Sunday, May 29, 2016

Stop Sign Farm Kitchen - New Favorites

New favorite kitchen tool - herb scissors!  These ingenious little guys make short work of fresh herbs and come with a handy comb that ensures nothing goes to waste and clean up is fast and easy (BONUS:  No trip to the ER  required).  Found mine for under $10 on Amazon.

New favorite ingredient - fresh garlic!  Ever wonder why we eat garlic cured and dried?  Well, because we have to.  We are so fortunate that garlic cures, dries, and keeps so that we can enjoy its pungent flavor in our food all year long.  But, now - just now and not for long - fresh garlic is out there in the markets and farm stands and I say go get some quick!  It's a little juicy and the little cloves pop out of their skins with a simple squeeze and the bright fresh flavor perks up just about anything.  We roasted it with other spring veggies last night and I threw it in the soup today.  So good.  Get a lot - use some fresh now and hang the rest in your kitchen to dry.

Delicious spring

How fortunate to have our very own market here on the island, where we can get fresh-picked vegetables direct from our neighbors.  Not quite the overwhelming bounty of the Portland Farmers Market where Dylan shops, with its rows and rows of tents overflowing with the colors of the rainbow all year long - but a treasure nonetheless.

This afternoon's spontaneous treat:  cream of celery soup!  Hey, hey - contrary to its reputation as a tasteless stalk of chewy fiber fit only for stock and peanut butter, fresh celery with its glorious leaves left intact packs a flavor punch perfect for a light spring soup.  In my enthusiasm at the market yesterday, my eyes fell upon big broad spiky leaves and my brain said "parsley," but when I was unpacking my bag once home my husband said "celery."  I'd neglected to notice the thick stalks attached to the beckoning leaves!

No worries - we had enough Italian parsley in our own garden to work its magic on our slow-cooked "pot roast" short ribs and fresh island veggies.

But, what to do with bunch of beautiful, leafy celery?  Epicurious helped me out with a simple recipe using just what I had at hand - boiled potatoes from last night, onion, fresh garlic, butter, broth, a little dill and a splash of cream.  30 minutes and a quick blend later - a soul-satisfying, brightly colored and intensely flavorful lunch.

Spring, you are delicious.

Monday, May 16, 2016

10 years - and a lot of life lived

10 years.  So many clich├ęs – hard to believe, we blinked, it flew by - but they’re all true.  This Mothers Day marked 10 years that our family has lived together here at Stop Sign Farm.  A lot has changed -  like me. 

I’m a different person than the 40 year old mom excited at the possibilities of making a home, making a farm in the middle of this island in the middle of Puget Sound.  Close friends have walked through the fire, and then the ashes, of ultimately failed marriages.   Dylan has gone to college out of state, my mom has gotten really, really old (93!), and both Mark and I are working demanding, fulfilling jobs.

We still run sheep and goats, although we give them the minimum attention they require; we’ve pushed the pause button on chickens since every predator on the island apparently got the memo that dinner was on us.  The combination of my returning to work and Dylan going to a STEM high school then looking at and preparing for college had the unintended consequence of neglect for this place we lovingly built.

But, the good bones are there, we are back to turning our attention to making this place beautiful, and a new chapter in our lives begins to unfold – one with events of loss that are seeming to become the backdrop of everyday living – but with rewards and gratification and new adventures. 

Yes, a lesson for 50 year old me appears to be that the 2nd half of our maybe-centuryish time on this earth is that you have to get comfortable with loss.  Your every-Saturday-night friends break up and now Saturdays look different.  Your comfortable dinners together are in the past.  If you’re lucky, your child goes off to their college adventure and now you are that dreaded animal:  the empty nester.  Your beloved pets say good-bye one by one.  It’s hard.  Really hard.

But how can you try on new clothes if you keep pulling on the old ones?   People who live on their sailboats always have one common piece of advice when interviewed – don’t bring on anything new without getting rid of something old.  It’s good advice, and hard to live.  Until life just makes you.  Say good-bye.  Start saying good-bye.  Get good at it.  Because if you don’t, there’s no space to say hello to anything new.  Did I mention that it’s hard?

When your kid goes to college, everyone congratulates you.  That’s nice.  Of course, you’re excited for what lies ahead for them.  But getting a little space to feel loss would go a long to helping parents not feel so isolated.  Maybe it’s just parents of only children – or maybe it’s just me.  But it was hard, last fall, to smile and talk of pride and excitement when I also felt a deep loss that I wasn’t allowed to acknowledge.

But, here’s the good news.  If you’re lucky – and I’m really, really lucky – home is still home for them.  For now.  For a little while longer.  Or maybe even a while longer than that.  And then you get to enjoy the newness and excitement of this new chapter for them – and let go and make space for a little bit of a new chapter for yourself. 

At least, that’s the plan.  I’m getting there.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Toys and life

Father-son bonding over today's hot-off-the-presses iPad3. And let me just say, from the cheap seats, WOW!!!

Meanwhile, the weather gods hate us.

But our overwintered veggies are ROCKIN!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fromage de tete

As the pork chops harden in the deep freeze and the bacon, guinciale, and prosciutto lay encrusted in salt in the back porch fridge, I embark on yet another culinary adventure I've long anticipated: making head cheese.

Like most traditional French peasant dishes, fromage de tete combines gruesome ingredients with oodles and oodles of labor. So, you're unlikely to see it on a Red Robin menu anytime soon. I'm about half-way through the process time- and grossness-wise, and really just starting labor-wise.

So, what is head cheese? It's not cheese, in fact contains no dairy, but is significantly head intensive. Once you've slaughtered and butchered your pig, shoved your curing cuts deep into rock salt, and begun brining your hams, mostly what you're left with are trotters and a head. What makes the trotters and head so qualitatively different from the rest of the animal is that the meat is hard to get to and it's in close proximity to a lot of joints.

Now, if you've ever had the courage to be curious about that Jello ingredient "gelatin" you already know it comes from the feet of animals and you've already made your peace one way of another with that. (although, Dylan decided one day to break into the ancient box of Jello mix in our pantry to see what this all-American favorite was all about, spent the afternoon waiting for it to set, then promptly threw the whole batch into the trash after 1 bite. "People eat this on purpose, Mom??" he asked.)

But, back to that head cheese. Basically, y
ou clean up the head and/or feet, then split them with a very good, sharp cleaver (can't speak for the trotters, but this is no mean feat with the head - Dylan captured our experience on video it was so extreme), then boil them with aromatics for hours and hours. That's what's going on in my kitchen right now. I'm adding the tongue because it's all about using every bit and anyway, tongue is very flavorful.

In a little while, I will lift the
halves of the head and the tongue out of the broth, let it all cool, then pull off the meat and skin, chop it very fine, and set it aside.

Then to the broth. I will finely strain the broth, removing all the aromatics and veggies and skimming any froth off. Not so different than making a basic chicken broth, right? The difference, which cannot be seen at the point, is that this broth that's been created by the cooking head (or feet) will contain all the gelatin that has leached out of the joints.

So, we strain it and set it out to cool. Meanwhile, we prepare a loaf pan by lining it with a big square of plastic wrap, leaving lots hanging over the sides.

When everything is cool, I'll grab a handful of the minced meat mixture and layer it on the bottom of the loaf pan. Then pour a layer of broth over, and keep repeating until I reach the top of the pan. Fold over the plastic wrap to cover it, then pop it in the fridge.

Twenty-four hours later - voila. An appetizer worthy of Julia herself, served with grainy mustard and cornichons on a bed of lettuce or dense, dark bread - like cheese, only yummy with porky goodness and actually quite low in fat.

UPDATE: So, I've completed the process wi
th the first fromage de tete and almost completed it with the 2nd. Am waiting for the weekend to try the finished product with my loved ones and can share a photo of the end result out of its mold then.

Would I do this again? Not sure. It better be really, really yummy. I know for sure I wouldn't do it alone - this is serious It Takes a Village kind of cooking - a slaughter-event dish that many hands would help lighten. I think I would also seriously consider using the trotters instead of the head b/c the sheer size of a pig head makes everything about preparing this dish laborious.

All that said, I withhold judgement until after we try it!

And, merci beaucoup to our pal and culinary adventurer Chris who was kind enough to come over and both assist in the head-splitting (yes, we already made those jokes) and direct us on what the heck we were doing. There's
some tete headed your way, mon ami.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yowsa - a farm-intensive weekend!

It must be spring!

After a fall and winter spent focused on new school, new city digs, and the whirlwind day job of Mark’s, the cycle of life is spinning full-force all at once here at Stop Sign Farm.

On Friday, came our first pig harvest. Performed by abattoir extraordinaire, Vashon’s own Farmstead Meatsmith, it was a surprisingly smooth and pleasant experience. I’ve resisted raising pigs for several years due to a sizable stack of harvest-day horror stories I’ve collected from friends and colleagues, so Friday’s humane and undramatic slaughter was a real relief. The hanging weight of our pork came in at 450 lbs – we done good! Thanks Tiffany!

While the abattoirs were doing their thing, I was doing mine in the greenhouse. Tiffany had finished the clean-up job I had started and now it was time to transplant and plant anew! Nothing like digging in the dirt and putting future salad into the soil to feel like life’s worth living.

Saturday, Farmstead called to say the butchering process was complete, and we headed over to start bagging cuts and hauling it into the car. And hauling. And hauling. Wow! Pork chops, roasts, and spare ribs – oh my!

Once all the basic meat was safely bagged up and in the cool car, it was time for our curing lesson. Brandon showed us how we’ll turn slabs of marbled pig into bacon over the coming week, how to cure the cheeks for Guaniciale, and how we’ll turn a giant, specially-cut leg into the delicacy of Prosciutto over the coming 2 years.

Let’s just say the SSF kitchen will be looking a little different for a while.

This morning I slipped out of bed at 6:30 and began pulling bags and tubs of wrapped meat into the house, separating it all into piles, then reusing the bags and tubs as my piles dictated, readying it for our rented freezer locker.

Halfway through, I got the word from Tiffany – baby lamb twins were just born out in the pasture! So, amidst the harvest of 5 months of pig-raising, I stopped to fill a bucket with warm water and molasses so that we could treat Mama Ewe right and make sure these new little ones got started off in the right direction.

Feels like Spring at Stop Sign is in full swing.