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Archive for July, 2010

Odd how that happens. Clearly I don’t have enough time to get around to posting (or more likely way too many posts scheduled. Readers, things are scheduled to auto post for the next two weeks solid).

Well, this past Wednesday I had the amazing and a half neighbors over for dinner, and decided to make something special. This is half because I can’t resist a challenge, half because I am insane, and half because they ALWAYS are having me over for dinner and I very rarely return the favor because my house is small (and some of them are allergic to cats).

At any rate, I decide to make another Julia Child meal. This one was centered around the fact that I had something on par of 20 pounds of squash in my fridge. This isn’t too much of an exaggeration- it would be more accurate to say there were maybe around 9, but whatever.

First up, the zucchini au gratin- just like potatoes au gratin, but with, well, zucchini.

Julia’s recipe asks you to grate the zucchini first, and squeeze out all the juice, and then use it for cooking. I hate grating zucchini. A lot. Which is why I never make zucchini bread even though I love it. I always end up grating my hand instead of the zucchini, and that doesn’t do anyone any good. So I thought to myself: what if I just slice the zucchini like I would with potatoes, and use a little less liquid and let the juice from the zucchini just seep out while they cook? It seemed to work. I used all yellow zucchini from Colchester.

The basic concept is: sauté the zucchini really briefly (like 3 minutes), layer in the buttered pan with the sauce (which is butter, flour, and milk, heated just until the butter melted and whisked), and topped with grated cheese (Julia says Swiss, I used cheddar from Eve’s Cheese). Then baked! It was pretty awesome. My one thought for next time would be to use less milk- zucchini have a lot of moisture. I might also try adding some cheese to the sauce instead of just putting it on top.

Next up I decided to make chicken sautéed in white wine. Sadly my pictures did not turn out well, because my living room is dark and I hate using the flash because it makes chicken look all greasy and gross. The chicken is from Cedar Run– Julia seems to suggest using a whole chicken, but I just got thighs, as they are easier (and the dark meat is healthier!).

This is pretty simple: heat butter and oil til they are really hot (just like the steaks!), throw in the chicken pieces (and stand back, the fat splatters), brown briefly on either side, and then add chicken broth (mmm) and white wine and a tiny bit of seasoning. Julia also gave the option of sautéing (separately) onion, garlic and peppers, which I did, and then added them toward the end of the cooking. After the chicken is done and removed from the pan, boil down the remaining sauce to reduce (just like the steaks!) and pour it over the chicken to serve. We also poured it over:

The braised risotto!

Now here’s the thing. My usual method of cooking is: chop everything. Dump it in one (or both) of my giant frying pans. Add a ton of seasoning. Serve. I love curry, I love spicy chili or ginger asian dishes, I love spicy Mexican food, and I love love love really hot curry. So this Julia Child cooking is, well, weird. It has no spice. The most spice you use is pepper. Everything else is basically left to taste like whatever it tastes like. The appeal of this method for a local foodie like me is that for once I actually can taste what I’m cooking, rather than just tasting the spice. And in the case of steaks, and chicken, and even zucchini, that is a revelation. But rice? Really?

Once again I was totally amazed. The only reason I made the risotto at all was because I wanted to add a starch (to make sure I had enough food for 5) and didn’t feel like messing with potatoes again. Plus I love risotto. But usually I, you know, add spice. I didn’t do the “plain” recipe because it was too scary, but the one right after was the braised recipe and I thought, well, ok, it has some flavor, plus you add white wine so it will go with the chicken. The concept is: you sauté some onions in, surprise!, butter, and then add the rice (risotto is actually Arborio rice, if you were unaware) and cook it dry for a few minutes. Then you add chicken stock and a little white wine.

Oh my god. It’s amazing. The flavor is really subtle, so if you are like me you will be tempted to reach for the salt. But don’t. The point is to taste all the flavor, and because I make heavily seasoned chicken stock, there is rather a lot once you get over the lack of spice. Pouring some of the chicken sauce on top did help quite a lot too.

All in all, a truly fabulous meal. Especially with the fabulous company! And despite it taking a while because I kept checking and rechecking the recipes, it was, in fact, simple. Really simple. I could make the rice again without even thinking about it- and probably the same with the chicken. That’s the beauty of Julia Child cooking. Once you get the method down, it is really, truly, simple cooking. That is absolutely delicious.

Of course I did all this after a full day at the farm, so I passed out as soon as the dishes were rinsed and in the sink, but it was worth it.

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Next up is Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville. We had fun finding this one- as I noted earlier, some of the farms had almost no signage whatsoever, which turned out not to be the case with Godfrey’s, but as we were presuming there would be no signage we ended up stopping at a random tiny antique store in the front of someone’s house and asking to pick peaches. They looked at us like we were nuts and then sent us further up the road. So do not be deceived. Keep driving until you see the Godfrey’s sign.

Godfrey’s is a very large (by my standards) farm that grows conventional produce, fruit, and flowers. They have a big ole barn with all kinds of selection, including some fascinating value added products (including blue crab salsa. Who knew?). They also have pick your own fruits and flowers. The flowers were lovely on the way in:

Most of what I’ve heard about Godfrey’s is about their asparagus, but alas, asparagus season is long past. I did get some green beans though. We opted not to pick because I think all of us have some misgivings about large farms (and we were really hot), which is probably unfortunate because I’m sure the fruit was great. I’ll be talking about this in a post later this week. It fascinates me that farms like this choose to do u-pick, and I hope to one day get a chance to talk to the farmer as to why they do it, because the vast majority of their sales are wholesale. They sell a lot of their fruit to road side stands (ie when you are driving along 50 to Ocean City, and see lots of signs that say “PEACHES!!” These are not from the farms that you can see just beyond the stands. Those are grain farms. They come from farms like Godfrey’s, tucked way back off 300.

Worth a stop if you are looking for more of the conventional u-pick experience. Here is what you will find:

For more information, check out their website, godfreysfarm.com.

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One of my favorite stops on the tour was White Marsh Farm outside of Centreville. For all my obsession with orchards, I had no idea there was one so close. I’ve even walked past their stand at the farmer’s market over and over again without noticing- because it’s so small and it’s on the side I don’t usually shop, because I don’t know too many people over there.

No more. When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted with actual signage, which, after the past couple farms where we were lucky we could find anyone actually involved in the farming, was reassuring. The signage clearly directed us to the U-pick and gave us instructions on how to go about filling buckets with delicious peaches, blackberries, and nectarines. As we were reading the sign, Tom, the owner, came out to lead us to the bounty. As we walked he explained that he was a regular guy in real estate, and had been looking for a retirement home- but instead found acreage outside Centreville and before he knew it was running an orchard. I could commiserate. Fruit trees do that to you.

He was a sweet guy and had a ton of great stories about how his neighbors, friends and family thought he was crazy for planting peaches. I could relate to that too. There’s just something about it, though, standing in an orchard. Even standing there talking to him in the blistering heat (the heat index was 116), I was ridiculously happy being surrounded by peaches. I don’t know what it is. Orchards are just awesome. I’ll try and let the pictures speak for themselves.


Delicious nectarines. Which I devoured. If you’ve never had a nectarine, you are sorely missing out on life.


(Note the sweat pouring off my shoulders. It was that hot.)


Millions of peaches. Peaches for me.

If you’d like to get fruit from White Marsh Farm, PLEASE drive out and visit them and pick your own! It’s well worth it! They also do Christmas trees in the winter. From Centreville, go north on 213 and turn right on White Marsh Rd. The farm is down about a mile or so on your left. You can also find their produce at the Chestertown Farmer’s market, and soon to be more!

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While I am busy compiling the Farm Trail posts, a brief interruption to tell you about the delicious meals we put together this weekend…

First up, I got Julia Child’s book “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom” for my birthday, and was determined to make a meal entirely from the book. In the fridge we had lots of squash, which the handsome fella won’t eat (rolls eyes), steaks, potatoes, cabbage, and onions. Therefore I decided on sauteed steaks with a red wine-shallot sauce, scalloped potatoes (potatoes “anna”) and sweet and sour cabbage. But then I realized I didn’t have all the ingredients for the cabbage recipe, so decided to use my own.

I see now what Julie Powell means by Julia Child’s recipes not being very precise. Or perhaps too precise. For example, when cooking the steaks, she said to do them on high heat “a minute or so on either side.” This I interpreted to mean, well, a minute or so. However the steaks were completely raw in the middle. So they went a good bit longer, even though they started to blacken on the one side and I was pretty sure that was not intended. We started to suspect that our St. Brigid’s grass fed steaks were a bit too thick for this method, but forged ahead regardless. I still hold that we needed more oil in the pan to keep them from burning. And also quicker decision making skills. But whatever. You were also supposed to trim the steaks first but we don’t believe in taking the best part of the steak off. We were actually rather puzzled as to why Julia Child, lover of all things fattening, would want to take the best part off either. But alas, we will never know.

After removing the steaks from the pan, you were then supposed to add shallots and crushed garlic to what was left. Unfortunately due to the lack of adding more oil there was nothing left, but it seemed to work out anyway. I added red wine as instructed, water instead of beef broth (given I had no beef broth), and more butter (the steaks were initially cooked in butter). This all reduced to a lovely brown sauce, which we spooned over the steaks (which were leaking bloody juices all over the plates).

The potatoes were sliced and cooked in butter. You were supposed to layer them in the pan to make kind of a casserole, like making scalloped potatoes in the oven but on the stove, but we didn’t want to make that many potatoes so it turned out to be more like regular fried potatoes in butter. If you do this, especially with the layers, I highly recommend to follow Julia’s advice to cover the pan. The top layer got really dry and barely cooked, despite me consistently putting more butter on top. The cabbage I simply chop like crazy and saute in soy sauce, lime juice and ginger. Done and done.

Here’s the result:

We put the leftover sauce on the potatoes since they were lacking in moisture. We were both a little terrified of eating steaks that were so rare, being more of the medium well to medium rare types ourselves, but figured if any steaks were good to eat rare, it was these. St. Brigid’s is the cleanest farm I’ve ever been to, and the cows are constantly out on pasture, eating nothing but grass grass grass. So we knew the meat was definitely safe. And to our delighted surprise, absolutely AMAZING rare. The sauce added just a touch of extra flavor that complemented the already rich taste of the meat. We both gobbled our steaks up in about a minute.

On Sunday it was way too hot to be bothered with cooking a whole meal (especially because the kitchen has no airflow). So we decided on something immensely simple: slices of baguette from the Bread Guy in Chestertown, tomatoes from our friend’s garden, Colchester garlic, butter, and olive oil. Oh and sea salt and pepper on top. Stacked and put under the broiler for a few minutes to toast the bread and melt the butter. Here they are:

We ate them while drinking vodka and ginger ales and watching Battlestar Gallactica. We finished off the evening with rock candy from our trip to Savannah. Best way to end the weekend!

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This past Saturday myself and my fellow local foodie, Miss Zumba (and two of our friends), took a trip around Queen Anne’s County to follow the “Farm Trail” set up by the economic development people. We visited five farms, several of which we regularly get food from at our local farmer’s market. I figured, how convenient, five farms! I’ll do one each day this week! So I hope you’re up hearing about some of the places I get my food- and seeing some lovely pictures of the farms in the area.

We’ll kick off the tour with Cedar Run Farm, where I get my chicken, bacon, and occasionally eggs. This is the farm I keep talking about not having visited- and feeling very bad about it! What with my whole, I want to meet the animals before I eat the meat resolve, I was kind of cheating by having only met the farmer, and his cat, though I had friends who had been out to the farm and reassured me it was ok. Having finally been out myself, I feel reassured. This is not to say that I thought he was using all the best practices available for livestock. But everyone who is farming right now is struggling to find out the best way to do it. We’ve been inundated for so long with industrial farming that it’s going to take time to remember the alternatives.

Let’s get right to it. Cedar Run is the home of laying hens, turkeys, broiler chickens, hogs, and cattle. Ready to meet the stars?

This is one of the laying hens. Layers are typically much more active and intelligent chickens (than broilers)- at least when they are heirloom breeds and not the very sad chickens that are trapped in very tiny cages for their entire lives, as you would have in the industrial model. These chickens can wander anywhere they like, though, like chickens, they tend to stay pretty close to home. You can see them below climbing all over branches and tires. Chickens are big climbers. If you can give them a jungle gym, they’ll basically be in heaven.

These chickens, however, are broilers:

Broilers, because they get so heavy so fast, do not do a lot of moving. They mostly sit around and eat. They are also typically very skittish. They are by no means the active, intelligent creatures the layers are. These are the chickens you eat. The breed of chicken they typically use in say, Perdue chickens, gets fat in about a month, maybe two. These chickens, which are several variations on rocks, take a little bit longer- but are a good bit healthier, overall, and move around a good bit more. Though not a lot.


These are the hogs. This is the part I wasn’t entirely thrilled about. Hopefully sometime soon the hogs will be able to go out and wander the fields and root up good things to eat, which is what hogs like to do. In the meantime, they are well cared for, well fed, and generally far better off than any hog raised in an industrial system.

Last but not least:

The cows. These are angus cattle and yes, that is a little baby calf. The cows are rotated on pasture, eating lots of healthful grass, and hay, and some mineral supplements. They are, unlike the lies told by the California milk industry, happy cows.

The easiest way to get Cedar Run meat is to go to the Chestertown Farmer’s Market, or any of the Annapolis markets. Cedar Run meat is also being served at Wild Orchid Café in Annapolis (GO. amazing food, mostly local) and other Annapolis restaurants. But the best way to go is simply to drive out to the farm! This way you can meet the animals too. The farm has been in operation since the Dodds bought it in the 1950s- now it is run by the second and third generation of Dodds. They are an extremely friendly family and will be happy to show you around the farm. Find out more information on their website, cedarruncattle.com.

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(written sometime during the trip)

I talked to the forest for a long time this morning and it told me many things. We spoke for a long time on what it was like, being this particular forest, and then it reminded me that I have a part in all this. Not for the first time in my life I longed with all my heart to be a wild human, always listening to the trees and streams and rocks and so rarely at odds with my surroundings- rather, to always be in as fair of an exchange as we could manage.

The trees invited me back. They have never been sure why humans went away, not when they have so much to offer, and they can still remember when humans moved among them without being destroyers. They invited me back, and offered their bounty, and again offered the communion I had received from them that morning, sitting by a stream, if only I would make the bad things stop. This part was somewhat vague, but most of the time when talking to trees things are a little vague. If I had to put words to it, it would be industrial civilization- the hacking, the slashing, the clearing- putting asphalt down in forests- leaving trash everywhere- filling the air with an endless haze of toxins. We may deny that we are killing ourselves by making the very air we breathe toxic, but the trees know better.

I found myself, after the extreme joy of being connected to this forest in the mountains, apologizing under my breath over and over again. I’m sorry I haven’t made it stop. I’m sorry I make so many excuses. There are no excuses. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that is more important than not killing the planet and all the things that live on it. The trees demand it. So do the streams, the rocks, the birds, the spiders, the fish, the fungi. Everything. They will all tell you the same thing if you only shut up and listen.

Here is what we have to give you, they will say. In exchange, make it stop. Then come and be wild again. And you will say, “how?” And they, gently, because they realize you have been cut off from your wildness since childhood and have trouble with these concepts, will say, “it doesn’t matter how. Just make it stop. Now.” And you will come up with excuse after excuse but in the face of this final certainty, that you took a gift from them and therefore you have taken on the responsibility that they can continue to live, all the excuses are gone, and you will know you have to fight back. Somehow. Maybe this is why people don’t talk to trees. They don’t want it pointed out to them that they are not holding up their end of the bargain.

Let me make this clear to you.
THIS:

Is more important than the economy.

THIS:

Is more important than politics. Your job. Taxes. (By rather a lot.)

THIS:

Is far more important than whether businesses keep growing, than whether you get to keep your computer or not. It doesn’t matter.

THIS MATTERS.

WITHOUT THIS, YOU WILL DIE. Do you get it yet? What will it take before you realize we can’t survive without a healthy planet, and the planet cannot be healthy while we go out of our way to kill it?

Also, they told me they liked my boyfriend, because he knows what matters.

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