There are people in this world who do not enjoy birthdays. Try though I might, I do not understand these folks. I LOVE birthdays, weddings, anniversaries... all those celebrations meant…
There’s so much to learn about these foods we eat: what they look like as seeds, how they first sprout through the ground, how their leaves change during their infancy, how they put so much energy into a beautiful bloom and then attempt to spread their seeds. Carrot seeds are tiny and iridescent. Okra leaves boast dark, burgundy veins and patterns. Rainbow chard just keeps on giving. Cilantro flowers could fill a bouquet subtly, much like baby’s breath, while squash blossoms would sing dramatically but for a fleeting moment.
I’ve only just begun to understand the connections between flowers and the foods we eat, how we often have to sacrifice the alluring blooms in order to arrive at the food on our plates. The Urban Farmer plucked the first crepe-paper-like squash blossoms to conserve the plant’s energy for food production. As the broad, leafy greens emerged like a tropical forest cover, the female blooms grew again and gave way to the crookneck squashes. Those first signs of yellow and green meant the flood gates had been released. Summer squashes are in full swing, and there’s no looking back!
The Urban Farmer’s CSA recipients have received three weeks of crookneck squashes. If you frequent your local farmer’s market, you too have probably begun to see squashes and zucchinis, growing larger by the week. Once these gourds start, they don’t seem to stop, so it’s time to be creative, lest we be bored by the bounty.
I like to imagine eating these squash boats by the glassy blue Mediterranean Sea, where the adjacent cliffs are speckled with the white, building-block homes, where old grandmas prepare traditional meals for hours. These squash boats are merely an interpretation of that distant cuisine, a way to savor the fragrant dill, its flowers and dollops of thick, tangy Greek yogurt.
For this dish to taste its best, be sure to find local celery, local dill and local squashes (or zucchinis). Once you take a bite of crisp, locally grown celery, the store-bought version seems like eating a rice cake when you could be feasting on a pastry! The celery greens not only make a fanciful garnish, but they add a lot of flavor too. Chop them up and mix them into each bite. Take advantage of the here and now of squashes, herbs and stalky greens. Let your mind wander to the seaside, to summer breezes, to the bluest blues above the mountains and to the glassy waves washing onto your toes.
Bon voyage & Bon Appétit!
Roasted Crookneck Squash with Quinoa, Lamb & Greek Yogurt
About This Recipe: Spelled out, this recipe looks complicated, but let the above images be your guide. Now is the time when squash flows, so take advantage and tweak this recipe several different ways. Use a zucchini instead of squash, or brown rice instead of quinoa. The idea is flexible. I used lamb because I was dreaming of Greek food, but you could use ground beef or chicken or even a seafood option.
The commercial, food photographers, with whom I work as a food stylist, will look at the photos in this post and think I’ve lost my marbles. Combined, we are a grocery store’s pain in the ass. We nitpick and fondle every, single apple, or we unearth the only perfectly spherical orange from the bottom of the citrus pyramid. We fluff and sort through every, single leaf of arugula or cobble together our own spring mix with pops of color.
When we arrive at the checkout, we reluctantly pass the food items, from our gloved hands, to the cashier and plead with the bagger to cushion every item as if it were a premature newborn. The whole experience is ridiculous, to the say the least, but like a model sequestered in hair & makeup for hours, our grocery store process fulfills society’s accepted notions of beauty. The leafy greens pictured here, however, are more like the beauty you observe when your grandmother’s aged hands knead bread, or when a toddler hands you a bouquet of dandelions. They are not perfect, but they are beautiful.
They are beautiful because they represent the Urban Farmer’s constant care, his planning, his ideals, his dedication to the land and community. The greens surround the kohlrabi as it emerges from the ground like a purple spacecraft. Subjected to the hungry, tiny, menacing mouths of cabbage loopers and aphids, these leaves weren’t headed toward the cover of Bon Appétit by any means, but they were headed to the juicer, and fresh, nourishing juice first thing in the morning is a beautiful thing!
Imagine going to the grocery store, fending off the oblivious shoppers and crying children to stake your claim at the dairy cooler, agonizing over food labels, arriving at the purest choice, and investing a small fortune in a gallon of the most earth-friendly, wholesome milk on the shelf. Then imagine returning home, unloading your groceries and promptly pouring half of that milk-of-the-gods down the drain. You wouldn’t do that with your milk, and yet, we as consumers probably discard a lot of valuable ingredients without a second thought.
The Urban Farmer lives and breathes the word “permaculture,” and the principles have begun to permeate our kitchen too. As the movement’s co-founder Bill Mollison described, “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.” (Check out this short video of Bill Mollison to learn a little more). In simpler terms, learn more, and waste less.
If we go back to that grocery store analogy, dumping a half-gallon of milk down the drain seems preposterous, but most of us, myself included, have tossed valuable greens into the compost, at best, or worse yet, straight to the garbage pail. These leafy greens offer a world of flavor beyond the pre-packaged produce aisle varieties, as well as many nutritional benefits. Inspired by the Urban Farmer’s permaculture interests and the latest CSA shares, I channeled a classic savory snack as a way to take full advantage of the seasonal turnips- chips and dip!
If you have a mandolin slicer, you’ll be able to mimic the thin crispness of store-bought chips, but being a rustic, knife-slicing type of gal, my “chip” consistency landed somewhere between a roasted potato and a potato chip. However, the extra depth soaks up the spices and delivers waves of flavor, especially when paired with a thick dollop of dip!
Accented with fresh, fragrant dill, this Turnip Greens Dip is reminiscent of the party spreads we all know, but this blend of raw turnip greens, garlic and thick and creamy Greek yogurt replaces guilty snacking with a clear conscious. This is wholesome, conscious eating that works to waste less and enjoy more.
We all affect the environment with our choices, but what I find inspiring about permaculture is seeking how my individual influence can be a positive force for the world, how I can add and contribute, rather than resisting and combating. You attract more flies with honey, as they say, so whether you’re a gardener, an old hippy, an “earth cruncher,” or just a plain old salty-snack lover, take advantage of the whole turnip, and share this savory snack with someone who might not understand your fixation with soil and seeds.
Baked Turnip Chips and Turnip Greens Dip
About This Recipe: If you’re a gardener or CSA member in planting zones 5 or 6, you’re probably seeing lots of turnips, radishes and herbs in your produce shares or at the farmers’ markets. These two recipes work together to use all of the turnips. The dip is also delicious on pasta or sandwiches, or any place you might use a pesto. The thickness of the turnip slices will alter baking time, so watch the turnips carefully when in the oven.
“Farming is a strange combination of forced patience and instant gratification,” is how local farmer Tara Rockacy explained her endeavor, and she would know! The lady has been moving and hustling, expanding, growing and evolving with each season, from CSAs to goats emerging from new barns to mingle with the city’s top chefs. The “forced patience” aspect reminded me how a farm must work in tune with the season and the elements. Unlike a business startup, there can’t be a complete change of direction mid-season. There can’t be a last-minute decision to focus on flowers because that’s what the market wants. That decision has to be planned and put in motion long before the competitive scrambling to catch a bridal bouquet. That’s why a bloom, at long last, is so instantly gratifying.
Nonetheless, my dreamer, imaginative, event designer, stylist side gets swept away with the farm’s full potential, until a brief reality check finds me ensnared in visions of long tables, farm-fresh bouquets, wedding vows amidst the basil, banjo nights, yoga by the hoop house, drawing classes with edible still lifes, herbalism workshops, etc, etc, etc. The “forced patience” is remembering the main goal for this season: to repair the soil, grow food and feed people. Everything else will come in its due time. Due time means starting small: one picnic table, four friends, and one enjoyable evening of just being on the farm.
“This is the first time I’ve had people on the farm and haven’t put them to work,” the Urban Farmer joked, and though the work is rewarding, just sitting, laughing and eating sausages was a welcomed change of pace.
Starting small, or simply starting, can be such a hurdle, so this cookout was a much needed reminder for me to slow down, enjoy this season, and take advantage of the here and now. I should probably plaster that reminder all over my apartment: Start small, start small, start small!
Bricks that once clad homes on these vacant lots, were born again as a our fire pit, where we grilled sausage and smoky potato wedges with herbs. The Urban Farmer picked the salad straight from the ground- a flavorful mix with bitter, citrusy notes and crunch- a far cry from the plastic container of greens in the produce aisle. The watermelon was juicy, the cocktail was refreshing, the view of the city was stunning, and dessert was just the right mix of sweet and tart.
While my head will probably always spin with ideas and grand dreams, I’ll take plenty more of these small, first steps and remember to appreciate patience, albeit forced, and cherish the ensuing moments of instant gratification!
Whole Wheat Lemon Mint Olive Oil Cake & Sage Lemonade Cocktails
About These Recipes: Olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest make this a moist, spongey cake fit for vegans and dairy-loving fools alike! Serve with homemade whipped cream, organic vanilla bean ice cream, or vegan whipped coconut cream. The cocktail is a loose recipe for a fruit-infused punch. Free of precise ratios, it’s an effective way to serve cocktails to multiple people. You’ll need a gallon jug or pitcher.
Like a dancer rehearsing tirelessly for a performance, the Urban Farmer has worked and worked for this day. Excitement, jitters, second guesses, strokes of confidence and last minute preparations culminate in today’s performance. Today the Urban Farmer delivers his very first CSA!
A CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) is the consumer’s way to invest in a farm. It’s a way to support principled farming practices with dollars and cents. It’s a way to share in the highs and lows, the bounties and the dry spells. It’s a means to understanding the seasons, the gambles and if all goes well, it’s a way to understand one of the best gifts of locally grown food: fresh, intense flavor!
Much like an Iron Chef challenge, a CSA arrives weekly with surprise ingredients. If your glass is half empty, the lack of choice and control will be a burden. What am I going to do with kohlrabi?! If your glass is half full, the array is a creative challenge and just the motivation you need to break with culinary monotony. Hopefully, you’re the latter.
The Urban Farmer could eat radishes (and just about anything from the ground) like grapes, but for many of us, the spicy, bitter and crisp radish is more perplexing. These bright red beauties emerge with a bouquet of greens, which we often overlook, tossing them into compost piles without a second thought. With so many radishes emerging from the field, my creative challenge was to harness more potential from these French Breakfast varieties: enter pesto!
In true S.A.T style, when I say “pesto,” your immediate association is probably basil, and the word nerd in me wondered, why is this? Is it a rule? Are pesto and basil inextricably linked?
In an intense research effort, I consulted Wikipedia, and I found my excuse to break with basil traditions:
The name [pesto] is the contracted past participle of the Genoese word pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle. The ingredients in a traditionally made pesto are ground with a circular motion of the pestle in the mortar. This same Latin root through Old French also gave rise to the English word pestle.
I respect European traditions enough not to assign names sacrilegiously, but Wikipedia permitted me to extend the idea of “pesto” to the ingredients of the very first CSA and fulfill my radish challenge. Whether you’re receiving the Urban Farmer’s very first CSA or a fresh bunch from another farmer, here’s to new ways of using the freshest, local offerings.
Radish, Chard & Leafy Greens Pesto
About this Recipe: Crunchy and garlicky, use this farm-fresh pesto wherever you would use the traditional basil version. The chard and large, leafy greens yield far more than their basil equivalents. Whether I used broccoli or cauliflower greens will be determined soon, when more of the vegetable protrudes from the ground. You can use turnip greens, kale or more chard as a substitute if need be. The main objective is just to use as much of the vegetables as possible. I left the texture of my pesto rather coarse, preferring to add more oil based on the application. The thicker consistency works well for these chèvre, back pepper and radish crostini. I skipped the cheese, preferring to add cheese with the application as well. The result is a vegan-friendly pesto with lots of healthy raw nutrients!
Whether it be knowing the proper pronunciation of French delicacies, or extolling “Third Wave” coffee preparations, being a self-proclaimed “foodie” entails a degree of snobbery. I’m guilty as charged. I take an unreasonable level of pride in my ability to walk through a produce section and identify fruits and vegetables, a talent steeped in the humble beginnings of a high-school, grocery-store, cashiering position. Yet as the saying goes, pride cometh before the fall, and in my case, I ate dirt in the cabbage patch.
In an effort to promote the Urban Farmer’s labor of love, I lend a hand on the social media front every now and then. Noting the beauty of the growing kale, I posted a picture to Instagram and then continued to weed and mulch. As we prepared a salad later that night, the Urban Farmer ever so gently told me he had to remove my post. I instantly panicked in that way perfectionists do, waiting to hear what grave faux-pas I had committed. “You wrote ‘kale,’ but you took a picture of cabbage.” So much for grocery store accolades. When it comes to the field, I’m a very humbled newbie.
In the spirit of my ignorance, I thought we’d play a little game and learn together because perhaps, like me, your knowledge of fruits and vegetables prior to their Whole Foods displays is insufficient. Here we go! Hum your own jingle (does it sound vaguely like Jeopardy?), put pencil (more forgiving) to paper, scroll through this post, don’t cheat, and identify these veggies! Answers at the bottom. Bonus points for identifying the weeds too! Hint: one of them is linked to lucid dreaming!
I don’t trust you cheaters, so the answers are after the jump.
Thanks for playing!
Hazelwood Urban Farms is the labor of love of my love, the Urban Farmer. His goal is to bring fresh food to vacant lots in a food desert. My goal is to share his story and find the perfect recipes for his crops. You can follow the farm on Facebook and Instagram, where I may occasionally mis-label vegetables in their infancy.