Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jams, chutneys, and marmalades, oh my!

Have been helping Sinead make some different jarred goods to sell on the market. I've aided in the making of rhubarb and ginger jam, pink grapefruit marmalade, and Spanish tomato chutney. I also labeled some banana jam, but because the gods were with me, I was saved from the unfortunate act of having to smell a lot of mushy bananas.

I'm not sure I'll be able to replicate these exact recipes as we've been making them on a massive scale. But I'm inspired to learn how to can with all of the California fruits and veggies I've got coming my way.

Ready for market...

Health inspectors, please note the hairnet...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can you spot the parsnip?

Neither can this guy....

Here's the view the lucky weeds have been getting for the last few days as we've pulled up an endless supply of the little buggers...

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Farm Report

So this week because of a glitch in the ordering process, there has been no market, which has meant that Daniel and I have been in the fields (and tunnels) together all day everyday, weeding, planting, and mulching. How lovely, we thought. Outside together, chatting about our experiences in Europe thus far, making plans for our big move to California. Enjoying the sun and the beautiful country side side by side.

Again, our romantic visions have been met with a big dose of reality. This kind of farming is hard, hard work. We have spent the last four days literally bent over, squatting, or on our hands and knees. We are unable to talk as we work, too exhausted and focused on our task, we listen to the portable radio that our kind host Damien has provided. We wake up each morning sore in places where we didn't even know muscles existed. Daniel, the night owl, complains if I'm not ready to wash up and get in bed by 10:30, and I am gobbling up more food at lunch and dinner than I would have imagined my stomach could handle.

On Tuesday we spent almost the entire day weeding a young crop of carrots. There were three long beds of them and we worked on either side, meeting each other in the middle. The work is satisfying in that the weeds make a nice popping sound as you pull them from the earth and you can see discernible progress as the bed goes from a sea of green to nice neat rows of carrot plants. However, negotiating how to position one's body to attain maximum comfort without damaging the crops or sacraficing good weed pulling leverage is incredibly difficult.

Regular breaks were absolutely necessary. But don't let the smile fool you. When I happened upon Daniel here, he was lying on his back looking as beat as I felt.

The next day we had a bit more variety. First we planted more carrots and some spinach. To do so, Daniel , using a big stick, carved shallow straight lines into pre-existing beds and then we scattered seed into the lines, before covering them up using the back of a rake. This work was again pain-staking (more bending over and squatting), but it was surpsisingly delicate, as one has to be careful not to put too much seed in one place. Daniel compared it to seasoning food, and he was right. You take a tiny pinch of seeds and move along the row. After a full morning of work, we were quite proud, but upon examining our progress, all we had to show for it was some brown dirt.

That afternoon was spent on Jerusalem artichokes. It was hot because we were under the sun (don't worry parents, we slathered on sunscreen and wore hats). First we weeded them - more hard work. Daniel was especially upset because he'd developed a hands and knees method that had been working well for him, but this ground was too rocky to utilize it. But by this point we were old hand at weeding, and got through the beds in a few hours, leaving only lovely rows of Jerusalem artichokes.

But then came the second part of Damien's instructions. We'd been told to put the giant leaves hacked off from the rhubarb we've been harvesting all around the artichoke plants to try to prevent new weeds from growing. Easy right?

Well not exactly. The leaves had been sitting on moist ground in the sun for days and some for weeks. They were slug-ridden and fetid, and handling them was literally the grossest thing I've ever done.

I almost threw up about a dozen times. Well perhaps that's an exaggeration, but the combination of the smell and the constant up close and personal interaction with the world's largest, slimiest slugs wasn't good for the weak Katie constitution. Finally we had the mulch laid out, and we were rewarded with a lovely Irish style barbecue.

Then yesterday back to weeding carrots. This time though we were in the big tunnel working on the carrots that will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks. "Weeding carrots again? Piece of cake. We can do it with our eyes closed," we thought. Silly Americans.

Although Daniel had done some light weeding of these carrots last week, the beds were a jungle. In order to get to the actual rows of carrots, we had to weed the paths between the beds because they were so overgrown. There are several sorts of weeds that seemed to be putting down roots. Each has its own method to try to maintain sovereignty in the tunnel, stealing nutrients from the poor carrots. The stinging nettles are sharp and almost shock one's skin as you try to pull them out, so we wore gloves throughout the process. I even kept my sweat shirt on to protect my arms even though the tunnel functions as a greenhouse, making it about 20 degrees hotter (that's Fahrenheit mind you) inside than it is out in the breezy Irish air.

Other weeds that made regular appearances in the beds were various sorts of vines that wrap their ways through the plants, making it difficult to find their roots and thereby preventing them from regrowing. The most devious, however, are these buggers with big, flat leaves. You try to pull them out close to the root, but they're quite slippery and break easily, and if you break them at just the wrong place, they ooze a kind of slime, making them even more slippery and thus impossible to extricate. They are true evil and seem to do a lot of damage to the carrots.

This was definitely our most difficult day I'd say. But it was ultimately pretty satisfying - we developed different techniques for battling the different weeds. And each time you managed to win one of these battles, the victory was sweet.

And I know it sounds like I'm complaining about all of the hard work, but I think we're both enjoying ourselves a lot. The area is beautiful and our hosts are wonderful. Last night I was in charge of dinner, so I made spaghetti with meat sauce and my mom's Teddy's apple cake. We all sat around talking and drinking wine for several hours, and it was lovely.

Besides, although I still think there is this romanticizing of the farmer's life that many people fall prey to (ourselves included), I do think it's really useful to get a better understanding of where are food comes from and how it ideally might be grown. I have so much respect for how difficult organic farming is now, and why the products are a bit more expensive. Still, I'd be lying if during a few difficult struggles yesterday I didn't secretly dream of a little chemical weed killer...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Would you like any food with that mayonaise?

Daniel and I are very lucky. So far, the food that we've been served or given to prepare ourselves here at the farm has been wonderful. Last night Sinead made a fantastic fish curry and then we had a rhubarb crumble for dessert. For lunch yesterday it was simple - corn and tuna with toast and hummus and a rocket salad. Just lovely. Simple, fresh, wonderful food that fills the belly after a long day of work.

I've also enjoyed some of the food we've had out. I of course love the Irish brown bread and the scones, and I had some really great Irish smoked salmon in town on Sunday afternoon and Saturday night a surprisingly good chicken kebab (the second syllable to be pronounced like Barbra Streisand's nickname - "Babs").

However, I am someone who really cannot tolerate mayonnaise except on two occasions (a potato salad from Montauk that I've had once and in coleslaw that I put on my barbeque sandwiches in South Carolina). Of course, in small quantities I can manage it, but really anymore than that and my belly gets achy. Well, here in Ireland they heap it on everything, and it's a real effort to avoid it. On Inisheer, the smallest Aran Island, where we visited the other day, literally the only thing I could order on that was not full of mayo (the condiment, not the county) was roast pork. Not my usual fare for a light lunch, but I went for it. Daniel, however, chose smoked salmon salad. As you can see above, the salmon itself was mayonnaise central, as were the potato salad and the coleslaw. In case that wasn't enough for you, they also slathered a healthy dose of the stuff onto the brown bread that the salad was served on. You know things are going a little overboard when Daniel starts wiping mayo off of something, but even this was too much for him. Even so, he gobbled up the whole thing, and then we went and said hi to some cows.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Feeling a bit sluggish

So this blogging on the farm thing is not going exactly as planned - as in I am SO tired by the time the end of the day rolls around that I don't really feel like writing much. It's funny because it's not that we're toiling in the fields all day or anything like that - in fact I spent my first two "farming" days working at the local market (more on this later), and then we had a three day weekend because of a Bank Holiday. But still Daniel and I are both zonked everyday. Granted there is a jet lag factor that we didn't really deal with in Paris and we are coming off of moving madness and we're walking a ton. But really. (again excuse typos and misspelling - have to get to work soon)

Anyway, before I launch into some details about how we're spending our days, and where we're living, and what we're eating. I have a little something to confess. I'd been romanticizing this trip a bit, and what I've learned, very, very quickly, is that farming - even organic, even in a beautiful location in Country Galway, just is not romantic.

On our second morning here, after a breakfast that I whipped up of farm fresh eggs and Irish brown bread, I was sent out to pick some rocket for that day's market in Athenry. "What an incredible way to start the day!" thought I. And so I walked behind the house to the tunnel where food grows in the non-summer months.

I'd gotten to try some of the rocket the night before in a lovely salad (how I've missed salad!) and so I knew I'd feel proud selling it.

I was told to fill up a big box of containers to bring to the market, and this is where the problems started coming. First the anxiety hit. How exactly do you pick rocket? Do you pull it from the root? Or up at the stem? Or the leaf? Does it matter if I wipe out one big clump or should I try to move around the crop and distribute the destruction a bit? And exactly how full do these containers need to be? My head was spinning.

But then I looked down to pick my first clump, and this is what I saw:
A giant slug. This picture really doesn't do the thing justice. It was massive. And it had friends. Lots of them. Suddenly my anxiety had multiplied. I wasn't only worried doing a bad job, now I was also worried about sticking my hand onto the slimy creature that I had spent my childhood avoiding and that my mother relished killing with little pots of beer put around the garden. The slug fear slowed down my progress considerably as I checked each patch of leaves thoroughly before reaching in, so that I was now also worried about taking too much time. Then came the spiders. Loads of them seemed to be making their homes on the greens. Were they poisonous? Who could say for sure? And then the bees arrived. I've never been stung. Perhaps I'm allergic and would go into anaphylactic shock in this tunnel, only found when it was too late.

I started working more quickly, desperate to get out of the tunnel before the sting of a bee or the bite of a spider sent me into some sort of medical emergency.
I finished as quickly as I could and ran my box of containers to our hostess Sinead. She was pleased. Victory! I had not disappointed our generous new friend AND I'd survived the tunnel of death. But, she was so pleased that she sent me out to fill another box...
The rocket ended up selling quite well at the market and I was proud. But to hammer home the point that organic equals bugs, later that day in the celery that had been sitting in our fridge for several days, I found a very chilled slug clinging to one of the stalks.

The point is (and I think I'll have lots of time to think more about this) that Michael Pollan and Barbara what's her name and all the rest are right - it is good to be close to your food but you have to be prepared that being close to food also means being close to a lot of other less romantic things as well...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Paris Review - Les bonnes choses ne changent pas

Well, we took a bite of our Paris and I was thrilled that what I'd loved about the city when I studied there junior year of college was still as lovable as ever - the architecture, the Seine, the language, the FOOD. Daniel and I spent our two days there walking non-stop - rediscovering my old haunts and stumbling upon some new favorites. And since it rained on and off the whole time, we took respite not in our tiny hotel room or in museums like some folks might, but in cafes, brasseries, patisseries, restaurants, and food shops. It was paradise.

We're now in Ireland on a farm (update on this later), so I don't have a huge amount of time to go into too much detail. So here is our culinary tour of Paris. In pictures... (I apologize in advance for typos/bad grammar. I'm too tired to check...)

DAY ONEUne viennoise avec pepites de chocolate.
Breakfast number one on our first day. My old favorite French pastry, purchased at the patissierie down the street from the school where I studied. As delicious as I remembered - soft, chewy, with delicious chocolate chips. I must learn to make these....

Un croissant (duh)
Breakfast number two - Daniel had the croissant. I had oeufs en coque (soft boiled eggs). We both had cafe cremes and sat on our second floor perch over-looking the Jardin du Luxembourg. Not a bad life.

L'as du falafel
Lunch -I have been dreaming about this falafel since I left Paris. I've never found anything as good - the falafel itself is crispy on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. The toppings - hot sauce, eggplant, cabbage, pickles, tahini, tomatoes. I am kicking myself that we didn't eat three of these each right there.

Kosher chorizo
Snack eaten on the Pont Neuf - after falafel, we walked through the Marais and Daniel oggled the kosher butchers. We bought this for him and a jar of hot sauce for me (which Daniel politely carted around for me through our day before leaving the bag at a bar ...)

Le tigre
Snack - at Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in the city (founded by Marie Antoinette's personal baker), we tried not the baba au rhum for which they are famous, but rather a striped chocolate chip round cake with a dollop of chocolate frosting on top. It was good, but no Viennoise...

A beer as big as Daniel's head
Pre-pradial drink - near the Sorbonne. I had a civilized glass of wine.

Brasserie Balzar
Dinner - after my mind altering experience with foie gras at Daniel, I was eager for Daniel the man to give it a try, so we started with an order of the stuff, and it did not dissapoint. It was heavenly in the way sushi from Yasuda requires eye closed enjoyment. Daniel had lamb for a main course, which he liked well and I had an entrecote with a Bernaise sauce on the side, which i enjoyed a lot more than I expected

I will cry if I tell you how much this breakfast cost
Breakfast at Cafe le Flore - Daniel had an omelette with fine herbs and cheese; I had more oeufs en coque

Oeufs en coque
The meal was great; the atmosphere on St. Germain lovely, but really, is it necassary to charge us 17 euros for a side of milk to go with our coffee?

Snack on the Champs Elysees - macarons, supposedly the best in Paris; I wouldn't disagree; we tried two and a cinnamon roll type thing called a raisin canelle

These ain't the ones we eat at Passover
While related in name to the macaroon popular in the States, these beauties are apparently generally made with almond instead of coconut. We went for a praline macaron and a cherry amaretto example. Incredible. I'm just bonkers for the texture.

Wet and tired, an apple a day keeps tears away
Snack - It rained for a large part of our second day, but that didn't deter us from continuing our wanderings around the city, and generally we were able to keep our spirits up. However, around lunch time, a huge down pour; a near tumble on my part, prevented by Daniel catching me by my hair (ouch); and a disappointing salmon salad for lunch, things were headed downhill. But then I spotted a fruit stand with locally grown Pink Lady apples, and all was remedied. After a day and a half of rich French food, nothing said loving, like a little fresh fruit.

Checking out les jambes et les poitrines
Snacks - after the apple, we did some wandering down the market street, Rue Cler; checked out the butcher and the fromagerie; tried some almond candies and spice cake; bought some coings preserves (quince!) and some spicy mustard; and best of all I had a lemon calissons, my favorite treat from Aix
We'll always have Paris (and its Moroccon)
On a rec from the Times, we hit le 404 on a tiny street in the Marais; everything we had there - the special drink of the house (like a mojito), an eggplant salad, a 7 veggie couscous - was delicious, but the lamb tagine with prunes was out of this world. An amazing end to our eating tour...