Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Final harvest at 1343

It was sad to have to pull up the giant cucumber vines and two-foot-tall flowering okra shrubs in the garden earlier today, but what is a renter to do when the house she's been living in goes on the market?

Earlier today as I uprooted and composted a gardenful of plants at the height of their productivity, I harvested, discovering a few slightly overripe cukes and a rather large zucchini hidden under elephant-ear-sized leaves. So there's that. And I'm looking forward to trying my hand at some feta-stuffed, pan-fried squash blossoms at Meredyth and Greg's place, where I'll be staying for the next couple of weeks til I move into my new place.

It's the little things that we gardeners celebrate, and this final harvest is one such thing:


I was tempted to leave the thriving plants they were, but who knows if the people who will be moving in this fall will even want a garden. Though the soil has been improving over the past handful of years' diligent weeding and composting, maybe the new folks will use the back area for a parking spot for their SUV. It could happen. I try not to think about it too much, and comfort myself with the reminder that many of the herbs are in pots and the mushroom logs are transportable. (I also recognize that it's the ideal time for my landlady to sell, as home values in my neighborhood have skyrocketed in recent years. No harm, no foul.)

However, I wish I'd known before the springtime transplanting of heirloom plants Kenton and I started from seed that I would not be there to revel in the bountiful harvest come late summer. Then again, knowing me I probably would have planted them anyway. Oh, to witness the beautiful, purple and cream colored okra blooms unfurl in the late morning as I sipped my morning tea, even if only for a few weeks, was worth the pain of having to uproot them prematurely. (What, was that too dramatic? Try reading Michael Pollan's Second Nature. My ode to okra is comparatively subdued.)

After the better part of six years cooking and gardening in the formerly dicey and now unequivocally hip Columbia Heights neighborhood, it's time to move on to the next backyard plot about a mile and a half down the road. I may or may not have left the strawberry plot and the raspberry bush for the new owners....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gaining Ground

I ran into my friend Forrest again at tonight's Eat Local First Week kickoff event. It reminded me that I have yet to write a proper review of his wonderful book, which I devoured over two months ago. And I call myself a friend... And a lover of good writing... Here it is (na endlich!):

"[My father] looked at me as though I had just told him I wanted to push helpless old ladies down long flights of stairs."

A handful of pages into Chapter One, Forrest describes the day he told his parents he wanted to quit his teacher training and become a farmer. "Farming? Are you kidding me? You don't even know how to grow a turnip!" He could well have described my own dad's reaction the day I told my own parents I was going to bike around the country by myself. ("Biking? Around the country? But why? You don't even ride a bike!") It is one of a number of instances with which I suspect many of his readers (and if you are not yet one of these readers, you should be) can identify. It is a book written for dreamers and doers alike, a story of passion and determination and deep love for land and family.

I can't help but laugh out loud at the hilarious turns of phrase throughout, the way this up-and-coming author finds humor and chooses to learn from things that could easily make a lesser man (or woman) throw in the towel. Freshly repaired fences knocked down by 1500-pound cattle again? "I can honestly credit cow butts for helping me to become the carpenter that I am today." Time and again, the newbie farmer gets knocked down and gets up again, wiser each time, and now it's been about 17 years since he went into farming -- still a young farmer by many standards, but a good one and among the most eloquent and thoughtful ones I know.

So much of what I love about this book is the way that anyone -- no matter what their background -- can identify with moments of frustration at ridiculous situations (such as the early attempts at constructing and moving chicken tractors or building cow fences) as well as those moments of giddiness at small but important victories (a slow and steadily growing customer base, financial solvency at last). Lord knows his recounting of the abysmal early days at farmers' markets is encouraging for me amid the slowly growing Suitland market that is absorbing more than its fair share of my waking (and supposedly sleeping) hours. If we pay attention and put our hearts into it and work hard, things will fall into place. Despite many bittersweet moments along the way, Forrest tale of reclaiming the family farm has a happy ending. It gives me hope for what many of my other friends venturing into rural and urban sustainable farming are trying to do: fix our food system one farm, one community, at a time.

At the end of his book, as at the end of his presentation at tonight's Eat Local First event, Forrest gives us hope for the next generation of farmers, if we are brave and determined enough to show them that farming can be a noble and viable profession: "Potential. Respect. The sweet simplicity of toil, the satisfaction of working in harmony with the land. Bounty, and the grateful reward of harvest. These phenomena are both timeless and contemporary, deeply and constantly present. Over the course of a lifetime, farmers grow straight out of the soil, wizening into abstractions of their former selves[...] Somewhere, another farm awaits its farmer."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sour Cherry Jubilee

I love sour cherries. Which is funny, since I don't much care for cherry pie or cherry preserves -- the two most common ends that sour cherries are known to meet. My sour cherries, like scrumptious, glistening jewels, are destined for greater things than pie.

Most recently, shrubs -- just before booting up the laptop I whipped up a batch with said cherries + brown sugar + apple cider vinegar that will ferment into mouth-watering deliciousness over the coming days -- but last night might have been the creme de la creme of sour cherry usage thus far. I'm talkin' scones. And not just any scones. The kind one's boyfriend writes specifically to thank one for the next day. And I quote: "My goodness these are some fine scones. Love that they are soft. And the cherries and walnuts make a fine pair." Just a little something I whipped up for dessert while I drafted the weekly newsletter for the Suitland farmers' market at 10:30 at night....

I wish I could claim that it was my original recipe, but it's not. My cousin Sonia has been raving about the cooking blog Chocolate and Zucchini for years. Last night, I tried yet another winning recipe -- slightly adapted to accommodate the quart of sour cherries I'd picked up at the 14&U farmers' market last weekend. And with some lemon zest. And vanilla. And, okay, maybe it's kind of a new recipe after all, but it was inspired by the C&Z blog.

Sour Cherry and Walnut Scones
  • 1 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 TBSP butter, chilled
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 TBSP whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • a handful of chopped walnuts
  • ¼-½ cup sour cherries, pits removed

DirectionsPreheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Dice the butter and blend it into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter, until no visible lump of butter remains.

Add the yogurt, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix in the nuts and cherries. Use your hands to quickly blend them in until the dough forms a ball. Handle the dough as lightly as you can. (Avoid over-mixing, or the scones will become tough!)

On a floured surface, pat the dough into a flattish round, about 1-inch thick. Cut into eight wedges with a knife or a pastry cutter.

Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet, giving them a little space to expand. Bake for 15 minutes (or longer, if your oven stinks like mine does), until the top of the scones is set and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

What's that you say? Why, yes, I do frequent a number of farmers' markets these days. Between working with various markets in the area and teaching cooking at a middle school summer camp, I seem to have fallen way behind on blogging in recent weeks. So much for summer being the slow season.

Thanks for coming back to see me, dear readers, and please accept this stellar scone recipe as a sign that I have not forgotten you. You may forget all about me when you're lost in the bliss of eating all eight of them yourself. Yes, you'd better make a double batch.