Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CSA Share Week 13

How did we fare from Hurricane Irene? After a precursory look at the fields, it looks like we’ve dodged a bullet. The storm dropped about 5 inches of rain here. So maybe 10 to 20 percent of our fall crops—those planted in low-lying fields—might not make it.
The high winds we experienced didn’t cause any structural damages. We were worried about our greenhouses and our 200-plus-year-old barn. Ken and two others spent half of Saturday repairing and reinforcing the barn roof as it likely would have lifted if we experienced any stronger winds.
Sadly, many farms in our region were not so lucky and presently still sit under a lot of water due to rivers flooding more extensively than they have in 500 years.
A substantial section of the NYS Thruway here is closed due to flooding. So deliveries to the city could be delayed due to detours and traffic.
We’ve mentioned this before...it has been a hard growing season . There seems to be a running joke among NY farmers that they’re just waiting for this season to end. But, knowing some of those farms that have been hard hit, Irene was the last thing they truly wanted or needed.

1 lb. string beans (green, purple or yellow wax)*
¾ pound edamame
2 large white onions
1 bunch leeks
6 ½ ounces salad mix or 4.8 ounces arugula*
2 cucumbers
1 red or yellow bell pepper or eggplant*
1 ½ pounds beets without greens
1 tomato

*items may vary according to distribution sites due to limited quantities of each crop.

The farm’s crop of LEEKS have come in. And while they’re great as a base for soup or in a stir fry and a pleasant partner to salmon, they can also stand on their own, such as in this recipe for Creamy Baked Leeks with Garlic, Thyme, and Parmigiano.

Brown them with garlic and butter then simmer in white wine and a little chicken broth for an elegant but easy-enough-for-a-weeknight dinner of Spaghetti with Creamy Braised Garlic and Leeks.

BEETS: “People who swear they hate beets love this salad.” That was a compelling enough opener by Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times to offer up this recipe for Grated Raw Beet Salad. If you’ve never eaten a beet raw, you’re in for a surprise. They’re incredibly sweet and healthy for you too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CSA Share Week 12

Mark your calendar: Free Bird Farm is hosting an Open House for CSA members on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 10 to 3 p.m. Tour the farm, see where your produce is being grown, meet your farmers and get a chance to hang out with some engaging people (other CSA members, that is!). Everyone is invited to bring a dish to share for lunch. Last year's potluck was a real hit. Be sure to bring a water bottle and sun protection too.

As for this week: we're happy to report our hens are back into the swing of things and laying enough eggs for all of our CSA members. We are still short on eggs as a whole—not having enough to bring to the farmers’ markets we attend. But there are now enough eggs that we don’t need to supplement with free-range eggs from a neighboring Amish farm.

Otherwise, we’re just plugging along here—grateful when there’s a break in the humidity and when a new crop pops up.

This week’s arugula is beautiful and tasty—bright and peppery and not riddled with holes. We managed not to put any tears in it as the hundred or so yards of cover was laid down and anchored with shoveled soil along the edges. If there is a miniscule tear in the cloth, the beetles will find their way under and start their gluttonous munching. The itsy insects merely create cosmetic damage—and you’ll never see a flea beetle on a washed leaf, but it is still much more rewarding to bring in a crop that isn’t riddled with bitty holes .

5 ½ ounces arugula
¾ pound French string beans
4 tomatoes
3 cucumbers
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch carrots
2 red bell peppers
2 heads garlic
2 zucchini

For those who are receiving the green French string beans this week, these beans requires removing the strings that run on each side of these flat, long beans. Snap off the stem end and the string on at least one side will readily pull off. If you miss a string, you’ll know it when you bite into it, and can easily just pull it off then. These are a dense-skinned bean—best eaten cooked to tenderize the bean.
This recipe from Ina Garten for String Beans with Garlic is simple and tasty.

No matter which style or color bean is in your share, both are great in Maryellen's recipe for Green Bean Salad with Tomatoes, Arugula & Basil Dressing.

1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
2 strips lemon zest about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide, white pith removed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
¾ lb. French string beans, strings along edges removed
¾ pound cups arugula, rinsed and spun dry
1 ½ cups chopped tomatoes
1-1/2 cups (10 oz.) 1-inch-diameter fresh mozzarella balls (ciliegine), halved
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice; more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Fill an 8-quart stockpot three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Put the basil and lemon zest in a metal sieve, immerse it in the boiling water, and blanch for 5 seconds. Remove, tapping the sieve over the sink to shake off excess water. Turn off the burner but leave the water in the pot with the cover on.

Roughly chop the lemon zest. Put the basil and lemon zest in a blender and pulse a few times. With the blender running, pour the olive oil through the lid’s fill hole and purée until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender as needed. Transfer to a small bowl or liquid measuring cup and cover. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.

Return the water to a boil over high heat. Add 2 Tbs. salt and the beans. Cook until the beans are crisp-tender or fully tender, depending on your preference, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Spread the beans on a large rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate to cool completely. If making more than an hour ahead, cover and refrigerate.

In a large bowl, combine the cooled beans with the arugula, tomatoes, and mozzarella. Toss with the basil oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and more lemon juice.

Make Ahead TipsYou can cook the beans up to a day ahead, just spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate. The basil dressing can also be made a day ahead. Wait to combine the beans and dressing until just before serving.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CSA Share Week 11

The little pods of fresh soybean (edamame) dangle from a jungle of foliage. They're time consuming to pick but most worth it.

Usually in the weekly farm letter we focus on what’s been going on at the farm for the week. But since some members have been inquiring about how the farm is doing (and how our son is faring), we thought we’d talk about the big picture this week.

To be honest, it has been a frustrating growing season. Granted, we’re lucky we aren’t in Texas, where they’re experiencing record drought, or in the Midwest, where there was so much rain this spring that CSA farms were unable to offer members shares until mid-July. But here in Upstate New York the growing conditions this year have been challenging.

We are still seeing long-term negative effects of the sopping wet spring. Many of our crops that should be flourishing right now, like melons, aren’t producing what they should. We were forced to plant them in unrelenting wet conditions, and, consequently, many transplants drowned or their root systems rotted underground. Seed washed away. We probably got at best 1/3 of the sweet corn crop we had planted, and our first melon planting failed from root rot. We were stuck—we couldn’t hold plants in the greenhouse any longer than we did, or they’d become what is called “root bound,” so we were forced to plant into subpar conditions.

Hudson Valley orchard farmer and friend Tom Maynard suffered an 85 percent loss on his cherry crop early this summer because of this spring’s wet weather. That is, with the lack of sun, the trees didn’t photosynthesize at an adequate rate, which affected the blossoms ability to produce fruit. For Tom, his cherry crop is what typically covers his labor costs. No small loss.

Shawn Cleland, owner of nearby Timberlane Blueberry Farm, said the wet spring significantly compromised her crop too. When the bees arrived in mid-May there were no blossoms on the blueberry bushes for them to pollinate (the blossoms arrived about a month late). “We had no humming this year,” she said in reference to the usual bee activity. This week is probably the last of the blueberries that we’ll see. In a good year, she’d normally have another 3 weeks to harvest.

The one crop that liked all that ridiculous spring rain was our garlic crop. It did well. Phew.

Then came July. As the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center summed up: “Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records… making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally.” The NOAA noted, too, that the heat wave was marked by higher than normal overnight and early morning temperatures. That is, to the detriment of our hen flock, temperatures at night stayed high through the heat wave.

In the fields, we are still seeing some of the effects of the extreme heat we had in July. For instance, our peppers and eggplant experienced something called “blossom drop.” That is, the flowers on the plants fell off during the heat wave. It is from these flowers that the vegetables are produced on the plants. We are just now seeing new blossoms, but by the time they generate more “fruit,” the plants will probably be killed off by frost.

We planted a tremendous tomato crop, and it was looking beautiful up until blight and fungal disease arrived. We did everything right—we planted the tomatoes in a field where we’d never planted tomatoes before (thus reducing chance of picking up soil-born disease), they were pruned right and planted right. But air-borne disease blew in aggressively killing the tomato plants’ foliage and leaving spots on the tomatoes. So our crop has been compromised.

Even though we planted significantly more than was necessary for the CSA this year as a safeguard, overall yields have been disappointing on a wide variety of crops and some crops we completely lost. The quality of many items hasn’t been as top notch as we expect because of this year’s weather conditions. We hate to say it but…it has not been a banner year.

The weather this year has underscored some concerns we have about what kind of a long-term future is in store for farmers if the weather extremes we’ve experienced in the last few years truly are due to climate change and are to become the “new normal.” NPR’s Terry Gross/Fresh Air ran a compelling interview of climatologist Heidi Cullen on this subject a couple of weeks ago. When things slow down here (come winter) we plan to get a copy of Cullen’s book The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet. Maybe some of you, too, heard the interview. What she said really spoke to us in terms of what we have been observing.

Despite the setbacks, each week we have been able to drum up a sizable share and new crops keep arriving. This week’s purple beans, for instance, look gorgeous. And we are pleased to offer fresh edamame this week—something our staff had to spend hours picking (a very tedious crop to pick) and that you normally only see frozen (see tips, in newsletter, on how to cook fresh). This crop is a treat.

Update on Xavier: Our 3 ½-year-old son seems to be doing fine. Unfortunately, we don’t know what was wrong with him back in late June when we ended up 3 times in the emergency room and overnight in the hospital for a couple of days. The doctors were stumped and released him with a diagnosis of most likely having neurological complications, possibly from a concussion. Fortunately, Xavier’s symptoms have not recurred for more than a month. Needless to say, it was impossible to neatly compartmentalize that ordeal while trying to keep up with the demands of the farm. We greatly appreciate the e-mails, cards and well wishes we received. They really helped to carry us through a stressful couple of weeks.

2 white, large mild onions (great for kebabs and on the grill)
¾ pound velour stringless beans (see below)
1 pound edamame (fresh soy bean)
1 bunch basil
1 bunch amaranth greens (see below)
1 additional item to be determined (broccoli, Romanesco cauliflower or gold beets)

Amaranth Greens:That curious bouquet of purpley-red and green leaves is back this week. Known as amaranth greens or Asian spinach, we have had a lot of farmers' market customers try it on a whim and come back the next week anxious for more. We hope you're just as glad to try it again. At the farm on Sunday, we cooked it as follows and served over a bed of quinoa and alongside some grilled zucchini and grilled sliced onions (also in this week's share). So healthy. We had some balsamic vinegar on hand to drizzle over it, but it was so tasty, we never opened the bottle.

To cook the amaranth greens: Pluck the leaves from the stem, rinse and pat dry with a towel or spin dry in a salad spinner. (Discard the stems.) Mince 1 to 2 cloves of garlic.

In a heavy-bottomed saute pan or a cast iron fry pan, heat a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, stirring, until fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the greens, and toss with tongues to coat the greens with the oil and mix them with the garlic. Continue to cook until the greens have lightly wilted, about 3 minutes.

Season with Kosher salt to taste. If you wish, add a splash of balsamic vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice.

Edamame: Pronounced like eh-dah-mah-may. That would be the name for the fuzzy little pods containing nutty little fresh soybeans in this week's share. Kids and adults alike love this finger food. Very simple, very, very tasty.

To cook: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Carefully add the edamame in their pods (no shelling necessary) so as not to splash yourself.
Cook for 5 to 6 minutes. To test for doneness run a cooked pod under cold water to cool slightly and then slip a bean out of the pod. The bean should be firm, yet give to the teeth. Mushy beans means that they are over cooked.
Drain in a colander and let cool to room temperature, or refrigerate for a couple of hours to serve cold. Before serving, toss the pods with a generous pinch of Kosher salt.
To eat, slip the beans out and into your mouth by pulling the pods between your teeth. Discard the pods.

A Note from the farm about the purple beans:This week’s purple velour filet beans are a “haricot vert”—a very slender, stringless bean that’s a favorite of chefs. We sautéed some as they came in from the field, and they are deliciously tender and flavorful when cooked for just a few minutes in a skillet over medium-high heat in some extra-virgin olive oil with a sprinkling of coarse or Kosher salt to finish. Sadly, as with so many purple varieties of produce, they will not hold their deep burgundy color once cooked. So if you want to showcase their color, serve raw in a salad or with a dip.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Share Week 10

Our Big, Fat Coyote Spotting
Late the other night, as we were returning home from dinner with friends (a much-needed evening off the farm), we bypassed our driveway and pulled into one of our fields instead to check up on the hens. We wanted to make sure everyone was snug in their hen houses, doors shut tight—something one of our employees said he’d do (but always good for us to double check). Just as we pulled in a fat coyote was prowling through the grass heading towards the hens’ houses. He quickly high-tailed it back into a small wooded area.

While our flock took a beating from the heat a few weeks back, over the course of the season we’ve probably lost just as many hens to predators this year—mostly coyotes and foxes. Occasionally, there is something attacking them even in the middle of the day. We aren’t sure what it is, but we can tell by the pile of feathers that are left in the field that something was in their fenced-in area. While we’ve had troubles in the past 12 years with the occasional fox—or, worse, neighborhood dog, usually it is with the even more vulnerable meat birds we raise that get hit. This year has been a new and difficult experience, and we’re thinking hard about what we need to do differently to ward off the problems we’ve had without compromising the way we raise our birds.

Ken spent Saturday putting in a good amount of seed for fall crops—in anticipation of some forecasted rain this weekend. We ended up getting more rain than we’d expected and hope the heavy downpours weren’t so strong that they washed seed away. We also put in a few thousand transplants for fall, including the lettuce seen in the picture provided. Indeed, it’s time here to start preparing for the final act—autumn. There’s still a ton of work ahead (we’re only about halfway through the season), but it is that time when many of our end-of-season plants get started in the greenhouse or directly in the field.

1 bunch basil
1 bunch cilantro
2 large onions
1 Jalapeno
6 ¼ ounces salad mix
1 head of garlic
1 bunch leeks

*This is an approximate list. We were short on a number of items this week, so there was variation among groups as to the items they receive. For instance, the types of tomatoes and cabbage varied this week among sites; we simply did not have enough of one type to go around for all but do keep track of who gets what so that, for instance, this week you might receive a variety of tomato that last week you did not.

This is a great week to make some fresh salsa. But there are plenty of other things to do with the produce from this week's share. Here are a few that grabbed us.

Using this week's red cabbage and cilantro--
Chinese chicken salad:

Mexican-style Slaw with Jicama, Cilantro and Lime:http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/mexican-style-slaw-jicama-cilantro-lime.aspx
(I wouldn't hesitate to leave out the jicama if you don't want to make a trip to the store. Substitute the leek greens--very thinly sliced--for the scallions.

This week's leeks...
Creamy Baked Leeks with Garlic, Thyme and Parmigiano

This is one way to use up your onions (last week's or this week's--doesn't matter that they're not red) and wow people you might be entertaining (or treat yourself). You can also follow the recipe's method for caramelizing the onions, and make a simpler bruschetta with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozarella and a basil leaf:
Fig and Onion Bruschetta

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

CSA Share Week 9

Former farm intern Anna Lehr Mueser pitched in with packing this week's share at the farm. (Thanks Anna!) She holds a few bouquets of this week's ultra healthy (and beautiful) amaranth greens.

This week we have our first harvest of tomatoes and eggplant coming in. New also are amaranth greens, which come with a little story:

A few miles down the road from the farm is a roadside peddler named Cookie. He has a lot of junk, often some treasure, and always a friendly smile that readily stretches across his deeply tan face. A long-time resident, he knows our farm, and he knows we’ve got plenty of pigweed. Also called amaranth, to us it’s a rampant but relatively benign weed that grows all over the farm and is edible. In the past we’ve pulled some from the ground and brought it to Cookie to cook up. This year, we actually planted a variety of amaranth greens for our CSA members (leftovers for Cookie).

The cultivated version of amaranth is a lot more cooking friendly than the “weed”, with broad, deeply colored green and purple leaves that pluck easily from the stem. It’s mild like spinach and extremely good for you. Here’s an excerpt about it from Wikipedia.com:

“Amaranth greens, also called Chinese spinach, …are a common leaf vegetable throughout the tropics and in many warm temperate regions. It is very popular in India. They are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, and folate, and dietary minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Because of its valuable nutrition, some farmers grow amaranth today.” That includes us.

Approach it like you would spinach—in soups, in a stir-fry, wilted in olive oil with a little garlic (served with some grilled meat) on the side or in a sandwich with sautéed onions and cheese. We used the amaranth recently in a black bean burrito with brown rice, diced tomato, and some of the sweet onions in this week’s share sautéed until soft and lightly golden.

In this week’s SHARE:
1 bunch amaranth greens
1 bunch basil
6 1/3 ounces arugula
2 jalapenos
1 bunch beets
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 sweet bulb onions (1 red, 1 white)
1 large Italian eggplant or 2 Japanese eggplant*

*varies with distribution location