Pumpkin gnocchi straight from the pumpkin patch

October’s come and gone, but I had to post this picture of me in the pumpkin patch at Tanaka Farms in Irvine. This is a two-part post, so if you have no patience and just came from the food, then click here to skip ahead to the recipe for pumpkin gnocchi.


I dragged Christina down to South County to get my farm fix. It was a wonderland of tiny adorable children and rows and rows and rows of perfect organic glowing orange pumpkins. Tanaka opens up a you-pick pumpkin patch every year and families flock from miles around (they’ve also got Strawberry tours in late spring and watermelon tours in the summertime).

Many kids already know the farm because it hosts field trips during the week and also sponsors an awesome CSA program that doubles as a fundraiser for local schools, business, and churches. It’s brilliant. Tanaka packs and delivers the boxes to the schools, but the schools handle all the subscriptions and collections. Subscribers pay $25 per week. The farm pockets $20 per box, and the PTA gets to keep $5. They’ve got a great list of participating schools and examples of what goes into their boxes on their website.

We were a little late in the game, just a week or so before Halloween, but there were still plenty of gems to be had. The pumpkins were already cut and the vines had died back, so there was minimal pricking and poking as we selected our prizes.


Yes, that is an LA Fitness tent you see in that third picture. Not so good for the ambiance. Would you like a spin class with that kabocha squash? Oh, the subtle joys of Orange County!

Afterwards, Mr. Pumpkin sat on my counter for a couple of weeks. I meant to carve him, but he was on the small side and I was on the lazy side so it just never got done. Afterwards, though, I was grateful because I got to turn Mr. Pumpkin into not one, but two delicious dishes for the Good Food Potluck: Pumpkin & White Bean Chili (a la April McGreger of Grist) and pumpkin gnocchi, inspired by the beautiful and talented Jaden of Steamy Kitchen.

The gnocchi was a huge hit. Soon after the party, my mum got an email from a family friend asking for the recipe for “those yummy little nugget things.” Score!


That’s me, serving up the gnocchi. Funny faces behind belong to my “Uncle” Chuck (left) and Dad (right).


That’s what it looks like when it’s in the frying pan — aren’t they a pretty golden color? For some really gorgeous photos of this recipe, check out Steamy Kitchen.

Pumpkin Patch Gnocchi

Adapted from Pan-fried Pumpkin Gnocchi from Steamy Kitchen
Serves 6-8

I made a couple of changes to the recipe, in particular, adding the steps to cook down the fresh pumpkin. Ideally, you’d use a sweet pumpkin or squash, but ornamental Mr. Pumpkin actually did just fine. You’ll only need part of the pumpkin, so you can save the rest of the raw pumpkin for a curry or chili, or cook it all down in the next step so you’ll have pumpkin puree for pie or ravioli. Be sure to keep a light hand when mixing, or your yummy little nuggets will turn into yucky little chewies. This means in the mixing step, just turn over the dough a few times until combined, then stop!

1 cup skim milk ricotta
1/4 medium sized pumpkin, about 1 1/2 pounds, or 1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup freshly grated parmegiano reggiano, plus more for serving
2 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted and more for dusting
5 tablespoons butter, and possibly more for frying
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
10 fresh sage leaves

Preheat oven to 300F

1. If you’re dealing with a whole pumpkin, carefully cut it in half, then in quarters. Scrape out the insides with a spoon, saving the seeds for roasting later! You’ll use about 1/4 of a medium pumpkin or 1 1/2 lbs. Cut this piece into 4 chunks, leaving the skin on.

2. Put the chunks in a steaming basket in a pot and add 2 inches of water. Steam for about 20 minutes on medium heat until the pumpkin is tender and begins to be transluscent. Drain the water and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Peel the skin from the pumpkin and chop into 1-inch cubes.

3. At this point, if you have a ricer, you can rice the pumpkin for an even more fluffy gnocchi. I only had a blender, so I put the cubes in my blender until the lumps were gone.

4. Add two tablespoons of butter to a large saucepan on medium-low heat. Add pumpkin puree to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, until the pumpkin has reduced by about half and the color has deepened to a golden brown.

5. Combine ricotta, pumpkin, parmagiano, yolk, zest and salt in large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour on the mixture, gently turn with spatula a few times to incorporate. Dump mixture on clean, lightly floured countertop or you can still do this in the bowl. Sprinkle remaining flour on top of the mixture. Gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing together the mixture until flour is incorporated through. This only should take a minute or two. Any longer and you will be over-kneading.

6. Dust a clean, dry surface with a generous sprinkling of flour. Divide dough into 2 parts. Working with one part, press into a rectangle 1/2-inch thick. With a pastry cutter, or sharp knife, cut the rectangle into strips 1/2-inch wide, then cut each strip into “nuggets” about 3/4” long. At this point, you can do fancy things to the gnocchi like rolling them on a gnocchi board, but I think they’re pretty cute as is.

7. Heat a large frying pan or saute pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add a few gnocchi – enough to cover surface but not touch each other. Fry on medium heat for 1-2 minutes, turn and fry for another 1-2 minutes. Remove gnocchi, place on large baking sheet to put into oven to keep warm. Repeat with rest of gnocchi, add butter and oil to the pan as necessary.

8. When all gnocchi is finished, discard butter/oil in pan and clean pan with paper towel. Heat pan on medium heat and when hot, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add the fresh sage. Let the sage brown and sizzle (but not burn) for a couple of minutes until very fragrant. Remove the sage and discard. To the pan, add the balsamic vinegar and whisk. Let simmer on low for 1 minute and pour over the gnocchi.

Other delicious sweet and savory things to do with pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin Pandan Custard from Rambling Spoon
  • Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes from Pinch My Salt
  • Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup from 101 Cookbooks
  • Grilled Pumpkin Ravioli from Serious Eats
  • Pumpkin Pizza (replete with pumpkin sauce!) from Mike’s Table
  • November 20, 2009   2 Comments

    Lemon Marmalade from Gleaned Lemons

    My first article in the Fullerton Observer was about gleaning: gathering leftover crops (or forlorn backyard fruit) to reduce waste and feed ourselves. After my granddad Tom read the article, he sent me a short note of grandpa praise and mentioned that gleaning was a biblical term and the act of gleaning was something that came up more than once in that Good Book. I was raised a Catholic, and Catholics don’t read the bible, so this was news to me. Upon further investigation, I found this passage:

    Leviticus 23:22:

    And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger.

    Pretty straightforward, eh? If you’ve got a lot, you can spare a little for those who have less.

    I separate gleaning into a couple of categories: the large-ish organized operation that rescues otherwise wasted food and distributes it to those who need it (more biblical), and the self-serving, recreational kind (more hedonistic). Thus far, I’ve mostly participated in the latter.

    I gathered some fruit on the island — figs and plums and blackberries and such. I love the treasure-hunt-ish-ness of it all. Seeking out the perfect berry patch or serendipitously falling on a pear tree and coming back week-to-week to check on its progress. One might think that Orange County isn’t the place for such things, but in fact, there’s a surprising bounty of delicious fruits just crying out to be picked. Just here in my neighborhood, there are avocados, grapes, all kinds of citrus, plums, apricots, apples, figs, guavas, pomegranates, and persimmons.

    A friend, Rory, passed on a map he started of some good picking sites in Fullerton. You can visit his version here. Or, I’ve added his entries to some of my own on the Good Food OC map.

    Yesterday was my first time foraging in the suburban jungle. A family friend, Lynne, who’s well-apprised of my crazy food tendencies, invited me and my mum to go pick a friend’s Meyer Lemon tree. We got more than 50 lbs and left plenty of ripe and ripening fruit. It was fun.


    My pretty mom picking lemons.

    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-5 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-6
    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-10 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-13

    Lynne putting a few into the basket, and the haul, back at home.

    Later, mum squeezed a bunch for lemonade. Then we made a batch of ridiculously delicious lemon marmalade. The entire house smelled like lemon drops for the rest of the day.

    It’s a wonderful recipe from Elise at Simply Recipes. You can get her step-by-step instructions here. All it takes is lemons, water, and sugar in a 1:1:1 ratio.

    It’s a two-step cooking process, and then there’s the canning… in all, it took us about 2.5 hours to make 10 jars 8oz jars of jam.

    First you prep the lemons…

    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-14 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-19
    Then the first cooking step to get the rinds nice and soft.
    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-22 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-23
    Squeeze out extra pectin from the bag of seeds and rinds and pith, add your sugar and boil some more.
    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-25 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-27
    Once the jam reaches the magic temperature and starts to set, it’s time to can!
    lemon-marmalade-gleaning-29 lemon-marmalade-gleaning-30

    Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum!

    Sites to check out about gleaning:

    November 18, 2009   5 Comments

    Backyard Chickens in the Fullerton Observer

    Tomorrow my third column in our local city paper hits the news stands. The Fullerton Observer is a wonderful not-for-profit pub run basically as a one-woman show by a local Fullertonian, Sharon Kennedy.

    I called Sharon up one day a week or so after I got back to the OC to ask if I could write a Good Food Happy Planet column. “Well a lot of people want to write columns,” she said. “What did you have in mind?” I explained about the whole farm bit and gave a little pitch. “I just think the people in Fullerton might be interested in reading about where their food comes from. It’s a timely issue, plus good food’s trendy,” I ventured. Sharon agreed, and the column was born.

    Week one, I wrote about gleaning. Week two, the Fullerton Farmers Market. And this past time, I wrote about processing ten of our backyard chickens. I left out most of the more specific details — still not sure what level of information is TMI versus just right for the Fullerton audience.

    I know it’s a small step, but it’s fun to be writing for a different sort of crowd — not necessarily just my friends and fellow foodies, but folks who just happened to pick up a copy in the local coffee shop or at Ralphs. It forces me to be accessible, and also not take anything for granted.

    Sharon came to the potluck on Wednesday and while we were waiting in line for the spread, she told me that I received my first mini fan note for the column! Woohoo!

    Here’s the article from this time ’round… or you can download the PDF for the full experience:


    Down the slope away from our house, underneath a couple of huge eucalyptus trees, sits my dad’s chicken coop. There’s a structure with nest boxes that opens our onto the pecking yard which is enclosed with chicken wire to keep our the coyotes and our little terrier Duncan. The coop houses a dozen or so proud hens: some black and white Barred Rock beauties, Araucanas that lay little turquoise eggs, the regal Polish Crested with their big fluffed white hairdos, and some unidentified buff-colored girls.

    This summer on the farm, I learned a lot about chickens. We kept around 60 laying hens — all Rhode Island Reds — and around 120 Cornish Cross broiler chickens which we raised for meat. Prior to the farm, I hadn’t ever thought about the difference between laying hens and meat chickens, but it turns out they’re very different creatures. Broilers are bred to grow larger, faster and to have a greater breast-to-body ratio than other breeds. They only take about 12 weeks to grow to a marketable size. Layers on the other hand take about 6 months to start laying, and continue to lay eggs at a constant rate until they are around 2 years old.

    On the farm, I learned all about feeding and taking care of hens, protecting them from predators, collecting, washing and packing eggs, and finally about processing the chickens for meat.


    My mum with 10 of the chickens we processed last weekend.

    Processing chickens is hard, smelly work. I’m not squeamish; I participated in every part of the process: the killing, dunking in hot water, plucking feathers, eviscerating and cleaning. I grew up eating meat and intend to keep eating meat, but now that I’ve participated in the full process, from chick to chicken enchilada, I have so much more appreciation for the energy and care it takes to bring meat to the table. It’s so easy to forget, when I’m buying a clean plastic-wrapped package of pre-cut chicken tenders, or picking up a chicken burrito at Chipotle, that this was once a living, breathing animal. It’s easy to take for granted the resources it took to hatch and feed and raise a chicken for my table.

    This weekend, we processed ten of my dad’s hens in the backyard. They were getting older and were no longer laying, and we needed to make way for a new batch of chicks. Between me, my parents, my aunt and a friend, I was the only one who had done this before, so I organized the different stations and showed everyone the ropes. It didn’t take more than a few hours, but afterwards, I crashed on the couch in front of the TV for the rest of the day, totally drained.

    Now, the chickens are curing in our refrigerator, and I’m contemplating what to cook. Needless to say, whatever it is, I will savor it to the last bite.

    November 16, 2009   2 Comments

    Goodbye to the old digs

    *sniff* I’ve said goodbye to Jess’s Many Mini Adventures in order to fully embrace the new, lovely oh-so-complex wordpress world of goodfoodhappyplanet.

    I’ll flatter myself and pretend you noticed that I haven’t written much lately. I could explain it by saying that I’ve been hard at work on my graduate school applications, but in part, it’s because I got this crazy idea that I NEEDED Wordpress and that I NEEDED to teach myself a bunch of CSS to customize templates and put sidebars where I want them.

    Plus, the name — good food happy planet. It got in my brain and it stuck. It’s the essence of everything I’m about these days. I couldn’t shake it. So here I am. And I’ve made a pledge to certain folks that I’m going to start writing for real again instead of fiddling with php and installing plugins that I’ll probably never use.

    Things to look forward to in the coming weeks:

    • A long overdue post on the Island Growers Coop & mobile slaughter unit on the islands
    • Another long-overdue on the amazing wonderland that is the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead.
    • Updates on the grad program landscape in sustainable ag
    • Escapades in the local newspaper
    • Panegyric on a 70-year-old olive can labeling machine (yes, I just took the GRE)

    But first, for the sake of closure, here’s the goodbye letter I posted at my old home. Don’t forget to update your bookmarks!

    Dear friends, family, and all you other folks who’ve stumbled on in,

    Yes, it’s true. I’m moving yet again. Not physically (at least right this minute) but virtually. To a new lovely site.

    My mum has a special nickname for me: the new toilet girl. Not super flattering, but apt. It comes from a Chinese saying that has to do with a person who has to be the first to use whatever’s new. Forget the old toilet. I’m jumping on the new squatter! (Don’t even try to Google this — you’re going to have to take my word!)

    It’s called


    and it’s all about, you guessed it, FOOD and the PLANET. In the past 8 years I’ve gone from cheetos and coke to kale and kombucha and I’m still trying to figure out what it all means and where to go from here.

    For those of you who accompanied me to the farm from Srok Khmer and maybe all the way back to my first half-hearted attempts at documenting life in golden SF, I won’t promise that this is the last time. It may be a pain to update your bookmarks, but it’s something of a solace to think I can’t be selling my soul for a little web traffic if I’m constantly pulling this bait and switch.

    Over the past year, I’ve been completely inspired by the experience of working on the farm and working with and meeting amazing friends who are changing the world by caring about the land and about each other. I’ve changed and I’m continuing to change and I’m going to keep writing about what I’m learning (plus a few delicious recipes and fascinating tidbits about food thrown in for good measure).

    It’s been lovely to share the farm experience with you, and I hope you come along to check out the new digs…

    With joy,

    November 15, 2009   6 Comments

    Labor of Love for Yukon Gold Gnocchi

    I’ve been cleaning potatoes for days now. It hasn’t been nonstop; there’s been planting and bed prep and flats and the harvest to break up the day, but I’ve been going strong, at least a few hours each afternoon, sitting at the potting table in the barn with a few trays of Yukon Golds and the radio on to the CBC and a small scrap of burlap.

    Wipe, wipe, wipe the potato with the scrap of brown cloth against my leg; two potatoes in the sack, and I switch to holding the potato in my left hand and polishing with my right. A couple more shiny yellow potatoes ready for winter storage, and I’m already restless again. I shift to hold the burlap in my right hand and rub the potato against the cloth with my left. Is burlap the same as a hairshirt, I wonder aimlessly? (Apparently not — hairshirts are made from the hair of a goat — Obvi!)

    The radio announcer’s talking about Chungking Mansions and I wonder how many potatoes they use for the samosas in their curry houses and who in heavens name cleans them all.

    But, duh, I know the answer, whoever grows all those potatoes totally has a barrel washer or some other kind of industrial machine and obviously isn’t communing with the potatoes like I am.

    The orange-brown dust falls off onto the floor, onto my Keen boots, and sometimes into clouds in front of me until I have to get up and walk across to the big open barn door and take a breath and walk back. Switch position, potato in the right, then in the left. Until I fill a 20 lb bag, and another and another.

    There are a lot of potatoes.

    So it isn’t that weird that I started daydreaming about all the lovely things I could make with potatoes. Not that weird right?

    Obviously mashed potatoes, and potato latkes a la Martha by way of Matt, and those delicious potato rolls that Jaime’s parents make on Thanksgiving. One night I actually made tortilla espanola, like the kind I ate in Madrid as an exchange student, only it wasn’t as delicious without chunks of manchego alongside… And then last week, Rachael of Fuji Mama told me about Rouxbe and I saw the gnocchi recipe with Yukon Gold potatoes and I knew it was my destiny to make them.

    So tonight, I made a date with Pritha and we found a ricer, of all things, in the stash of Heritage Farm cooking treasures and we riced those potatoes and fluffed in the flour and kneaded in the eggs gently and made gnocchi.

    We didn’t wait the 5 hours to let them rest before boiling because we had to catch the 9:15 showing of Julie and Julia (both of whom probably would have been appalled by the shortcut), but the little potato pillows still came out lovely and soft and melty. We made one version, swimming in sage butter with fresh sage on top and another with Pritha’s fresh pesto. Temporary intern Jesse made a salad with our huge Brandywine tomato and some farm greens. I was happy.

    No photos tonight. If I could send you wafts of sage butter, I would!

    September 4, 2009   3 Comments

    Rob’s figs become Black Tea, Star Anise, Fresh Fig Bread

    Last Sunday, I came back from a visit to the Bullocks’ Homestead on Orcas Island in the afternoon, tired, dirty, ridiculously happy, and ready to collapse in a heap on my little blue sofa with some iced tea and The Taste of Place, which I had started on the ferry. But then Lucy came and roused me and told me she had been invited over to Rob’s to pick figs.

    Rob is a fellow farmer, known for his pasture-raised meats which he sells at the farmer’s market along with his buddy Guard Sundstrom. Their Meat Wagon is always busy with folks looking for fresh, local, humanely-raised ridiculously tasty meat. Both Rob and Guard are members of the Island Grown Farmer’s Cooperative which is a group of farmers who banded together to design and launch a mobile slaughtering unit that allows for local processing of beef, lambs, and pigs. This unit was the first of its kind in the US and since then groups of farmers’ around the country have come to these folks for help replicating the model in their own communities.

    But Rob isn’t just a lamb man, he’s a true farmer and, dare-I-say, homesteader.

    In addition to his animals, Rob takes care of a lovely orchard, and a garden on an adjacent property. He started out 30 years ago in a little trailer; he built a lovely yurt, then a beautiful home where his older son now lives with his wife and children.

    When Lucy and I arrived at Rob’s place, the two big dogs ran out to greet us, barking madly. No one was home so we poked about behind the house, amidst the chickens and the trees, looking for the fig tree. Being city-folk we weren’t exactly sure what a fig tree looked like, so we stopped off at the walnuts and the pears and the apples before finally we sighted the little bush close by one of the mobile chicken coops.

    Right as we started picking, Rob arrived, clean and spiffy from his granddaughter’s birthday party. We picked a basketful of ripe figs, then Rob offered us cling peaches from his trees.

    We walked through the orchard, asking about the different pears and plums and apples — Asian pears, Bosc, Red Anjou, Santa Rosa plums and about the history of the place.

    Rob told us of wheeling his pregnant wife to the car in a wheelbarrow back in the days before there was a proper driveway to the house. She vowed not to come back until he built a proper house. He built the yurt where he still lives today.

    Then he showed us the house that he built back in the early 90s with help from his brothers, one an architect, the other a woodworker. It was a well-conceived house, and very beautiful; white adobe-style walls and huge windows facing out on the orchard and the pond. Inside, the exposed wood beams and gorgeous live-edge counter gave the house a cozy woodsy smell and a warm, friendly feeling. The wood came from trees felled and milled on the property and Rob described the process of forestry management — taking skinny, distressed trees from beside the thicker looking counterparts because their skinniness was indication of slow, dense growth.

    Then we went up to the area where his younger son was just laying the foundation for his own home. We toured the sweet outdoor kitchen, composting toilet, and the wooden frame ready and waiting for the concrete truck which would arrive the next morning.

    I was inspired, to say the least. My own dad and I have been talking about building a home together. I can’t think of very many things that would be more satisfying.

    I ate most of my share of the figs fresh within a day or two — subtle, sweet soft flesh popped into my mouth whole. All that remained was a little pile of stems in the compost bucket below the sink. But then, the remaining fruits started to get a little soft. I didn’t want to eat them all at once, so I looked for a way to turn them into something else to savor.

    I wanted to pair the figs with anise — one of our local bakeries makes an amazing yeasted Fig Anise Bread and I’m obsessed with the combination. It’s warm and crunchy and slightly spicy. But I wanted to make a breakfast bread, so I looked around for recipes with fresh figs and fell upon instruction for a Fig Tea Bread by Jenny Colvin of Jenny Bakes. It turned out that the tea in the recipe gave the bread a deep, smoky richness and lovely color and the seeds from the figs distributed through the bread gave a lovely crunch — something like poppy seeds in other breakfast breads. I reduced the other spices and the sugar, so the star anise flavor came to the fore, perfectly complimenting the soft sweetness of the figs.

    Figs, raisins, tea, star anise and nutmeg make up the flavor body

    I kept the fig chunks pretty big so they’d stay whole in the bread

    The figs soak in the tea for just over 10 minutes, then part of the tea is reserved for the bread

    Wet ingredients

    After the dry ingredients are in, mix in the tea, figs and raisins

    The finished loaf is dark brown and almost savory…

    Black Tea, Star Anise, Fig Bread
    Adapted from Jenny Colvin of Jenny Bakes

    1 cup figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
    1 cup Irish Breakfast tea, brewed double strength
    1 3/4 cup flour
    1 cup golden raisins
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    4 sections star anise, ground
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 cup sugar
    ½ cup olive oil
    2 eggs

    Gently combine figs and tea; let stand 10 min.

    In a medium sized bowl, beat sugar, oil and eggs to mix. Sprinkle flour, spices, baking soda and salt on top and mix until just combined.

    Drain tea from figs, reserving 1/4 cup of liquid. Gently stir in figs and ¼ cup tea; pour batter into well-greased loaf pan; bake at 350º F for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.

    Cool in pan 10 min., then invert onto a rack. Keeps on the counter in plastic wrap for up to 1 week, or freeze slices in plastic baggies and thaw in the toaster or microwave.

    August 30, 2009   11 Comments

    Apple Cider at S & S Homestead

    Thursday morning, I got up a little after 5, shook off the sleep, ate a bowl of oatmeal, packed my bag, and headed off on my bicycle towards the interisland ferry. On the boat, I fished out my little brown notebook to jot down some questions for the farmer at S & S Homestead where I was headed for a visit.

    I met Henning at the county fair. He and Peter (farmer here at Synergy) were part of a panel to discuss approaches to sustainable agriculture in the San Juans. They sat on opposite ends of the panel bench: two professor-turned-farmers well into their 70s, Peter, tall, fair, frail and deliberate and Henning, swarthy and compact and full of passion. Peter talked about economic sustainability and soil’s organic content; Henning discussed harnessing energies of the universe. At one point, Henning makes an aggressive jab at Peter, chiding him for importing chicken feed and potting soil instead of producing it on-site. Peter defends his position: after all, his farm has only been in operation for five years compared to Henning’s thirty-five. Henning tries to make peace and I step in to introduce myself and ask if I can come out for a visit. He’s impressed by my handshake and tells me to give him a call.

    So that’s how I find myself gazing out at the blood orange sunrise Thursday morning on the ferry ride over to Lopez. The ferry bumps up against the plastic bumpers of the Lopez dock and I trudge up the hill, mount my bike, and ride the six lovely miles out to S & S Homestead. I arrive at 7:30, the farm is still. I park my bike in a shed with other bikes for company and wander the small perimeter around what seems like the main farmhouse, looking for signs of life. I wander upon the front porch and see a woman who turns out to be Elizabeth who says she’ll get Henning from upstairs.

    Henning was part of the consulting team that helped Peter and Susan when they were starting up Synergy Farm five years ago. Susan’s eyes sparkle when she talks about the elegance of Henning’s farm systems: the self-sufficiency, the focus on soil-building, and the incorporation of animals. Manure from the animals fertilizes the pasture and makes beautiful compost for the garden. Damaged fruit feeds the pigs and old cabbage leaves are a treat for Lovejoy the milk cow. The farm family: Henning, Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s mother, and seven young folks eat from the farm’s bounty and return their waste to the soil by way of a composting toilet. Each element of the farm is part of a system and the grand orchestrator of it all are the farmers who have had years of experience and mistakes to hone their craft.

    That morning, after breakfast, I go with one intern, Colleen, for the morning milking, then head out with everyone to pick the season’s first crop of cider apples for pressing. It’s an inefficient process, but incredibly enjoyable: five of us pick apples into 5 gallon buckets and munch on Yellow Transparents under the orchard canopy while Henning and his towheaded grand-nephew from Stuttgart set up the press.

    Yellow transparents, ready for pressing

    Intern Colleen, teacher Heather, and nephew Sebastian operating the press

    Nearly full barrel is ready for shifting below the press

    Four 5-gallon buckets of apples made 2.5 gallons of cider and lots of extra pulp for pigs

    We cut the apples into chunks and feed them into the trough while someone turns the black wheel to grind the chunks into pulp which falls into the net-lined barrel below. Once the barrel’s full, we shift the barrel back on the platform to position it under the screwpress, we place a wooden lid on the top of the pulp, and use a stick to turn the wheel to push the press down and down till the golden liquid pours out the bottom and into our metal bowls.

    When we’re finished, we’re left with a bunch of seeds and skin and pulp to feed to the pigs.

    The farm is run by the biodynamic method, developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s in response to falling fertility in the soils in Germany. Despite the fact that he’s heralded as a poster-child of the method in the islands, Henning tells me that he didn’t know anything about biodynamics until 20 years into his farming adventure when a neighbor came around asking for certain animal parts to make special biodynamic soil preparations.

    The view of the orchard from next to the pond

    I’m still a novice in terms of my understanding of biodynamics, but three things strike me in particular as different from the biointensive approach we use here on Synergy: one, an appreciation for mystery and an underlying spiritual component; two: the importance of integrating animals into the system; three: the focus on nurturing the farmer and the farm family and the de-emphasis of financial profit. Most every process on the farm seems to be designed to maximize the health and happiness of the farm’s main inhabitants.

    Once we’re finished washing down the press, we head towards the farm kitchen to rinse off bowls and transfer the cider to jars for storing. On one wall, shelves of preserved food: chicken broth, pickles, jams, preserves, tomato sauce: a bounty of food to sustain the farm family through the winter season.

    On the kitchen table, a gorgeous huge crock of sauerkraut slowly fermenting.

    August 24, 2009   No Comments

    Under Cover Greens

    A few weeks ago, our farm welcomed a group of interested islanders in WSU’s workshop titled “Winter Fresh! Growing Your Own Produce in the Off Season.” We demonstrated some of the techniques we use for growing winter vegetables, including the low tunnels we build to protect some of the winter greens.

    One of the participants, Debbie Hatch, wrote up a great article summarizing some of the things the group learned from the different farms they visited. The article includes a picture of me and Susan setting up a tunnel in our North garden!

    Here in the Pacific Northwest, things like hoophouses, greenhouses, and tunnels can provide plants with extra protection from cold, snow, and wind. They lengthen the growing season and help folks grow fresh produce during times of the year when it might otherwise seem impossible.

    Not many market farmers in this area grow in the wintertime; for one thing, it requires a lot of work year-round rather than the seasonal bursts of energy and long winter hibernations that many cherish. But here on Synergy, we barrel straight through the year which means that now, in August, we’re extra busy, reaping the bounty of our spring plantings, and preparing for all the plants that will keep on through the winter.

    Here’s what the low tunnels looked like way back in early April:

    August 14, 2009   1 Comment

    Cutting up a chicken

    We had our second chicken processing last weekend, August 2nd. We slaughtered, dipped, plucked, and eviscerated 117 Cornish Cross broilers and a couple of ornery hens who had been cannibalizing eggs from the laying boxes for the last few weeks.

    It still amazes me that feed, water, breeding and a lot of labor can turn this:

    into this:

    …and all in about 8 weeks. It’s really a miracle of science (breeding a chicken to grow so quickly into something so edible) and nature and I feel blessed to witness and take part.

    More practically though, once the chickens make the transition from creature to meat, it becomes time for us to figure out what to do with the food we’ve produced.

    Our chickens taste good. Really good. And roasted whole, they’ve been said to make older folks weep (only a slight exaggeration) and exclaim that they haven’t tasted anything so chickeny since they were growing up in XYZ pre-industrial country.

    But sometimes it’s easier to have chicken pieces rather than the whole kit-and-kaboodle, so the other day, our neighbor Megan (a former chickenstress herself, and an expert on many things poultry) came over to show me and Susan how to cut up a chicken for storage.

    The main trick Megan taught us was how to separate the chicken into the traditional bits: breast, wing, leg, thigh, back, without muscling our way through bones. Instead, she showed us how to feel out the joints and cut around them. In the whole process, the only place we had to cut through bone was a 2” section between the breasts. Pretty amazing.

    The main tips I got from the lesson were:

    • use a really really sharp knife. it doesn’t have to be big. even a paring knife will do for everything except that small section of breast bone
    • always cut away the skin and flesh around the part you’re working on to get a better view of the bone to separate
    • move the joints to locate the points where your knife can cut through
    • I may never be able to do this as fast as Martin Yan, but I sure can do it better than before!

    1) Cut off the neck fat and reserve for tasty broths and soups

    2) With the chicken breast-down, feel for the joint of the wing by moving the wing back and forth. When you’ve located the round joint, cut away the skin and flesh around the joint, starting with the top and working your way around. Once you can see the white joint, use your knife to separate the two (you may need to also pull a bit to “pop” the two pieces apart). Repeat with the wing on the other side. You don’t have to do the wing first, but it makes it a little easier to deal with the leg.

    3) Turn the chicken breast-side up. Holding the drumstick in one hand and pulling away from the chicken’s body, begin cutting the leg and thigh away. When you reach the joint that connects the leg, wiggle it back and forth to see where it’s attached.

    Be sure to cut away all the skin and flesh so you can see well, then cut through the cartilage between the joint to separate completely. Repeat on the other side.

    4) To separate the thigh and drummet, hold the piece of meat perpendicular to the cutting surface, drumstick bone pointed down, so that the point of connection between the drumstick and thigh is pointing up. With your finger, feel along the top edge for a bump and small indentation — this is the joint and where you should cut (the bump stays with the drumstick). You can also wiggle the leg and thigh joint to feel it out. Cut the two apart, and separate the cartilage between the joint with your knife (you may need to apply slight pressure to “pop” it apart). Repeat with other side.
    5) Voila! You have your chicken body left. Look inside the cavity from the back and notice where the rib bones come together on each side of the chicken. You’ll see that the bones don’t actually join, but have a small gap.

    Cut down the gap on either side to separate the top from the bottom.

    To completely separate, either grab the two halves (top and bottom) in each hand and pull, or for those with more finesse, it’s possible to feel out the bones holding the two halves together and separate with a few knife strokes.

    6) Leave the back as is, or cut into two pieces. Starting just below the ribs, cut away flesh and skin, then grab either end and crack apart.

    7) To separate the remaining breasts, you can place the piece, flesh side down and chop in half with a heavy knife or cleaver OR you can start flesh-side up, feeling out the breastbone and cutting the skin and meat close right up against one side of the bone. Cut through the cartilage until you reach the last bit of bone. Prop the breast up perpendicular to the table, bone part on your surface, and use the butt end of your knife to break the last piece.

    And that’s a wrap!

    August 7, 2009   4 Comments

    Vampire Repellent and Rats’ Hearts

    So we all had a feeling that garlic was good for us, but apparently, fresh garlic helps rats stay heart-healthy more than dried out garlic that’s lost some of its compounds to the air.


    I always knew that garlic salt and garlic powder couldn’t hold a candle to the real stuff, freshly chopped. Now I wonder whether these crazy things have the same nutritional value as the awesomely fragrant, huge juicy cloves I’ve been chopping in my kitchen lately.

    Didn’t help this little guy much anyway…

    Photo of our barn-cat Google and little decapitated rodent, courtesy of Lucy.
    This little fellow didn’t even have a chance.
    Anyway, he was more a fan of plain whole-wheat spaghetti, not the garlic so much…

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    These days, when I’m not growing, cooking, eating, or writing about food, I’m generally reading what others have to say about (yes, you guessed it) FOOD. For more on what I’m reading lately, check out articles here and books here.

    August 5, 2009   2 Comments