Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

At the Farm

This isn't exactly a vegetarian manifesto of a post, more of a local food manifesto, really. On the first of November, my unpaid internship gave me something to sink my teeth into, literally. The producer I work for decided to do a segment, to air on thanksgiving, for the Cleveland-based tv show called Applause.

In all honesty, I have no tv show watching capabilities in Cleveland, but I've seen a lot of raw footage from shoots before, and it's quite a show. It's one of the few shows that make me wish I could afford (or had any sort of time) to watch tv. And the people I work for are fantastic people, very kind and generous and friendly, even when I'm not at my best. I guess I might be a wee bit biased. Anyway.

My producer invited me to shoot with him at the Miller's farm in Pennsylvania, about a two hour drive from the heart of Cleveland. First, though, we had to pick up the camera man and stop off at a Starbucks. What road trip is complete without Starbucks?

Quickly, the passing scenery flashing its way across the back windows of the TV van went from urban to suburban to "do people actually live here?" We pulled into the driveway a half hour behind schedule, which, incidentally, was still a half hour ahead of planned scheduling (radio/tv people always allow some leeway time). Immediately, the Miller's welcomed us to their farm. Cows mooed in the distance. Hay bales sat in tidy bundles. And hey, was that a sheep?

No doubt about it, this was a farm, and not just any farm. The Millers raise grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, lambs, pigs, and eggs. In this quiet Pennsylvanian setting, we had happened upon the Mecca of the Cleveland local food scene: free range animals.

I must admit, I have been to the farmers market in Shaker Square and seen the pictures on display at the meat tents. "Look how happy this pig's life was!" The pictures say, often with cameos from the farmer's various children accompanying the animals in question. One big happy human-animal family. I'm not sure I quite believed until I saw the cows at the Miller's farm.

When these cows moo, they sound contented. The chickens wander, pecking cow pies in the grass, wandering stiff-legged around a small (non-sewage-based) pond. Their eggs are a pretty pastel of brown and white, and as the farmer collects his bounty, they eat, unperturbed while the cows look on, munching clover.

"Come on, girls," the farmer calls and the cows follow. Mooing with curiosity. What will he do this time? Feed us? Let us out into a new pasture? The turkeys mill about, choosing their own blend of wheat and grass, while the farmer talks, with starry eyes, about the sound they make--such a happy sound--when the turkeys are let out to pasture. And the pigs? They love a good ear-scratching as they nose the camera man's pants, the farmers hands, the gaps in the fence bars that separate them from me. They seem to say, "Hey there. Want to play? There's plenty of mud."

Does this sound sappy? Damn straight it does, but it's also true. As a vegetarian who is so because of health and no other reason, I find the peaceful scene of the Miller's farm and their carefree animals has made me a near-convert to PETA-like causes. Who could eat this face?

Or perhaps knowing that this face is one that has known peace in its life makes it particularly good eating. Certainly better eating than a pig with a clipped tail in a room overflowing with pigs, all of whom have never so much as rolled through the mud.

It was a cold day but a good day, and I feel wiser having been a part in it. At the end of the shoot, the Millers and a slew of local Cleveland foodies sat down to a local food feast prepared by the chefs at Fire restaurant. And yes, I got to eat to. What a display. The table was full-out decked with fall cheer and set up in the hay loft of the barn.

But first, we all enjoyed mulled cider with crackers and local cheese inside the Miller's architecturally intriguing farm house in the company of one another and the Miller's two springer spaniels.

The spread atthe feast itself included Miller meatloaf sandwiches on focaccia, Miller beef stew, roasted Miller chicken, roasted veggies with Miller bacon, Cauliflower au Gratin, a mesclun mix salad, firecracker bread (in vase on table), local Ohio wine, and for dessert, an apple cobbler with honey cream on top.

I didn't partake of the meat (obviously) but I usually don't enjoy cauliflower and it was divine. The firecracker bread was crisp with a hint of spice. The salad was tasty with its fresh local greens. And the dessert: I'm not sure what was in it, but I wanted more. And then more. The honey cream only added to my delight. Cream AND honey? I suddenly understand why a land of milk and honey is a cliche for paradise.

I even found myself sampling the veggies cooked with bacon, though I did not eat the bacon. Best brussel sprouts I've ever had. In fact, the stop before we headed back to the land of the Cleve, we stopped in at the veggie farm that was home to these little babies, where we saw the greenhouses in which the salad greens were grown, the field housing not only veggies but two beehives with which to pollinate the crops,and of course,  the sprout plants themselves:

 Now that looks like something I want to eat.

The show will air this Thanksgiving, with several reairings during the holiday season and an option for online viewing at some point in the near future. Go to WVIZ's website for more info.

Make sure to check it out, though. After that meal, even the barn cat was pleased.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The green tomato experiment, the results, plus a lovely soup

Recap: The growing season over for my first garden, I was left with some 30 odd green tomatoes, so I decided to try a home-ripening method. I tied them five in a bag along with a green banana to the pole in my hall closet. I'm sure my fair readers have been anxiously awaiting the results of this experiment.

The results are in:

They didn't turn totally red, but they did ripen, the perfect sort of tomato to puree into a soup or sauce. We did both. The sauce will come in another blog (yes that same sauce used with those delicious eggplant meatballs). The soup I made today, a nice and simple lazy Saturday lunch.

The soup comes to me from a cookbook I fell in love with last year when I got it out of the library. One Amazon buy later, it rests in my kitchen on the cookbook shelf.

Tomato Bisque
-Kate-ified from the Vegetarian Lunchbasket

2 T butter
3 T flour
2 c milk
2 c tomato puree
1 t dried basil
1 c Israeli couscous
1/2 c grated Parm cheese
salt and pepper to taste
a dash of cayenne

To prep: I pureed the five or six tomatoes, some from the batch I decided to ripen on the kitchen counter instead of the closet (they took longer), others were the last of the closet experiment. I cut out the stems, top and bottom, and pureed them in my blender. Two cups exactly.

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over med-low heat and whisk in the flour. Stir for 3 minutes. Then, slowly add the milk. Simmer until milk thickens.

2. Put 1 c. water in a small saucepan. And allow to boil. Add the couscous to the water, cover, and cook over a low simmer. Add the tomato puree and basil to milk in large saucepan. Five minutes later, add the couscous to the large saucepan and leave on simmer a few minutes more.

3. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Parm and dash of cayenne, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Supposedly, the recipe serves four. In this household, I'm the only tomato soup fan. So it should serve me for about five lunches, give or take. The extra bonus, this is a soup ready in about 15 minutes, so those in search of a quick, healthy meal because they, like me, are having a rough fall semester, look no further. I just hope you too enjoy tomatoes.

This soup is a delicious fall treat, one that beats the pants off my usual "comforting" can of Campbells tomato, or would if cans had pants.

It was light but warm and creamy, and the couscous added a touch of texture that doubled as a way of making me feel "full," something tomato soup just doesn't do for me. Face it, it's really more like a drink. But this bisque wasn't, and my Kate-ifying ingredient (well aside from the couscous--the original recipe called for rice), the cayenne I added on a whim, gave the whole dish a slight kick that acted as a nice pick-me-up to carry me through the rest of my lazy Saturday.

Aside from the closet-tomatoes sauce, there are a great many upcoming food excitements. Here are some teasers for what's to come in my written recipe:

The weekend of Halloween, Art and I visited my favorite Michigan orchard for a half bushel of golden delicious (my favorite apple) and a bushel of squash. Purchased for the low cost of $5, the bushel is a mix of butternut, acorn, and hubbard. We decided against pie pumpkins this year, because of my freakish fall 2010 schedule, but rest assured, next year, I will make a pie pumpkin pie.

Already, the apples are too ripe for munching and I have plans for a casserole that mixes the flavors of all of my orchard finds. That, or we'll just make apple sauce.

More exciting though, this past Monday, I found myself at a Pennsylvania grass-feed farm-- for work. Yes, the producer I'm interning under at the local NPR/PBS station is doing a tv piece on local food for thanksgiving and he invited me to come to the shoot and help out. Blog forthcoming.