Three Sisters and Blue Cornbread


I am planning for my 2017 garden. This season is going to be very experimental. I am in a new house with a new garden and I am planning  the vision of my future farm homestead.

In addition to my garden at my home in Annapolis, this year I have reserved a terrace in the Community Learning Garden. This is the same campus community garden that Deb and I started together in 2010. I am eager to get back into the campus garden to try out a three sisters garden – growing beans, squash and corn together. The three different plants provide support and benefits to one another. I have selected a heirloom varieties of each – blue and red corn for cornmeal, black dry beans, and a few unique varieties of winter squash. 

Since I will be growing corn for cornmeal, I am curious to experiment with cornmeal recipes. I have a local blue cornmeal that I’ve been using for my trials. My first goal is to perfect my cornbread. Here is a great recipe for cornbread muffins from a favorite cookbook, The Art of Simple Food.

Cornbread Muffins (adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)

What You Need

  • 2 cups cornmeal (try heirloom, unique and/or local varieties)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

What You Do

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Butter a 12 muffin tin
  3. Mix together dry ingredients
  4. Mix together milk, yogurt and egg
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture
  6. Whisk or stir until well mixed and smooth
  7. Stir in the butter
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 12-15 minutes (cornbread should be brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean)

For the Love of a Sandwich

I have been keeping a secret for over ten years. This week, I revealed to my husband for the first time that I love tuna-salad sandwiches. I grew up eating them. Every day. In mom-packed-school-lunches  served on white bread or from the local diner as tuna-melts on an English muffin.

While others may have alternated their school lunches with PB&J, turkey, chicken, and other options, I grew up attending a Jewish day school, which required kosher packed lunches. Lunches needed to be either dairy or pareve (neither meat nor dairy). According to the rules of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), fish is considered pareve. And so, daily tuna-salad sandwiches, perhaps with a bagel and cream cheese a couple times a week.

Back in 2007, as I started my exploration of environmentally conscious eating, I soon realized that my tuna habit (tuna-salad, tuna sushi rolls, etc.) did not align with my values. As with many types of fish, the environmental story for tuna is complicated. Checking the recommendations from Seafood Watch clues you in on the complexity of the situation. 8 “best” options, 32 “good” and 58 to “avoid”. Greenpeace put together a Tuna Shopping Guide, but my approach has been to avoid all tuna and most seafood, with special exceptions of locally caught fish and molluscs (like oysters) occasionally.

But, there is nothing like a tuna-salad sandwich. Until now.

“Chickpea of the Sea”! I found this bowl on an incredible lunch spread this weekend at a baby shower. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my taste-buds. This is the sandwich salad I have been waiting for. I recreated the lunch just two days later and had just the same result. I am very excited to share this recipe with you. Note – I replaced the celery and scallions for a chopped leek, which was excellent. This is a very forgiving recipe – use what you have and adapt to your tastes.

Chickpea of the Sea (adapted from TheKitchn)

What You Need

  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (can substitute veganaise or use half greek yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp celery seeds (note – I didn’t have them, and it still turned out great)
  • One and a half ribs of celery, diced
  • Two scallions/green onions sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon caper with brine (optional)
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh herbs (lemon balm, chives, dill, or parsley)
What You Do
  1. Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times to roughly chop.
  2. Add chopped chickpeas to bowl and then add remaining ingredients stir.
  3. Serve on bread with lettuce and/or sprouts as a sandwich or on lettuce leaves as a lettuce wrap.

Hello, Blog. Hello, Self.

In June 2013, the date of my last blog post, Allison and I were trying desperately to balance our new and demanding professions with our shared love: Blogging about farming, gardening, cooking and challenges in the food system.

Allison was lobbying for funds for a campus farm, seeking local and seasonable produce for an institution serving more than 30,000 students, and never taking a break from inspiring young students to get their hands dirty growing their own. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed waking up for 10+ hour days trying to grow vegetables, raise chickens and graze goats on a then-small farm within a 4,000 acre housing development damn committed to raising agricultural awareness and culinary confidence.

Neither of our careers has changed, but with every passing day, season, solstice and calendar year our responsibilities grew. Our commitment to “doing something about it” outgrew the number of hours in our days. Emails went out to one another late at night, from Virginia to Maryland and back, apologizing for not posting. The blog, and time with one another, became to something we wish we made more time for. For me, a lot of things did.

Farming took precedent. I started working through meals, choosing sleep over showers, and learned what it meant to sacrifice. Months passed between visits with my family, relationships fell apart, the only time I saw friends was when they stopped into the farm with sympathy in their smiles, offering to help wherever they could, asking if I was okay. I wasn’t. Self care was last on my list. I shifted towards a not-great diet – ironically, the trap I work to free others from: convenience over nutrition. I sacrificed every ounce of my strength, energy, sanity, time and heart for this cause and opportunity I believe to be so important: building a farm that feeds the people building a community around it.

But working on a farm is the dream, right? So peaceful!

Yes and no, simultaneously. It. Is. So. Hard. When we interview applicants, we often say: Tell us about your hardest day farming or working outdoors. I think what I want to hear in the answer is that they’ve had not one but many; that they understand the organism of the farm is the real boss, they’ve raced the sunset or a storm, worked with one hand out of commission, set alarms to care for livestock all through the night, won, lost, hurt and laughed all in one day. And then gotten up the next morning to do it again every day since.

As the 2017 season beings, I get up every day to do it again thanks to inspiration from the farmers I work alongside, encouragement from great people, email inquiries about renting the goats, the Cecropia moth cocoons I’ve kept safe all winter, the tiny seeds that hold so much DNA and are beginning to express it in the greenhouse, the tiny victories against early weeds.

But I’ve lost some gumption and cheer – traits that I’d like to think defined me. So it’s time to take it back! Back to the start, with a blog post:

Advice to a New Farmer (or perhaps to the version of myself that last posted here). Inspired by farming, farmers and also by Tony Robbins, Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Bill W., good friends, good goats…

  1. Identify your principles, goals and profit centers and be loyal to them. There are a lot of different ways and things to farm, methods of sale and plenty of buzz around what’s going to be the new kale. No one is doing them all at once, but everyone likes to talk about them. Find the things your market demands and then set short, medium and long-term goals for how to grow and market those products with practices you believe in. Sure, experiment with an idea or crop that excites you and reminds you why you started, but don’t let visions of homesteader-level diversity convince you to bite off more than you can chew. Budget time to observe, be proactive and analyze successes and failures.
  2. 100% Customer Satisfaction is not achievable. Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “If you’re pleasing everyone, you aren’t making progress.” When our farm was only growing vegetables and serving 40 CSA members, the people-pleaser in me was very satisfied. But then we added chickens, and goats, and more chickens, and more members, and more staff, and more pick-up days at more locations, and more hours of operation at the store, and more volunteer hours, and more educational programming, more varieties and successions, and you get the drift. There aren’t enough hours in the week to live in a constant state of accommodating others, be them human, animal or plant. Help the ones that can’t help themselves, first, but beyond that, grow the best products you can, sell them proudly at the place and time you said you would, then close the gate and go home (especially if someone is waiting for you). Your time is no less valuable than anyone elses.
  3. Livestock farming is not for the faint of heart. Even if you do everything right for and by the animals you raise, nature happens and it’s hard to watch. The herd mentality. The pecking order. The predator doing what predators do, merciless and inhumane. And then there’s processing – a time at which you must remember: Nature made humans omnivores and humans defined the term “humane.” Every animal you raise the right way, the best way you can, is an animal spared from the conventional, industrial system.
  4. Learn from it. Forgive yourself. The first big failure hits hard. You see almost instantly what you missed, forgot, opted to skip because some other aspect of the farm called and you feel GUILT. You’re disappointed in yourself. Even when it wasn’t your fault, you know that you decided to engage in agriculture, you’re domesticating animals, putting plants where they wouldn’t just pop up on their own, so nothing on your land is ever just the circle of life, right? In some ways, sure, but this is the nature of farming. You’re a farmer trying to choreograph nature like a god, but you’re not a god. In these moments of defeat, I fall on the ol’ standby: Accept the things you cannot change, have courage to change the things that you can, and wisdom to know the difference.
  5. There’s pain you need to push through and there’s pain you need to pay attention to. Learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is Farming 101. You will ache, itch, burn, bleed and crack. If you’ve got the innate grit that most people called to farming have, you will amaze yourself with your ability to endure, but you also need to recognize your breaking point. There are a lot of ways to get injured or killed on a farm. If you are hungry, tired, itchy and in a rush: step away from the role of machine operator. If your spirit is suffering, see number 8.
  6. Done is better than perfect. As you learn to delegate, you will learn that no one else sees, thinks or works the exact same way you do and that’s just that. Hire hard-working people who are eager to learn, teach them, then trust them. If you can’t let go of a little control, you will fatigue fast, your colleagues will grow frustrated, and you’ll end up pretty powerless.
  7. But… you will never be done. You know that feeling when your house, vehicle and hair are all clean at the same time? Me neither. Okay, I’ve felt it a handful of times in my life, but my point is: I don’t think you ever feel that way farming. There will always be beds that need something, projects that need to be finished, emails that need responses… At some point you have to accept that you will never FEEL done and have to CHOOSE what can wait until tomorrow, what can’t and when to cut it off.
  8. Befriend fellow farmers. Not just working, neighborly relations. Friendship. Whether they are many years ahead of you, a few behind you or side-by-side in the journey of farming, you will help each other. Open up to them, break down with them, seek advice, collaborate, vent, eat, rest, love and trust them.
  9. Accept that you will spend more time doing what you HAVE to do than doing what you WANT to do. This is true in all professions, right? It’s just that when you’re trying to simultaneously tame nature and run a business, there are a whole lot of “have to’s” at once. Animals need care every day, multiple times a day, regardless of the weather. Mother Nature will boss you around and test your limits, but you still need to show up at market at the same time, with the same smile. Wind will sweep your row cover off after the rest of the staff has left for the day. Things will break. People will quit. You will do every single job on the farm and it will frustrate you, but sometimes that’s just what you have to do and that’s that.
  10. Cherish the moments that you feel gratitude, grace and purpose. Even on the hardest days, there is beauty. Beauty in a completed task, an oddly-shaped vegetable, an insect, a breeze, a critter, watching the chickens lining up at sunset. Don’t lose track of them. In fact, look for three a day and talk about them at dinner. There’s a Cherokee legend about the two wolves that battle inside each of us, one good (humility, empathy, truth, peace, joy) and one evil (anger, resentment, inferiority, ego). Who wins? The one you feed.
  11. Eat what you grow. With people you love.

Note: This reflective/inspirational tone is not the norm on here. I promise we will return to useful gardening tips, practical tools, recipes, labor debates, insect identifications and hard-hitting journalism soon.

Celebrating a Local Breakfast

Coming back to the blog has me in a very reflective mood. As does starting a new book Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, Vicki Robin’s experiment with a 10-mile diet. The book has been sitting on my shelf since it was given to me as a gift from a student a couple years ago. Robin challenges to us to reflect on our relationship with our food – a task I try to keep in my heart and on my mind each day.

With this reflection in mind, I am very proud to share my homegrown and local breakfast: West VA heirloom blue corn bread with homegrown eggs and greens frittata. The main ingredients were either grown/raised at my home or purchased locally. (Yes – those are blue eggs from our two Ameraucana chickens in the picture below, we are very proud) But, the most exciting part to me – the other ingredients were local as well – garlic and local WV salt for flavor and cooked with local, organic rapeseed oil.

I have an ongoing thought experiment to see if it is possible to meet all my basic culinary needs locally. Recently, my attention was turned to oil and I was pleased to see a number of local cooking oil options at Chesapeake’s Bounty. I am experimenting with local sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, and butternut squash. These oils have replaced olive oil in my cupboard this winter. I am sure there will be a dish that is diminished without beloved EVOO, but I haven’t found it yet.

Rainy Sunday, Back to the Blog

It has been 4 years since I’ve posted here – and wow! it has flown by. While I have achieved much of what I set out for in 2010 when I first met Deb, I’ve learned that this is a life-long journey and one that is much more successful when it is shared and cherished. It is amazing to reflect on the past decade. I am now working exactly where I wanted to be in 2010 – on farms, food service, farmers’ markets, and local food policy. And yet, there is still so much more to learn and do. What we’ve realized is that our quest for learning and for tackling environmental challenges has only intensified since we first started blogging. So, we are back!

I am glad to be on the journey with you!

Meeting Michael Pollan

POLLA3_130425_346On April 25th, my parents, who live in Arlington, Virginia, invited Jen and I over for a home-cooked family meal inside the tiny window of time after a work day and before we were headed to the heart of Washington, D.C. to hear Michael Pollan speak about his newest book, ‘COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation.‘ Even with the wealth of farm-to-table restaurants in the city, many of their kitchens stocked with products grown and raised by close friends, we felt that the best way to honor the movement and the debut of the new book was to celebrate it quietly at home. And then chase down Michael Pollan with a Willowsford Farm gift bag and our cameras ready to shoot.

Over vegetarian lasagna, greens, and strawberry shortcake served on fresh baked biscuits, we talked about the season to come, about the 8 lbs. sweet potato my parents grew in their backyard garden last year and how we hope to beat their record at the farm this year, and what to write in the card we were slipping in the bag for “MP.”

Then something magical happened. For the first time in my “Pollanated” career, I realized we were going to be late to a Michael Pollan talk. Instead of flying out the door, however, we picked up our plates, double checked our will-call receipts and watched Jen take an extra moment to thank my parents for the meal. Sure, I still kind of rushed us out the door, but being a little bit late because we are busy farmers committed to family meals felt perfectly reasonable. It felt like Michael Pollan would completely forgive our tardiness.

As always, the talk was inspirational and articulated every thought, feeling and goal inside each one of us fighting to regain our connections with nature, the food chain, meal time, and our role as chefs in our own health and destiny.

Pollan referred to the family meal as “the nursery of democracy,” a time when we learn to take turns at the favorite parts of a roast chicken with our siblings, give guests first dibs at the homemade whipped cream for strawberry shortcake, and take back this activity and time from a world perhaps too populated with convenience and choice. He discussed the history, and interesting timing, of the ready-made, frozen meal in combination with the growth of dual-income and dual-career households and in doing so, reminded me of how many “food-like substances” have fueled so many of us along the way. Who hasn’t grabbed a bite of something from the convenience store at a gas station or hurried through a sandwich over the kitchen sink so that they could use that time for a different form of personal enrichment? Heck, even farmers order pizza once in a while.

But on the beautifully bright side, this has led many of us to a place where each meal cooked at home, shared with family and in our case, farm-ily as well, feels like a treat, like a special occasion. Although I long for weeks, months and years when it is simply part of the daily routine of life, I’m more than happy to invest extra time in Willowsford Farm and fields to ensure that our CSA members and Farm Stand shoppers have rich, diverse meals that are good for them and grown via practices that the author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” would be proud of. And lucky for us, as the bounty of the season is growing all around us, it’ll once again be easy to refuel with fresh peppers, tomatoes, and greens throughout the days and roast, stir fry and grill in the evenings.

The End of Winter’s Kale

Today I harvested the end of winter’s kale from the garden…

20130508_201051I was shocked and impressed with how much I was able to collect (despite today’s rain!)….IMG_20130508_184349 (2)I turned all of the kale into pesto, plus some Kale Pesto White Bean Dip.
20130508_215523 20130508_215553

Kale Pesto (adapted from Food Fanatic)

What You Need

  • 7 cups kale (stemmed, washed, and packed)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

What You Do

  1. Remove stems from kale and wash thoroughly. If you are picking the kale from your garden, beware of aphids and aphid eggs on the kale – to clean, wash with hot water!
  2. Add kale to food processor along with the garlic, walnuts and parmesan cheese.
  3. Pulse 5 or 6 times to get everything chopped up.
  4. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the oil while the processor is processing.
  5. If you added ¼ cup of oil, you will end up with thick, spreadable pesto. You can stop here or if you desire a thinner consistency to use the pesto as pasta sauce, continue adding oil (about an additional ¼ cup) until the pesto reaches the consistency you want.
  6. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week (OR you can make the sauce in bulk and freeze it for later).

I am ready for spring and summer vegetables, what about you? 🙂

Spring Garden: After the Rain

I am so happy that I was able to plant so many seeds and seedlings in my home garden last weekend. They are so happy after all this rain (three days in a row, and counting)! Take a look at them this evening…


Tasty Dips

This weekend, I hosted some friends over for dinner and was excited about an idea that came up in conversation a couple weeks ago with my boyfriend: expanding dip options from hummus, eggplant, and cheese spreads. So, I tried two new ones using cannellini beans and red lentils. Both were wonderful. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to snag any photos while cooking them — so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Kale Pesto White Bean Dip (from Annie Eats)

What You Need

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup walnuts (I didn’t have any – so I omitted them, but next time I will include them)
  • 1½ cups kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups cannellini beans, drained (2 15 oz. cans)
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

What You Do

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, walnuts (if you are using) and kale.
  2. Pulse until finely chopped.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. With the processor running, add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice in a steady stream through the feed tube until smooth.
  4. Add in the Parmesan, salt, and pepper and pulse until combined.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in the beans, the remaining 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar.
  6. Process the mixture until completely smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed.  If necessary, pulse in additional olive oil to achieve a smooth texture.
  7. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a sprinkle of chopped walnuts.  Serve with pita chips, fresh veggies, etc

Curried Lentil Dip (from Frontier Natural Products Coop)

What You Need

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and diced apples
  • 3  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

What You Do

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils and water to a boil.
  2. Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft and most of the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onions, apples, and garlic with a dash of salt for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the raisins, curry powder, and the garam masala, if using, and continue to sauté for 10 minutes, until tender.
  5. In a food processor or blender, pureé the cooked lentils and sautéed onion mix with the coconut milk and lemon juice. Add the salt and adjust to taste.
  6. Serve at room temp or chilled.

I served the dips with pita chips, a veggie plate, and rice crackers. The best part — I have plenty left-over to enjoy all week.