I’ve been on the farm for a week now, and there have been many exciting developments. I sowed my first seeds. I learned how to make vanilla apricot jam. I woke up to see a mouse clinging to the wall above my bed. And then, perhaps most exciting of all, at our weekly farm apprentices’ meeting I was designated chicken foreman.
Before you get too congratulatory, let me be clear: this wasn’t really a job anyone wanted. There are 62 chickens on the farm, and since we take turns collecting the eggs every afternoon the responsibilities of chicken foreman are generally limited to coercing someone into closing the coop after dark. Clambering blindly up the pasture at night where 62 chickens romp (and poop, prolifically) by day is not particularly fun, and when you reach the coop there is only a downhill slide (through the poop) to look forward to. Being a proponent of conflict avoidance by nature, I anticipate many dark nights of coop closing.
On the bright side, 62 chickens means 55 eggs a day, and if there’s one thing I never tire of eating it’s eggs. More specifically, fried eggs. Over the years I’ve come up with various ways to enjoy them–on toast spread with avocado, with pasta, alongside sautéed chard—but my absolute favorite invention is a fried egg on Irish oats. (As of now I’m still fairly certain it’s my invention, if only because everyone I tell about it recoils with what I interpret as skepticism). As simple as it is there’s something wonderfully satisfying about stirring the whole mess together, a perfect mix of hearty oats, creamy yolk, and crispy fried edges. I could eat it every day, and as chicken foreman I just might.
Irish Oats with Fried Egg and Salt
As with many things I enjoy, the key to making this delicious is salt. I like to sprinkle it over the egg while it’s frying, and I usually add a little extra when it’s all mixed together.
1/2 cup Irish oats
Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil and stir in the oats. Return to boiling before lowering the heat and simmering uncovered for about 10-15 minutes. While the oats are cooking add a generous amount of olive oil to a small pan and fry your egg, turning off the heat when the yolk is still runny but the edges have crisped nicely. When the oatmeal is thick and done pour it into a bowl. Top with your egg, sprinkle with salt, and mash everything together. You should end up with a bowl of creamy-looking oats flecked with bits of crispy egg.
Flipping through a food magazine in the kitchen last night I had a moment of self-discovery, handily delivered by a nifty magazine sidebar fact: “A new study shows there’s a genetic enzyme in saliva that makes some people more prone to craving soft-serve ice cream, pudding and other foods with similar textures.” Frozen yogurt? Definitely a fan. But what leads me to believe my textural cravings might be genetic is my unfailing love of rice pudding.
My family has always been skewed firmly towards the rice end of the rice/potatoes continuum. My grandparents’ table is never without a lidded glass dish of brown basmati, and after my parents received a Persian rice cooker 10 years ago a giant rice dome tinted yellow with saffron has graced the table at almost all our dinner parties. I personally encountered rice nirvana rather late in life, when I discovered sticky coconut rice at a Thai food joint on Amsterdam Avenue my sophomore year. The fact that I got serious food poisoning from the place and went on to make my version of coconut rice pudding every night for months is a testament to my love (and obsessive food tendencies).
Maybe it was the lone can of coconut milk on the dusty top shelf of our communal kitchen. Maybe it was the nine jars of goats’ milk filling the upper level of our fridge. Either way the end result was that a few nights ago I fired up the electric stove for a hybrid goats’ milk/coconut rice pudding, stirred lovingly for almost an hour and plied liberally with honey, cinnamon, and salt. We enjoyed it warm after a hearty dinner of chard and eggs (two other farm staples hogging the fridge), but I liked it even better the next day when, starving from a four-hour battle with waist-high foxtail weeds, I ate it straight from the refrigerated pan with the certainty that my DNA fully justified my behavior.
Coconut Rice Pudding with Cinnamon
The key to good coconut rice? Salt. A good rice pudding? Cinnamon. Use lots of both and the effect is magical. Also I tend to go with brown rice for a slightly healthier version, but whether you use brown or white keep in mind that shorter grains make for a stickier end result.
1 1/2 cups rice
1 oz can coconut milk
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp honey
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups of water with a 1/2 cup coconut milk. Cook your rice as directed, and when it’s barely done add the rest of the coconut milk and stir until thick and creamy. Add the milk in two or three doses, waiting each time until the liquid is fully absorbed and stirring regularly to prevent the bottom from sticking. Add the honey and taste for sweetness. Lastly season generously with cinnamon and salt before removing the saucepan from heat to cool and settle before serving (or diving in with a spoon).
Day one at the farm, and I’m standing in the empty kitchen where three hours earlier I watched Chef Kinch flip a perfect French omelet for 16 eager cooking class attendees. On my left Pim pulled a clafoutis from the oven, testing it with her finger for the desired spring of the top and, satisfied, whisking it onto the counter. As a class assistant I didn’t have long to watch—the mixing bowls were piling up—and it is with fingertips wrinkled from dish-washing that I write this post to welcome you to a journal of my time here learning, cooking, and eating at Love Apple Farm.
It’s now day three, and one afternoon of compost making, two clafoutis, and three goat milkings later the welcome I started to write two nights ago is finally ready to post. Last week I folded my J. Crew pencil skirts for storage and searched out the biggest sunhat I could find (the kind with an oh-so-attractive drawstring under the chin) and now I’m finally here, working as a farm apprentice. My duties range from watering seedlings with worm tea (don’t ask) to assisting in cooking classes with Manresa chef David Kinch and Pim of the lovely blog Chez Pim, and from the soil to the harvested leeks I’ll turn into potato leek soup tonight, it’s all about the journey from farm to food.
The clafoutis Pim made was a traditional clafoutis, which is always made with cherries—“Saying ‘cherry clafoutis’ is like saying ‘egg omelet!’” she reminded us cheerfully during class. I don’t have my own recipe just yet, but I do have a new fondness for the dessert, not only because it is light and delicious, but because it became something of a symbol of my first day. There was the clafoutis made for the students, of which I enjoyed a few quick bites while washing up. But hours later there was another one: baked in our apprentices’ cottage kitchen, doctored with fresh goat’s milk, and placed on a kitchen table laden with lemon bars, a buttery onion tart, and a batch of homemade fried chicken and gravy. I felt entirely at home, and as we ate our dessert warm from the oven I’d already forgotten it was only my first day.