An ode to citrus

I mentioned this in last week’s post, but citrus plays a key role in our winter diet. We eat a lot of fresh fruit on the regular, mostly our gorgeous local peaches and cherries and apples, but in winter our counters are piled high with grapefruit and clementines and oranges of every variety. Is it local? Absolutely not, although with the warming trends we’re seeing here it may be soon. Is it necessary? Absolutely yes, because “I feel like I’m swallowing the sun, and it’s so dark outside.” There are a thousand good reasons to incorporate more citrus in your diet, but for the moment, let’s just focus on how it provides a thin slice of joy during an increasingly bleak season. (Also it’s far cheaper than buying totally unregulated “vitamin C capsules” in little plastic bottles.)

More sunshine, please.

Lots of people remember receiving oranges in Christmas stockings, back when food was truly seasonal and therefore quite precious and rare. Citrus fruit is of course available year-round nowadays, but it really is best in the northern hemisphere’s winter. American citrus production is concentrated in California and Florida; California grows most of the citrus used for fresh eating, whereas Florida’s production is focused on juice. Texas and Arizona both grow some commercial citrus too, but their numbers pale in comparison to the Left Coast and Right Coast groves, even though Florida is suffering from a variety of citrus diseases. Brazil, Spain and Mexico dominate the world citrus market.

Did you know that most mammals can synthesize their own vitamin C – but that humans and other primates cannot? (Capybaras and guinea pigs can’t either. Don’t feel bad.) During the eighteenth century, disease killed far more British soldiers than military action; scurvy was the leading cause of death, particularly for sailors without access to fresh fruits and vegetables for months at a time. Though anecdotal evidence suggested that lemon and lime juice (and sauerkraut) prevented scurvy, and the few hardy sailors who consumed shipboard rats did not contract it (rats can synthesize their own vitamin C!), it wasn’t until very late in the century that citrus fruit was issued in sailors’ rations. Once one of the world’s most devastating diseases, scurvy is now rarely seen in the developed world, except in cases of severe malnutrition.

An ideal winter salad, with bitter greens, pomegranate, sharp Manchego and lots of citrus.

In addition to preventing scurvy, vitamin C also helps with non-heme (plant-based) iron absorption. This means that you’ll get even more benefit from your iron-rich kale and spinach salad if you spangle it with bright citrus! Make a simple citrus vinaigrette by combining three parts good olive oil with one part citrus juice (any variety or combination of citrus works) in a Mason jar. Add finely minced shallot or red onion, a bit of raw garlic if your tastes swing that way, generous amounts of salt and pepper, and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Shake well to combine, then taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. If you’re using tart lemons a drizzle of honey wouldn’t go amiss here, to balance the sharp citrus tang, and any chopped odds and ends of fresh herbs can be put to good use in this preparation, too. This will keep indefinitely in the fridge; you’ll just need to give it a good shake before serving as it’s not a true emulsified dressing.

Hot lemon and ginger tonic with a touch of honey will set you straight.

Most Americans consume their citrus in the form of orange juice. Despite what the “healthy breakfast” campaigns would have you believe, fruit juice is not actually healthy – it’s simply pure liquefied sugar that hits your system hard because it has no beneficial fiber to slow it down. We don’t drink any juice for this reason, but we do drink quite a lot of our homemade lemon-ginger tonic, especially later in the day when the icy weather calls for a hot drink but good sense dictates that it’s time to lay off the strong black coffee. No recipe is required for this; we simply combine lemon juice (or lemon slices) and finely grated ginger (use a Microplane if you have one) with hot water to taste. No fresh ginger? Powdered will work fine, just whisk well. You can add a spoonful of honey to sweeten the deal. Strain out the aromatics or not, as you like. This easy winter drink tastes nourishing and restorative, like you’re doing something kind for yourself.

Is it any wonder we crave color in the depths of a gray winter?

I’ll freely admit that our rural location does not offer the same spectacular citrus selection I was truly spoiled by in the big city. We can of course find standard navel oranges, grapefruits, lemon and limes. On occasion we’ll get cara cara or blood oranges, or perhaps an unexpected surprise of tangelos or Meyer lemons. We have the branded net bags of “Halos” or “Cuties,” which are sometimes (but not always) clementines. But Buddha’s hand, or kishu mandarins, or pomelos, or Key limes, or yuzu, or kumquats, or bergamot sour oranges? Never have they been spotted here, and likely they never will. If you, however, live anywhere near a specialty grocer or citrus groves, definitely seek out these more unusual varieties – they’re well worth your time and money, if only to taste something completely new. When we finally install our greenhouse, I plan on purchasing dwarf citrus trees; whether or not they ever bear edible fruit, I’ll still be able to inhale the intoxicating scent of the blossoms.

Almond thumbprints with lemon curd and orange marmalade.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant (think of using lemon juice to prevent artichokes or avocadoes from browning) and is essential for the body’s tissue production, including bone, blood vessels and collagen. Despite its reputation, however, no credible studies have proven that it mitigates cold symptoms – this seems to be purely urban legend stemming from one single book published in the 1960s. As with all vitamins and minerals, it’s much better to obtain these nutrients from whole foods than from powders, pills or supplements, especially because these real foods offer plenty of fiber, too. Other great sources of vitamin C that you might want to add to your diet: kiwifruit, red, orange or yellow bell peppers, pomegranates, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes. Of course, all of these foods have lots of other vitamins and minerals too, but a little extra vitamin C boost can’t hurt – especially not this winter.

Wishing you a healthy winter season filled with thin slices of joy everywhere you look.

Mindset book club

I think it’s fair to say that things are not going well out there. Between incessant doomscrolling and paralyzing anxiety attacks, I’m desperately searching out reading material that calms and soothes, rather than inflames and terrorizes – so I scoured our rainbow library for books that I thought fit the bill. Read on for a few suggestions.

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self ed. by Ellyn Spragins

This is a lovely book, filled with precisely what the title advertises: prominent, successful women write letters to their younger selves, offering guidance, wisdom, consolation, advice and solace. I’ve thought a lot about how we’ll look back on this intensely difficult time, and what I might like to tell my own younger self. I particularly loved this quote from photographer Joyce Tenneson: “Your best work will come in moments of grace.” Perhaps we all need to focus on showing more grace to both ourselves and others.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is certainly best known for Wild, but she also wrote a gorgeous, heartbreaking advice column called Dear Sugar, which has been translated into plays and podcasts and all sorts of other media. In a dark time, the thing you need most might be to know that others have experienced pain and heartache and betrayal and trauma too, and have still survived even after all that, and that’s exactly what this book offers. Plus, there are some laugh-out-loud moments which will have you guffawing through your tears. This one hits all the right notes.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I won’t lie – unlike the other books in this list, this one is most definitely not an easy read. That said, it’s worth your time and your contemplation. I’ve read this on a number of occasions over the years, and always find something different. As the title suggests, the book is a treatise on living in the now, and since I spend the majority of my mental energy either dwelling in the past or agonizing over the future, this provides the nudge I need to stay present. Easier said than done, obviously.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I love Gretchen Rubin, and her calm, matter-of-fact approach to improving everyday life. This terrific book argues that seeking your own happiness is not, as many would assume, a selfish and self-centered pursuit. Instead, people who are happier are more likely to help other people, to contribute to charity, to volunteer, and to work at improving the world around them. It’s the old oxygen mask adage writ large – once you’re content, you have the space and energy to help others around you become content. As with all of Rubin’s work, The Happiness Project is exhaustively researched but woven throughout with enough personal anecdotes to keep it from feeling too textbook-y. Worth the read, if only to open your mind to the possibility of small joys everywhere.

O’s Little Book of Calm & Comfort

Say what you will about Oprah, but she and her team know how to pick talent. This little book contains an absolute wealth of spectacular writing, presented in short, easy-to-read vignettes. A favorite quote, especially relevant now: “We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it. But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for? How we behave matters, because within human society everything is contagious – sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.” You will find something that resonates in this book, I promise.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

“But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” Please, go read this book. Then make something – a poem, a song, a scarf, a painting, a pot of soup. Anything. Make anything. Just make something. Producing something creative, ephemeral or not, can be one of the only worthwhile responses to the maelstrom we’re currently caught in.

The Joy Diet by Martha Beck

The subtitle of this book, “10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life,” sums it up pretty accurately. As with The Happiness Project, this is a gentle roadmap towards cultivating joy in your everyday existence. Some assignments – like “Every day, make sure that you laugh at least thirty times” – might be a bit tough to achieve given our current circumstances, but there is a lot of worthwhile information here if you can keep your mind open. We’re all searching for leadership, for guidance, because none of us have the slightest clue about what’s going on right now, and sometimes a list of exercises from a smart teacher can help us stay on the path.

And then of course there’s this: your own writing. I’ve certainly scribbled in my journal more during this pandemic century than I have in the previous five years, and when the spiraling panic and anxiety and despair threaten to overwhelm, and the ever-present tears are prickling the back of my throat, I try to get everything out on paper. There is a huge amount of research that clearly demonstrates how journaling can help manage anxiety and depression, and since we’re currently living through the largest and most severe mental health crisis in history, I’m hopeful that others have picked up a pen and notebook, too. It’s cheap, convenient therapy, accessible to everyone no matter the situation. And you can always (safely) burn what you write, which – I’ll freely admit – is another favorite form of emotional processing.

Here are a few of N’s suggestions for comforting reading material.

A few other mental-health strategies I’m relying upon: lots of water. Lots of citrus, because it tastes like liquid sunshine. Music – Ye Olde Classical suits my soul rather nicely at the moment. Peppermint-scented tea, or soap, or whatever. Fresh bread with soft salted butter. Layer up and get moving outside. Take care of the animals. Ten jumping jacks. Dance. Sing. Dance and sing at the same time. Anything, no matter how odd, to keep the demons at bay.

What are you doing to stay calm and in the moment, dear friends? Are you reading? Sewing? Baking? Writing? Cooking? Knitting? Planning your spring garden? We’d love to hear your survival techniques during these challenging times.

P.S. Need more book recommendations? Try this, this, this or perhaps this.

Winter descends

“In a year that stripped life to bare fundamentals, the natural world has become our shared story. Seasons have offered the rare reminder that the world moves on even as our sense of time blurs.”

“The undeniable hardship of this winter is a reminder that for much of human history, particularly in colder climates, winter was a season simply to be survived. Winter is a primal time of death and loss, and a time for grief. It reminds us that darkness, not only light, is part of the recurring rhythm of what it means to be human.”

“I’ve stopped trying to handle the darkness. I let the darkness handle me instead. Most of the time all it wants to do is to hold me for a while – slow me down, keep me from running, cover me up long enough to remember that being in the dark doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It means I’m alive, and this is part of the deal.”

“The great irony of winter is that the moment darkness is greatest is also the moment light is about to return. Each year the solstice comes with the promise that the next day will be brighter.”

“…you have lived through long nights before. It is precisely at the point that the night is longest and darkest that you’ve actually turned a corner. Look for the smallest bit of beauty around you. That very much resonates today, at a time where it seems like the mega-systems are all broken or falling apart, to return your gaze to the small.”

“I have spent some long, scary nights waiting for the sun to come up. There have also been some long, barren seasons when I feared the sap would never rise again. The hardest thing is to keep trusting that the balance will shift again even when I can’t imagine how. So far it has.”

Look for the smallest bit of beauty around you, dear friends. Stay warm, stay rested, stay nourished, stay healthy and trust that the growing season will be here in good time.

(All quotes from “Winter Descends, a Dark, Bitter Echo of Our Past,” by Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times, December 20, 2020.)

A season of rest

As is our custom every year about now, Finding Quiet Farm will be going on hiatus until January. In true agricultural tradition, we believe the dark, cold winter months are a time of rest and reflection, and this year more than any other demands that we reset and recharge. We will spend the winter baking bread, sewing quilts, reading books, rebuilding engines and (hopefully) crafting a plan to safely launch our cooking classes in 2021. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability, patience and grace are key to surviving in this new world.

Perhaps you’ve missed some of our previous adventures, and might like to read about our round-the-world trip, including a hot spring in Japan, a gurudwara in India, or a sheep farm in New Zealand? Or you might like some book recommendations? Or you want to know more about eating better, or saving seeds, or making hot sauce? Whatever aspect of travel, food or farming you might be interested in, we’ve probably got you covered. And if you don’t find what you’d like to read about, let us know and we’ll do our best to accommodate those wishes in the new year.

We might not be writing and photographing each week, but we are still here. If you want to ask a question about bread or squash or beans or kimchi or hummus or planning a garden or buying ethical meat, please contact us. If you want to order handmade baked goods, like fresh sourdough loaves and naan and crackers (local pick-up only!), please contact us. And if you simply want to say hello, please contact us. Be kind, and stay safe, active and healthy. Cook something delicious and nourishing. Take good care of yourselves, dear friends. We look forward to seeing you here again in the new year.

Farm update: November 9

There’s no question that it’s been one hell of a week. Scratch that: it’s been one hell of a year. Over here at Quiet Farm, though, we carry on planting, tidying, baking, canning, caring for our animals and preparing for winter. Here are a few things we’ve been up to recently, if you’d like to see.

Ready for a long winter’s nap.

We planted our 2021 garlic crop this week; it’s tucked under a warm, cozy blanket of compost, alpaca manure and straw. Garlic is a unique annual crop in that it stays in the ground for about nine months, but during that time it requires almost no maintenance beyond occasional watering. As usual, we’d separated this year’s garlic harvest and saved the largest cloves for planting; thanks to garden magic, each individual clove grows into a full head. We planted about one hundred and fifty cloves in two new beds, then a friend texted with an offer of extra garlic that she had over-ordered (thanks, Judy!), so another seventy cloves went into an additional row. Every year I run out of garlic before the July harvest, and every year I vow to plant more. Will over two hundred heads be enough for next year? Stay tuned, and vampires beware.

Simple. Elegant. Gorgeous. (Also filthy.)

My winter will hopefully involve lots of sewing and reading, and N will focus his time and energy on this rescued beauty. For all you gearheads out there, this is a classic example of American motor muscle: a Ford 289 small-block V8 manufactured in the summer of 1964; it likely came out of a Mustang or a Galaxie. At the moment, it needs a lot of cleaning and possibly a replacement part or two, but who knows what it could accomplish once restored to its former glory? While electric cars might be all the rage, there is much to be said for the elegant simplicity of a powerful internal combustion engine. (We obviously love beautiful 1960s Americana here; see also the recently-acquired Singer Touch ‘N’ Sew.)

So thrilled with our dry bean harvest!

I may well be more proud of the beans we grew than just about any other crop. While I love growing vegetables, with each passing year (especially when there’s a pandemic and associated food scarcity!) I am more and more committed to growing long-term food storage crops like grains and beans. We planted just one small row of these ‘Peregion’ beans this season, and though I doubt I have more than a few pounds of homegrown beans for the winter, I know that I’ll be expanding on the varieties we grow next season. Dry beans are easy to grow and to store, require very little post-harvest processing and punch well above their weight in terms of nutritional value. Plus, they’re delicious! We hope to grow a lot more beans here at Quiet Farm.

Flying the coop.

Domestic chickens are the closest living relatives of the T.Rex (that’s true) and have similarly tiny brains. Here, one of our genius hens decided to make her way to the top of the chicken house, but was understandably somewhat perplexed as to how she might get down – although she did finally make the leap. Little does she know that the roof offers zero protection from raptors, of which we have many, and actually makes a perfect runway for a hungry hawk searching for a tasty chicken meal. If she continues her high-flying adventures, she’ll learn that lesson the hard way.

This is how we roll.

True confession time, friends: all November and December issues of food and entertaining magazines (Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, etc.) received at Quiet Farm usually go straight into the library donation bin without even being opened once. Such is the extent of my loathing for the end-of-year holidays and all the attendant expectations, “must-have foods,” waste and excess! This year, however, a customer requested soft, fluffy dinner rolls, and I wanted to experiment with a few different iterations. Plus, I was completely sold on this caption: “If food could give you a hug, these rolls definitely would.” As we face the end of one of the most difficult years any of us have ever experienced, is there anything we all need more than a giant, warm, comforting hug? I think not. (P.S. The rolls are a bit labor-intensive but excellent, and they work at altitude. Worth your time.)

Wishing everyone a calm, restful and healthy week.

Let’s make hot sauce!

When it comes to pantry staples that are simple and inexpensive to make rather than buy, hot sauce should definitely be high on the list. I can’t speak for your household, but we enjoy a lot of hot sauce and related spicy condiments (salsa, pickled peppers) over here, and it’s much more fun to make our own than to buy these.

Homemade hot sauce only requires three ingredients.

Unlike yogurt, hummus and bread, which are also simple and inexpensive to make, store-bought hot sauce typically isn’t full of terrifying ingredients (that said, always read the ingredient label). The most popular hot sauces in the U.S. include Tabasco, Frank’s, Texas Pete and Cholula, all of which are variations on the classic aged chile, vinegar and salt combination. Sriracha, which has only recently staked its claim on the American hot sauce market, is a sweeter hot sauce; sugar is its second ingredient. But as with anything you choose to make rather than buy, hot sauce can be infinitely customized to your own tastes.

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Farm update: October 26

Our first snowstorm arrived late last night, and with that, the 2020 growing season at Quiet Farm has officially concluded. Much of the past week has been spent preparing for this introduction to winter; though our skies will clear and temperatures will rise again later in the week, none of our annual crops will survive this cold snap. We’ve been threatened with hard freezes prior to this and have been lucky enough not to lose any plants; our season lasted far longer than expected. We’re hopeful that this early, wet storm will help the firefighters battling the numerous destructive wildfires currently raging across Colorado.

Flooding our pasture with snowmelt from the Grand Mesa.

We ran our final irrigation last week, then broke down most of our gated pipe so that we can repair any damaged gates and valves during the off-season. We have stellar water shares here at Quiet Farm, and thanks to N’s careful planning, we made our water last all season. This year was definitely a rebuilding year for our pasture, and we’re optimistic that our plans for next year’s irrigation run, which include reseeding, marking and thoughtful grazing by our herd, will yield even better results. Small farms are key to fighting climate change – if managed well, land like ours can absorb far more carbon than it emits. Establishing these “carbon sinks” across the country should be of highest priority; if this season’s devastating wildfires are any indication, the Rocky Mountain West has a tough road ahead.

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Autumn book club

It’s been an age since we’ve done a book round-up, mostly because I haven’t read much recently. For someone who typically tears through about a book a week, on average, this has come as somewhat of a surprise. I’d love to attribute my lack of reading entirely to our second full farming season, but the truth is, I did a lot of doomscrolling this year, particularly during spring and summer. This was a pointless, destructive habit that benefitted no one – did I really need a to-the-minute update on western Europe’s infection rates? – but a habit that was tough to break, nevertheless.  I also stop-started an unreasonable number of books: I’d pick something up, hoping to get lost in a story or a world, only to find that I couldn’t focus or that the book contained just as much (or more) tragedy as real life. I found myself unable to finish most of the books I began, not my normal tendency at all.

As we move from a busy summer and fall into the quieter, colder days of winter, I aim to increase my book reading and limit my news consumption. With that in mind, here are a few capsule reviews of books I’ve read recently (and not so recently, too).

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Preserving season

Fresh, local fruit is one of the great joys of living where we do.

There is much to be done outdoors – plant garlic, collect seeds, tidy irrigation – but there is much to be done indoors, too. We are in the height of harvest season, and every available surface in our house is littered with canning jars, dehydrator trays and other preservation projects in various stages of completion. Our goal is to eat locally as much as possible, and in the dark months of winter and early spring, that means we eat from the pantry and freezer – but only if we’ve done the hard work in advance.

Homemade fruit leather makes a perfect healthy and portable snack.

Obviously, no one has to preserve and store the harvest any longer, and many would think the extra work we do this time of year is preposterous. Preservation is a dying art, because we live in a magical world where any food we might want, in season or not, is available with a single click. Also, most of us don’t grow our own food, so there’s even less incentive to preserve. Where our great-grandmothers might have been obligated to can their summer vegetables in order to have anything to eat in winter, we most definitely are not. And preserving can be tedious, time-consuming work. Why, then, go through all this extra effort?

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Farm update: September 28

Aspens Fall

How are things in your world, friends? It’s officially autumn here, with clear bluebird days and crisp, cool nights; the destructive Pine Gulch fire, sparked at the end of July about seventy miles away, is thankfully entirely contained. Our neighboring orchards are nearly all harvested, and our task list is packed with tidying, organizing, preserving, cleaning and stocking up for what we hope is a very snowy winter.

Hay Delivery 01 sml

Hay for animal feed has to stay dry at all costs.

The winter feed for our alpacas and llama has been delivered and safely stored in our de facto hay barn. As this is our first year with the animals, we had to guess on quantities and are hoping that we won’t find ourselves out of hay in frigid January with no green pasture on the near horizon – in a situation like that, a hay farmer will be able to charge us whatever he wishes, and rightfully so. Our llama, Kingston, has already figured out that with some crafty contortionist maneuvering he can reach the fresh bales through the corral panels. Bless his tenacity, and his flexible neck.

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