninsured ill health, or simple failure in my crazy endeavors. I’m forever looking forward, planning, dreaming, scheming. Sometimes, this translates to energy, momentum, and the general feeling that my own mundane life is somehow dangerous and exciting. And sometimes I’m just sitting in my kitchen, smiling to myself, wrapping caramels, going nowhere, just being. 

On the Cheese Counter

Photo courtesy Bianca Verma

A visit to your local cheesemonger, if you’re lucky enough to have one worthy of the name, can be a many splendored thing. A good cheese counter is not necessarily the one with the most cheeses or the most expensive cheeses. A good cheese counter has one or several people behind (or in front of) it who delight in introducing you to a new cheese, finding the perfect cheese for the occasion, and maintaining (curating, even) an assortment of cheeses to satisfy any range of discerning and curious customers. A delightful cheese (en)counter this afternoon prompted me to think about five amazing cheese counters that have been crucial in my enculturation (hehe) as a major turophile. Obviously, a childhood full of good Wisconsin cheddar and a few months making and selling cheese did plenty to feed my obsession, but today I offer to you a brief history of my ongoing love affair with cheese and cheesemongers.


1. Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, MA ca. 2009

While my college years saw my discovery of the delights of Indian food, the inexhaustible range of craft beers, the joys of semi-disorganized wine tasting (Floreat Eliot House Wine Society!), one of the most culinary life-changing experiences during my time in Cambridge might have been a series of bike rides down Huron Avenue to the renowned Formaggio Kitchen. Leading the way was my initiator into the world of MFK Fisher, IPAs, and ripe cheeses, one Zach A. We lock our bikes outside and enter a small storefront packed with all that is good in the world. A cheese and deli counter in the first room, stacked high with rounds and wedges, flags denoting age and provenance sticking out, almost grazing the bottoms of the whole hams and salamis hanging from the ceiling. Zach, having worked at a cheese counter back in Philly, took charge, speaking with the cheesemonger with authority, tasting, questioning, selecting the perfect cheeses for our needs. It was the first time I had seen such a thing. Sampling five cheeses to choose two? It seemed revolutionary. In return visits, Zach continued to be the vocal, knowledgeable interlocutor, but slowly, as with beer, wine, and ethnic food, I began to learn my tastes and the language necessary to convey those tastes to the person across the counter.

2. Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Chicago, IL ca. 2011

The year after college, living with three lovely ladies in a lovely lakeside neighborhood in Chicago. Local cheese counter only three short blocks away. Periods of employment, underemployment, unemployment, and overwork. Whether I was just looking to spend a few dollars on an afternoon treat or shopping for the perfect accompaniments to our midwestern iteration of Wine Society, the cheesemongers were always ready to find the right cheese. Not quite as overwhelming as Formaggio, the smaller scale of the counter meant that on a quiet Thursday afternoon I felt comfortable enough to ask a few questions, taste a few cheeses, and make a purchase. No stranger to budgets, these young mongers were always willing to cut me a tiny slice of an expensive cheese, and I grew to enjoy going in with a specific question. What will pair with the dry German wine I have in the fridge? What about my beet chutney? My enthusiasm for Pastoral was only briefly dimmed when I interviewed for a job as a cheese counter attendant and was rejected after a three-hour “stage,” including a pop quiz at the end in which I was expected to name and describe all of the cheeses I’d tasted. But in the end, every occasion was an occasion calling for cheese.

3. La Cave a Fromage, South Kensington, London, ca. 2012

My nine months in Europe was full of unforgettable cheese experiences. That fresh pecorino sandwich shared with two friends sitting in the stoop of a centuries-old house during the annual chestnut festival. I’ve been trying to relive that cheese for the two years since with no luck at all. Funky talleggio, heavenly burrata, creamy gorgonzola dolce, farmstead toma. Freshest mozzarella di buffala straight from Naples eaten with the greenest, zestiest olive oil from olives that only three days before I had stripped by hand from the laden branches of a gnarled tree. In South Kensington, I learned to ask my now-favorite question: what’s ripe? I confirmed a long-held suspicion that there are few cheeses that I will not eat with some gusto, and that true cheese connoisseurship can become a very expensive undertaking. I discovered that I relish a soft-ripened cheese right on the brink of spoilage, when the insides ooze slowly at cellar temperature and faster in a warm kitchen, eaten in (I imagine) a French style, daubed on an airy, crusty baguette. The cheesemonger knows which cheese is at its prime and which is about to pass it, and sometimes they’ll even cut you a deal on the very ripest. 

4. Rubiner’s Cheesemongers, Great Barrington, MA, ca. 2013

During my stint last season at Chubby Bunny, every other Friday was payday, which meant every other Friday involved a trip up to Great Barrington to deposit our paychecks and go out on the town. Sometimes this involved live music and a beer at the Gypsy Joynt, sometimes sourdough pizza and beer at Baba Louie’s, sometimes a quick pass through the co-op before heading back out of the Berkshires into the wilds of northwest Connecticut. When we got to town before six, that meant a duck into Rubiner’s before closing time. A smallish fancy shop in a partly-fancy smallish town, the visits to this cheese counter were less about the actual cheesemonger and more about the farmstead products for sale around the counter. Not that I was actually buying much (again, fancy store), but I was definitely taking mental notes. Cured Italian salamis the size of your thumb for $2 a pop - quick to cure, easy to sell at a farmers market! The rustic-chic aesthetic that accompanies a local artisan product for top-dollar. Rubiner’s offers a farmer discount, which is novel and much-appreciated, but more important for me than my meager purchases was the food for thought about my own potential approach to marketing my products. Can I sell a few things to rich people at justifiably high prices while growing the majority of my food for a local customer base at affordable prices? Every cheese counter, gourmet shop, co-op, and farmers market stand is now a study in image, aesthetics, labeling, and marketing. 

5. Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Ann Arbor, MI, ca. 2014

In my many trips back and forth across the eastern half of this expansive country, I’ve made it a habit to punctuate the drive with a few days in Ann Arbor, thanks to the presence of Bianca, almost-doctor, appreciative food audience, and official photographer. Each trip was marked with a visit to Zingerman’s to marvel at the selection, taste a few cheeses and make a small but delicious purchase. Now, as my winter in Ann Arbor comes to a close, it seemed only fitting to celebrate with cheese. So, on this cold but sunny Tuesday afternoon, we walked in with a mission, and the cheesemonger was happy to accept it. We wanted to have a great little (indoor) picnic for $30 or less, mostly cheese, a smidge of meat. “Are you in a hurry?” Asked a totally dedicated Ben. Over half an hour later we had sampled a handful of cheeses and narrowed it down to the perfect combination that combined my love for soft, gooey, or funky cheese with Bianca’s preference for hard, nutty, Alpine-style cheeses. He sliced us the most delicate of slices in keeping with our budget. We sampled olives, and took a bit of two different kinds. He tried to sell us cipollini in balsamic, but my homemade ones were better. I sampled cured ham, including a slice of Jamon Iberico that I believe is the closest to gustatory perfection anything has ever been. (Ben said when I finish my first permaculture prosciutto, I should bring some by for a tasting.) A thin-sliced paesano roll completed the spread, and when we went to pay, we discovered that we’d stuck exactly to our budget! $29.56, which delighted Ben just as much as it had us when we gave him one last good-bye on the way out the door. 

Today’s visit to Zingerman’s was everything one could want from a visit to a cheesemonger, and much more. He listened to our needs, assessed our divergent tastes, cut generous samples and watched for our eyes to light up as we tried each new cheese. He was enthusiastic in sharing his passion and knowledge, and seemed genuinely interested in hearing about my salumi experiences and farm dreams. He even deferred to a more experienced hand-slicer to ensure beautiful thin slices of country ham. How many times can you say you went shopping and came back elevated, inspired, satiated, and even surprised? I think it’s time for a trip to your local cheese counter, if you’re lucky enough to have one. 

How to Eat a Wolf

You can cope with economy for only so long. (“So long” is one of those ambiguous phrases. It means “so long as you do not feel sick at the sight of a pocketbook.”)
— M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook A Wolf (p. 191)

I’ve been walking around town for the past two months carrying the same half-read book in my purse, as if my hip could finish reading it through layers of canvas and denim. My inattention has much less to do with the quality of the writing than with my own inability to resist the temptation of other media when I have access to it. During my months living without constant internet access or phone/data service, I had little else to distract me from my ever-growing stack of books. Now, I have any number of unnamed video streaming services just waiting to show me who was funny last night on a talk show or how funny Shirley MacLaine was in that movie from fifty years ago. All this to say that I’ve been “reading” this essay collection for too long to call it reading, but I intend to finish it in time to write about it next week. In the meantime, I have a rumination on eating frugally partially by inspired by another work of M.F.K. Fisher’s called “How to Cook A Wolf.”

One my goals in Ann Arbor this winter has been to save some money, which on my income would be impossible if I chose to indulge in the fine cheeses and cured meats that abound in this city (see last blog post for a catalogue of temptations). I have a cupboard full of a myriad of beans and rices, but one can only survive so long on monotony. The combination of my self-inflicted culinary privation and my daily literary burden reminded me of Fisher’s always witty and insightful writing on living on a shoestring. She wrote “How to Cook a Wolf” as a guide for those trying to cook for themselves and their families during wartime rationing, but her prose remains hilarious and helpful to those living on a budget over seventy years later. For example, here’s another quote from the book, this one from the chapter entitled “How to Be Cheerful Through Starving:”

Of course, it takes a certain amount of native wit to cope gracefully with the problem of having the wolf camp with apparent permanency on your doorstep. That can be a wearing thing, and even the pretense of ignoring his presence has a kind of dangerous monotony to it. For the average wolf-dodger, good health is probably one of the most important foils. Nothing seems particularly grim if your head is clear and you teeth are clean . . . and your bowels function properly.
— M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf (p. 81)

I write now partly as a wolf-dodger, partly as an electively thrifty cook. With a hat tip to Ms. Fisher, I’d like to share a few tips on how I keep the wolf at bay and the money in the bank, kitchen-wise.

1. Screw recipes.

As a known hoarder of cookbooks, this statement might seem to be the height of hypocrisy, even heresy. Au contraire! Cookbooks make great leisure reading, and I often dream in recipes. But if I took those recipes to the grocery store, I’d blow my month of food money in a week! Following a recipe is an investment! You can’t buy a pinch of harissa or a half cup of almond meal, and two weeks later you’ll find the other half of that spaghetti squash mouldering in the recesses of your fridge. Nope, recipes are great for special occasions and idle aspiration, but to cook on the cheap, you have to learn how to cook ingredients. You don’t need a recipe to tell you how long to cook the dried lentils in your cupboard or even how much water to add! You just need a chart like this one stuck on your fridge. Print it or copy out the relevant information. This is the start of something delicious.

2. Put an egg on it.


I’ve been buying fresh eggs at the farmers market since I’ve been here in Ann Arbor. Once you start eating farm fresh eggs, the supermarket equivalent just can’t compare. They’re a splurge compared to the pale (literally) imitation available for half the price, but they’re a perfect food! Not only are they full of protein and other necessary things, but they make everything under them delicious. One of my favorite never-ending meals is grain + legume + roasted veggies + dark green with an egg on top. Here’s a version I made last week with stuff in my cupboard and at my farmers market: brown rice and lentils (cooked in beef bone stock, optional), swiss chard, and roasted delicata squash, carrots, and onions. You don’t need a recipe for this! What I do is make a big batch all at once, cooking the rice and the legume, then mixing them together with the previously washed and chopped greens, letting the heat of the rice cook the greens without extra heat from the stove. Then I’ll divide the mixture into individual servings, one for now and a few individually packaged for later. I’ll top each one with some of the roasted vegetables, and then I’m ready to put an egg on it! The perfect meal for well under a dollar per serving! 

3. Waste not want not.


So you bought a package of local artisan tortillas, and they’re getting a bit stale. You’ve only gone through half the bag! So make some tortilla chips. You’ve got an almost stale bagel - make some bagel chips. I made some bagel chips the other day, and then I wanted a dip to go with it. (When you give a mouse a cookie, after all...) So I looked in my pantry. Next thing I knew I was eating bagel chips with a dip containing white beans,  cipollini onions in balsamic, and fresh garlic. Delicious. 

4. DIY the easy stuff.


Popping your own popcorn is 1000% more fun and delicious than the microwave version, lots cheaper, and come in infinite flavors. Try popping corn in a wide variety of fats! Add spices! Add cheese! Make kettle corn! Never buy salad dressing. Good salad dressing just requires a mason jar plus stuff you have in your fridge and cupboard and takes less than a minute to make. All you need to remember is 3:1. Three parts oil to one part vinegar makes a simple vinaigrette. But you can also get creative. Yesterday I made a dressing for a bitter greens and apple salad with olive oil, rice vinegar, honey, coarse mustard, lemon juice, and salt. You just put whatever you want in a mason jar, shake vigorously to emulsify, and pour it over that salad!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of my thrifty kitchen habits, but I hope they’ve been just a fraction as diverting and instructive for you as Ms. Fisher’s were for me. Stay tuned for “How to Eat like a Worldly Peasant” at some future juncture, and I promise to eventually finish reading that book!

On Liberal Oases and Serving Foodies

For a bit longer than a month now, I've been living and working in the vibrant liberal oasis of Ann Arbor, Michigan. When deciding where to "winter," Michigan is not a state that springs to mind. In fact, if the CNN report that I saw out of the corner of my eye at the gym is to be believed, this winter has been the "most miserable" winter on record in Detroit. So why in the world have I found myself in the middle of a seemingly never-ending polar endurance test? Good question. Some especially frigid days, I wonder that myself. Most days, though, here's my short answer: I needed a place to pass the winter, and Ann Arbor is a liberal oases full of local food, great restaurants, a relatively low cost of living (relative to other places I was considering, not to the surrounding area), and coincidentally happens to contain one of my best friends.

The term liberal oasis is one that gets thrown around in regards to many midwestern college towns, but few earn the title the way that Ann Arbor does. Madison might be larger, but the sheer volume per capita of markers of progressive values here in Ann Arbor is staggering. Of course, world-class universities draw progressive employers, but a few dozen tech start-ups doesn't explain the level of foodie saturation in Ann Arbor. Besides a year-round farmers market and an old-fashioned food co-op, Ann Arbor boasts not one but TWO Whole Foods, at least three other natural foods stores, and the culinary juggernaut that is Zingerman's. Zingerman's "Community of Businesses" includes a world-renowned deli (read: cheese counter!!), bakery, creamery, and restaurants, among many others. Just like a great university, a great cheesemonger draws other ambitious food purveyors - an artisanal salmon smokehouse, a hot sauce maker, a tortilla factory, and of course lots of great breweries.

What this food paradise means for me is plenty of selection of great food, easy access to real farm eggs, lots of temptation for expensive fancy cheeses and cured meats, and a very discerning clientele. When I got my serving job at a local brunch institution with an emphasis on local, natural, and organic ingredients, I thought it was a great fit. Then the training started. That commitment to quality also extends to the waitstaff, who are expected to know the ingredients of all 100+ items on the menu, but also the provenance of all of the meat and other specialty items. Needless to say, the training was more intense - and more regimented - than for any other job I've ever had. Tests following every training shift on restaurant policy, salad ingredients, crepe garnishes, etc., led up to a massive test on the entire menu I had to pass before I could take tables by myself.

For all its culinary pleasures, Ann Arbor might be both the best and the worst place to be a server at a popular, upscale restaurant. Over and over again in our training, we are reminded that the customers at "Resto X" (name protected for no real reason that I can explain) are very discerning, and we need to know where we source the many special and artisan products on the menu. Notwithstanding the specialized menu, 2014 is already not the best time to be in food service - not only is gluten on the tip of the national tongue, but more and more people are reading trend pieces about farmed versus wild-caught salmon, nitrates in cured meats, and why your greens have to be organic. With the exception of the national gluten scourge (a topic for another day), I love that Americans are getting more interested in where their food comes from and how it's grown/raised. I think more people need to ask whether their beef has been injected with hormones, their corn is GMO, or their arugula is carrying pesticides, but while that might make it a better time to be a sustainable farmer, it does not make a server's job much easier. Now, not only do I have to memorize the hundred items on the menu, but I need to know which items have panko breadcrumbs mixed in and that no, we don't have a separate gluten-free fryer, but I also have to figure out whether each particular customer is a severe celiac (yes, I acknowledge there is such a thing) or just an avid follower of television doctors or supermarket tabloids.

Here in Ann Arbor, there's a bit more than the casual Dr. Oz watcher to contend with: the average consumer is not your average consumer. Sure, there are plenty of sorority girls who come looking for a good egg white omelette or a nice fluffy waffle, but there are many more Ann Arborites who want the cupping notes on the different single-source French press options. Serving a "foodie" is not necessarily worse than serving a civilian, but it certainly requires a bit more skill, either in sheer knowledge or in bullshitting agility, both of which I happen to possess when it comes to food. So during my brief stint here in this liberal culinary oasis, serving foodies may be my purgatory, but the attendant gastronomic pleasures just might make up for it.

Young Farmers Conference 2013

Last week found me in Tarrytown, NY for the Young Farmers Conference, an annual event for young and beginning farmers held at the Stone Barns Center, home of the famed Blue Hill restaurant. Because of the limitations of the facility, they have to restrict how many people come, so unlike MOSES last year with 3,000 participants, Stone Barns was at capacity with about 300. That means every year people get turned away from their lottery-based sign-ups and those who make it are super excited to be there. Instead of doing a full play-by-play of the whole event, I'm just going make a few lists here before posting some pictures. The whole 3 days was filled with new ideas, both from the workshops and presenters and from conversations with other participants. No doubt I'll be referring back to things that I encountered at YFC in future blog posts!

Workshops I Attended:

  • Sustainable Hog Production (full day seminar)
  • Why Every Farm Should Have a Sugaring Operation
  • Agroforestry
  • Beekeeping for Beginners
  • Electric Fencing
  • Welding
  • Whole Animal Butchery

With the exception of the full-day seminar, these workshops were each an hour and a half, which was time enough for an introduction to the topic, some specifics and Q&As, and a nudge in the right direction for more resources and information.

Speakers and Full-Conference Events:

  • Staged reading of the verbatim play "Farmscape" and Q&A with playwright
  • Krysta Harden, USDA Deputy Secretary
  • Wendell Berry in conversation with daughter Mary Berry
  • Chellie Pingree, congresswoman and farmer from Maine
  • Kathleen Merrigan, former USDA Deputy Secretary and person behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative
  • Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill
  • Cheryl Rogowski, amazing, socially-conscious farmer and MacArthur genius
  • Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, groundbreaking NY farmers
  • Social hour, barn dance, and lots of meal-time conversation over really good food

Fun facts, tidbits, things to think about from the conference:

  • From Tom Frantzen: while we may not agree with the methods used by industrial agriculture, we need to recognize that when it comes to efficiency and profitability, they do everything for a reason. When we prioritize humane treatment, quality of life and sustainability, we inherently make compromises in other areas. This is one of the "brutal facts" that we need to confront.
  • Pigs can be used to eradicate invasive species like multiflora rose!
  • The Practical Farmers of Iowa are doing amazing things and I need to spend a few days poking around that website.
  • You need to boil 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of maple syrup, which means that syrups is one of those crops that really needs a certain scale to be efficient. Small-scale aggregators who drive around buying raw sap from farmers and boiling it down using super-energy efficient burners is a solution to this problem.
  • Lacking this infrastructure, plain maple sap can also be a marketable commodity! Think of the popularity of coconut water and of local food - these combine perfectly in maple sap, which can be guzzled outright or used to brew coffee, make soda, cook, etc. Think of the possibilities!
  • To be considered Agroforestry, there need to be three levels of production. For example - canopy (trees/lumber/fruit), forages (grasses and legumes), animals (pigs, cows, bees, etc.)
  • A 1% increase in organic matter in topsoil sequesters an additional 10 tons of carbon per acre.
  • You can use a close-planted stand of evergreens like an overgrown/abandoned Christmas tree farm for an "outdoor living barn" to shelter cold-hardy cattle like Scottish Highlands during the winter.
  • Nurse bees, who take care of the eggs and larvae in the hive, are the youngest of worker bees and don't yet have stingers.
  • On each flight, a bee will keep collecting pollen from the same species as the first flower it encounters.
  • The pesticides that are thought to be a possible cause of colony collapse are fat soluble and may be stored in the wax (fat) in beehives, so using a method where the bees rebuild their wax from scratch every year, like top bar hives, might be effective in slowing the demise of the honeybee.
  • An electric fence is only as strong as its ground, which should be much bigger than you would think. The point is to be enough conductive metal in the ground to attract the current going through an animals nose and to the ground through its hooves to complete a circuit, which is what actually makes the shock.
  • You should always recharge deep-cycle batteries before they drop below 40% of their charge for maximum utility.
  • Never buy a used welder from a welding shop - they use them all day every day! Buy from a place where it gets more gentle/occasional use.
  • Having even a small welder means easy on-farm repairs and fabrication for tractors, greenhouses, etc!
  • Coppa is an alternative to prosciutto that still has beautiful marbling but due to its size only take a few months as opposed to over a year for a whole ham.
  • Finally, according to Wendell Berry, our generation will always be living on the "margins of a bad economy," which means that we're going to have to "learn to use the things that other people have given up on - including maybe land."

I'm off to the airport for a holiday visit to family in Argentina! More in the new year!



Farm Week: October 14-18, 2013

Another beautiful week in the valley here at Chubby Bunny. When we weren't harvesting, we planted garlic, tended to the winter greens in the hoophouse, and were all-around social butterflies. Because we're still putting off the first hard frost, we're getting a great pepper harvest still. Between peppers and the two stuffed meat freezers, I had an urge to make stuffed peppers. Rather than eat stuffed peppers all week, I made a bunch to share with my fellow apprentices on Tuesday night. I did have to cut them a little short to fit in my toaster oven, but they were delicious nonetheless. On Wednesday, we went to eat with the apprentices at the other farm in Falls Village. Thursday, we and the Hayhurst clan went to eat with Kay and Bill, the neighbors who went looking for young farmers ten years ago and found Dan and Tracy. Another lovely night in lovely company with delicious food.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, we had a double dose of farm fun on Saturday. First, we had a little party for the members - apple cider press, hay rides, fresh cider doughnuts, jams and charcuterie Tracy made with the odd bits - beef tongue, country pate, and chicken liver pate. We had members come up from our delivery sites in White Plains and southern Connecticut, and lots of people visited the farm for the first time. We made a bit of a dent in the over-full meat freezers, and kids and adults alike had a fun day on the farm. Afterwards, we had friends and family over to trailer-town for a bonfire "after-party." I brined a brisket this week for corned beef, which I slow-cooked all day in some homebrewed IPA with onions, garlic, turnips, and carrots. We had a great fire, complete with guitars, a fiddle, and a banjo. A little rain didn't dampen the party much, and the music continued with everyone crowded under my little trailer awning. Unfortunately, the full moon was a bit obscured by the rain-bearing clouds, but the night was certainly one to remember.

Thinking about: conference plans, road trip stamina, brine

Reading: Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness, another mystery novel, Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture

Eating: veggie dinners, salmon cakes, charcuterie, corned beef, stuffed peppers

Farm Week: October 7-11, 2013

Things are winding down a bit here at Chubby Bunny. We still have a few weeks left of CSA deliveries and pickups, but other than our normal harvests and deliveries we are starting to get to those "when we have time" types of jobs. This week we seeded a rye and vetch mix on the open parts of the field, around the crops we're still harvesting and even over some of the crops that will be in place through the winter. We hand broadcasted the seed, then used a shallow chisel plough to incorporate the seed on the empty fields. The mornings have been cold and foggy, but there have been a few days of beautiful weather, and the fall colors are hanging on for a little longer. We had our penultimate CRAFT visit this week, to a 400-acre farm further south in Connecticut that sells pick-your-own berries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and wine. It was a lovely farm, and the pumpkin season was in full swing. You can tell that they really know what their customers are looking for in a farm experience. The current farmers are the fifth and sixth generation on the land, and they've really done quite a bit to keep the farm relevant and financially successful. Even when you don't go into one of these visits very interested in that particular farm's specialties, you still end up being able to learn quite a bit.    

The big news this week was a visit from Maija, a good friend since high school. She's the first person from the "outside world" to come see me on the farm, and it was really fun to bring her around to see some of our local haunts. She worked with us on the farm for a few days, and her friend John, who has been farming up in Maine for the last few months, came down to join in the fun. Besides the show and tell aspect of having visitors, it was also nice to have an appreciative audience to cook for. As much as I enjoy cooking for myself and the occasional potluck, I really love cooking for other people, and it was nice to have hungry mouths to feed. Maija is leaving shortly for a yearlong stint in Melbourne, Australia, so it was nice to be able to spend some time together in person before she moves halfway around the world with two other of our friends from high school. I can't wait to hear all about their adventures!

Thinking about: old friends, new paths, holey wool socks

Reading: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, another mystery novel, Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness

Eating: beet tzatziki with homemade yogurt and mint; roasted garam masala delicata squash, carmelized fennel with kale and cumin pork patties; spinach, pepper, onion and cheddar fritatta; the first delicious taste of our milk- and grass-fed Jersey bull

Farm Week: September 2-6, 2013

Big week here on the farm, in some ways, and a very normal week in others. After a rainy start to the weeks, we had all the sunshine and breezes breezes you could want. It made for a nice week on the farm, and it was a week in which the inmates, so to speak, ran the asylum. Dan and Tracy took the kids on their annual trip to the Rhode Island shore, leaving us in charge of making sure everyone gets their vegetables. We had heard stories in which former groups of apprentices had spent the week throwing harvest bins at each other, so we were interested to see how the week was going to go. As it turned out, we weathered the week rather well. We finished the list of tasks that Dan left for us early in the week, and so we undertook a large project of our own accord: cleaning out and organizing the feed barn. It took us about a day, but the result was worth it. Three dump runs, a family of skunks, and a few sore backs later, we have a clean, tidy barn. Dan was certainly surprised upon his return, but now that we've proven ourselves capable and willing, there might be a few more barns to clean in our future.

Far from just refraining from bin-throwing, we shared a few delicious meals, even after spending all this time together. During the week, Lisa cooked us all pork chops from our dearly departed piggies, which was accompanied by some very buttery mashed potatoes (ours) and a bright salad (also ours). Besides condiments, it was a delicious dinner made entirely from Chubby Bunny bounty! It was also the very first time I've enjoyed a pork chop. I guess I've probably eaten a few pork chops in my life (before and after vegetarianism), but my tastes in meat have always run more towards the peasant end of the animal: cuts meant to add to stew, braised, pulled, jerked, or otherwise cooked low and slow (see last week's buried pork shoulder).

As if that wasn't enough deliciousness and excitement for one week, I also celebrated a birthday yesterday. While I spent the majority of the day knee-deep in chicken feathers (see picture below), I capped off a very full day with a delicious peach pie from Tracy, followed by a trip to the Falls Village Inn with the apprentices. In a stroke of birthday luck, the special was a duck dish, tied with prosciutto with my very favorite meatstuffs! Along with a few local beers, we all shared some delicious fried pickles, the duck, and a delicious beet and goat cheese salad. Between last weekend's ridiculous bonfire, the mid-week chops, and the birthday duck, it was really a culinary week to remember.

Coming up: I use some vacation days to take a long weekend in Burlington, VT and the Adirondacks!

Thinking about: timelines, personal motivation, vacation days

Reading: Michael Pollan's Second Nature, Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows

Eating: most delicious pork chops, duck with redcurrant sauce, fried onions and potatoes with freshest chicken liver, perfect eggs over easy