Thursday, September 24, 2009

Farewell Summer Squash

It's amazing to watch the cycles of harvest throughout a season. What was once abundant, everywhere you looked, and couldn't seem to get rid of, is now waning and will soon be gone until next year. Take summer squash for instance. When it was at it's peak there was a small city of crates of squash filling up the cooler, for several weeks even. We spent many hours loading and unloading it, sorting it, and sending a criminal amount to the chickens or the compost. At times it seemed like squash that left the farm for market over the weekends just took a tour of the city and came back. Restaurants ordered a few bushels here and there but certainly not enough to make a dent in the supply. Squash was a CSA regular for weeks and sometimes members even received 2 or 3 pounds of it. Our field manager Khaled would joke that we should give a crate to every member (and there were times we almost could!). I definitely ate more squash in one season than I ever have in my life.

Now that summer squash is on it's way out, we are unable even to fulfill all our orders for it. Everyone seems to want some all of the sudden. Today I packed more orders of squash than at any time while it was peaking out a few weeks ago. Perhaps it's the taking over of the winter squashes that have folks scrambling for that last bit of summer, or perhaps I didn't notice as much before because whatever amount left the farm, there was always more left behind.

Caramelized Summer Squash and Basil
This super simple dish I prepared many times this summer with variations. Heat a pan, toss in a generous amount of butter, add thinly sliced onion and burn a little, then add thinly sliced squash and keep the heat at a medium high. Let the squash brown before you turn it and keep rotating the pieces until they all get nicely browned a bit. Just before it's done add some basil, I like it chiffonaded, sliced in thin ribbons. Salt and pepper to taste. Delicious!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall and Wine Weekend

Things on the farm have normalized a bit since we finally got together a new crew that is so far so good. We've got two guys from the city, Shawn and Tagyur; and two local guys Leo and Will. It's a good team with very different characters and personalities, which makes for an interesting work day. Hopefully everyone will hang around for the rest of the season. They are all hardworking and appreciate the food aspect of the job, which is a definite plus.

It's full on fall upstate and we had our first frost over the weekend. It's interesting to see the cycles of nature at work here. Vegetables that were abundant in the spring, such as lettuces and other delicate greens, seem to be getting a second life, while other summer varieties are giving way to their winter cousins. Fall squashes have just come in, beans are prolific, and the hearty winter greens are thoroughly enjoying the cooler weather. We've piles of storage veggies such as onions and potatoes taking over our cooler space. I notice aside from the greens, that cold hearty veggies are heavier than their heat lovin' relatives. Leaves are already changing color and I predict that by the end of this week, the scenery up here is going to become one giant explosion of ostentatious show offery. I can't wait!

I have been spending the past two weekends visiting Ithaca and have had the opportunity to meet some very wonderful people, drink great wine, eat well and just enjoy being upstate. Some highlights were visiting the Ithaca Farmer's Market, which is a wonderful community space for excellent local produce, artisinal cheeses and breads, prepared foods, wines, arts and crafts, and other regional specialties. It is located right on the south end of Cayuga Lake with a small dock where you can hop on a boat for a quick tour of the lake. I was also shown the Ithaca Brewery where you can hang out and taste their selection of beers, that was a little too enjoyable!
These past two weekends I've also been checking out some of the vineyards in the Finger Lakes region, which is only an hour and a half from Norwich, and discovering the wonderful wines the region produces. White varietals dominate here and there are wonderful Rieslings, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and a surprising range of flavors from the Gewurstaminer, as well as local varieties such as Cayuga and Vidal. The Finger Lake wineries also produce a wonderful selection of dessert wines that are pretty much honey ambrosia in a glass...yummmmm. Some reds grown in the region are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. I only had the opportunity to visit a few wineries since there are only so many hours in a day and so much wine you can drink in those waking hours. A few that really impressed me are: Sheldrake, which had the best Riesling ice wine that was spectacular; Red Newt who had the best reserve reds hands down; Damiani who also had some tasty reds including a very well priced table wine; Standing Stone, who also produced wonderful Ice wine and an impressive Riesling. There are over 50 wineries in the entire Finger Lakes region and I highly recommend a visit to the area. The views of the country around Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are stunning. The wine trails are well marked, easy to find, and the wineries are staffed with very friendly and knowledgeable staff. I would love to spend an entire week up here enjoying the scenery, the wines and quaint farm stands and specialty shops scattered in the area. There are also many restaurants in the area, which I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try--too busy tasting wine! I've been to the vineyards out on Long Island and also in the Hudson River Valley region but the Finger Lakes win out by a long shot. Okay, so there's my Finger Lakes plug.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ugly but Tasty

I had a lovely weekend couchsurfing in Ithaca. The highlights include: cooking my butt off in my hosts' kitchen; meeting three very cool and fabulous young women; checking out some of the Cayuga Wine trail and sampling some delicious wines; and relaxing! Ithaca is only an hour and a half from Norwich but quite a different world. It's a wonderfully progressive and artsy town with the Fingerlakes wineries a stone's throw away.

I returned a bit early to Norwich so I can prepare some meals for the coming week and to take some pictures on the farm, which if you have been following this blog, will notice are conspicuously missing!

Let me focus on food and more on the farm and livestock later.

The past few meals have not been very good looking but if you can get past the appearance, I assure you they have been tasty regardless.

Cauliflower with Indian Spices
I noticed my host Hannah had some tumeric and other Indian spices in her kitchen so I made some cauliflower in a style learned from my trip to India. Heat up oil and throw in some tumeric and let it cook a bit. Add finely chopped red onions and then tomatoes. There was no chili powder so I sliced a few fresh chilis which added a nice heat. Let it cook down for some time and then add the cauliflower with some ground cumin and coriander. I usually toast the seeds whole and grind but previously ground is fine. Cover and let it simmer until soft.

Fresh Cannelini Bean dip

This was the first time I got to use fresh Cannelini beans, very exciting! Shelling the beans was a pain but my ipod cranking house music was very helpful. The beans are quite beautiful and the nice thing about fresh beans is that they cook much faster than dried. I sauteed some thinly sliced leeks and finely chopped carrots in lots of olive oil, then added the beans covered with water one inch above the beans. Let this cook until the beans are soft and then add salt, pepper, and a generous amount of fresh thyme, I'm sure dried would work just as well. Smash the beans with the back of your spoon, and top with more olive oil before serving. This is a great dish for sharing and picnics.

Chicken Vegetable Soup
I used chicken back from our lovely broilers for the broth since they are very meaty and bony at the same time, good combination for soup. The rest is a standard veggie stock: onion, carrot, celery. I added tomatoes cause I like the tartness it adds and I just happened to have a bunch of busted wonderful heirlooms that I really wanted to use. I let it all cook without a cover for close to an hour and a half, skimming the foam occasionally. This is a good time to add some herbs if you have them. Take out the chicken and remove the meaty bits. This is my lunch for the week.

Corn Soup with Stock and Peanut Sauce
I tried to take a photo but it came out very blurry. I basically sauteed some onions and scraped corn off the cob. I added some broth from the chicken soup and added some peanut butter sauce I had. It was an experiment and I think it tastes great, sweet and earthy. I'll serve this with fresh lime to brighten up the flavor.

Heirloom Tomato Sauce
I love the orange heirloom tomatoes! I have discovered that they make excellent sauce. First of all, their color is simply gorgeous. They are less acidic and more dense with less water than other heirloom varieties and they have minimal seeds that are very tiny. The tomatoes I had were also very ripe so the skin came off very easily even before cooking. I usually chop them in huge chunks and mash them when they start cooking down. I first slice some garlic and cook in lots of olive oil until fragrant and then throw in the tomatoes, simmer until saucy. This will be savored with pasta or a pizza if I feel ambitious later this week.

Ma's Salsa
Is it obvious yet that we're inundated with tomatoes? Just a few weeks ago I canned a bunch but there is still much more. Just when you think you can't eat any more tomatoes, there is always another recipe you can use them in. I almost forgot about my most famous salsa. Heirloom tomatoes bring the salsa to another level of scrumptiousness. I don't know all the fancy names of the varieties but this one has a tinge of purple in it. They have nice acidity and are very juicy. I usually drain the salsa with a slotted spoon and reserve the liquid for drinking. Great chaser for tequila shots. But alas, no alcohol in this household! Chop up tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, garlic, fresh chilis to your desired heat, add salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. You will never go back to store bought salsa!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Bear with me as I try to catch up. Although the past few weeks have been too busy to prepare any meals, I did have a few days here and there over the past month to cook it up a bit. So this entry is all about the FOOD!

Asian Dinner: Scallion Pancake with Spicy Eggplant and Coconut Corn Soup
This was one of the first corn of the season. It's sweet but not cloyingly sugary like some new hybrids. More "corny" flavor if you catch my meaning. Don't know how else to describe it. I prepared one of my favorite corn dishes: Coconut corn soup with chilis, topped off with a squish of lime juice. Sautee some onion, throw in some corn scraped off the cob and let it cook. Add coconut milk and some water if it's too thick, and some thinly sliced fresh chilis. Fresh cilantro on top with the lime juice seals the deal, but I didn't have any that day. The gorgeous eggplant is of the Asian variety which I prefer since there's no bitterness, the skin is very thin so you don't have to peel it, and it's so yummy. I sauteed the eggplant with garlic, sliced chilis and soy sauce for seasoning. Eggplant does not have a lot of liquid in it so you may have to add some water to keep it moist while cooking. Now ever since I laid eyes on these wonderful spring onions, all I could think about was scallion pancakes. I finally had the time to make them and boy were they tasty! The dough is simply flour and warm water. Let it sit for a bit and chop up the scallions on a slant so they are long and fine. Roll out the dough into a flat round and oil the surface, sprinkle with salt and scallions. To get the layers, you have to roll the dough into a cigar and coil it into a tire shape. Then you roll it out and pan fry it. Let it get brown and crispy. I made a scallion and ginger dip with a bit of soy sauce, rice vinegar and water. This was a great meal!

Summer Pasta
August was squash overload so let's just say I ate a whole lot of it. We produce so many different and interesting shapes and varieties. This is one simple and very quick prep. Olive oil, butter, fresh sage, and summer veggies tossed together.


Late August, early fall is the best time for this dish. All the ingredients are ripe at the same time: eggplant, peppers, onions, tomato, basil. Just throw it all into a pot and let it cook slowly for about an hour until all the veggies are tender but not mushed.

Haifa's Eggs
I modified her recipe a bit to include some garlic cause I love garlic with eggs, and some sliced chilis for a little kick. Sautee chopped onions and Swiss chard stems until the chard is soft. Add scrambled eggs and make an omelet. The farm produces some of the most stunning Swiss chard in a rainbow of colors. I discovered this summer that the stems are more enjoyable than the leaves. They have a rich, deep flavor when you cook them up and I've been eating copious amounts of chard all season.

Beet Showdown
When people tell me they don't like beets I know immediately that they are speaking of the pathetic canned variety. It's amazing how many have never had a well cooked beet. The farm produces 5 varieties: red, white, orange, cioggia and forono. I decided to have a taste off to experience the difference between the varieties and pick my favorite. I compared the cioggia, white and orange in this test. The results: orange are the sweetest hands down, it was like candy; cioggia is also very sweet but with an almost minty flavor and very strong "beet" finish; the white is sweet and has a very chestnutty flavor. All the beets were delicious and I ate them undressed and enjoyed them immensely.

Zaid grows some of the most amazing tasting tomatoes, I daresay, in the state. So many different heirloom varieties in all shapes, sizes and colors, as well as standard hybrids. Caprese is one of my best loved dishes for its quick prep and deliciousness. Homemade mozzarella is best and high quality olive oil. I drizzled just a touch of aged balsamic which took it over the top!

Poached Plums
These were extra plums from another farm left over from the CSA fruit share. I poached them in a sugar water bath with a cinnamon stick and some sliced ginger. Remove plums from hot liquid once they're soft (they can be easily skinned) and reduce the liquid to a nice sauce. These were gobbled up 2 days later on top of vanilla ice cream, scrumptious!

Colorful Trio: Corn and Tomato, Swiss chard with bacon, Spicy Red Cabbage Slaw
I just love colorful food. I believe a meal should be balanced not only in flavors and texture but also in color. The cabbage in particular is just the most gorgeous shade of purple. Sliced thinly, and tossed with sliced chilis, lemon juice, scallion, and olive oil. Corn and tomatoes go really well together. I start this dish with sauteed onions and add the corn, some sliced squash and chopped tomatoes at the very end. I like the tomatoes fresh. Bacon and Swiss chard is a winning combo. Cook bacon and throw in chopped stems and finally the greens. Yes, that simple.


Throughout the season there are always moments of overabundance. A simple way to preserve some of that overflow is by pickling. What I mean by pickling is fermenting. Here are a few pickles I've been making: Onion and chilis in soysauce; kimchee scallions; chili with carrot and onions in brine; napa cabbage with chili and napa cabbage with tumeric and brown mustard seed. These pickles should all be ready to eat within the next few weeks. The best part of making pickles is the anticipation of your creation after maturation (couldn't help the alliteration).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

August and now

Wow! It's been over a month since my last post?!! Well, this entry will be a long one to make up for all that lost time. So much has transpired in the last month, much of which accounts for the weeks of missing content.

Where do I begin? The season peaked out in August with cucumbers, and squash coming out of every pore of the farm. Add to that, wonderful heirloom tomatoes that were fortunately saved from the evil blight that plagued many a Northeast farmer this season. The first half of August remained relentlessly wet and muddy, then transformed into weeks of gorgeous hot, sun shiny days that forced everything into maturity at the same time. The harvests were bountiful and stunningly colorful.

The bad news was, in the midst of all this abundance, the staff of three workers in "the shed" where we receive and process all the produce, walked out one cloudy afternoon, never to return. Let me give a bit of background and then an explanation.

The workers on the farm consist of just a few hands, amazing for the amount of food we produce and process. There are 7 H2A (temporary from overseas)workers from Egypt who have been working the farm tirelessly for the past two seasons. They are incredibly hard working and expert farmers who do all the planting, tending and harvesting for the entire farm. Then there are the local guys; Ron the handy man extraordinaire, Andrew the livestock expert, Mark the driver and do it all guy, Dag my partner in crime, who is the other eye and ear of the shed, and Chris who comes occasionally to lend a helping hand and drive the truck. In addition, I worked directly in the shed with two Tibetan workers from the city; Dhargay and Sonom.

Over the summer we also had two more hands; Abdo, the son of the farm owners, and Shams, the son of the other partner of the farm. They both left in early August to resume school and enjoy what was left of their working summer.

Once the 2 boys left, another young Tibetan worker named Chosan came up from the city to join the crew. SO here I was left with three Tibetan workers and I noticed a change in their attitude right away and the air in the shed became thick with bad vibes and disrespectful attitudes, directed at yours truly. In case you haven't noticed from all the name tossing, I am the only female working in the shed. When I first joined the crew I knew immediately that I had disturbed the lion's den and that my presence had shaken up the testosterone laden atmosphere enough to elicit some resentment amongst members of the den. It wasn't until later that I also learned that political influence played part in the way I was viewed in the eyes of the Tibetan workers, myself being of Chinese descent. To make a long story short, things finally came to a head after two weeks with the Tibetan crew. One day an argument arose out of the thickness and the three make a collective decision to walk out and headed straight to the first bus out of the city, which they did with incredible speed.

I was left in the shed surrounded by crates of freshly harvested produce and resumed my work. I felt a great tension lifted and happier than I had in weeks. After a few phone calls, Dag and some other local folks came to the rescue and we made do with a makeshift crew for the next few days. Zaid was recruiting staff from the city, mostly newly arrived Egyptians who had no idea what they in for. After two weeks of such workers, we finally got together a somewhat solid (I hope) crew in the shed to get us through the season. There are only a few weeks left of the season and I pray we get through it smoothly.

It has been a rough few weeks working extremely long shifts in the shed and dealing with all kinds of mini crisis that are just part of the day to day workings of a farm. I will save my reflections for another time, for now I will just stick to the facts.

I've had many dinnerless work nights since I usually get home too late eat or prepare anything for that matter. It has become a cycle of very hard work for four days straight and very hard rest and play for the three I have off. Those days off have been spent back in the city with family and friends, mostly cooking and eating. I don't mind the hard work and long hours, the toughest thing for me this season has been eating alone and not having time to cook. Hopefully the new staff will work out and in the very least there will be time to prepare some of the wonderful food the farm has been producing. It's frustrating to be surrounded by all the fabulous produce and not have time to prepare any of it. As I handle the vegetables I can only dream of the wonderful dishes I could make if I had time...

As soon as September arrived I noticed an immediate change in temperature, almost overnight. The nights have been cold and mornings are so covered in mist you can watch it literally rising as the sun begins to warm the day. It's a beautiful sight as the mountains are slowly unveiled as the mist whorls briskly skyward.

We are now slowing production although colder weather veggies will start rolling in. The melons this season have been spectacularly fragrant and sweet; so many varieties and subtle flavors. The winter squashes will slowly replace the summer varieties and lettuces are returning with a vengeance.

The cycles of the season have been a joy to witness. I can honestly say, despite the tons of vegetables I have had to move, wash, pack, weigh, count, bunch and send, I have not tired one bit of admiring the gifts of the amazing botanical world that nourish us. In fact, it has only magnified my gratitude that we should be so lucky to be fueled by plants as a life preserving necessity. It makes me happy to eat.