strawberries and snap peas

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It’s been hard for me to write this week because my feelings have been all jumbled up. Sometimes life is very complicated. My entire self seems to be saturated with intermittent feelings of excitement, depression, anxiety, enchantment, bliss, and self loathing.

This must mean I’m finally an adult.

Frankly, the only lasting ups that I’ve had this week have been directly connected to good meals. There have been fresh strawberries and baby peas in my life. Also, to celebrate an anniversary, Thom and I drove up to Portland, ME, and ate dinner at Fore Street as a treat. Somehow, despite the novelty and general amazingness of Fore Street, it couldn’t compare to late spring fruits and veggies.

The memory of biting into a fresh itty bitty green pea is impossible to replicate. Crisp, juicy, sweet, and summery….

When I was little, living in Northampton, MA, my family had a small yard behind our house. It had a little chain link fence dividing it from our neighbors yard in a very suburban way. Along the fence every year grew little snap peas.

In June I would go out and check the pea’s progress like it was a ritual. Sometimes I would let the pods fatten and grow until they were swelled and sweet as candy. Other times I would eat them right away.

I miss being a kid. I’m sad that I’ve already run out of my second bag of snap peas this week. I still have strawberries left, but they’re a different beast.

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Strawberries to me are complicated. They are sweet, but sometimes in a way that makes me question what it is they really are. Their seeds bury between my teeth without fail, and with no promise of wriggling free on their own. Grocery store strawberries are the worst. They have a pervasive flavor that seems to linger.

They make me dislike growing up. I never started pinpointing the faults in strawberries until I was coming home from college for good. I was in the car with my mom, enjoying a bag of strawberries. It had been a hard year all around. I felt defeated.

My hands started to itch. They were turning red. I was tired. Strawberry seeds were vacationing in my gums. Life was complicated. I didn’t need fruit to be. At that moment I turned my back on strawberries at large.

Since then I’ve softened up to them a little. There are time when you can find the perfect box of strawberries. They will be small, entirely red, firm with a little give, and so so sweet. Not in that cloying processed strawberry way. Sweet like summer rain. Sweet like a kiss.

I found one of those boxes of strawberries last monday at the Durham Market. The stand was inconspicuously tucked in the middle of the line of stalls, but I knew what I was looking for. I knew that I needed to find those strawberries first. I was nearly knocked aside by two women behind me to get them – there were only six boxes. But I made it home safely with an idyllic box of strawberries.

The didn’t even last the whole night. These strawberries are the kind that could start wars. I couldn’t chance them being around too long.

I tried to get an equal box of strawberries later in the week at the Exeter Market. This box was one of dozens upon dozens, from a much larger vendor. I could tell when I saw them that they weren’t going to be the same, but I got them anyway. They were good… but not worth the trouble. They didn’t have the magic of the first box.

I am starting to think that you only get one box like that in the summer. None of the ones that follow compare. It’s like growing up. Magic happens less and less, and you have to forget what it’s like before you can experience new magic.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. If I’m not, I’ve still got my snap peas.

Chinese Scallion Pancakes with Yummy Duck

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I cannot keep secret my general dislike of chicken. I cook with it on occasion, but more as a filler protein than the main component of my meal. I know that generally chicken is pretty good for you as far as animal protein is concerned. But the flavor is so bland and specific to me, and the product overused.

Thus, I find myself constantly in search of chicken substitutes. This is how I became engrossed in learning how to prepare duck. Unlike chicken, duck strikes me as having a very complex flavor. While chicken is great at yielding to spices in curries and sauces, highlighting the cultural flavors, duck asks to be complimented. It doesn’t always yield – but it certainly rises to the challenge.

I enjoy a challenge, especially when pairing flavors. It’s also nice to be able to offer an alternative to pork and beef in a recipe.

This recipe is really a whole meal. The beauty is that this meal can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. I personally love the feeling when everything in my meal was coaxed together with my own two hands. Sometimes that’s far too much work, however.

The duck is the key to this meal. I got mine from Kellie Brook Farm after an awesome reader pointed me in their direction. Tim and Kellie Rocha are wonderful farmers, and when I told Kellie I’d be writing about cooking her duck, she jokingly insisted I let everyone know “His name was Quack.”

One of the many reasons I like being able to talk to my farmer.

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If you don’t want to put all the effort into making a sauce, and the cute little Chinese scallion pancakes, I know you can buy both at most major grocery stores. The pancakes are usually in the frozen section and heat up quite nicely. Plum sauce or duck sauce can be found in the international food aisle.

I’m a bread baking junkie – it totally focuses me and mellows me out. So I love making doughs from scratch. Not everyone is this nutty.

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But, individually, none of these recipes are too hard – I just want to recognize that they can be a lot all at once.

Duck Sandwiches in Little Chinese Scallion Pancakes

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The Duck

  • 3 – 5 lb Duck
  • Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • Tablespoon Cloves
  • Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • Tablespoon Ginger
  • Tablespoon Fennel
  • Salt
  • 1 Ginger Root

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Mix all the spices together. Rub the entire duck inside and out, first with salt and then with the spice mix. Cut off an end of the ginger and rub it on the duck. Roughly chop the ginger and stuff the duck with it.

Place the duck on a roasting pan. Insert in the oven for an 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the duck. Check on it throughout, pricking the skin a few times to let out excess fat. You want to internal temperature to be around 160. For the last 15 minutes crank the temperature up to 400 to get the skin nice and crispy.

Remove the duck from the oven. Once it has cooled enough use two forks to pick the meat off the bones. I like to mix the skin in with the meat. Depending on how many people you’re feeding you can either pick off all the meat and discard the carcass, or just pick half of the meat and freeze the rest to make soup later on. I’ll be doing the latter!

Set aside the meat in a nice serving dish.

The Sauce

  • A nice handmade jam – I used peach raspberry for this particular recipe
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Dollop a four or five generous spoonfuls of jam into a small saucepan. Add the soy sauce and the chili powder. Mix it all up and set over a medium heat. Let it get nice and bubbly before bring down the temperature to low. Let it reduce until you have a nice thick sauce – which might not be long depending on the type of jam you use. Make sure to taste it and make any adjustments! Your sauce should be a little bit salty, but primarily nice and sweet with a chili kick.

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    The Scallion Pancakes

I love these pancakes. I got the recipe for them at Serious Eats, whom I think does a really good job showing how to make them. I swapped out about a cup of whole wheat bread flour for part of the white flour to give them a little more substance.  Also, when I went to fry them, I brushed each side with a little of the duck fat from the roasting pan that I had just pulled out of the oven. Delicious!

Scallions are abundant right now, so get them from your local farmer! New garlic would also be a totally awesome substitute.

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Once you’ve made everything the pancakes are easy to construct. I like putting a little bit of veg such as pea shoots, radish shoots, or bean sprouts. They’re perfect finger food, and very filling!

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asian hot and sour rhubarb pork with new garlic

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Though what I really wanted to do was make something asian inspired featuring duck and rhubarb, and new garlic, duck is still quite hard to come by this time of year. So is chicken. All of the chicks and ducklings have gotten bigger and been put out to pasture, but few of them are ready for slaughter yet. So it goes.

Pork, however, has been easy to source. Just about every farmer who I know sells meat has a fair amount of pork to choose from. I ran into Bob Barth from Birch Hill Farm in Lee recently who advised me “Everyone needs a boar.” I suppose I wouldn’t know, but I’m going to eat local pork all the same.

This is an interesting time for pigs. A large chinese company has just started the huge purchase of Smithfield Foods, America’s largest pork producer. The chinese are finding they can’t raise enough pork to meet demand in their country, and also the economy is raising enough that the Chinese are interested in “high-quality” American Meat.

On top of this purchase, grain prices are skyrocketing. A common misconception that consumers have is all livestock thrive on grass. This isn’t the case. Cows do, and it’s better for their meat if they’re feed a grass heavy diet. Pigs on the other hand can’t digest that much grass. They need grain and other supplementary food to be healthy. Mainstream pork producers aren’t going to be able to keep the prices of factory farmed pork down in the modern agricultural climate.

However, this doesn’t change things for local farmers all that much. They’ve always had prices that are an honest reflection of what it takes to raise and slaughter and animal. Pork is one of the few meats that you can actually truly taste a difference in quality of life of the animal. A happy pig is a yummy pig. Small local farmers for the most part can be trusted to raise happy pigs.

I get different pork products from different farmers. I’m especially partial to pork chops from New Roots Farm. I like Hurd Farm’s ribs. But I always migrate back to Kellie Brook Farm when I want to work with a really interesting piece of meat. Tim Rocha is very knowledgable when it comes to is product. I can tell him what I’m cooking and he can tell me what cut of meat to use. So far, he hasn’t led me astray.

For this dish, he told me to use Pork Steak.

Don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with pork steak. You’d be hard pressed to find it in a grocery store. Like most cuts of pork that aren’t incredibly mainstream, it usually just gets ground up with the odds and ends, which is a shame because its a lovely cut of meat. It is tough, so you’ll either want to slice it thin like I do for this recipe, or pound it out… but its terribly yummy and quite lean as far as pork is concerned.

Hot and Sour Rhubarb Pork – Serves 4

Ingredients

  •  1 – 2 lbs Pork Steak, or other comparable meat. Be brave and talk to your farmer about what meat would work best! (Kellie Brook Farm, Hurd Farm)

(for marinade)

  • 14 oz Rhubarb (Live Free Farm, Willow Pond Farm)
  • 4 Tablespoons Raw Honey
  • 4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 1 stalk of New Garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ancho pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel
  • Hunk of fresh ginger
  • 1 Dried Chile, seeded

(for salad)

  • 14 oz Brown Rice Noodles, or Plain Brown Rice
  • 4 Green Onion, nicely sliced up (Stout Oak Farm)
  • 1/2 lb of mixed Sprouts and Herbs – cilantro, basil, mico-greens, pea shoots, etc (Live Free Farm, Meadows Mirth Farm, Stout Oak Farm)
  • 1/4 lb of Baby Bok Choi, or Tat Soi (Live Free Farm)
  • 2 Limes

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the pork steak up very thin, about a half of an inch. You may even want to only thaw it 3/4 of the way, if you buy it frozen. This makes the slicing easy. Put aside in a casserole dish.

Put all of the ingredients for the marinade into a food processor. Pulse until you have a chunky sauce, and pour that sauce over the pork. Add about a cup of water and mix everything around so that the pork is nicely covered. Pop the pork into the oven for about an hour and a half. You’ll notice that any edges sticking out of the pan will start to get pink and crunchy. About midway through put on your brown rice, if that’s your starch of choice.

Remove the dish from the oven and pick the pork out of the rhubarb with a pair of tongs. You’ll be left with a nice tangy thickened sauce. Spoon the sauce into a serving dish for later.

Drizzle some vegetable oil in a wok and get it nice and hot. Throw the pork on and let it sizzle until the pork gets nice and crispy. If you’re opting to serve the pork with noodles, this is a good time to put them in the boiling water and swirl them around until they’re tender.

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Put the noodles and pork in their respective serving dishes, out with the rhubarb sauce, cut up limes, and a salad made of the sprouts and cresses. Build your own plate! I usually start with the noodles or the rice, pile the salad on top, and finish it with the pork, sauce and lime… but mix it up as you wish!

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luna moth – a lesson in impermanence

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Disclaimer – this post is hardly food or farm related at all.

At two in the morning, Thom was getting back from filming our friends playing music and he found a beautiful luna moth clinging to our front door screen. It was luminescent in the moonlight, and impressive in size.

I’ve been worrying about it ever since. I got up a few times in the night to see if the moth was still there. It was. It is right now. When I woke up this morning I did a little research on Luna Moths. At first what I found made me sad.

Luna Moths in their adult form cannot eat. They do not have mouths.

Luna Moths in their adult form typically die in seven days or less. Their only job is to create more Luna Moths.

I tapped the screen this morning. Our Luna moth slowly stretched her wings. She’s a girl, girls have smaller antennae. She has no plans of moving, which I respect, she’s a night creature.

The Luna Moth is either just begun it’s seven days, and has picked our porch to wait for a mate, or has just ended her seven days and has picked our porch to die. There is really nothing we can do one way or another but leave her undisturbed.

She makes me think of a little Greek goddess. In the stories of the Greek gods they always have this incredible limitations. Like not being able to eat. Even more Grecian is the fact that when she was a caterpillar all she did was eat. Luna Caterpillar have an insatiable appetite.

Plus, she looks like a little deity.

She’s a beautiful reminder that time in this world is fleeting.

moving and market babies

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Daisies on the New Desk

We moved this week.

It’s been exhausting and disorienting. But Thom and I have spent more time together now than we have in perhaps the last two months, and its been great. We’ve made each other smile a lot, even though the move has left us tearing our hair out.

I finally set up my office this afternoon, the sun came out yesterday, and I thought about writing an entry for the blog for the first time since we started to move.

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Anachronistic Blogger’s Typewriter

Tomorrow I plan on sharing more recipes. I had some successes with rhubarb that have made me very happy. And can you believe it, no pie yet! But I’ve been stocking up on rhubarb, chopping it into bits and storing it in our new stand alone freezer.

I got my most recent three pounds of rhubarb from Live Free Farm last week, which happened to be my first escape from working and unpacking. It was great. The market was nice, and Thom came with me to shoot a few pictures.

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Maddie and Violet at the Live Free Farm Stand

Suffice is to say, Thom only really took pictures of babies last Thursday. It was a sunny, baby kind of market, which seemed fitting with all the seedlings. If you haven’t seen a picture of Live Free’s youngest farmer, Violet, you’re really missing out.

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A Mama and Baby at Market

Get ready for more local food recipes starting tomorrow morning, and I hope to see you at Exeter’s market this week!

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.011 – Learning to Breathe

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Life has been undeniably intense of late. We’re moving – in with my parents, of all things – and though all the parties involved are being accommodating and wonderful there’s a little spider of stress running up and down my spine and making it harder to breath. My work schedule has moved around so that I have a lot of daytime hours free, but this has somehow left me more muddled than I was when I was working.

So it goes.

It’s because of that, I think, that I’ve been giving the blog so much attention. But, is too much attention a bad thing? There are so many things I’d like to be doing with it. So many directions I’d like to go. A part of me wants to push-push-push and make everything move so much faster, which would be impossible. The blog is still an infant that could grow into anything. The only definite is time.

I have a few more Farm Stories to write and take pictures for, and recipes have come pouring out of my brain like water. I’m forced to try and catch them all, to no avail, which leaves me a little bit frantic. There’s hake, swiss chard, sorrel, scallions, micro greens, lard, three types of eggs, lots of cheese and milk vying for my attention in the refrigerator. I don’t have enough time to love them all, though I feel like I should

Last night I went to the Seaport Fish Market, dead set on buying soft shelled crabs and cooking them for another update. I was going to serve them with a bright sorrel and micro green salad and maybe some purple potatoes. But when I saw them they were just too sweet and so much tinier than I had imagined in my head. It hit me that I’d need to cut off their eyes and mouth before I could prepare them. They were all folded up on each other – they looked like little monks deep in prayer. The crabs were tiny and calm and I lost all my steam.

I left the market with a pound of hake and the knowledge that I would not be cooking that fish last night. Instead I would be eating a hummus salad and allowing myself to breathe. When there’s so much going on you can forget why you’re doing anything at all. It’s dangerous to move for movements sake.

Sometimes cooking is taxing. There can be a lot of thought required. Like running that sort of mental work out can feel very good. Or it can feel very bad.

This blog’s main purpose is to keep me inspired and on track as a local food consumer. I hope that it inspires some other people as well, but if it doesn’t I know I did what I needed to do for myself. It shouldn’t be a personal marathon of food. Food is meant to be enjoyed, shared, and loved. For people like me food is love. Even when it’s just a salad with hummus.

And let’s face it – there’s no such thing as just a salad with hummus.

.010 – Rhubarb and Pork Chops

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Rhubarb has been a constant source of wonder for me ever since I was a child. I was born in Berkeley, CA, and I remember my parents had huge rhubarb stalks that grew up behind the house. I asked about them a lot – what they were, what they tasted like, how you cooked them….

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.009 – Nettle and Root Vegetable Soup with Poached Quail Egg

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I’ll have to admit, when faced with the challenge of cooking nettles, I felt a little nervous. If you’ve ever been stung by one you’ll know what I mean. Though they have a great nutty flavor when cooked, nettles leave some nasty little welts when they’re raw. I’ve been told that nettles are really high in protein and iron, especially for a leafy green.

I did a little research, and found out that nettles are great in creamy soups. My potted herb garden has been going kind of crazy outside, so I needed to trim it, and I decided to throw those in the mix with the stinging nettles. The sweet man from Mona Farm got me hooked on the idea of quail eggs, and my boyfriend suggested throwing in a few chunks of potatoes and a recipe was born.

For those of you new to nettles, they’re fairly abundant in New England. I’ve found a few at the farmers markets, and got my first bundle from Live Free Farm, but you can also forage them in field areas. I found a nice blog post on the subject for those interested in finding them, themselves. http://and-here-we-are.blogspot.com/2013/03/foraging-for-nettles-its-fun.html

DO NOT handle the nettles without gloves. I can’t emphasize this enough. Once they’re cooked the chemical that stings steams off, but prior to that you can get really painful surprises.

I decided to add in the quail eggs mainly because of the wonderful man from Mona Farm, and the fact that I love quail’s eggs, but I never know what to do with them. After trying them in soup I am happy to say they make a nice alternative to dumplings.

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Spring Nettle and Root Vegetable Soup with Poached Quail Eggs

Ingredients

  • ½ lb of Nettles (When I originally tested this recipe, I got them from Live Free Farm, however I ran out of those and bought the batch for this recipe from Osprey Cove Organic Farm & Stone Wall Farm)
  • ¼ lb of Herbs (I used a mix of Chocolate Mint from New Roots Farm and Thai Basil and Purple Basil from Aspen Hill Farm. But this is flexible.)
  • Olive Oil
  • Knob of Butter
  • 2 Shallots (Meadow’s Mirth Farm)
  • 4 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 lb Potatoes (Some for the broth and some for chunks to add in. I bought some plainer looking fingerlings from Meadow’s Mirth, and then some lovely purple potatoes from Meadow’s Mirth and Heron Pond Farm. I used about ¾ of a pound in the first part of cooking, and ¼ for the rest. I encourage you to sub in other root veggies, however I personally found a hard time getting turnips soft enough to serve with the rest of the dish.)
  • 4 cups Water or Chicken Stock
  • 2 cups Raw Milk (We have ours delivered from Huckens Farm.)
  • 4 Tbs Raw Honey
  • 2 Tbs Ground Cloves
  • 1 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • A quarter of a wedge of Lacey White Goat Cheese from Hickory Nut Farm (Or some other really bitter aged semi-soft cheese)
  • Salt

Quail Eggs

  1. Chop up one of the shallots and half the garlic and throw them in the bottom of a big cooking pot with some butter and olive oil. Cook until the shallots turn translucent.130512_0188

  2. Peel and thinly chop ¾ of a lb of potatoes. Toss them in with the shallots and garlic and let them cook for a few minutes until they start to get soft.130512_0198

  3. Add the water and bring it up to a rolling boil. Drop the nettles and herbs in the water and let them boil for just a few minutes before bringing the water down to a simmer. Let simmer until the potatoes are completely soft.130512_0227

  4. Combine the milk, cheese, cloves, caraway seeds, and honey to the herb broth. Let simmer for five more minutes, giving everything a good stir.130512_0255

  5. (For this next step I used an inversion blender, however you can also use a regular blender or a food processor. Inversion blenders are awesome for soup however.) Blend all the ingredients until you’re left with a smooth broth. At this point don’t expect it to be too thick. Add salt to taste. Leave on low simmer throughout.130512_0290130512_0293

  6. Chop up the rest of the shallots, garlic, and potatoes. It’s fine to leave the skin on these potatoes. In another pan pour a little olive oil and sautee the rest of the ingredients. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are nice and soft. Pour them into the nettle and cream broth and combine.130512_0319130512_0332

Poaching the Quail Eggs

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  1. In a small saucepan bring three cups of water to a ROLLING boil. Quail eggs can be a little tricky, but the man from Mona Farm taught me a trick. Get a serrated knife and cut off the top of the egg like removing a little hat. Once removed, pour the yolk and white out into a ladle.130512_0345130512_0351130512_0359
  2. Gently slide the egg into the boiling water and off the ladle. As soon as the white turns opaque the egg is ready to come back out. Because you’re serving them in hot soup its ok for them to be slightly under poached. They can be kept in a dish half full of water for up to 24 hours, if you want to serve them later.130512_0361130512_0362130512_0366130512_0368

  3. Poach three to five eggs per bowl of soup, depending on how many people you’re serving. Once the eggs are poached, ladle the soup into bowls, plop the quail eggs in with the soup and enjoy! I find this dish goes very nicely with a bright salad!

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.008 – Scavenger Hunt!

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Example of the herb seedlings you can buy that are obscenely easy to repot and take care of. Herbs forever!

I was really excited to post a recipe that readers would be able to pick up ingredients for at tomorrows market. Unfortunately, life caught up with me, so I ran out of time to take pictures of the recipe after I polished it up.

Luckily I came up with a plan! Below I’m listing the ingredients you’ll need for the recipe, which I will post on Monday. I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, but I can promise it’s a fun one that’s well worth the wait.

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