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baked eggplant rolls with kale and goat cheese

It’s been quite the weekend here at Love Apple. Friday night Adam, Ross and I went to see the legendary George Clinton perform with Big Ol’ Nasty down at Moe’s Alley (funky would be an understatement, I believe) and Saturday morning I found myself strumming a ukulele on the beach playing Johnny Cash and Grateful Dead with 100 other ukulele players and one very enthusiastic leader with a tambourine. The experiences I’ve had in Santa Cruz so far have been varied to say the least, ranging from strolling the Arboretum with my grandfather to cheering on Candy Hooligan at the roller derby, but it’s nice to know I’m somewhere where ukulele players in birkenstocks and roller derby girls in hot pants can peacefully coexist.

Coexistence is something I’ve been thinking about often lately, because we’re all such different people here on the farm. Going to school in New York I was used to the idea of hanging around friends with backgrounds different from my own, but I felt it more poignantly sharing a beer at Moe’s Alley the other night with Adam and Ross—Adam, 29, a former kindergarten schoolteacher from Kentucky with wavy surfer hair, Ross, 21, a culinary school grad with a beard and the heaviest Boston accent I’ve ever heard, and me, 22, a girl from Southern California with South African parents and a freshly minted Ivy League degree. How we all ended up at a dive bar in Santa Cruz listening to funk music and dancing with transvestites on a Friday night is really something of a mystery.

In the end of the day though, we all love food. We come at it from different viewpoints, whether it’s Adam wanting to steer kindergartners away from obesity or Ross knowing the name and specialty of every chef in the restaurant world. Me, I just want to enjoy the intersection of food and friendship, making pancakes in the morning, cheese in the afternoon, and hearty baked vegetables at night. There are so many ways to look at food—as the key to a healthy life, as an art of indulgence, or as the simplest and best way to bring people together. The lessons I’ve learned about growing, cooking and eating food here on the farm are ones that transcend the breakfast or dinner table, because the more I think about it, the more I realize that how we look at food most often reflects how we look at life.

Baked Eggplant Rolls with Kale and Goat Cheese

1 log chevre

juice of 1 or 2 lemons

1 handful basil or mint, chopped

red pepper flakes

4 medium eggplants

several handfuls Toscano kale

1 jar tomato sauce

To make the goat cheese filling, mix the chevre with the lemon juice, chopped basil or mint, and red pepper flakes. Slice the eggplants lengthways into thin slices and saute in olive oil until soft and golden brown. Take a small spoonful of cheese and place it on one end of the eggplant slice, then roll the eggplant into a little cheese-filled tube. Spread tomato sauce on the bottom of a rectangular casserole dish and layer kale leaves on top, then line the eggplant rolls over the kale, filling the dish. Add another layer of sauce and kale, then any remaining eggplant slices and cheese, then more sauce and kale. Finish by sprinkling goat cheese or parmesan on top and baking in a 375 degree oven for half an hour, or until the cheese is toasty and the sides are bubbling. Serve with rice or a warm slice of crusty bread.

stas’ rainbow kimchi

I remember the very first time I saw Anastasia Van Wingerden. She was wearing a pale yellow dress and matching cardigan, both of which I instantly wanted. She had shoulder-length beach blond hair and a gap between her two front teeth, something I liked because I had a pronounced snaggle-tooth at the time. Best of all, she was smiling. It was my first day of fourth grade at a new school.

Thirteen years later she’s still my best friend and neighbor, and the one with whom I share many of my most vivid food memories. There was the time in junior high we tried improvising a smoothie in the blender, only to accidentally grind in the bottom half of a wooden spoon. There were the Amnesty International bake sales in high school, where she laughed at what I thought was superb donut salesmanship (“look at the sugar just oozing out of it!”). I’ll always remember her 19th birthday party, an event which featured a chocolate cake with an earthy  secret ingredient—beets. She was also the one who first got my family interested in keeping chickens, and I couldn’t help but think of the days of playing with “Stupy” and “Clinton Chick Chick” (he was quite the rooster) as I watched the turkeys her family breeds pecking about in their coop this weekend.

The Van Wingerden kitchen is one of those places I never want to leave, a haven of warm red tiles with handmade bowls of produce on every counter. I always make a beeline to “baked goods corner” (a spot my future kitchen will definitely have), then sneak bites of home-dried fruits or blistered almonds while munching my slice of chocolate chip cake or zucchini bread. I was, in fact, following that exact routine the other day when Stas showed me how to make kimchi, and in traditional Van Wingerden style there was a variety of veggies you generally only see on farms like the one I work on. Kale, carrots, zucchini, beets, green beans, onions, fennel… it all went into the pot, a cascade of color and texture that looked just as good a half hour later when it had been mixed by hand with salt and spices. I have a jar fermenting on my bureau, and when I taste it next week I know I’ll be back in that sunny kitchen with my friend, if only for a bite.

Stas’ Rainbow Kimchi

Kimchi may be an acquired taste, but if you like strong flavors it’s a delicious way to use and preserve vegetables. Not only do fermented foods aid digestion, but they are also full of probiotics that help build a strong immune system.

5 cups assorted vegetables

1/3 cup salt

spices (ginger, cumin, dill, juniper berries, celery seeds… the possibilities are endless!)

Chop your vegetables into small pieces and add them to a large pot or bowl (preferably ceramic, but not metal). Add the salt and use your hands to squeeze and press the veggies, gradually releasing their juices (the salt allows moisture to be more easily extracted). Add the spices and continue to work the vegetables by hand, squeezing until you have enough brine to cover them completely. This brine creates an anaerobic environment that prevents mold from entering, and you can add a little water if the juices from your veggies are not enough. Finish by using another, slightly smaller pot or bowl to press the veggie pieces down, keeping them submerged. Leave covered like this at room temperature to ferment for about a week, and put in the fridge only when you have achieved your desired flavor. (You can also put the kimchi into smaller containers like jars, turning and pressing down often to make sure the liquid continues to cover the pieces). If you like your kimchi less salty, give it a rinse before eating and enjoy!

shredded chard salad with hard boiled egg and walnuts

Summer has really hit its stride. It’s hot here now—so hot that the fog is gone by the time we start harvest at 7 a.m., hot enough that I have to drag the flimsy bags full of wilting supermarket produce into the shade to sort for composting (and if you know me, you know that any contact I have with rotting vegetables is kept to a minimum). The strange thing about realizing that summer is in full swing is that by the time you realize it, it’s invariably almost September. This time of year has always meant getting ready to go back to school, but now for the first time since I can remember the only significant change next month will bring will be closing up the chicken coop at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Still, it’s been a very memorable past few months, and in the tradition of list-making, here are a few things that will always remind me of summer 2011.

  • Dahlias. Those dahlia catalogs your aunt has where the flowers look as though they can’t possibly be real? They are.
  • Sowing mustards with Prince blasting from the garden stereo. (I may have missed out on Prince my first 22 years of life, but boy am I catching up now…)
  • Blackadder. My childhood love for Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean (“Birdie num-nums!”) has been very much revived.
  • Mixtapes from Chromemusic.
  • Two-Buck Chuck. After tasting all the lovely $1.99 varieties alongside weeknight meals, I can safely say the Cab and Pinot Grigio are my favorites. Really, he should be paying me by now.
  • Camping.
  • Zucchini cake. Zucchini gratin. Zucchini lasagna. Zucchini fritters. Zucchini sauté. Zucchini cookies… you get the idea.
  • Watering. Three hours a day of watering. (See “mixtapes from Chromemusic”).
  • People sharing a homemade meal. Every so often (ok, almost every day) I glance through the WordPress stats that tell me how people come across my blog, and my favorite was someone finding a photo of us having dinner at the table outside the cottage after searching “people sharing a homemade meal.” It really doesn’t get better than that.

 

Shredded Chard Salad with Hard Boiled Egg and Walnuts

1 large bunch chard (10-12 leaves)

4 eggs

walnuts

1/3 cup olive oil

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 Tbsp honey or jam

salt and pepper

Rinse the chard and remove the stalks by folding each leaf and slicing along the stem. Layer several leaves on top of each other and roll together, slicing the roll to create thin slivers. Toss the slivers together in a bowl.

To make perfect hard-boiled eggs, heat a saucepan of water to a gentle boil and slowly lower the eggs in. Cook for 11 minutes, then use a strainer to transfer the eggs from the boiling water into a bowl of ice water. Peel each egg under water, then set on a plate and mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Make your dressing by combining the balsamic, mustard, and honey or jam. Whisk in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Combine chard, eggs, and walnuts, then toss with dressing and serve.

chevre

I have a moldy wheel of cheese under my bed.

No, it’s not a long-forgotten midnight snack (although it wouldn’t be the first time). If all goes well, it will be the newest addition to my cheese-making arsenal: an aged, semi-hard Alpine cheese called a Tomme. Of course, by “if all goes well” I am referring to the problematic blossoms of gray-blue mold I found sprouting on my cheese yesterday when I pulled it out from underneath my bed/cheese cave. “Even if it’s covered in mold, in six months I’m still going to eat it,” I told a skeptical Ross and Zach as I scraped the offending rind. “I won’t pay your hospital bills” Ross muttered in reply.

Don’t be fooled—I haven’t turned into a cheese-making expert overnight. Though I proudly refer to the Tomme as “my cheese,” 90 percent of the work was actually done by our cheese-making instructor Fiona during the first ever Love Apple “Advanced Cheese-Making” class. I may not be able to mold and press my own hard cheese yet, but I’ve gotten very good at adopting leftover ingredients and demos from the cooking classes to play with on my own. In fact, just yesterday the Tomme was joined under the bed by a tray with eight cubes of Fiona’s feta that are about to be brined for four weeks.

Still, of all the things I’ve learned in Love Apple classes—from installing drip irrigation to brewing beer to making traditional French macarons—cheese-making is the thing I can see myself going on to do regularly. I’ve never been one to think of cooking as a science, but there’s something amazing about the fact that from the same four ingredients—milk, culture, rennet, and salt—can spring everything from a ricotta to a cheddar. It’s all in the process—making a chevre simply involves heating the milk and letting the culture do the rest, while most hard cheeses involve multiple preparatory steps and months of care. But what better way to spend a Monday morning than stirring a giant pot of warm milk and listening to New Order? With so many options I’m already looking forward to branching out–that is, if I can manage to prevent my Tomme from getting eaten alive by bacteria during the next six months.

Chevre

Making chevre is wonderfully easy when you have the ingredients: fresh milk and chevre culture (plus a good thermometer and cheesecloth) are really all you need. Certain brands of milk from the grocery store will work for cheese-making, and Fiona recommends looking for raw milk, or milk that has not been pasteurized and/or homogenized. That being said, finding a source of fresh goat milk can be challenging when you don’t live on a farm with goats (though you can order chevre culture from cheesemaking.com). Here is the basic recipe for making chevre at home if you want to give it a try!

1 gallon raw goat milk

1 packet chevre culture

salt

Make a water bath by filling a large pot 3/4 of the way with water and resting the pot your milk will go into inside (ideally the handles of the second pot will keep it suspended in the water). Add your milk to the second pot and warm to 86 degrees over medium heat, stirring occasionally and checking with a thermometer. When your milk reaches 86 degrees sprinkle the packet of chevre culture over the top, waiting two minutes for the culture to rehydrate. Stir for another minute or two, then set aside covered in a warm environment for 18-24 hours (we store the pot wrapped in towels).

At the end of the resting period, your curds should have risen to the top of the pot, floating in a disc on the whey. Using a perforated spoon, ladle the cheese into a cheesecloth-lined colander, then tie up the edges of the cheesecloth and hang for 4-6 hours (the longer the hang, the more crumbly the chevre). Take down your cheese and remove from the cheesecloth, stir in salt to taste, and enjoy!

garlic soup with sage and poached egg

I’m giving you advance warning: this is going to be another one of those “life philosophy” posts that I secretly planned on indulging in when I started this blog. One of the things I love most about working outside with my hands (ok, physical labor) is that it gives me ample time to let my mind wander, and as a former English major random acts of thinking are what I do best.

Of course there is such a thing as too much thinking. The times I’ve let my mind ramble a bit too freely I’ve either A) composed elaborately worded letters to boys who clearly didn’t like me anymore or B) come up with plotlines for truly original works of fiction (boy meets girl who tells him she’s a ghost come back to fall in love, but wait—she’s actually just delusional! Unfortunately I actually wrote that). Thinking is an art—no one wants to do a mental tally of the month’s finances, but take thirteen of an imagined conversation isn’t a good place to end up either (although that time, you really nailed the withering comeback). Overly pragmatic or dramatic thoughts keep you going in circles—reflection gets you somewhere much more interesting. Farming is work that gives you space to reflect, and that’s something I’ve discovered I really like.

Leaving home for New York my freshman year in college wasn’t the easiest thing, but I came out the other end having learned something that changed the way I looked at life. The lesson? Find the small things that consistently make you happy, then make sure they’re part of your life each day. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the middle of Oklahoma city or the rolling hills of Virginia—if I can go for a nice run in the morning and spend a couple hour in the kitchen cooking at night, I’ll be that much happier. Dramatically happier. I know it sounds simple, but it works. There are dozens of things that can change how you feel, but when I’m sad or lonely I just run, cook, and do crossword puzzles more.

And now I think I’ve found something to add to the list: work that gives you room to think. It’s something that farming and cooking share, and for me, space to think is space to write. Someone I believe understands this very well is the chef and writer David Tanis, whose new NYTimes column City Kitchen I stumbled across the other day after reading an interview on Eater. Smitten I decided to try one of his recipes, and this simple garlic soup caught my eye. As a meal it was perfect—just a few key ingredients that come together to make something flavorful and rewarding.

A little bit like life.

Garlic Soup with Sage and Poached Egg

From David Tanis’ City Kitchen

8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

6 sage leaves, sliced into thin strips

3-4 cups water

salt and pepper

egg

toasted slice of good bread

In a medium saucepan, heat garlic and sage over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add water before the garlic browns and simmer gently for 10 minutes to create a broth, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. When your 10 minutes is up crack an egg in the broth to poach for two minutes. Lay your slice of toasted bread in a shallow bowl and ladle the egg on top, and finish by pouring in the broth.

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