Life on the farm is full of variety. One afternoon I might be tie-dying Love Apple t-shirts listening to reggae covers of the Beatles, the next wielding a machete through head-high thistles to a soundtrack of grunts and yells (it’s good to let the weeds know what’s coming). Yesterday I sowed purple mizuna and arugula in the greenhouse, lovingly covering the seeds with a thin blanket of soil; then I went out into the garden and killed 23 cucumber beetles, squeezing them mercilessly between finger and thumb. To quote one of my favorite movies, it’s the circle of life. (Not that the Lion King included tie-dye and machetes, but you get the idea).
Eating on the farm has been full of variety as well, and the last three nights have been a perfect example of that. Wednesday night we apprentices sat in the kitchen as we often do—hungry and surveying the pantry. What emerged was the kind of feast that happens when everyone around you likes to cook: fried eggplant slices from our master-fryer Phillip, sautéed purple carrots from Christine, a kale salad with basil and my honey mustard dressing, and a leek, chard, pepper and tomato vegetable bake topped with homemade goat cheese from our newest apprentice Ross. Everything came from the farm—excepting our mason jars of two-buck-chuck.
Thursday nights at Love Apple are Farm Dinner, a gathering of apprentices, farm staff, neighbors, and friends. Since Ross came to us from the New York Culinary Institute and several years of restaurant experience he was put on cooking duty, and the meal he came up with was memorable indeed: grilled tri-tip, roasted potatoes, Caesar salad and a collection of fixings for tacos. The entertainment of the evening is always a series of conversational games, and this week as we ate we mulled over what hat we would wear for the rest of our lives and, in the case of death by animal, which animal we would choose. (I went with “mauled by pit bull,” mostly for effect).
Friday night rolled around and I pulled out one of my favorite cooking tools: a “Nice n’ Spicy” packet of spices for the South African dish Bobotie. Coming from a family of South Africans it’s been a favorite of mine for years: ground meat spiced with curry, browned with onions, garlic, and ginger, and baked in the oven after being mixed with milk-soaked bread and eggs. As I carried it outside in the cast iron skillet with the turkeys gobbling in the distance and seven forks raised expectantly around the table, I remembered what I love most about cooking—it’s not just food we get to share, but meals.
Nice N’ Spicy Bobotie
Whenever any friends of my family visit South Africa there’s one request that tops the list: Nice N’ Spicy spice packets. Fortunately for us, with some good curry powder and nice bay leaves the bobotie packet is easy to replicate. For the non-red meat eaters in our group I used ground turkey and it turned out well, but ground beef or lamb is also delicious.
2 lbs ground turkey
2 slices soft bread
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tbs curry powder
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, grated
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Soak the bread in the milk until soft, then strain and reserve leftover milk. Gently mix the bread with the ground meat and curry powder.
In a heavy-bottomed skillet or pot, saute the onions, garlic, and ginger in olive oil or butter until translucent. Add the meat mixture and stir until the meat is nicely browned, then add in the raisins, almonds, half of the reserved milk and one egg. Season with salt and pepper.
Even out the meat in the skillet until you have a flat surface, then beat the remaining 2 eggs with the other half of the reserved milk and pour over the top of the bobotie. Arrange several bay leaves over the top and bake in the oven until the egg mixture on top is well browned, about 30-40 minutes.