Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Gleaning - 12/20/12

My dad puts his “new” truck to good use. Yesterday morning, we climbed into the bright blue cab that still smells like grandpa’s cologne, and drove through the gently rolling, lush green hills of south Sebastopol. When we arrived in Valley Ford at the farm, the light was almost otherworldly, wind sighing through the open fields, signifying a coming storm. The first greeting I received at Nathan Boone’s First Light Farm was from this fine gentleman.

 Well, the first animate greeting – as we drove in, rows of kale, chard, and other hearty greens waved their leafy fingers in welcome. We’d be “gleaning” one of First Light Farm’s other crops, however. Gleaning is the second harvest, collecting still-bountiful crops that have small imperfections that render them unfit for restaurants and farmer’s markets. As we entered the rustic barn, a burlap-covered mountain of potatoes and an old-fashioned conveyor belt awaited our selection process. We sifted through sack after sack, selecting potatoes with minor bug damage, small splotches of green – I was struck by how much food was still left after the first pass, and how much we left behind.

And then, the truck came in. With 500 pounds of potatoes perched firmly in the truck bed, we wound our way along the back roads to Santa Rosa. Waves of nostalgia washed over me as we reached our final destination – Worth Our Weight, the culinary apprenticeship program that was the recipient of our delivery, is located at the outskirts of my Montgomery High School campus. Worth Our Weight is an apprenticeship program for at-risk kids, and diners at the culinary school’s one-room restaurant are not charged for their delicious meal – they choose an appropriate donation. The potatoes were going toward something different, though – for the past 23 years, Evelyn, the director of the culinary education program, has been cooking free Christmas meals for anyone that calls in and has the need. The potatoes – an estimated 300 pounds of starchy, unscathed flesh in the 500 pounds we brought over – would be transformed into the mashies on these wonderful plates. The farm, the smiles of the youth as they unloaded the heavy boxes from the truck bed, and the deep caring behind Evelyn’s charitable work put me in the holiday spirit. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Williams Meal - 12/14/12

I made a salad for the ages to send myself off on winter break and beyond. What started as a desperate "use everything in the refrigerator" concoction quickly morphed into a delicious salad-meal that rivaled the starter course at Elizabeth's in Pittsfield. Well, that's quite a lofty claim--but it was toothsome enough to garner my full attention as I eagerly consumed the enormous bowl before me.

Just for fun.. A recent grilled cheese
I'm not sure if the term "salad" appropriately encapsulates all the ingredients present in this leafy green mixture. A thinly sliced apple sat delicately atop fresh spinach, and atop the crunchy wedges I placed vibrant pickled onions made from the contents of my Mighty Food Farm vegetable CSA. Two types of squash also from the farm share were the next addition. Roasted until soft and fragrant a few days before, the butternut chunks and the scooped acorn clumps added a decadent sweetness to the melee. Thanks to the recommendation of my dear friend Annie, I have mastered the art of hard boiling eggs - I place the units in cold water on the stovetop and carefully monitor for the first indication of a boil, then quickly remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit for exactly 13 minutes with the lid firmly in place. If executed correctly, this method yields an egg whose pearly white flesh must be scooped out of the shell, the yolk mostly solidified but with a slight runny give - which I equate with molten gold - in the innermost core. I made two from Cricket Creek Farm for my salad. Finally, I added the remainder of my CSA cheese to the salad. The two variants were Maggie's Round, a hard cow's milk cheese that I cut into long rectangular pieces in order to emulate Elizabeth's masterful preparation. The other was Winter Harvest, a mild snow white cheese with the crumbly texture of feta, the outside always coated with flavorful spices and enticing combinations - this week it was curry powder and dry chili paste. The final product was a blissful conglomeration of sweet and savory earthy flavors, a gradient of textures. I tried to read the news while consuming this creation. but couldn't - reveling in the fresh bounty required my full attention.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Julie & Julia - 12/13/12

I am embarrassed to admit that had I been required to sign onto this site, I would have questioned my password choice. I'm also embarrassed to admit that it took watching Julie & Julia and doing poorly on an Economics exam to realize that this fall, I've lost sight of what makes me happy and what truly interests me.

"I think about food all day and then dream about it all night." This quote from last night's movie, along with many other psychotic foodie lines, stuck out to me because they do characterize my existence. An existence that has persisted all fall despite my best efforts to direct my interests elsewhere, and my failure to blog. I thought I'd provide a few snippets of my engagement with the food world these past few months - they are numerous indeed, although little photo documentation exists - for myself and for you readers (do you still exist?), a reaffirmation of how much I love doing this and a preview of what's to come over winter break and Winter Study.

Cal Ag WSP. I will be spending the month of January exploring California's agricultural network with a passionate professor and eight other enthusiastic Williams students. Through working on a CSA - what is there to be done during January? We'll find out.. - and helping with "lambing" season, exploring the craft of artisanal cheese making, and wine production - what would a Cal Ag survey be without a vineyard stop? - I anticipate piquing my neglected interests and laying claim to an interactive "field" experience. When internet connection permits, I will make scrupulous entries in my online journal.  Carefully constructed food pictures will be interspersed with an account of my month long affair with a state and and a topic about which I am deeply passionate. Stay tuned.

This fall has been an adventure in food. Left to my own devices, much time - which I presume I don't have - has been spent planning for and playing with the contents of my two CSAs. My share at Cricket Creek Farm is my first encounter with a dairy and meat variant. The set-up somehow makes me feel as if I have a more substantial stake in the farm - every Thursday, a trip out to idyllic Oblong Road enables me to select unlimited eggs, raw milk, and ground beef according to my weekly needs. This flexibility is dangerous for someone with my indecision and active imagination. The days preceding the pick-up, I find myself laying in bed, developing a detailed and delirious conception of how I will use the week's selection. A fresh loaf of bread and a combined pound of butter and cheese rounds out the farm share, and my partners in crime - my three close guy friends and I are a "family" - eagerly open the mini-fridges at the farm; will we select decadently creamy Berkshire Bloom, or hard and nutty Maggie's Round? The evening pick-up flows seamlessly into a customary grilled-cheese sandwich dinner. We split the loaf four ways, enticed by the sweet smell of fresh bread, and divide the cheese, nibbling gingerly at the "slivers" that just seem to keep separating from the solid wedge.
Three types of cheese in this one...
Today is Thursday, and this evening we will embark on the final Cricket Creek Farm trip of the semester. I anticipate the pungent scent of "cow" welcoming us as we make our way to the CSA room, shining like a beacon for us travelers.