Sunday, August 26, 2012

Heirlooms and Happiness

There are smiles aplenty at Restoration Farm.   The heirloom tomatoes - the crown jewels of the summer harvest  - are in full array.  
At distribution, we are each offered pounds upon pounds of colorful tomatoes – heirlooms, slicers, Sun Gold, grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.   My biceps flex as I lift the bag.
Heirlooms are that sweet spot where the sun just briefly kisses the earth leaving swatches of brilliant color.  And they are exceptionally sweet this season at Restoration Farm.  
The taste is almost impossible to describe – tart, bright, sweet, meaty, clean, sunny, fruity, acidic, rich – or the sum of all such adjectives.    Words just don’t seem sufficient.

Pop them like candy …
Or slice them atop sandwiches …
Just don’t cook the life out of them.

For me, a fresh Heirloom Caprese Salad is the way to go, adorned with fresh mozzarella and basil from the garden.  
No recipe.  No heat.  Just sweet, brilliant summer glistening on a platter.  Sheer happiness.  
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Berry Field in Basic Black and a Blackberry Focaccia

One eventually comes to the realization that we now seem to gage the progression of summer according to the arrival of different fruits and vegetables.   Color and calendar are synonymous.  Such is the “biological clock” for most members of Restoration Farm. Lettuce, greens and strawberries characterize early June.   Blueberries, eggplant and zucchini tint mid-July.  In August we welcome brilliant heritage tomatoes the color of the rainbow and dark, ink-stained blackberries.  

In the back of one’s mind is the idea that one must seize the moment, as that brief blast of color, crunch, juiciness and flavor is temporary, no matter how glorious.  

The blackberries have signaled their imminent arrival for weeks, with hundreds of knotty red berries clinging to the bramble.   One by one, they have darkened.   When the word “Blackberries!” appears on the chalkboard at the distribution tent we descend on the fields to fill our baskets.
I encounter my friends Maria and Matthew in the berry patch.  Maria is looking for the last remaining blueberries, and a few can still be found.  We talk about how the berries might be transformed for a dessert or a recipe at our respective homes.  We call it "farm talk" -- sweet dreams of meals still to come.   Blueberry pancakes, grilled peaches with blackberries, or a blackberry focaccia. 
Matthew is combing the blackberry bramble for dark clusters of fruit.   It is an untamed patch of thorns, leaves, branches and berries.  On each branch, it seems like just one single berry has ripened.   It is meticulous work – picking one berry at a time – but heartening to know that the blackberries will continue to ripen for several weeks to come.  
Nearby, several goats have wandered over from the historic village and are being wrangled by a farm hand.  Two are black goats, distinctive, with a streak of wild abandon.  A bit like the blackberries of late summer.  
Blackberries conjure up memories of days past, romantic notions and even a touch of delectably dark cravings.   This recipe for blackberry focaccia promises a host of such sensual pleasures.  
It is a rustic temptation, dreamed up by British author Nigel Slater for his book “Ripe:  A Cook in the Orchard.” Consumed warm from the oven, it is a sweet indulgence that captures a brief moment in time. Inhale the sweet aroma of yeast and savor the rich, jammy flavor of blackberries that melt into the hot, crusty bread, as summer will soon be a delicious memory.  
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved   

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reflections of a First Time Kitchen Gardener

I remember the excitement of planting and harvesting string beans, chives and tomatoes as a child.   My favorite was the chives.  I’d snip them with a small scissor, take them to the kitchen, and my Mom would mix them into cream cheese sandwiches and scrambled eggs.

Yet, when I grew up and bought my own home, somehow, that nurturing gene seemed to recede.   I would attempt to garden with disastrous results.   My sunflowers were only two feet tall, the clematis never took, and the daffodils mysteriously vanished after one season.   Forget a “green thumb.”  Mine was black and blue.  

As I increased my culinary skills, I coveted a vegetable garden, but I was decidedly gun shy.   With a track record of flowers that withered, any attempt at vegetables was a clear path to starvation.  So I chose the next best alternative.  I outsourced.

For five seasons now, I’ve reaped the incredible harvest of community-sponsored agriculture.   I trust my farmers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning implicitly and I know there will always be food on my table, despite the unpredictability of Mother Nature.   But, after participating in seeding and harvesting at Restoration Farm for some years now, I begin to think that perhaps I’ve learned just enough to be dangerous.  While I would never forsake Restoration Farm, I might attempt a small kitchen garden, just for the sublime pleasure of having a selection of fresh herbs ready for snipping just outside my back door.  
So, in early May I take the plunge, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say I plunge my hands into the soil.  I choose an area of the yard that’s already cleared and has an irrigation system, so the plants are not reliant solely on me for survival.  I’ve done my research, and I know that certain herbs and greens will do well in my partially shaded plot.  Of course, the simple vision of a small herb garden immediately begins to morph and grow.
I purchase parsley and basil at the Restoration Farm spring plant sale.   Next, I head to Martin Viette Nurseries on the North Shore of Long Island where I purchased chives, mint, oregano and rosemary.   Here’s where I start to get a little cocky, and throw two varieties of Swiss chard and six Red Russian kale plants into the mix.   That afternoon, I dig and I plant.  Two weeks later I add several marigolds for a dash of color, and one small head of red lettuce that Caroline was giving away at the farm.  The basil, rosemary and oregano, which need more sun, are planted in pots on the deck. 

It’s fair to say I’ve already learned a few things in my first season as a suburban farmer:  
Mint Has a Reputation:  Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE who hears I planted mint in my garden has said, “You know, it tends to take over.”  For the record, I get it.  Mint is a pushy land grabber.  I’m keeping the clippers handy and planning a heck of a mint julep cocktail party.
Swiss chard is the Lazarus Plant:  After several weeks, I was convinced the Swiss chard crop would fail.  The large shiny leaves were quickly turning to fragile parchment.  But, then the plants staged a revival.  And I’ve managed to harvest a good number of healthy leaves for salads and steamed and stir-fried greens.
Choose Flower Pots for Drainage, Not Fashion:  In the back of my head, I knew it was a mistake when I did it, but the pots I picked for my deck herbs did not have drainage holes.   But, I liked the fact that they were Robin Egg Blue and I thought they’d look really perky on the back deck.   Now, after every rainstorm, I’ve got to drain the water that’s pooling in the pots.  Despite this boneheaded move, I’ve been able to liberally sprinkle fragrant basil leaves over all types of salads and sliced tomatoes.   The rosemary looks healthy and is poised for the first potato harvest. 
Aphids May Love Kale More than Humans:  First a word about the fecund nature of kale.   One kale plant can feed a family of two.  Six kale plants can feed a developing nation.  The leaves are the size of Cleopatra fans, and they just keep coming.  Unfortunately, the kale is under attack by little white aphids that seem to be gorging themselves on the nutritious leaves.  I’ve lost some, and the leaves that I have harvested need a good cleaning.  Unless I get really inventive, there’s no way I’m going to be able to consume all this.  Next year, one or two plants should do it.    
When in Doubt, Pick Flowers:  Perhaps my most successful “crop” to date has been the marigolds.   They’re tall and healthy.   Too bad you can’t eat them.  

July is Weed Month on Long Island:  I turn my back for a minute, and the weeds are suddenly everywhere.   That's what happens in July.  But I can't wish it will go away.  Like everything in life, you've got to take the time to kneel down, and start tugging out those weeds if you want the garden to prosper.  

Lovely Lettuce:  The small head of red lettuce, which was really an afterthought, performed remarkably well and resulted in several fresh and colorful salads.  Note to self – less kale and more lettuce next year. 
I Still Love Chives:  That burst of slightly oniony chlorophyll still pleases, and the three chive plantings each resemble an unruly Mohawk haircut.  I need to get better at harvesting the chives so they don’t go to waste.  I managed to pull enough from the garden for this savory chive and smoked cheddar cheese bread created by Dorie Greenspan and recently baked by Mary at the blog “One Perfect Bite.”
Is my thumb any greener?  Perhaps it’s now a faint shade of teal if you catch it in the right sunlight.  It’s unlikely that I’ll ever grow all my own food, but what’s more important to me, is that my garden and I have grown exponentially.  And what’s really sprouted is the idea that it’s important and healthy to tend your own garden and reap the rewards.   
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

“A Taste of Long Island” Food Market and Commercial Kitchen Opens for Business

Long Island’s first specialty market devoted to local products of the region is now welcoming customers with its grand opening weekend happening right now, and culminating in a ribbon cutting ceremony on the evening of Monday, August 6, 2012.  
Owners Courtney and Jim Thompson – a Daughter and Dad team – created A Taste of Long Island with a dual purpose.   The Farmingdale, Long Island business is both a commercial kitchen for local entrepreneurs looking to produce batches of  “made on Long Island” branded food products.   The specialty food market at the front of the store offers clients who use the kitchen – as well as other Long Island food artisans – the chance to sell their products to retail customers.   
The shelves are now stocked with all manner of diverse and delectable products springing from the hearts, minds, hands and soil of Long Island food artisans.  Colorful labels list places of origin such as Huntington, Bellmore and Peconic.  
The commercial kitchen has been up and running since early July, and clients have been lining up to schedule shifts. Bobby Tomatoes fresh spreads, “Tomato Delight” and “Parsley Delight” were produced in the Taste of Long Island kitchen and are now available in the food market.  
Catapano Goat Cheese - produced on Long Island’s North Fork, and a Culinary Types favorite – is available, along with a selection of soaps and beauty products made at the Catapano Dairy.
A stunning double-layered carrot cake prepared by a pastry chef and caterer who runs the company “David’s Delights,” sells at local farmers markets, and promises “the best desserts around,” has a prominent spot in the new pastry display case. 
“We’re a small business that is helping other small businesses expand, and we’re excited about that,” says Jim.  
Throughout the grand opening weekend, there are tastings scheduled by various Long Island food artisans.  Weekly tastings of Long Island wine are planned for the future, as well. 
A Taste of Long Island is located at 211A Main Street in Farmingdale, Long Island.   The phone number is 516-694-2859.   A complete list of vendors can be found here. When you visit, you’re not likely to leave empty handed! 
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved