Winter book club

Though the solstice has passed and days are theoretically growing longer, we have settled into deepest winter here. Famed organic farmer Eliot Coleman calls this the “Persephone period,” when winter days are less than ten hours in length. Late sunrises, early sunsets and a chilly winter sun barely peeking through the gloom create perfect days for curling up in front of the fire with a book. Though we should be studying farming materials – and we are, I promise! – I also devote plenty of time to non-farm reading, too.

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The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai

This book appeared on a number of 2018’s “Best Of” lists and won numerous prizes, and for good reason. Like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, this book, to me, perfectly represents The Great American Novel. It concerns two parallel stories, one set in Chicago in the mid-eighties during the height of the AIDS crisis and one in 2015 Paris, and both stories grab you by the throat and consume you completely. This was a book that I had a hard time putting down even when I couldn’t keep my eyes open late at night, and one that I dove into when I was supposed to be doing ten million other things. It’s only been a few short decades, but it’s difficult to acknowledge now just how blind and how cruel we were when AIDS ravaged our country. Now that HIV/AIDS is no longer a guaranteed death sentence, it seems even more shocking that we let thousands of people, mostly young, vibrant men, die horribly – because we didn’t agree with their lifestyles, because “God is punishing them.” Along with Vietnam and civil rights, I’d identify this period as one of the most truly shameful in American history. Layered, gorgeous and tragic, The Great Believers is one of the best books I’ve read recently.

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Farm update: January 14

We’re striding into 2019 full of vigor, purpose and excitement. We’ve erased and rewritten our Quiet Farm project whiteboard – it has three columns, Now, Soon and Later – and although we’re totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks, we’re looking forward to an incredible year. First on the list is to finish our home renovations, then to build out our commercial kitchen so we have an amazing space ready for classes and workshops and events. Over the course of the year we’ll continue to share everything we’re up to here on Quiet Farm, and we’re so glad to have you along for the journey!

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Late last year I made my first batch of fire cider, a legendary homeopathic folk remedy popularized by the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. Recipes vary, of course, but most include raw onion, garlic, horseradish, ginger, lemon, chiles, apple cider vinegar and honey for sweetening. I also included lots of turmeric, a powerful anti-inflammatory, plus extra citrus for the vitamin C boost. I usually take a shot each morning and follow it with lots of water; this brew is intense and can definitely upset sensitive tummies! But I believe firmly in supporting our immune systems with good food and potions like this and ideally not getting sick at all. (Oh, and wash your hands with hot, soapy water. All the time. Regular handwashing is the single most powerful weapon we have against colds and flu.)

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Paris in black and white

Bonjour, nos amis! We’re not actually in Paris, but we were one year ago! And since life on Quiet Farm is rather, well, quiet, right now, we thought we’d share some atmospheric photos from our travel that didn’t make it into our posts last year. Paris in winter is so perfectly suited to black-and-white photography that it seems a shame to let these gorgeous images languish on a hard drive somewhere.

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Farm update: December 17

Hello! How are you? We’ve still got quite a lot of snow sticking around, but it’s been dry for a week and we’d love to have more moisture. We attended the annual meeting of our ditch company recently, and all of the stoic old-time farmers seemed quite thrilled at the snowpack thus far this year. It’s a big change for the better from last year, to be certain, and we hope the pattern continues.

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The peach orchard across the road.

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One of the most delicious items we received in our CSA was heirloom cornmeal, ground from Painted Mountain corn. We take corn so much for granted in this country – as Michael Pollan says, we’re “the United States of Corn” – and sometimes we forget how much of humanity has been nourished on this incredible grain. Growing heirloom corn for eating fresh and for grinding is just one way we can recapture some of the food sovereignty that we’ve lost. I made fabulous hot pepper cornbread and plan on making cheesy polenta this week.

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Farm update: December 3

And somehow, it’s December. It’s quiet here at Quiet Farm, and we have no complaints. We’re deep in the trenches of our home renovation – sometimes, it seems that painting is all we do – and we’re hoping to unveil some amazing new floors and a wicked cool bookshelf sometime soon. But for the moment we’ve got our heads down, our music cranked, our soups simmering and we’re gunning hard for an entirely livable house – with furniture, even! – by the end of 2018. Will we make it? Stay tuned!

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We got our first real snow here at the farm, and it was lovely. Everything seemed to snuggle under a crisp white blanket – and we don’t even have to shovel here! (Take that, City of Arvada!) Later in the season we may well question our lack of a snowplow when trying to get out of our quarter-mile driveway, but for the moment we’ll stay cozy and warm indoors.

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Cooking with winter squash

I may not love the excesses of the holidays, but I do love cooking this time of year. Ideally the weather is chilly enough to make us crave warm, earthy dishes, rich in the nutrients we need to sustain ourselves through the cold, dark winter. There’s a lot to be said for eating seasonally – not only does it make more sense to eat what’s available right now (or to preserve it for later), but nature magically gives us exactly what our bodies need. In the case of winter squash, that’s a lot.

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A large component of our winter storage pantry.

Edible squashes are in the curcubit family and essentially fit into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squashes include the thin-skinned varieties, like commonly available green zucchini and yellow squash. Winter squashes don’t ripen until late summer and early fall, then must be cured for extended storage. Most winter squashes are encased in a hard, protective skin, allowing them to be kept for months without refrigeration. As with other long-keeping vegetables (onions, potatoes, root crops), this comes in handy when there isn’t much else around to eat and you can’t just run to the store.

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Essen und Trinken in Berlin

Oh, have we mentioned once or maybe twice that we love food tours? In every city we visit, if there’s a food tour on offer, we’re on it – and Berlin was no exception. Thanks to Margot at Secret Food Tours for introducing us to Berlin’s classic street food!

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Chicken shawarma in Turkish flatbread.

Our first stop was a classic shawarma joint; for those of you who didn’t grow up in Europe – or in a city with a strong Middle Eastern influence – shawarma is grilled meat on a spit, slowly roasted and shaved for serving in wraps and sandwiches. Shawarma can be chicken, goat, lamb or beef; ours was brightly seasoned chicken, thinly sliced and served in fresh Turkish flatbread with crunchy lettuce and a tangy, garlicky yogurt sauce. (Want to try your hand at home? Start here.)

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This is our kind of bar.

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It’s 10:00AM in Berlin. It’s freezing. Let’s have a beer. A dark beer.

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Flammkuchen is a great reason to come to Germany.

Our next stop was a cozy, dark neighborhood bar that specialized in flammkuchen, also known as tarte flambée or Alsatian pizza. This was truly one of the best things we ate in Berlin; it’s a crisp crust topped with crème fraîche, smoked bacon, thinly sliced onions and chives. It sounds just okay, but it’s actually spectacular. We ordered a second one.

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How to eat healthier

I may not love Thanksgiving, but I do love everything about January. I love the quiet after the holidays, the fresh start, the clean slate. And of course, this is the time of year when so many of us promise to do better. When we promise to eat right, drink less, stop going out to restaurants so often, quit smoking, save our money, exercise more and all the rest.Snowy trees.jpgI don’t subscribe to the negativity often associated with New Year’s resolutions. (By mid-January, over a quarter of all New Year’s resolutions have been discarded, and only a scant 10% are actually followed through to the end of the year. Those are some pretty bleak statistics.) Changing habits is hard enough; I’d much rather start off on a positive note. I make a list of goals, not resolutions.

And with that positivity in mind, how about a quick primer on eating better in 2018? This isn’t designed to be an exhaustive list, nor a restrictive diet plan, merely a few simple tips to get your head in the right place for making healthy changes in your daily eating. Diets don’t work, but changing your mindset does.

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A winter cake

It seems winter in Colorado has been canceled this year, considering that it was nearly seventy degrees (21C for our international audience) when we took these photos. In December. And on one hand, this is delightful, because driving in the snow is truly one of my least favorite activities, despite being a born-and-bred Colorado native. And on the other hand, these disconcerting weather patterns freak me out in a serious fashion. But I’m working on my anxiety, and my ability to “accept the things I cannot change.” So let’s make a cake.

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This lovely cake has all the flavors of winter: tangy, bright cranberries and citrus, plus sharp, spiky ginger. And pomegranates. Oh, pomegranates. Is there any fruit I adore more? I think not. When these babies are in season, as they are now, I often eat one a day. Somehow their tart sparkle seems to apologize for the misery of endless winter – or whatever season it is we’re currently having. The cake isn’t excessively sweet, either, which pleases me; if you had a strong, dark honey on hand, I imagine that might be compelling here.

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Any time you’re making a light, delicate cake, friends, please be careful not to overmix the batter – it’s a sure way to achieve dense, tough gumminess. This is even more key when baking at altitude, as we are here. Assemble all of your ingredients in advance, then place your liquids in one bowl, your dry ingredients and the fruit in another, and whip the egg whites at the very last minute, when everything else is ready. Never pre-whip your egg whites then go back to put together the other components – their ethereal fluffiness is exactly what you need. (Tossing dried, fresh or frozen fruit with flour helps keep it from sinking to the bottom of the cake, and from bleeding its juices, though that effect can actually be quite pretty. If you’re using frozen fruit, never let it thaw first but just throw it in frozen. And move quickly.)

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As before, make sure your pan is prepped and your oven is preheated. Once the batter is together, it needs to go straight into a hot oven. This is not the time to dilly-dally.

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This recipe as written makes for quite a moist cake, which is lovely here in Colorado as it stays fresher for longer in our dry climate. I reduced the leavening by 1/4 tsp. and added 1/4 cup extra flour, as is often done when adjusting baking recipes for altitude. If you’re at sea level, you may need to use a total of 3/4 tsp. baking powder. You can probably reduce the whole wheat pastry flour by 1/4 cup at sea level, too. Make sure to check carefully for doneness with this cake; I found that I needed a bit more baking time than the recipe indicates. Ovens vary; adjust accordingly.

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Pomegranate, Cranberry and Ginger Cake (written for 5,300 ft. elevation)

For The Cake

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup mild olive oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 2 tbsp. freshly grated orange zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 5 tbsp. crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh or dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tsp. confectioner’s sugar for dusting
  

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan; line with parchment paper and butter and flour the parchment.

In a small bowl, stir together honey, olive oil, egg yolks, zest, juice and 3 tbsp. crystallized ginger. In a large bowl, sift together both flours, baking powder and salt. Gently fold cranberries and pomegranate seeds into dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat egg whites and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold honey mixture into flour mixture, then fold in egg whites until combined. Do not overmix.

Pour and scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes; run a knife around sides of pan to loosen cake and turn it our onto rack. Remove paper and allow to cool completely.

To serve, sift confectioner’s sugar over cake and garnish with remaining crystallized ginger and additional pomegranate seeds.