Travel

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!

Off I Grow!

Well, 2016 is done. It definitely had its ups and downs, both personally for me, and for the world. I, for one, am happy to see it in my rear view mirror. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I developed amazing friendships and learned a LOT about myself, and those are never bad things.

It’s time to look ahead, though. This is just a quick update to let you all know I have, indeed, hit the road. I left Colorado January 2nd, and am currently posted up in Taos, New Mexico. I’ll be here for about a week and a half, helping a friend with some winter chores for her little farm, making a day trip or two down to Santa Fe, and just generally learning as much as I can about the food and culture of the area while I’m here.

On my way here, heading down Highway 160, I came across this sign. I noticed it, drove past it, then felt that little voice inside me say, “Jordan. Go back and look again.”

grow

So I flipped a U-ey and went back. I looked again. I stared at that sign for a good five minutes. I know quite a few people who choose a word for themselves at the beginning of each year… something to help give direction and focus to their endeavors for the next 365 days. I’ve never really done that, but I think, at least for 2017, it’s a fairly apparent imperative (say that five times fast) that “Grow” is my word.

Here’s to growing… and learning about growing… and watching things grow.

I left my stomach in San Francisco

Awhile back, I swore to myself that traveling decisions would be made based on one of, or some combination of, three things:

  1. good friends living there
  2. good food living there
  3. good music happening there

So, when I found myself with a $200 and something flight credit from Southwest that had to be used by the end of March, I went looking for someplace I could visit on my days off this week (Sunday through most of Wednesday). I ultimately landed on San Francisco because A) I love that place with all my heart and for the longest time it’s only been the astronomical cost of living that has kept me from moving there, 2) My good friend R lives about 2 hours south of there and he’s always up for an adventure, and c) One of my favorite Indian food restaurants is there and their Groupon meant I could afford to eat there without blowing my entire Minuscule Because I Only Make $11 an Hour food budget for the day.

The Universe gave me its first indication that this trip was going to be pretty great before I even got on the plane.

A LITTLE BACKSTORY: At the beginning of January, we had a big clothing swap at the club where I work. A bunch of the performers, staff, and their friends brought so many clothes, shoes, accessories, and beauty products that it filled the entire theatre. No lies. At said clothing swap, I picked up a backpack that was perfect for overnight trips, days when I’d be doing bloggy stuff outside of my home, etc. I didn’t examine it too closely, other than to make sure there was nothing wrong with it that I couldn’t fix. This is the backpack I brought with me on this trip. I work with burlesque performers. These lovely people are sparkly and glittery because, well, glitter is just as much an every performance (and for a few, every day) accessory as a watch or earrings or a purse might be. It’s everywhere, all the time.

So, I get up to security, pull my phone out from a side pocket on the backpack to get to my electronic boarding pass, and along with it comes this absolute shower of gold glitter. Apparently, the very pocket in which I’d stashed my phone was the pocket where the backpack’s previous owner had stashed their sparkles.

SPARKLE

The big, burly TSA agent who was about to inspect my ID and whatnot had his head turned to talk to someone and didn’t notice that his left shoulder and part of his back were now… umm… much more fabulous than before. I didn’t tell him. He handed my stuff back, said, “Have a good trip,” and I walked away with absolutely no remorse. He was in for a magical afternoon, and there’s no shame involved with that.

The flight was fine, and I landed in San Jose where my friend picked me up and immediately took me to a pizza joint in nearby Campbell to have lunch and watch the Broncos game. The sweet potato fries were excellent. The pizza was… edible. It was a fun place to watch the game. But, this was a side trip and not part of any sort of planned food adventure, so let’s move on.

Day 2… We went to lunch at a place I love that is not accessible in Denver, and that’s a very good thing– InNOut. I eat at this place maybe once every five years, so I went full throttle. Double-double cheeseburger and fries, Animal Styled to within an inch of ridiculousness. I could not finish, but boy, oh, boy was that delicious!

BURGER

We hit up a little used book store called Yesterday’s Books, where I picked up a book about the history of caviar. I am constantly surprised by exactly how big of a food nerd I can be. I’m totally sucked in… it’s got political intrigue, environmental crime, smuggling… I’ll do a little review/book report for you when I’m done reading it, but I seriously had no idea the world of caviar production was so dark and twisty!

Next door to the bookstore was a pub called P. Wexfords, so we stopped for a pint. I had a pilsner from Dust Bowl (a local brewery) called Hobo. Good stuff! It was a little maltier than most pilsners, but I like malty beers so I could dig it. I really didn’t expect to find a place like this, with a legit beer list and a solid food menu, in the middle of the Central Valley ‘burbs, but it’s now one of my “must visit” places when I go see my buddy again.

PWEXFORD

Plus, they play this awesome Pandora radio station called 80’s Throwback-90’s Comeback that is absolutely brilliant.

Dinner was at a cool little pho joint near downtown Modesto called Phoenix Noodle House. I had the #1 bowl with ALLLL the animals in it. It had shaved ribeye, shaved flank steak, tripe, and tendon, perfectly cooked noodles and the most beautiful broth.

PHO

Day 3, we hopped on the train into San Francisco. To build up a good appetite for lunch, we hiked up Powell Street from Union Square and through Chinatown. There are lots of great areas of San Francisco, but Chinatown will always have a special place in my heart. The food, from the fresh veg/fruit/fish stalls to the restaurants; the culture; and the just overall vibe makes me happy every time I wander through there. There’s just so much life! It’s definitely one of those places where you don’t ask what it is, you just eat it and let it be delicious. As we were headed down the hill toward Columbus Street, I caught the scent of something kinda funky and delicious… and discovered that someone in one of the apartments above was drying meat on a coat hanger in their window. It took everything I had not to go knock on their door and ask questions.

HANGIN

When we finally got to lunch, it did not disappoint. I had a Groupon, $10 for $25 worth of food, from Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House. We’d been there a couple of years ago, with almost the same Groupon, and loved the curry so much there was no question we had to go back. This place is such a trip! It’s an Irish pub if you walk in the front door, but if you come in through the patio in the back, it’s an Indian curry house. They have some $10.95 lunch specials that include an entree (I had the goat), lentil soup, a vegetable side, a generous stack of naan plus a huge piece of papadam, and a little cup of sweet rice pudding with cashews for dessert.

KENNEDYS

I honestly believe it’s one of the best lunch deals in North Beach, especially if you can find their Groupon. Once you get closer to Fisherman’s Wharf, it gets pretty seafood heavy and expensive. Don’t get me wrong, seafood there is delicious, but if it’s not in the budget, Kennedy’s is a great place to get a filling lunch to fuel you up for all that hill climbing.

Our next stop was at the Boudin Bakery flagship location at Fisherman’s Wharf. We just sipped our coffee and smelled all those amazing baking smells. I’m actually kinda bummed we were still too full from lunch to have some bread or one of their perfect croissants, but the smells were enough.

BOUDIN1

The Superbowl is being played near San Francisco, and Boudin was clearly gearing up for some epic viewing parties. Master Baker Fernando Padilla and his team were working on these giant football shaped sourdough loaves, along with jalapeno cheese bread, baguettes, and round loaves.

BOUDIN3

After wandering around for a bit, we made one more stop at the Rogue taphouse for a quick pint before catching the bus back to our train to the ‘burbs. I had the Imperial Smoked Lager. It smelled like campfire, but the smoky flavor kind of mellowed after the first few sips and it ended up very tart and citrusy. It was warm enough to sit outside and do some people watching while had our drinks. It was a great end to a really great day.

IMG_1113

I’m headed back to the Bay area at the end of July for the International Food Blogger Conference in Sacramento. I usually only get out there about once every two years, so twice in one year feels like a gift.

Peace!