vegetarian

Farmin’ Ain’t Easy

If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram (and really, why haven’t you?), then you may not know that last week, my little 2002 Honda Civic (which I’ve started to lovingly refer to as “The Tardis” because I’ve managed to cram an impossible amount of stuff in there and still be able to lay my seat back to sleep) and I made our way back to Oregon for an almost month-long stay at Dunbar Farms, a small, family owned, organic farm in Medford. I found the opportunity through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and, after a few phone calls, submitting my resume and waiting for references to be checked, I was invited to come out and get my hands in the dirt. And boy, have I.

I might not be a farmer, yet. In fact, I know I’m not. I get days off. I sometimes get to sleep in. If I don’t feel well, I can text my boss (the actual farmer) and let him know I’ll join the crew at 9am instead of 630am. An actual farmer gets to do none of those things. This farm is a living thing, and it doesn’t take, or give, a day off. Not really.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned. People don’t farm like this (organic, sustainable, in the rhythm that nature sets) because they want to become rich, or famous, or powerful. They do it because it’s in their DNA. I’ll tell you more about the folks who run Dunbar Farms in a future post, but suffice it to say, this beautiful spot in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is a labor of love.

Mondays and Fridays here are harvest days, so they’re our busiest, longest days. We get to work harvesting at 630 in the morning. On Monday, we’re fulfilling wholesale orders for local restaurants and other commercial customers. On Friday, we handle CSA orders. On either, or both of those days, we’re also stocking the farm’s “honor barn.” They have a farm stand on the property, which carries everything from greens, to flours made from the farm’s wheat and corn, to dried beans and popcorn. It’s open 24/7, so locals can stop by at their convenience, grab what they need, and leave cash or a check in the cash box up front. On their honor. It’s amazing and kinda beautiful that it works out that way.

After we harvest, we bring everything back to the clean room to be washed, dried, bagged, weighed, and labeled. Commercial orders are delivered on Tuesdays. CSA orders are picked up Friday afternoon, and customers are encouraged to stay for a minute and enjoy a glass of wine, also made here at Dunbar under the Rocky Knoll label.

On the other days, we do things like thinning the carrot patch, which involves laying down at ground level so we can get up close and personal with the soil to thin out carrot starts and pull the tiniest of weeds before they have a chance to lay down a root system that could choke off the main crop; or pulling last year’s left over potato sprouts (and more weeds) out of this year’s onion fields.

It’s hard work, but not too hard, and quite honestly, pretty satisfying.

As I mentioned, Dunbar Farms grows beans, among other things, and one of the first things I got my hands on to cook was some of their black beans. I know black bean soup isn’t revolutionary, but I wanted to share the recipe I used to make the version that’s been serving as the main part of my dinner almost every night since I got here. It’s super easy, requires only a handful of budget friendly ingredients, and, paired with a pile of lightly dressed greens, serves as a pretty great post-harvest day supper. This recipe makes about four servings.

Equipment:
4 qt sauce pot
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Stick blender, stand blender, or hand masher, whichever is available
Spoon for stirring

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa
Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like, to taste

Cook the beans, onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme with enough water to cover by about 2 inches at a low boil for about an hour, or until the beans are cooked through. You may need to add a bit more water over the course of the cooking time to ensure the pot does not boil dry.

Pull out the thyme stems and discard. Reserve one cup of the cooked beans and veggies if you like to keep a little texture in your soup, like I do. If you’re using a stick blender, you can puree remaining beans and veg with the liquid right there in the pot. If you’re using a mixer, blend the remaining beans/veg/liquid in two batches until it reaches your desired consistency. If you’re using a masher, just mash away until, again, it reaches the consistency you like. You can add a little more water or some veggie stock as needed at any point to thin out the soup to your liking.

Add the reserved beans/veggies back into the pureed soup at this point, as well as the 1/4 cup of salsa, then season as you wish. We didn’t have much in the kitchen when I got here, but the tomatillo salsa I used provided a lot of great flavor so other than salt, mine didn’t need much. Cumin, chile powder, and/or fresh jalapeno would be nice additions, as well.

This soup holds well as leftovers, although it will thicken up in the fridge. At that point, you can pretend it’s bean hummus and eat it with pita or chips, or add more liquid to soup it up again.

Enjoy!

Against the Grain

That’s actually a horrible title for this post, because I’m so very NOT against the grains. In fact, I’ve been really getting into using lots of different grains for my “starchy element” instead of just rice or pasta. The grocery store had quinoa and barley on sale, so I loaded up.

This week, the barley made an appearance in a really easy, but at the same time, kind of complex spring salad made with roasted radishes, barley, fresh strawberries, Manchego cheese (my favorite), and a bright, slightly sweet vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar and honey. We’re talking layers of flavor and texture here, folks– great on its own or with some additional protein to give it a little more umph for a lunch or dinner sized portion.

Equipment:

Medium pot with a lid for cooking the barley
Measuring cups & spoons
Knife and cutting board
Sheet pan for roasting the radishes
Large bowl
Mixing spoon

Ingredients:

For the salad (makes 4 side salad sized servings):
1 16 ounce package of radishes, washed, trimmed and halved or quartered
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt & Pepper
1 cup strawberries, large dice
1 1/2 cups cooked barley (follow the package directions for cooking)
2 oz Manchego cheese, shaved or broken into chunks

For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup light olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Wash the radishes and strawberries, and prep as described above.

Toss the trimmed and halved radishes with the vegetable oil, salt and pepper, then roast for 25 minutes. While they’re roasting, cook the barley according to the package directions. Allow both to cool after cooking while you prepare the vinaigrette.

Whisk the apple cider vinegar and honey together until well combined. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. The traditional ratio for a vinaigrette is 3:1, oil to vinegar, but if you want to make it even lighter, just drizzle in enough oil to make sure the vinaigrette will coat all the salad components well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Combine the roasted radishes, diced strawberries, barley, and cheese in your large mixing bowl. Drizzle as much of the vinaigrette as you like over everything, and stir gently. I recommend letting this salad hang out in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to let the barley soak up some of the vinaigrette. I didn’t have any on hand, but you could also throw in a handful of some fresh chopped herbs like mint or Italian parsley to add another interesting layer of flavor.

We had this salad for dinner with some poached jumbo shrimp, and it was pretty great. Grilled chicken would also be nice, or even just a handful of toasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans. This would actually be a great make-ahead lunch for work, now that I think about it.

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Enjoy!