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kale slaw with avocado and almonds

The battle with our raccoons rages on.

I call them “our raccoons” because while I rarely see them staging their attacks, I know their faces from the grainy images my grandparents captured a few months ago with a borrowed night vision camera. There they sat on the back porch, happily munching pellets of dog food after dipping them to soften in Bella the Great Dane’s water bowl. Their most recent offense hit closer to home: having discovered our vegetable garden, they quickly made their mark with paw prints trampling through the onions and mounds of freshly dug earth burying the baby chard I planted just last week. Complaining of their furry wiles to friends from the East Coast, I quickly discovered that my relationship with raccoons was analogous to theirs with deer: one girl’s cuddly critter is another girl’s nemesis.

I’d been warned about their cleverness, but our resident bandits are far craftier than I imagined. The most memorable transgression took place years ago, when my parents purchased a dozen goldfish for a shallow stone pond in the garden. Our vision of a serene little ecosystem complete with lilies was thwarted a few mornings after, when we discovered all the fish had mysteriously disappeared. Not to be deterred, my grandfather constructed a preventative mesh covering, screwing it into the sides of the pond just beneath the water to protect our fish from prying paws. I’d like to end the story there, but several mornings later we surveyed the wreckage of our new system, the mesh skillfully pushed to the bottom of the pond in an attempt to squeeze the fish through. A few days later the lilies were gone.

Since I left the farm in December I haven’t been the most consistent gardener, but I like to consider myself a stalwart defender of the kale. Up to now all this has entailed is rubbing aphids off leaves and harvesting responsibly, but should it be called for I’ll be out there in the dead of night, clanging my pots at raccoons on the rampage and hoping for that one elusive victory.

Kale Slaw with Avocado and Almonds

1 bunch kale (Toscano kale or the young, tender leaves of almost any variety work best)

half a green cabbage

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. mustard

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

olive oil

1 avocado

handful roasted almonds, roughly chopped

Stack the kale leaves in a tight bunch and slice into thin shreds, starting with the tops. Slice the half cabbage into shreds and toss bit by bit with the kale, adding until the amounts of kale and cabbage are roughly equal.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust to your preference, adding more honey for sweetness or more mustard for increased zing. Add oil bit by bit as you whisk until the dressing thickens. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Pit and cut the avocado into quarters, then slice into small pieces and toss with the salad (the avocado should blend with the dressing, making the slaw creamy). Top salad with chopped almonds and serve.

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.

sautéed zucchini with cinnamon and currants

Eating seasonally is a fraught issue. Even as someone who lives within spitting distance of California’s fields and worked on a farm in one of the biggest agricultural communities in the US, I still find myself standing in a supermarket aisle realizing seasonal eating can easily fall in the “it-sounds-so-nice-but-what-does-it-mean” category.

But the last two weeks brought fresh insights, most of them born from the sweat of my mother and grandparents’ brows and my own tendency towards frugality. It’s not that I don’t love grocery shopping—one of life’s true joys–but with the rest of my family out of town (and an accidental purchase of a $17 bag of cherries from Whole Foods) I decided I was going to embark on several weeks of eating close to home.

I admit—I held off on this post for a while because the things I was eating just seemed so simple. I should get more creative, I thought, come up with something special tonight. My resolve held firm through the morning, but come 11:30 a.m. I’d be standing at the stove sautéing the same slices of zucchini, and by dinnertime I’d be wandering beer-in-hand through the garden snapping off leaves of kale to make my favorite kale slaw with our ripe avocados.

My conclusion? Eating seasonally, healthfully and startlingly cheaply really just requires three things: a bulk supply of a bountiful fruit or vegetable from your garden or nearby market, a great simple recipe (think six ingredients or less), and the willingness to enjoy (many) variations on the same meal. It may sound silly, but the prospect of dozens of zucchinis per week for the duration of the summer actually excites me to no end—I love crispy slices of spiced sautéed zucchini hot from the pan, and I’ll eat them daily much in the same way that I ate roasted cauliflower with lemon and tahini in the spring, or will eat grilled cherry tomatoes tossed with grains and salads next month. And yes, when I desperately crave cherries I won’t berate myself for indulging in a bag from the store. I’ll just check the per pound price first.

Sautéed Zucchini with Cinnamon and Currants

This recipe is endlessly adaptable – once you’ve sauteed the zucchini with the cinnamon and currants, feel free to get creative with your favorite grain. If you have good cheese like ricotta salata on hand add that in as well for a tasty lunch or summery side.

2 medium zucchinis

olive oil

cinnamon

handful currants

1 cup cooked Israeli couscous

Heat your pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Slice the zucchini into thin ribbons and add to the hot pan, doing your best to arrange the strips so they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with salt and cinnamon.

When the first side is browned flip the zucchini piece by piece (or, if you’re lazy, just give the pan a big shake) and sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon. Cook until the other side is done, then add the currants and cooked Israeli couscous and stir fry with the zucchini for a few more minutes. Enjoy hot from the pan or cooled to room temperature.

farro, eggplant and roasted cherry tomato salad with almond pesto

It’s been a mighty month of adventuring. Eating crunchy chopped salads and crispy samosas with friends new and old in DC, gorging on cupcakes (from an ATM!) and thin crust pizza in LA… in all the whirl of work and travel the one year anniversary of Girl Farm Kitchen gently floated by.

I’m all for making the most of a moment (just ask the girl whose eye I nearly knocked out dancing to Mayer Hawthorne last night) so I felt I had to somehow mark the passing. But rather than subjecting you to a reflection of my year’s path from farm to home to inspiring new job (bonus: still living at home!), I’d like to offer something more substantial: a yearly list of favorite recipes. I’ve made all the meals below too many times to count, and for what it’s worth they have my official seal of approval. To ring in the new year, they’re followed by a summery recipe I made with fresh basil and on-hand veggies this past week.

Here’s to writing, food and favorites—old and new.

Grilled eggplant slices rolled around spicy herbed feta (warning: there are never enough).

A velvety cauliflower soup that’s healthy and simple—if you don’t count the olive oil and spices it’s just two ingredients.

A creamy, crunchy kale salad that’s on the table for every dinner party.

A hearty Tuscan stew with tomato, kale, olives and—surprise!—day-old bread.

Fresh, crusty, steaming bread with practically no effort at all. I make a loaf every two days.

I confess: humble bread pudding is my favorite dessert (substitute nectarines in this one and you have a real winner).

Farro, Eggplant and Roasted Cherry Tomato Salad with Almond Pesto

2 large handfuls basil

1 handful slivered almonds

3 cloves garlic

a generous glug of olive oil

1 1/2 cups farro

2 cups cherry tomatoes

3 japanese eggplants

2 handfuls green beans

To make the pesto, put the basil, almonds, garlic and olive oil in a blender and whir until combined but not quite pureed. The mixture should be a little bit chunky and looser than traditional pesto.

Boil a pot of salted water and cook the farro until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and toss the cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until soft, oozy and browned, about 15-20 minutes.

Slice the eggplant into rounds and saute in a heated skillet until browned. Set aside. Chop the green beans into 1-inch pieces, add more olive oil to the pan, and saute until browned as well.

Toss the cooked farro with the roasted tomatoes and the sauteed eggplant and beans. Scoop the pesto on top and toss to combine, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature (or, for round two, straight from the refrigerated tupperware).

flat-roasted chicken with caramelized oranges and truffled polenta with parmesan

I don’t use the word feast lightly.

My family has always been a feasting one, and if images of Arthurian banquets pop to mind you’re not terribly off the mark. Reunions are planned with no thought for where cousins will sleep or what outings will be had, but everyone knows precisely what and who will be cooking each night for months in advance. Christmas Eve is marked by a giant, flaming pudding (soaked in brandy and ignited with a match); “Birthday Eves” are occasions for multiple courses and—alas no more—once featured homemade cakes fashioned into corrals for model horses or voluminous skirts for Barbie. It’s no surprise that the most-requested Christmas carol in our home is “Good King Wenceslas,” which features the good king’s spirited declaration, Bring me flesh and bring me wine!

Wine is all-important when it comes to the family feast. Bottles are purchased with care and hoarded with zeal until the appropriate occasion, which is, if not Saturday dinner, then certainly Sunday supper. The wine is swirled, inhaled, tasted, exclaimed over and discussed, each step partaken of with great earnestness and animation. “There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine,” my grandfather likes to say, hinting that a golden evening of fellowship infuses the chosen bottle with an added glow. That being said, I have had some truly wonderful wines in my life, and last night’s was memorable indeed.

The evening began, as it often does, in the early afternoon. I had selected the 2009 Cilla’s Blend from local winery Cimarone (a Syrah and Bordeaux blend from their Three Creek Vineyard estate collection) and planned a menu to match. Now, at 2 p.m., I was out in the garden picking kale and fresh herbs, which I rinsed and laid to dry before pulling a chicken from the fridge to prepare for flat-roasting.

Studying wine pairings recently I was interested to read that when it comes to Syrah, it’s often not so much the type of food you choose as how you prepare it. Grilled foods (preferably with a bit of char) pair particularly well, and strong herb flavors like rosemary and thyme play up complimentary flavor elements in the wine. Texture is also important, and grains like polenta make for friendly sides.

When I put our meal on the table at 8 p.m. (never fear—I took my time but the cooking could easily have been done start-to-finish in two hours) it was greeted with enthusiasm by family and wine-loving friends. We poured the blend and savored it with each dish: flat-roasted chicken with caramelized, charred oranges, creamy polenta with parmesan and a hint of truffle, kale and cabbage salad tossed with lemon and avocado and a platter of crispy grilled turnips and broccoli. We sighed deeply over the delicious complexity and peppery finish of the wine, which our friend Ken declared was like a “balanced portfolio.”

“It doesn’t just have one strong note,” he mused as I reached again for the bottle, “It’s like a major 7th chord.”

Flat-Roasted Chicken with Caramelized Oranges and Truffled Polenta with Parmesan

This wonderfully simple and delicious recipe for flat-roasted chicken is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke. The truffle-infused oil I used for the polenta was from La Tourangelle and relatively inexpensive, and a pinch of truffle salt would likely do the trick as well. The chicken and polenta went well with a creamy kale slaw and simple grilled turnips and broccoli.

For the chicken:

1 whole chicken

1 large handful fresh rosemary sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. rosemary, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh sage, minced

1 orange, sliced into rounds

olive oil

salt & pepper

Rinse the chicken and remove the innards. Pat dry and lay the bird on a cutting board with the breasts facing down, then use large kitchen shears (or powerful scissors) to remove the backbone, cutting along one side and then the other. Spread the chicken out until it is lying completely flat, cutting the collarbone if necessary. Rub the bird with olive oil, salt, and pepper and lay breasts-up on top of rosemary sprigs, then rub the breasts, thighs, and legs with the chopped rosemary, thyme, and sage. Arrange the orange slices on top of the bird, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator, discard plastic, and slide into heated oven, roasting until juices run clear (about one hour, or until your meat thermometer registers 160 degrees). If orange slices start to burn you can cover the chicken loosely with foil, but some char on the fruit is good. Remove from oven, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

For the polenta:

1 1/2 cups course-ground polenta

6 cups water

olive oil

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp. truffle-infused oil

salt & pepper

In a medium saucepan, salt the water and bring to a boil. Add the polenta and a glug of olive oil and whisk quickly and thoroughly to prevent lumps, then turn the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered until the polenta is cooked to your liking, 10-20 minutes. Turn heat to low and stir in the butter until melted, then add the parmesan a bit at a time, whisking after each addition. Add the teaspoon of truffle oil and taste: the truffle flavor should add depth, but not be too obvious or overpowering. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat and keep warm until serving.

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