Farm update: January 25

Hello there, and how are things in your world? We’re still in the slower season here at Quiet Farm, but we’re starting to think about spring planting and other farm tasks on our to-do list. The biggest issue on our minds right now is definitely water, or lack thereof – it’s been far too warm and dry this winter, with very little snow. We need about twenty feet of snowpack on the Grand Mesa in order to have decent irrigation run-off in spring and summer, and right now we have two feet – or ten percent of what we need. We are hoping for an exceptionally wet spring, but to be honest it’s looking as though our “extraordinary drought conditions” will persist, which likely means more wildfires, too. With that concern front and center, we’re always thinking of ways we can use the water we do have more efficiently.

We love our local library’s seed bank!

We are huge fans of the Delta County Library system, which does yeoman’s work on a painfully limited budget. In years past we’ve attended “seed-sorting parties” in late winter to help the library prepare its extensive seed bank for the spring growing season. Obviously we cannot gather in person at the moment, so the library managed a perfect pivot and created take-home kits for volunteers. Each kit contained donated seeds (we received bolita beans, marigolds and pink hollyhock) and we sorted and packaged the seeds into individual labeled envelopes. Local gardeners are encouraged to “check out” seeds in spring, grow out the crop, then collect and return seeds to the library in autumn to share with other gardeners. The seed library has been going strong in Delta County since 2013; this program not only encourages seed-saving, but also provides an incredible wealth of locally-adapted seeds and helps build our foodshed’s sovereignty. A task like this is well worth our time.

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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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The Farm Series: Rebel Farm

Friends, we don’t want you to think that all we do is trek around wintry European countries, eating schnitzel and drinking wine. No, sometimes we also visit delightful urban hydroponic farms and we eat handfuls of just-harvested fresh greens. Balance. It’s all about balance.rebel-farm-01-sml.jpg

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Rebel Farm, run by Jake and Lauren, is a 15,000 square-foot hydroponic greenhouse on the border of Denver and Lakewood. For those readers who live in Colorado, you may well wonder how these fine folks can afford to grow lettuce, rather than weed, considering that just about every greenhouse in the state has been snatched up by the marijuana industry. In the case of Rebel Farm, however, the greenhouse is perfectly situated between two schools – which means it cannot be a grow operation, and instead it can grow food. Brilliant.

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Purple kohlrabi, sadly underappreciated by CSA members everywhere.

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Tangy, citrusy red sorrel.

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If you’re not familiar with hydroponics, don’t feel alone. In its simplest form, hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. The plants can be planted in gravel, sand or other inert materials, or their roots can be suspended in a nutrient-rich water mixture. There are lots of different ways to grow hydroponically; Rebel Farm uses the NFT, or nutrient film technique, method.

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Cooking Class: Chiang Mai, Thailand

We’re excited to be headed out on the road again, and in that spirit we wanted to revisit some of our favorite moments from our adventures earlier this year. Some weeks back, we shared a cooking class we had taken in Udaipur, India. And as we’re in nostalgia mode, and I’ve got Thailand on my mind since I just spent time talking to a friend about his trip, let’s return to Chiang Mai and a fabulous cooking class we experienced there. Like our Indian class, this day out was one of the highlights of our trip to southeast Asia.

Thai dessert bowl

Looks like Thai green curry, but it’s actually dessert: sweet rice pudding with bananas and coconut milk.

Thai rice market

Dozens of varieties of rice are for sale at the market.

Thai ingredients market

Fish sauce, a key ingredient in southeast Asian cooking.

We started our cooking class at one of the many local markets, where we sampled various ingredients and drank cold, sweet Thai iced coffee. While the cooking school has an extensive garden and grows many of their own herbs and spices, they still need to shop for a few things. Many Thai homes don’t have refrigeration, so shopping each day for fresh ingredients is both a pleasure and a necessity.

Thai cooking tables

We’ll grind our curry pastes and chop our ingredients here.

We left the market and traveled by minibus to the school, where we were offered iced jasmine tea and given a tour of the property. The cooking school is perfectly set up to accommodate guests, with spaces for prep, cooking and eating together.

Thai garden chilies

Tiny, fiery Thai bird chiles. Typically, the smaller the chile, the bigger the punch.

Thai ingredients basket

Fresh herbs and aromatics, just harvested.

The cooking school has acres of gardens, where they grow lemongrass, basil, coriander, mint, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime, chiles and many other ingredients for their classes.

Thai cooking kitchen

Our indoor-outdoor kitchen, with cooking stations set up for each student.

Thai ingredients board

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All of the components for the recipes we would make in class were neatly laid out for us. I emphasize this classical French technique a lot in my own cooking classes: it’s called mise-en-place, and it literally means “to put everything in its place.” When you’re cooking, assemble all of your ingredients like this in advance; it may seem tedious and time-consuming, but it actually makes preparing your dish much, much easier. Trust me.

Thai cutting board spoon

Fresh herbs and tamarind paste, like fish sauce, are key to classic Thai cooking.

Thai pestle mortar table

Although you can of course make curry paste in a blender, traditionally it’s prepared in a stone mortar and pestle.

Thai pestle mortar

Grinding aromatics for red curry paste.

Thai wok stir-fry veg

A wok allows for quick, high heat, so vegetables and proteins remain crisp and fresh.

Thai wok stir-fry tofu

Pad thai, a favorite Thai dish. In Thailand it’s not quite as sweet as it often is in America.

Thai red curry

Vegetarian red curry soup. Good Thai food is most often a delicate balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet.

Craving some Thai food after reading this? Me too. Try here, here or here. And if you have the chance, definitely book a cooking class on your next adventure. It’s well worth the time and money to cook and eat like a local, if only for a few hours.

Fresh herbs

It’s August in Colorado and that means the garden is finally, finally overflowing. We’ve had more than a few cool, rainy days recently; that leaves everything looking (falsely) lush and green, although it certainly doesn’t help the tomatoes ripen. This is when cooking is the easiest it will be all year: just go outside and harvest.

Herb Assortment

Especially in summer, when they’re cheap and abundant, fresh herbs are by far my favorite way to elevate simple home cooking. I get rather resentful about buying expensive plastic clamshells of herbs well past their prime for nine months of the year, but in the summer I can add them to everything with abandon.

If you want to grow herbs at home, the most important thing to know is your zone: in the U.S., we classify the entire country into growing zones based on climate. Most herbs will grow well on a sunny patio or deck; some may be perennials, which means they’ll come back year after year, while others might be annuals, so they’ll only last for one season. Find a good local garden center or a proficient gardener friend to serve as a resource.


Genovese, Thai purple and Greek ‘Yevani’ basil.

Basil is one of summer’s most versatile herbs; it shines with tomatoes and in pesto, of course, but is also underutilized with summer stone fruits and in cocktails. Make pesto in large batches and freeze in ice cube trays; once the cubes are frozen, empty into plastic zip-top bags and use with pastas and soups throughout the winter.


Chives and chive flower.

Thank goodness for chives; they’re a perennial in the Denver area and typically the first sight of green after a bleak winter. I use chives almost more than any other herb; they offer bright, fresh onion flavor without being too aggressive. Perfect for eggs; use the flowers as a garnish on salads.


Love-it-or-hate it cilantro.

Cilantro appears most often in Mexican and Asian cuisines. It’s a bit tricky to grow in Denver, as it tends to bolt quickly in our intense heat, but it’s worth trying in a cool, shady container. The aversion to cilantro that makes it taste like soap to some people is thought to be genetic.


Dill, gone to seed.

Growing up, dill was always labeled “dill weed.” This is accurate in other parts of the country, but it doesn’t tend to overrun Colorado gardens. Annoyingly, my dill is always ready long before my pickling cucumbers. Delicate dill is a perfect partner for fish, potatoes and pickles of any variety.


Epazote, popular in Mexican cooking.

A friend started epazote for my herb cooking class earlier this year (thanks, Jim!), so this is the first season I’ve had it. It’s most commonly used when cooking dried beans, as it moderates the “negative effects”. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.

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Garlic chives, recognizable by their flat rather than tubular appearance.

As with chives, garlic chives are a frequent guest in my kitchen. Ideal with eggs and perfect as a last-minute garnish over just about anything. They have a light garlicky bite but aren’t too strong.

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Lemon balm is often considered an invasive weed.

Years ago, when we first moved in to our house, I planted lemon balm. I wasn’t much of a gardener then and had no idea how aggressive it can be; it’s a member of the mint family, however, so really I should have known better. Now we have lemon balm everywhere, but the bees love it and it’s rare to find plants that grow well in Denver’s harsh climate, so I leave it alone. Perfect for making teas and tinctures.


Lovage leaves.

Lovage is another bee-friendly plant that I mostly leave alone, but this year I made lovage simple syrup for flavoring sparkling water and elevating gin and tonics. It has a pungent, celery-like flavor and can be used as a garnish for soups and stews, but as with other strongly flavored herbs, a little goes a long way.


Delicate, underused marjoram.

Marjoram is criminally underused in American cooking; it can go pretty much anywhere oregano might. It’s perfect in meat mixtures, such as meatballs or sausages, and adds lovely flavor to sauces, too. Any stuffed vegetable topped with tomato sauce is a great place to show off marjoram. Easy to grow in pots, but not a perennial in Denver.


Oregano in flower.

Oregano pairs beautifully with tomatoes, especially in slow-simmered sauces. I also use it in herbed breads, typically mixed with thyme and sage. It’s a perennial where we live, so my plants come back every year. It’s one of the easiest herbs to dry for winter storage. Mexican and Greek oregano are the two most common varieties for home gardens.


Flat-leaf parsley.

For so long, parsley has been relegated to a wilted garnish (with a sad orange slice, of course) on the side of the plate at cheap breakfast joints everywhere. With the interest in Mediterranean cooking, however, parsley is coming into its own. It’s an excellent source of vitamins C and K, and its bright, snappy flavor livens up just about anything. I use it in grain salads (like tabbouleh) for crunch and texture, and also add the leaves to salad greens. I prefer flat-leaf to curly, but both should be used more than they are.


Velvety sage leaves.

Sage is most often used with poultry, specifically Thanksgiving turkey. As with oregano, I use it frequently in herbed breads as well as sausages. It’s also a perennial and a bee favorite, plus the leaves dry really well and don’t lose too much flavor. And the plant grows into huge bushes here, which is rare in this climate.


Soft, floppy shiso, a Japanese favorite.

Shiso is a recent discovery for me, and I’m really learning to love it. It is common in Japanese cuisine, along with many other herbs unfamiliar to American palates. The flavor is difficult to describe, but it’s herbaceous, with a little mintiness. It’s perfect thinly julienned in citrus or green salads, and it has a real affinity for fish. It’s also lovely in Vietnamese summer rolls, which typically contain an array of bright, fresh herbs. Surprisingly easy to grow (mine are in pots) once the seeds have started successfully.


Kentucky spearmint, one of the many members of the mint family.

There are hundreds of varieties of culinary mints; I prefer Kentucky spearmint. It grows well (some might say too well) and is useful in classic mint juleps, mojitos, fruit salads and every kind of summer vegetables. I add a little mint to salad greens, blend it into chocolate shakes and throw it on most grain salads. Again, an herb that I think everyone has but no one uses enough.


English thyme, delicate and pretty.

Thyme has a soft flavor and pairs wonderfully with stone fruits like peaches and plums. It goes with summer vegetables, like eggplant and tomatoes, and is one of my culinary workhorses for focaccia and other breads. Great in desserts, too. To remove the tiny leaves, place one end of the stem through a hole in a sieve and pull gently. The leaves should remain inside the sieve, saving you a lot of time and trouble!

The Farm Series: Colorado Aromatics

Simply put, we are killing it over here at Finding Quiet Farm! In addition to our new FAQ Series (which already has not one but TWO posts, on salt and cooking fats), we’re launching yet another new programming line-up. This series is focused on farms, because we’re focused on farms. Also, we think sometimes our audience might need just the tiniest break from the constant lecturing on food politics blah blah blah and know your ingredients blah blah blah. Behold: pretty pictures from The Farm Series!

Garden Flags

It’s not much of a secret – our blog title might actually give it away – that N and I plan to buy a farm. We want to find a piece of agricultural property between fifty and one hundred acres, but we only plan on farming the tiniest portion of that land. The remainder we want to turn into a nature reserve of sorts, a place where farm guests can walk for miles and hopefully see native birds, plant life and more. We want our farm to fit comfortably into an existing place; we don’t want to bulldoze acres of wetland or turn a previously wild space into a bare, sterile monoculture.


Longs and Meeker Peak, looking west from Colorado Aromatics.

Great; those are all lofty goals. But how do we do this? How do we go about the process of 1. finding a farm and 2. determining if that farm is the right place for us? Our answer: we visit as many farms as we possibly can, in Japan and England and in the U.S. And we talk to farmers and we volunteer on farms and we just make every effort possible to get as much experience as we can before we jump in with both feet. It might not be the right answer, but it’s our answer.

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A couple of weeks ago, we visited Colorado Aromatics, north of us in Longmont; we are always appreciative of any farmer who opens up their property to visitors. Colorado Aromatics offers “farm-to-skin” products made from plants grown on their nine-acre property. They are certified naturally grown, which allows smaller market growers to achieve recognizable certification without jumping through the (somewhat absurd) hoops required by national organic certification programs.

Tour Group

Colorado Aromatics’ primary crop is lavender, which grows beautifully in much of Colorado’s high-plains desert climate. But they also grow a wide variety of other medicinal herbs, plus they keep chickens and goats who provide valuable manure for the farm’s plants. Any good farmer knows that well-raised animals (and their waste) are an essential aspect of a healthy farm.


Everyone needs backyard chickens!


Angora goats are most often raised for their lovely wool rather than their meat or milk.

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Lavender in the field.


Bees love comfrey!


Calendula in flower.

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Black peppermint.

Bulgarian Roses

Bulgarian roses, grown for their intense scent (and oils) rather than their appearance.


Fennel in bloom.


The distillate operation.

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Red clover drying.

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Here lemon balm is an actual cash crop rather than an invasive weed, as most of us in Colorado perceive it.

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The drying room.


One of the many varieties of lavender grown here.

Thank you for hosting us, Colorado Aromatics!



Spice plantation

We spent a few days in Goa, a state in western India situated along the Arabian Sea. Up until 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony; it’s a major tourist destination now and is famous for its beaches. It’s India’s wealthiest state, with a per-capita GDP nearly three times that of the rest of the country. While we’re not so much for beaches, Goa is also famous for its tropical flora and fauna, and we loved visiting one of its spice plantations.


spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are different from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Modern cooks definitely do not appreciate our plentiful and inexpensive supply of spices and herbs, many formerly so valuable that they were used as currency. (Want to incorporate more fresh herbs into your cooking? Join me on June 10 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Learn more here!)


A green cardamom plant, which will produce the familiar little seed pods.


Black cardamom, which in Indian cuisine is used only for flavoring and isn’t eaten, unlike the green cardamom pods.

The majority of the most common culinary spices are grown in tropical areas, roughly twenty-five degrees north and south of the equator. This is the same area of the world where coffee and cacao are grown, too.


Nutmeg on the tree.

Two of our most-loved baking spices, nutmeg and mace, both come from the same tree. Nutmeg is the seed and mace is the lacy covering of the seed. This is the only plant that produces two different commercially viable spices.


Peri peri chile peppers. Very small and very potent.


Arabica coffee beans.


This plant looks rather unassuming, but it’s actually the world’s second most expensive spice, after saffron. That vine will eventually produce vanilla pods.


Turmeric is the new trendy ingredient in everything from lattes to roasted cauliflower. Here, the root has just been harvested…


…and here it’s for sale in the market.


Unripe peppercorns.

Black, green and white peppercorns all come from the same plant – like tea, the variation lies in how they’re dried and processed. (Pink peppercorns come from an entirely different plant altogether.) These were once so valuable that a serf could buy his freedom with a pound of peppercorns.


Spice traders at work.






A gorgeous array of after-dinner refreshers, mostly based on fennel seed.

The next time you’re rummaging through your spice cabinet, remember that these seemingly innocuous plants changed the course of history! And while those of us in temperate zones can’t grow these spices without a greenhouse, you can easily grow lots of useful culinary herbs like basil, parsley, chives, mint and more in containers or a backyard garden.


And if anyone can tell us what tropical spice plant this is, we’d be most grateful…it’s the only one we didn’t make a note of!