Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Farmer Tells his Tale and a Recipe for Goat Cheese Pesto Bread

The Farmer's Tale

So Mrs. Farmer has asked me to participate in her blog and so here we go....

Waking up as a Farmer.....such an unlikely career choice for a Jew from Manhattan. How did it happen?  As is true for all of us, life is often times challenging. Circumstances intervene and paths taken, or roads wandered, are inexorably altered. When these Momentous Events cascade into our way how do we respond? Do we rise to the occasion? Do we succumb and bemoan our fate, letting life's undertow take us and deposit us headlong into the maelstrom of tidal whirlpools ?  Hard to tell and hard to know until that day comes knocking at your door..

For me, I was busy and financially successful, going to work each day developing and building Lowe's, Walmart's, Targets, McDonald's, Burger Kings, etc... etc...I seemed to be pretty darn good at it! I was taking in a seven figure income and building up an eight figure net worth.  I accumulated a bevy of goodies....eight cars, three houses and untold amounts of STUFF...... EXPENSIVE STUFF!!!   But then along came one of those aforementioned Momentous Event:  The Great Recession of 2007/2008.  Funny thing was I had nothing to do with that darn cataclysmic event. I was just chugging along minding my own business but in the blink of an eye...voila....  no more income...  a minus eight figure net worth and a heap of troubles on the horizon... What was a fella to do???  Beats me...

I owed a whole lot of money to a whole lot of banks. The banks wanted to get all of their millions of dollars back so the first thing that happened was the bank that held the two and one half million dollars in mortgages on the three homes asked me if I'd like to keep one of the houses (I suspect it was better for them if they could find me and it seemed like a good idea to me :-)  So which house to pick? I chose the Fancy Little Designer Farm in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. I figured that if was going to be poor at least I should learn to feed myself... so that's exactly what I did.  I decided to learn to grow and produce food!
By a bit of luck and more than a bit of divine intervention, I met some Mennonite and Amish farmers who welcomed me into the world. Each day I would religiously drive out their way;  partaking in their lives of labor and on Sunday, a hard bench seat in church (an odd place for a New York City Jewish guy to end up).  And what did I learn? I learned how to grow food, raise animals and take care of myself in a way I had never been able to imagine .  I learned a bit about God and a spiritual life. It was the beginnings of learning to be a farmer.

Slowly, but steadily, I became self reliant, self sufficient and self sustaining. There were some amazing and unexpected changes along the way. I realized that I was becoming a different man, a more peaceful man.  Quietly, a small glimmer of a light began to take form in my being and I realized that for the very first time in my life I was rich.  I was rich in a way I never knew existed.  I didn't have two nickels to rub together but it turned out for me, money wasn't what made me rich. What made me rich was peace, contentment, a strong spiritual faith, a sense of purpose and a life well lived rather than a life of living well.  

Slowly but surely all the STUFF started to disappear...repossessed or sold to pay bills until one day all that was left was that Fancy Designer Farm.  And what of that fancy farm?  I remember how often folks would come through the front door and express in glowing terms how beautiful the house was.. The lawns were no longer well manicured, the trees overgrown, and the creek beds gone wild, but the house still had a stately beauty and elegance that couldn't be denied.  All of the farming aspects, the gardens and animals were quietly tucked out of view so as not to disturb the aesthetic congruity of the Fancy Neighborhood.  While surely it was a house and a grand house at that,was it really a farm and a home?
It turns out for me it was just a house. The nascent farmer was living in a house but desiring a farm. The act of coming through the front door became an uncomfortable and strange ritual and day by day it felt more and more that I was living in someone else's house. I'd look at Pat and ask if it felt like home to her She would simply shake her head. We didn't belong in that fancy house growing $3 carrots on land that sold for $30,000 an acre! We couldn't afford to leave and we couldn't afford to stay. Quite the conundrum!

One day a lovely woman showed up and asked if I would be interested in selling the house? Keep in mind the house wasn't listed for sale....more divine intervention?  I jumped at the opportunity, despite selling for about $500,000 less than I had paid. It was enough to pay off the mortgage, the mountain of gathering of bills and get me on the road to finding where I really belonged.

I dug into the work of finding my future home with frenetic gusto because the new owner want us OUT quickly.  I looked at hundreds and hundreds of farms.  They were too big, too small, no water, no barn, no fencing, too expensive, too far away... too, too and too..... Eventually I found our farm.  It was seventy miles down the road and had been for sale for four years just waiting for us  -  another tinch of divine intervention?...It surely seems so and we are grateful!
Sixty Five acres of rolling hills with a simple old farm house, a few rickety barn buildings, some worn and tattered fencing and a never ending laundry list of chores and challenges in order to bring the farm around to being a good sound working farm and a refuge for all of the animals we steward. But its my farm and our farm and as such it is perfect!! My farm, my home and my life!!! What an amazing gift to share! I'm thankful for the gift of it.
I love walking through the front door.  I never get tired of looking at the simple plywood floors, the 100 year old wood on the walls with all its perfect imperfections. I love the wood cook stove and the incredible soul warming heat it provides from the split oak wood piled in its belly. The Amish rockers strategically placed to enjoy the warmth  of the cook stove while I fall asleep at the end of dinner having finished evening farm chores. And somehow, when the weather is its fiercest, and I slog through evening chores getting feed and water to all the various barn residents, the simple act of sitting by the wood stove is heightened and I'm not sure there is a greater, simpler pleasure in life. 

 Now I am a Farmer..I have a life that is far bigger then my needs.  Pat and I care for hundreds of others.  Our sheep, goats, cows, chickens, hogs, horse, dogs and whatever else roams into our world. No matter what, no matter if its convenient, I'm too tired, I'm grouchy, or the day hasn't gone well.  Whether I'm sick or want to get a night out... no matter what.... the needs of the farm come first and foremost.  I am a Farmer.
Oh and by the way a sidebar thought.... a funny  thing happened along the way: When I had a bunch of money I would sometimes like to think of all the things I had bought and owned.,,"owned" being a term of art when there are loans and mortgages attached to those possessions.   But sitting at my farm, in my home, I had the stunning realization that for the very first time I did actually own something!! A small little house with no mortgage and two old trucks with no payments... Hmmmmmm.... Life sure is funny....
Sorry can't help myself... one quick little diddy before I head out to feed the animals..... One day early in my walk towards a simpler life I was  talking to an Amish fellow and going on and on, waxing enthusiastically about how much I admired their simple life and how I longed and yearned for it.  The nice Amish fellow waited patiently till I exhausted the topic and myself and then quietly said “simple life” I think you're mistaken”.  “Our life isn't simple...yours is.”  You go home and flip a switch and you have light. In your home you turn up the thermostat and you have heat.”  “In your home you turn a dial on the oven and you cook.”  We need to get a lamp lit and then haul in split wood to stoke up the wood cook stove for our heat and to to cook our meals.  “You turn a valve and have hot water - not us.”  Now I heat with wood and cook on the wood stove.  We have oil lamps.  The Amish fellow was right.  It's definitely not as simple as flipping a switch or turning a dial but I wouldn't change it for all the tea in China!!!!

This bread is a decadent treat!  It is easy to make and works well as a stand alone appetizer.  A friend recently referred to it as "life changing".  I am not sure about THAT, but it sure is tasty!

The basic bread recipe is a slight adaptation from the Olive Oil Bread Recipe found in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis.  I got this book when it was first published almost a decade ago and it quickly became a favorite.  There is no need to be intimidated by bread baking with this as your guide and I have not bought a loaf of bread in years.  It is so much nicer to have freshly baked bread in the house!  I generally have plenty of goat cheese around and there is always Pesto in my freezer, but store bought will work just fine if you don't have access to fresh goat cheese or home made Pesto.

It is helpful to have an electric mixer for this recipe.  I just add the following ingredients to the mixing bowl:
6 1/2 to 7 cups of All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Active Yeast (NOT instant)
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Sugat or Honey
1/2 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2  3/4 Cups of Lukewarm Water

Mix everything on Medium Low just until the ingredients are well integrated and there is no flour stuck to the bottom of the bowl.  I have found that if I mix it for too long or at too high a speed the dough becomes too loose and loses elasticity.  I like the dough to be somewhat "tight" so that a finger pressed into it will leave a dent but not get covered with sticky dough.  If it is too sticky just add a bit more flour.

Place the dough into a plastic container (I used the plastic shoe boxes that sell for a dollar at WalMart) and sit it on a counter and forget about it for a while.  Once the dough has risen to touch the lid, put it in the refrigerator.  It will be easier to roll if it is chilled and will remain viable in the Fridge for a week.  The recipe is enough to make two loaves like the one pictured.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Take out the Box O' Bread and divide it in half to make one loaf.  The remainder of the dough can be used to make another loaf of bread, a pizza or flat bread later in the week. Put the dough on a generously floured surface and sprinkle the top with a bit of flour.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle shape.  I tend to roll it rather thin as I want to see lots of Cheesey Pesto Swirls when I cut into it. I rolled this one a bit too thin and had to make a little Dough Patch which is evident in the picture below. Once the dough has been rolled out, spread a liberal amount of pesto on the surface.  I used about a cup and a half of pesto from my freezer.  
Next sprinkle goat cheese generously on top of the pesto.  I find that one end of my dough rectangle winds up a bit wider than the other.  Start to roll from with wide end, ending with the tapered end.
Don't is easy peasy!

Yum!  I can almost taste how good it is going to be!  Once it is rolled up, pop it into a bread pan.  I use a lidded ceramic bread cloche, but a metal pan would probably work just fine.  The dough will need to rise about an hour and a half. This is a good time to throw on a load of laundry or peruse Ebay for vintage overalls.  Well, at least that is what I do!

Once the dough has risen,  use a sharp knife to score the bread as pictured,  Finally, brush it with a Baking Soda Wash (Boil a 1/2 cup of water and add a teaspoon of baking soda to make a quick wash.  I didn't even let mine cool for this loaf, although I usually do.  The Wash will last about two weeks in the refrigerator).  
Finally, pop it into the pre-heated oven and set the timer for 35 minutes, open a nice bottle of wine and get ready for a party in your mouth!  Let me know how it works it when you try it....because you HAVE to try it.  You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Complicated Road to a Simple Life, a New Cow, and Curried Cauliflower Zucchini Fritters

The Farmer and I aspired for a simple life long before we actually tried to live it. 
 Separately, we had each spent too many years and too many dollars pursuing a misguided version of the American Dream.  It was a path that was all about achievement, consumption, debt, and more consumption.  We wanted off that merry go round and when we married we determined to modify our lifestyle to suit our income. Frankly, the income was minimal.   A Too Expensive Mortgage Heavy Home was sold and a modest farm was purchased in its stead.   We longed for a quiet, purposeful Farm-based existence and had a somewhat naive vision of what that would entail ...animals frolicking in green pastures, fields bursting with organic vegetables, a tidy little farmhouse, and the two of us whiling away time rocking on the porch. Umm.....Not exactly!  Although there are frolicking animals, pretty fields, and many quiet, pastoral moments, sometimes it seems more like Mud and Mayhem!

Hurry Farmer!  There is more work to do!

We have found that the path to simple is surprisingly complicated, and at times, a bit scary.  There is always more month than money and too few hours in the day.  We are new to this whole Homesteading Thing and a misstep can have serious consequences.  Fortunately we have been blessed to have developed wonderful friendships in the Amish and Plain communities in our area.  They are quick to offer practical advice, from which wood stove to buy, to how to doctor a sick hog, to how to use jewel weed to combat poison ivy, and beyond!  The little hardships are made easier by the sense of community as well as my end of day glass of wine and porch time!
The men enjoy talking farming!
Anywhooo...The Farmer and I have been in the market for a Jersey cow and when we found out that there would be several Jerseys up for auction in a nearby Amish community, we made plans to attend.  Farm auctions are always a lot of fun and provide us with an opportunity to connect with farming friends that we do not often see.  

A tiny puppy makes Friends of Strangers at a recent Community Auction.

We got to the auction late...just after the Jersey Cows had been auctioned...much to the amusement of our friends. Fortunately, one of them knew somebody who knew somebody and our new Jersey will be delivered tomorrow afternoon.  She is at least 10 years old but The Farmer and I think her maturity might work in our favor.  Although we have over forty dairy goats, we have never milked a cow.   We are hoping that SHE will train US. Regardless, it is going to be an adventure!

My daughter, a vegetarian, is coming to visit and I cannot wait to serve her my latest Veggie Fritter.  They freeze beautifully so I am making up a bunch.   It just might be my favorite yet...

Curried Cauliflower and Zucchini Fritters with Feta

First, gather your ingredients:
1 large cauliflower
1-2 zucchinis
1 Onion (I used a sweet Yellow, but any onion will work)
1 Red or Yellow Pepper
1 Cup Feta Cheese 
1 cup flour
5 eggs
2 generous teaspoons garlic
4 Tablespoons Fresh Herbs (I used a combination of Cilantro, Parsley, and Mint)
2 teaspoons of Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups of neutral oil, for frying.

First, cut the florets from the Cauliflower and toss them into a pot of boiling water and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the Cauliflower is very soft.  

While the Cauliflower is simmering, prepare the other veggies.  Chop the onion in a 1/4 inch dice and do the same with the Red Pepper, discarding the seeds before dicing. Chop the herbs.  Shred the zucchini, skin and all.  I use one of my all time favorite kitchen tools for this purpose--the Kiwi Pro Slice Peeler.  I got mine at Bangkok Market, a specialty grocery store in Nashville.  The slicer helps make food look pretty!
When the cauliflower is finished, drain it in a colander and let it cool for a bit.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and add the Cauliflower, using a spoon to smash it into small pieces. Toss in all of the other ingredients and mix well.

Easy Peasy!

Next it is time to sautee the fritters!   Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet over high heat.  You will want the oil to be quite hot.  I use an ice cream scoop to spoon out the cauliflower mixture to ensure even sizing, but a 1/4 cup measuring cup would work equally well.  Do not crowd the pan and watch the heat carefully.  It should take 3 - 4 minutes to cook each side through.  If the fritters are cooking too quickly, simply adjust the heat.  Don't try to flip them early as you will be dealing with a gloppy mess. The fritters firm up as they cook and when they are ready to be turned it will be easy to do.

Put a paper towel under a wire cookie rack and put the cooked fritters on the rack to drain.  I find that putting them directly on paper towel serves to steam the fritters, softening the crunch. The rack avoid those issues and allows any extra oil to drain off.

The fritters can be frozen and reheated in the oven.  350 degrees for 15-20 minutes will crisp them right up.  I top them with Tzaziki Sauce made from our Farm Goat Yogurt.

Coming Next Week.....
A bread recipe that will make you swoon and a guest Post from The Farmer!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Motherhood, The Nashville Farmer's Market, and My Pesto Addiction

Motherhood is serious business.  Humans tend to think that we are the only species to experience the intensity of the bond, but Farmers know otherwise. One aspect of farming that never ceases to amaze me is the closeness that exists between Mama and Baby that extends well into adulthood and beyond. While there is the occasional case of rejection, it is the exception not the rule.  Mommas take care of their Young ' they chickens, goats, hogs, sheep, or cows and the connectivity continues for generations. Most of our goat herd is divided into smaller familial herds...babies, moms, grandma...happily hanging together and foraging. Frankly, I wish that all humans were as devoted.  

Grand Dame Daisy rests on a rock ledge with her daughter and granddaughter.

Why the focus on mothering?  I am worried about a girl I barely know.  She is a woman, really, but seems so very young.  I have been looking for part-time kitchen help. This is a busy season on the farm and there are not enough hours in the day so finding someone who can help with slicing and dicing would give me more time in the barn during the active kidding season.  She called for an interview and I liked her through the phone line.  I liked her even more when we met in person.  She has no skills in the kitchen and very little in the way of formal education but she told me she could take direction, was quick to learn, and she really needed the job...she has a six month old baby and a no account ex-boyfriend.   She showed up early the first day and we worked easily together, chattering as we made flat breads.  She shared a family history rife with parental drug addiction, years spent in
foster care, and so on. 
Somehow she has managed to hold on to a sweetness and optimism that belies the darkness of her story.  She relies on government assistance and a bit of child support to pay her bills.  She always has more month than money...a constant state of being on the Farm, as well.   Although we can't afford to pay her much, we can make sure that she is well fed and I have sent her home with food every day.

She has started missing work and I am guessing she will miss again tomorrow.  Her support system is made up of people incapable of rendering support.   Her child care is unreliable and she worries the entire time she is away.   

What a horrible position for a young mother.  While it is true that each of us lives the life we do as a result of choices we have made, my heart hurts for this girl.   She is determined to do better by her baby than was done by her...Yet, she has no cheerleader, no one smoothing the path.   How can she pay for decent child care when she is making little more than minimum wage?  How can we pay her more than we are when there is no money?  This is a gal who needs a hand up but I am not sure how to provide it.  I have been praying on it and think the seed of an idea is germinating in my head.  She needs a soft place to land and I would like to help her find it.  Wish me luck!

IN OTHER NEWS... The Farmer and I attended the Nashville Farmer's Market CSA Fair last week-end and had an amazing time answering questions and handing out samples of Goat Cheese and Pesto!  It was gratifying to see so many young families out early on a cold blustery day to meet the Farmers and local CSA representatives who work to grow Real Food.  The Market has been on a great trajectory in recent years and credit would have to be given to Director Tasha Kennard, who is committed to putting farm food on city tables!


Pesto is one of my Go To appetizers.  Pesto and Farm Goat Cheese is heaven on a plate....add some Pita or Ciabatta and you are talking perfection!  Pesto is easy to make...all you need is a Food Processor and five minutes.  I tend to make a huge batch---about six cups worth---but, because it freezes well, it never goes to waste..

Freezing does tend to cause the nuts to soften a bit but adding some crushed nuts before you serve it will rectify that if it bothers you. Pesto gives you a lot of bang for the buck...  Make Pesto Pasta, Pesto Chicken Salad, or Roast a Chicken Breast and slather on some Pesto ....YUM!

Although traditional Pesto is made with Pine Nuts, those are really pricey.  Pistachio Nuts are my Go To alternative although I have used many others...Cashews, Walnuts, Macadamia Nuts, Pepitas, Sunflower Seeds, just to name a few. 
 Let's make some Pesto!  
First, gather your ingredients.  

You will need fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, kosher salt and nuts of your choice.   I tend not to measure things too exactly when I cook.  I am a pinch of this, handful of that kind of gal, preferring to let my taste buds tell me when I have got the proportions exactly right.   I hope my casual relationship with units of measure doesn't make your eye twitch.    

Pull the stems from the basil and throw about two generous handfuls into the food processor.  [Note: you can make pesto in a blender but it will not have as interesting a texture].  Pulse it until it is pretty fine. 

Now add the following to the food processor:
A cup (or two!) of Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups of roasted pistachios
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pulse until the ingredients are well blended.  I tend to make my Pesto very thick...more like a spread than a loose, soupy dip, but make it like you like it!  I also like my  pesto to have a lot of crunch and texture so  once everything is well mixed I toss in a handful of pistachios and lightly pulse one last time.  That's it!

As mentioned, this is going to be a lot of pesto and you are probably going to want to add a bit more salt, a splash more lemon, another teaspoon of garlic....I always do some tweaking at the end, adding until the pesto becomes a party in my mouth.    I find it better to do the adjustments at the end after all of the ingredients have been mixed so that I can taste what is missing.  If I've put in too much garlic early in the game, I am left with no way to save the dish.  It's like getting your can always cut more but you can't undo the scissors once they have had their way with your bangs!

Rosie Belle Farm Fun Factoid
It is easy to grow herbs in your kitchen window using cuttings from the basil used to make pesto!  Once you have de-stemmed the basil for your pesto, simply put the defoliated stems into a bottle filled with water.  Change the water daily and within a week or so you will see roots and the start of new growth.

Don't you love getting something for nothing? Me, too!
Have a great week!