Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Did you know there’s no such thing as talent? Well, at least according to one school of thought, that is. A school of thought that includes authors like Daniel Pink, Geoffrey Colvin, and Carol Dweck. What, then, separates the world-class from the rest of us? Blood, sweat, and tears basically. And a mindset that turns mistakes and failures into learning opportunities instead of finding excuses and throwing blame.
Some days I want to be world class. I work well into the evenings thinking that if I just work a little longer and harder, I’ll achieve success. Other days I’m just tired. I think I’ve been delving a bit too deep into these schools of thought, trying to fit in with those fish, that I forget that I’m a mammal and I have to surface to breathe.
I forget that I owe it too my employees to get enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition. I forget that pursuit of other interests often helps me be better at my regular job. I forget to surface.
But not this Sunday. Nope. I read somewhere that you should pay attention to what makes you happy and do more of that. Hanging out with my pets makes me happy, so this weekend I embraced another school of thought. One that believes that rest, recovery, and reflection are essential parts of the progress toward a successful and ultimately happy life. One that believes I should “hang out with my pets”.
But I’m also an incessant list maker (if it’s more than three things-I need a list), and also find joy in crossing things off from lists. So I literally put “hang out with pets” on my list. And, I’m happy to say, I was able to cross all the things off from said list.
We made Aunt Ella's Shake Pickles last week, so this week it's time to enjoy some cucumber salads. This is one of my favorites:
Balkan Cucumber Salad
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Kazan
serves 4 to 6
4 medium cucumbers
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup yogurt
2 small cloves crushed garlic
4 fresh mint leaves, minced
½ cup thinly sliced onion – red is the only onion that works
4 cups of finely chopped parsley
optional; 1 or 2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup minced scallion greens
lots of black pepper
1 TBS. Chopped dill or 1 tsp. dried
1 cup of chopped toasted walnuts – Toast at 350 F for 15 minutes
NOTE: There is a fair amount of wiggle room on what you put or don’t put in this recipe, as long as the obvious essential ones are in it.
Slice the cucumbers. Combine all the ingredients except walnuts. Chill and serve on a bed of lettuce with the walnuts on top.
Optional garish could be… hard-cooked egg slices, tomato wedges, chopped black olives and carrot slices.
June. Named after Juno, the Roman goddess of childbirth and fertility. The weeds that escaped our hoes in April and early May have all grown up and are having children of their own now. Usually, June rolls in on a saucy heat wave, announcing her presence like a child demanding your attention, stamping her feet and screaming “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!”
But Juno was evidently distracted by the floods, because June just sort of slid into the raucous party through an already open door and sat down. I hardly even recognized her. Sweatshirts in the mornings and evenings, no desperate popsicle breaks, breezy, sunny skies--even the squash seems to be confused and isn’t growing so fast. A subtle and perfect June will have us all complacent and unprepared for that blast of July that is sure to come, but since there’s nothing we can do about that, let’s just enjoy the sweatshirts while we wait.
The cucumbers have been enjoying the perfect weather of the last few days, which means we have some overlap of production between the greenhouse and the field. Which means it’s a great time to make a batch of Jason’s Aunt Ella’s Shake Pickles:
Aunt Ella's Shake Pickles
Cucumbers-1/2 gallon, sliced
2-3 onions, sliced
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup vinegar
1/8 cup salt
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp alum
1/2 tsp celery seed
Fill half gallon jar with sliced cucumbers and onions. Mix together. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers. Put in refrigerator. Shake once a day for six days.
Early tomatoes and plump blueberries: the sunny side
May is too early for a tropical storm. Plus, we’ve already had too much rain. But mother nature did not get that memo and you can’t argue with mother nature, so it’s time to practice the art of letting go and moving on. Oh, and don’t forget the art of keeping on the sunny side.
So I try to keep the losses in my peripheral vision and focus instead on those early tomatoes! And the fact that it doesn’t matter that our blueberry irrigation system needs a bunch of repairs because the blueberries love all this water and we didn’t even need to turn the irrigation system on.
Yes, the arugula and little gem lettuce threw a temper tantrum (turns out they’re not aquatic plants), but we ate the first ripe tomato last Friday and the blueberries are beginning to change color! And, I can shake off all that regret for not growing strawberries this year because this is exactly the heartbreak-inducing weather that did in our strawberry-growing desires last year.
Also, as soon as the sun comes out there will be fantastic tubing potential on all the rivers that were previously too low to navigate! So yeah, there is always a silver lining if you keep the losses out of focus and look instead toward where the sun will be when it finally comes out.
With the rains comes lots of lettuce and Jason is on a mission to make salads into main courses. We have seen strawberries at the market, which inspires one of our favorite salads:
Strawberry and chevre salad with balsamic vinaigrette and toasted walnuts:
Baby lettuce mix
Plain chevre (goat cheese)
Balsamic vinaigrette (see below)
Slice strawberries and goat cheese on top of salad mix. Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven (or stir them in a cast iron skillet on the stove top until dark brown). While the walnuts cool, make the balsamic vinaigrette:
The standard ratio for vinaigrettes is three parts oil to one part vinegar. But it's a flexible ratio.This is also not something for which you need to take out the measuring cups — eye-balling the proportions right in the salad bowl or jam jar is perfectly acceptable behavior.
Balsamic vinaigrette will take you far in life. This is made just with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and the balsamic adds just the right touch of sweetness when tossed with salad greens. If you're feeling fancy, you can add other ingredients the mix, like a dollop of grainy mustard, some minced shallots, or a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs. If you'd like a little more sweetness, whisk in some brown sugar or honey.
Drizzle your vinaigrette onto your salad and top with chopped toasted walnuts and voila!
Jason tried to mention that the weather pattern is reminiscent of 2013. I jammed my fingers in my ears and hummed a little tune and stomped my feet a little. We are not going to drown! Although I don’t consider myself much of an optimist, I’m trying to ignore any similarities with 2013 and believe that the sun will come out tomorrow (now that’s in your head too!).
I’m squeezing my existence into the moments between the rains. It’s slippery work, but there are some of those moments. The sun even comes out sometimes (bet your bottom dollar…). Just enough for me to empty out the rain gauge and mash my fingers in my ears and hum a little song about the sun coming out tomorrow.
All this rain isn’t all bad though. Greens loves the rain. Which makes this prime weather for some kale chips! The secret to great kale chips is preheating the pan
Garlic roasted kale (a.k.a. kale chips)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale , stems removed and chopped
1. Arrange oven racks in center and lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 425°. Place 2 large baking sheets in oven for 5 minutes.
2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; toss to coat. Divide kale mixture evenly between hot pans, spreading with a silicone spatula to separate leaves. Bake at 425° for 7 minutes. Stir kale, and rotate pans. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until edges of leaves are crisp, but not burnt.
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light November 2010
I love office supply stores. I can’t help it. All that organization packed in so neatly into one big box, all categorized and labeled. What’s not to love? Uncle Harold once said, “Anything you love, they can take away.” And take away they did. They took away my beloved Staples store and left me with nothing but online office supplies. It just doesn’t smell the same.
But it did make me smarter. If they can take away my office supply store, they can surely take away my other love: Paper Mate Ink Joy 700 RT 1.0 medium point. So I went and got me a mess of them. I mean, I do work in an office about a half day a week or so. I’ve got to have my favorite pens! How else would I type this blog every week?
Veggies tattoos are a serious thing, y'all
The clouds were innocent today: white wisps against the bright blue sky. I felt like I was in an idyllic painting, or one of those inspirational greeting cards. We were planting our 24,850th transplant, our bodies folded over themselves in some farm tweaked version of a yoga pose, discussing our work as identity. You know, the lighter stuff.
I recall taking some psychological “test” where the only question was to complete the sentence “I am…” any number of times as they came to your mind. Ostensibly, it is interesting to see what order you put the things that make up your identity; the first thing being the most important factor of your identity to you, etc.
If I took that test today, well, I’d probably cheat since I know how it works, but I imagine that even if I didn’t, the word “farmer” would appear somewhere very near the top. When you’re passionate about something, it sort of takes over your whole identity. I mean, everyone here either has or wants a veggie tattoo (yes, including me, although I'm a little too reserved to just go all out like the above picture). Did you know that’s a thing?
Thinking along those lines, I wonder if my second answer would “eater.” Because you just can’t work so closely and extensively with veggies without dreaming of dinner. I spend hours doing it. And then I spend more time scouring our cookbook stash, pile of cooking magazines, or the internet for new recipes using those veggies. Eating is one of the major reasons we got into farming. Eating…the gateway drug.
And now, here we are, planting our 24,850th transplant, our bodies folded over themselves in some farm tweaked version of a yoga pose, admitting our addiction to farming as if it were the first step. Hi, my name is Shiloh, and I love to grow food. And here’s my veggie tattoo (just kidding, I don’t have one of those…yet).
Let's celebrate this beautiful cake that Mallory made from farm beets and wildflowers
Today is a great day to celebrate the Tumbling Shoals Farmily. It’s Emily’s second day, after all, and the farmily is complete. I’ve been thinking about that Jerry McGuire movie from (cough cough) “a few years back”—you know the scene. The one where he uses sign language and says, “you complete me.” Aaaawww, don’t cry.
This is how I feel today. The farmily is complete. The sun is shining, we’ve removed and put away the frost blankets (that yes, were still in use on April 30th), and we’re plowing (pun definitely intended) through our planting list. It feels complete. Optimism abounds. And we’re as pleased as canned peas to be working here (I just made that simile up, but I bet you couldn’t tell).
This is something that’s critical to us: that we’re pleased to be working here. I don’t just mean me and Jason, although that is important also because why else would we be doing this, but the whole farmily. Farming, as with any small business, is about relationships, and the relationships with our employees are some of the closest relationships we form. In order to be complete, we all need to be happy to be here. And this season, it feels like we’ve struck gold.
So let’s celebrate. According to google: “dances, singing, and cake are usually part of the festivities.” So….let’s dance!
Saturday, April 21st is the Wilkes County Farmers Market AND the downtown Hickory Farmers Market opening day!
Managing a diverse farm is a lot like daily choreography. We begin with the big picture—the general list of tasks that we need to accomplish. This, we create on Sundays. Then each morning we look at the day’s as well as the upcoming temperature, cloud, precipitation, and wind predictions, and pull items from the general list that will make sense to accomplish that day. Then, of course, we plan how those tasks are going to flow most efficiently—which tasks need to precede which tasks, and how many people are needed to accomplish them—who will be doing what simultaneously.
When it goes well, it’s as lovely as a well choreographed dance. It flows impeccably from scene to scene until we’ve come full circle back to the big picture having crossed off many tasks from that list. But, of course, you know about the rapidly changing weather predictions. And there’s always that one awkward movement that didn’t quite appear like it did in your head and throws the whole thing off balance.
It’s a constant occupation. Like a marionette master, you’ve got to pull each string just right and at just the right moment. It’s one of things we really love about this kind of farming. There’s no boredom, no stagnation. You’re always evolving, learning, growing.
The sun and warmth returned to us like an old lover returning from a long voyage, resurrecting the joy and laughter in our hearts. A lover we can’t help but adore, no matter how long she leaves us. Weather can do that to a person, you know: beat you down like a lily in a hail storm and make you question everything, only to return and lift you up like it was nothing. And you can’t even jilt her. She brings with her too much promise.
Irresistible promises like fresh greens, and thriving plants, and crossing things off lists. Yeah, the weather can do that to. See how talented she is? With the arrival of spring comes the arrival of weather suitable for catching up. And with this year’s family nearly all in place here, we’re crossing things off lists.
The feeling of crossing things off lists is almost as cherished as the feel of the sun on our long cold faces. It’s relief, and power all in one: the realization that we can do this!