Saturday, August 23, 2008

No more dirt on these veggies!

My two helpers in the back yard after we returned home from Uncle Lon's farm. Carrot heads?
We had a large bag of carrots that were very full of dirt, as well as beets, beans and a few cukes. Rather than bring them in the house and fill the kitchen sink with that much dirt, we decided to take things to the out of doors. And, the kiddie pool. Great fun, indeed.
I'm going to change the color on my nail polish bottle to read: Beet.
Cleaning carrots. Check out the sediment on the bottom of the pool.
If that isn't a beautiful summer sight, I don't know what is.
I love the contrast of the orange carrots with the bright blue pool.
As I sat trimming beans with my paring knife, I looked down at my hands and wondered exactly how many hours the women in my family before me have sat trimming beans and other vegetables. My hands have aged, reminding me much of my mother's hands and my grandma's too. Processing these vegetables all afternoon made me so happy, feel such a part of our food. The boys loved being a part of the food adventure too... even sneaking a dirty carrot or two, stealing away to a corner of the yard with a fist full of beans ready to taste the freshest beans they had ever eaten. They are excited about the idea of going to our freezer mid-winter and taking out a bag of beans they helped pick and clean. Summer in a bag.
All in all, I blanched, trimmed, cut up and otherwise prepared ten bags of purple and yellow
beans as well as fourteen quart size bags of corn. My freezer is looking full and happy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Farm Visit

At Uncle Lon's farm, a gravel road leads the way through a small grouping of trees off the main highway, drawing you into the green fields of corn ahead. The metal shed greets visitors with a large rooster painted by Kjersten, Ron's artist cousin, and brings a smile to your face when you realize there are no farm animals at this farm. That's the point. This farm is all about the wide open space and the rich soil that lurks underneath the rolling land. A large dog wanders out from a patch of orange lilies and pink hollyhocks, beckoning us to join the rest of the family. The boys tumble from the van yelling, "We're here! We're here! We're at Uncle Lon's farm!"

The message was clear from the boys: this place belongs to Uncle Lon and we're here to check out his vegetables and ride his tractor. The rest is secondary to them. Uncle Lon is Ron's uncle, married to Ruthi, kid sister to Ron's dad Mike. The farm is their home, a modest acreage south of Minneapolis that they have turned into an idyllic haven on a patch of land so close to a golf course you would think they were growing golf ball plants. (Carl and Gus harvested a baker's dozen, at least.) Sure, you can catch a glimpse of the fairway here and there, but Ruthi and Lon's farm is definitely a piece of farmland. Mostly surrounded by their neighbor's corn and a bit of the golf course, Uncle Lon's farm is planted with corn, carrots, beets (just for me, he says), onions, tomatoes, cukes, squash, and green beans of many varieties. Ruthi and Lon are always eager to have us out to their place in the late summer to enjoy their harvest, as well as a chance to see farmer Carl in action on the farm. Carl adores Lon. The feeling is mutual.

We arrived mid-morning in time to join Lon on the tractor, coffee cup in hand, on his way down to the garden. Of course, the tractor is just another part of the charm for us: it was built in 1949, the same year as Lon. It putters along, spitting and huffing, dutifully pulling a wooden flatbed trailer along behind it, dogs running along side, doing the same thing is has done for the last 59 years. We rode along on the wagon, cloth bags in tow, ready to walk the rows in search of vegetables grown with love and without any pesticides. Lon believes in rotating crops and keeping things natural. His love for the land and plants shows as he describes the planting process in the spring and his choice of seeds. This year some of the beans are purple because of an issue with the package label. Not what he had expected, but the outcome is fabulous. Crisp, wide purple beans that turn green when submerged in hot water. A veritable magic trick in the pot.

We settled in a row of corn, learning from Lon about the subtle nuances of selecting just the right ear of corn. "The large ones, dried and brown hair at the end... grab the top and feel the corn. You'll know it when you feel it," he suggested. We took him up on the offer and happily filled four canvas bags with corn, enough to share with friends at a potluck a few days later and more for the freezer. Next were the beans, yellow, green and purple with sweet white flowers blooming where more beans would soon be growing. Gus galloped up and down the rows, chomping wildly on raw beans as fast as he could pick them and shove them into his mouth. Carl kept checking in with us, back and forth between listening to Farmer Lon's tales and showing us his latest find. The carrots were his favorite; a rusty orange, earthy, dirt still clinging to their chubby sides, long whiskery tops still intact. The perfect find for a kid. Louise was mostly happy on my back, though mostly preferred to be carried over near the tractor by Ron to sit in the shade by the dogs, peeking her head out at the rest of us as we worked. Lon harvested a few ruby colored beauties from the beet row. I couldn't resist the opportunity to pick a few more when I remembered how they look peeking out of the soil. Round, bulbous tubers, a luscious color hovering above the soil awaiting their fate in my bag. After we had filled our bags and satiated our need for vegetables, we all hopped back on the trailer and made the journey back up to the house for a cool beverage and conversation in the shade. My dad had never been to the farm so he happily sat listening to Ruthi and Lon's tales of the renovation of their house over the years. We sat with Ron's cousins and all the kids, catching up and sharing stories. Ruthi made a great lunch which we ate heartily after a morning of sunshine in the field. A perfect ending for a perfect day at the farm.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tourists in Our Own City

This past week my sister and I took the kids on an urban adventure. We had hoped to catch the Minneapolis Farmer's market as it weaves its way down the Nicollet Mall downtown, but instead decided to stick to the river.

Arriving just in time for the 11:00 a.m. Lock and Dam tour on the Mississippi, we jumped at the chance to go inside the facility and check out the inner workings of this wonder so close to home. The tour was fabulous, just what engineer-to-be Carl could have ever wished for. Unfortunately, the river traffic was non-existent and we weren't able to see the lock in action. We heard that weekends are the time to catch the canoes and speedboats going to and fro. Did you know that anyone can use it? You just show up, pull on the rope to let them know you're interested in a lift and boom! Nine million gallons of water just start a flowin'! The process takes nine minutes... that's one million gallons of water being moved per minute. Impressive, to say the least.

We also wandered across the Stone Arch bridge, an old train bridge that has been restored to its glory and is now used for biking and walking. The photo above is the Mill City Museum, an old flour mill that once had a horrible fire and has since been turned into quite an interesting place.

Next to the new Guthrie theater is a new park, sorely needed green space in a dense down town area. There's a winding path to the top of a hill in the middle of the park that makes a great running trail for kids. From the top we viewed the construction of the replacement 35W bridge that will be completed this year. The top proved to be a perfect place for lunch as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dinner with old friends

Last week a dear old friend from college came to town with her family. They live in Virginia and have lived in many far-away locations since they were married 11 years ago. Suffice it to say, we don't see eachother very often. Julie and I were thrilled to be able to get our families together for a few sweet hours. My new favorite style of salad. Greens from the yard, fresh shucked corn, tomatoes, chopped fresh mozzarella (wish I could say that I made it... not yet!) and a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar, some s & p. I used to fret a lot over dressings because I don't care for the bottle variety very much. Every salad dressing I made was painstakingly researched and usually good, but not worth making again. I was never quite happy... until now. Go figure..I just toss in a few good ingredients, no measuring... and it is perfect!
Re-visiting the mushroom risotto we invented this summer. Three kinds of mushrooms. Yum!
A quick trip to the farmer's market for local veggies... and my own red onions saved from the garden.
A fruit tart with the last of the red and yellow raspberries fom our garden.

Four boys and a girl... imagine the wild evening we had! Thankfully our husbands took care of the kids for a while in the yard while we sipped wine and finished making dinner in the kitchen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not taken over by weeds, exactly...

Yes, there are some weeds there, but mostly it is the pumpkin plants that were mysteriously planted by the compost harvested from our compost pile at the beginning of the summer. I still love the pumpkin plants, especially as they've started to produce pumpkins, but my oh my. They are overtaking everything! My poor onions were looking great, but now have no sunlight. I had to dig them up early last week as I was worried they would rot in the ground. For next year, they can go in a different area and let this front-and-center real estate go to more useful veggies.
The little red onions... only slightly larger than they were when I planted them as sets.

One of four brussel sprout plants that are happy to produce leaves, but no apparent brussel sprouts. Any suggestions?
All in a day's harvest. The lettuce and basil have been the favorites around here this summer. These were our first two carrots, but they didn't last long when the boys spied them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

scrappy books

I've been out of the habit of doing many crafty things during June and July, so I decided that I needed to throw a crafty party, or rather, girl get-together, to get inspired. I invited my mom to go in on the whole deal, partly because it could be at her house (no kids, no toys, more space) but mostly because I love collaborating with her.

Here we are together the night of the party.

We tried to come up with an idea for a crafty project that could be completed in one evening that wouldn't be too difficult or intimidating to friends that hadn't embraced their inner crafty selves as much as we have. Inspired by Freckled Nest's kits we ordered last spring and a tutorial on her website, we decided on teeny little photo books. We took her idea, made it our own and tweaked a few things to suit our situation. Voila... scrappy books.

Everyone received an envelope of instructions and papers at the party. We led them through the steps and then let them go crafty with the supplies. Everyone was thrilled with their results.

We purposely kept the group small so we could practice our schtick. I can see hosting more of these in the future to get more people involved in getting crafty. Maybe this is one of the classes I'll be teaching at our farm someday when women come for retreats?!? Anyone else want to learn how to make these?

So sweet.
(B... you're blog-worthy!) Isn't this one lovely? Love the letters on the tag in silver!
Some of the supplies.Oh, and of course, any self-respecting hostess would be serving food too, right?

The Flourless Chocolate tart from Salty Tart.

Instead of flour, they use ground almonds. Can you say, DELISH?