February 26, 2009

Cooking up something new

I want to share 2 - okay, 3 - very exciting things with you today. You're going to be seeing me around here more frequently for the rest of the school year, as writing on Sprout has become a bi-weekly assignment for my Web Development course. Poor me, right? Having to write about the thing that I love.... woe is me.

The first part of my news is the main project for the Web Development course. It's to design a Web site in which I will use for promoting my food-related writing, photography, design work to editors and potential employers - an online resume, if you will. You can see the main page below.

Exciting news No. 2 - I sold a few photos to a magazine for the first time! Yes, I actually got paid. I had to make an invoice, and all. Thanks be to Google Images for giving me an idea of what they should look like. This followed receiving a $300 check for a feature story I wrote about - food! My knees went a little weak with this one. It's a strange thing, you know, to start getting paid to do the things that you love, and that you've been doing for free forever. It almost doesn't feel right. All I can do is be thankful. And I am. Here's a teaser of a story I just sold:

And I can't leave without giving you something tasty and delicious to read, look at, and potentially cook. I recently came across nearly 10 bags of preserved heirloom tomatoes (in the form of chunked tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato puree) in my freezer, from when I put-up some tomatoes from the farm. The particular bag that I pulled out last night was the Roasted Tomato Sauce which brought me back to the particular night I made it at at the Common House at the farm. The thick of tomato season usually lands during the thick of August heat. Tomatoes absolutely love desert-like conditions. Anyways, I was roasting the tomatoes in the oven, sauteing onions and garlic on the stove, and chopping up basil - all the while the temperature in the valley was dropping, as it usually did. It was so hot in the kitchen from the sauce-making that it made the windows steam and I had a concerned neighbor come in to make sure everything was ok! Oh what a night.

As a taste of summer during these glum winter months can't do any harm, I've decided to leave you with this tomato sauce recipe - hoping it will bring back summer memories of your own. (Who doesn't have a tomato-related memory, really?) Come next August and you have a hankering to make some fresh tomato sauce, come back here for a visit. Please do yourself a favor and do not use the baseball-like tomatoes coming in from California this time of year ... stash this one away for better tomato-days.

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
from Featherstone Farm Cookbook (the farm where I worked!)

8 large tomatoes (about 3.5 lbs)
salt and pepper
olive oil
onions, quartered
garlic cloves
green bell pepper, cut into wedges
fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, parsley)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the tomatoes
in half (in quarters if they are very large) and core
them. Place them in a 9x13-inch baking pan in a
single layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olive
oil. Roast them in the oven for 30 minutes. Add
the quartered onion, several garlic cloves, and if
you like, green bell pepper wedges to the tomatoes.
Drizzle again with oil and roast for another 30
minutes. When the tomatoes are done, chop the
fresh herbs in a food processor or blender. Add the
tomato mixture and blend to a chunky consistency.
This sauce is now ready to eat or freeze.

February 16, 2009

Silence of the Lambs

By the time you finish this story you'll have heard the journey of lamb meatballs that are no longer. This post was inspired by an eating experience I had this weekend at 112 Eatery, that of 'veal tongue.' I know, right? A whole summer eating no meat, and the following February finds me eating the tongue of a calf. How did I sleep at night? Very well, thank you very much.

To me, veal tongue tastes like a subdued pot roast with intense moisture. It's soft all around - texture, flavor, mouthfeel, and color. Served with a side of cucumber-sauced cold soba noodles, it was a perfect balance of light and heavy food. So how did the calf inspire the lamb? Because it reminded that I am, indeed, and animal, and love meat. This is the first time a non-veggie dish has been featured on this blog, so be gentle while they make their debut.

Last week I was reminded that summer still exists in, of all places, my freezer. I still have farm-corn and tomatoes in the freezer, along with quite a random assortment of other foodstuffs: goji berries that a hippie gave me this summer, frozen basil pesto, hamburger buns from my mom, soynuts, goat milk ice cream, and popsicles. As golden as corn and tomatoes may seem in these dark months, I spotted a mysterious white package and my curiosity was instantly heightened. Turns out my roommate's old roommate has lambs at his farm and brought some ground lamb last year, which I have a huge weak spot for. Immediately my mind raced back to the great lamb-curries I had in New York while staying with a family in Richmond Hills, Queens, but I know that to make a real, good curry, one needs a lot of time and its flavor doesn't keep well. I cook and eat for one, which means I need to make something whose state of 'leftoverness' holds its integrity. I was in need of something fast, hearty, portable, and, most importantly, delicious. Then it occurred to me that I recently learned how to make jazzed-up meatballs at the restaurant where I intern, so it was decided. Ginger, red wine, garlic, fenugreek, onions, and cloves also decided to join in on the fun.

I was in denial from step one. I knew the meat had been in the freezer for over a year, maybe two. That should have been enough information there, but I was determined. The poor lamb was sitting in the cold dark for a long time, it deserved to go for a spin. As I love to order lamb at restaurants, I'm not as familiar with it in the home-kitchen. Had I not been so green to the lamb-experience, I would have known better. Preparation and baking went fine, but the most important part - the tasting - was unexpected. Usually, when one has lamb, one knows it. It has a distinct 'barnyard' taste. After popping one of these in my mouth, the flavor was all muddled and confused. I couldn't get the lamb to speak. Doubled with a post-eating upset stomach, I had a harsh reality to swallow - the meat was just too old.

Even after I got them all dressed up for a photo shoot, I decided to throw the guys away. The fear of sickness overrode any sense of meaty satisfaction. Sorry, guys. This experience, along with many observations at the restaurant, have shown me the importance of foundations. You can gussy something up all you want, but if you don't start with quality ingredients, you're doomed and your dish is going to be nothing but silent. Whether it's braising liquid for the meat, court for the soup, roux for the chowder, or dough for the pasta - the base gives the dish its identity, not the cranberry mustard or tarragon sour cream dalloped on top. And such is life - a quality life is about the fundamentals, too. I've never drank so much water and gotten such consistent sleep (not saying it's a lot, but it's consistent), and have also never felt so well.

So my advice for the week: Stay away from the mystery meat in your freezer and drink your water. And since I didn't give you a story about something good to eat, here's a picture of one.

Chickpeas - a safe staple in my life.

February 7, 2009

farm essay

Today I want to share with you an essay I recently submitted for the Minnesota's Sustainable Farming Association's 'Youth Writing Competition.' (I know, youth - right?!)Since the following experience is the reason in which this blog was created, I thought you might want to take a peek.


Sprout: Growing on a Vegetable Farm
by Melinda Feucht

The challenge of telling the story of a summer working and living at Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables under 700 words is comparable to describing eating your first August heirloom tomato in two words. Not because I have nothing to say, rather every waking moment brought a new experience that shaped and transformed me. I could tell you stories about digging potatoes, harvesting melons, and picking tomatoes, but I’d rather share a story about what the farm experience has done to my mind and heart.

The first harvest of the season immediately gave me a glimpse of what makes farmers tick. In 2 hours, nearly 2,500 heads of lettuce were picked, washed, and packed for the grocery store orders in the Twin Cities. The excitement, energy, and adrenaline were both overwhelming and life affirming. At the end of the day, I felt a great sense of physical accomplishment as tangible results could be seen as a result of our labor- a feeling that one doesn't often encounter in college. As exciting as this sense of accomplishment was, it soon dawned on me that farming is not all top-of-the-mountain experiences.

The amount of risk and challenges involved with organic farming has brought me to a new appreciation for food and farms. Farming is an intensely spiritual line of work, and it takes a special person to tackle the challenge of giving control to the earth. One must have an abundance of faith in order to trust that year-in, year-out, nature will take its course and produce something of value. Preparing for the next growing season is a classic example of believing without seeing. Trusting that there is some other life form that will come-forth, bud, and fruit not without help, but without force, requires the patience of a person who trusts in the strength of something other than oneself.

The knowledge that I gained about farming didn’t come from learning about the vegetables, rather it came from the love and wisdom of the farm workers and community members. Yes, I learned that tomatoes love desert-like conditions and eating garlic keeps the mosquitoes (and your friends!) away, but I really saw the value of living simply. The ‘less is more’ mindset was present both on their plates and in their lifestyle. The wholesomeness of farm-eating was as surprisingly nourishing as picking basil, planting an herb garden, having an ice-cold beer with a friend on a hot July evening, and feeding my neighbor's chickens.

If I've learned one thing from my experience, it's that you've got to insist life to happen - it doesn't just fall into place. Like organic farming, nothing of value is produced unless the farmer wills the soil (albeit, naturally) to be a certain condition and have certain properties that makes it conducive to germination. We all make daily decisions that produce happiness in our lives. Often, those decisions aren’t the easiest to make. For me, it was spending that extra hour after volleyball for good conversation, having chicken mole with the Gasca brothers, jumping in the valley’s pond after work, spending a Saturday devoted to perfecting a tomato sauce or slogging through the mud for that perfect eggplant photo opportunity- these events have given value to my summer, value that wouldn't exist had I not insisted. That's when life happens, when one wills it.

Farming- it's not glamorous. But it's real, honest work. Growing food for people is one of the most intimate ways one can affect another individual. I would have laughed had someone told me a year ago how complete I'd feel with scarce phone and internet connection, no TV, no meat, a pond, an occasional shower, dirt under my nails, a two-room off-grid cabin, a slightly sore back, vegetables, and a cluster of hippies. All this, in exchange for a summer that I will always remember. It’s a decision that has made me who I am today and has given direction to where I’m going.