Category Archives: cooking

What I Learned This Year

I stopped writing in my journal a few years ago (2014 New Year’s Resolution: Write in your journal!), and so I can’t remember what happened, even events from a few weeks past. Even epic events are forgotten quickly. It makes me sad, but I guess that’s one downside to living in the moment. Still, I did shoot some photos, and I’ve been closing out the year by uploading them on my computer. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Go slow, fava beans are worth it.
favabeaner

2. You can go back home again. My sister with morel mushrooms she picked on the ranch where we were born.
rianamorel

3. Make these walnut cookies that Rosetta Costantino wrote about in her new Southern Italian Dessert cookbook. The book is gorgeous, and even I can remember the recipe because it only has three ingredients. A egg. One cup of sugar. 2.5 cups of walnuts. I couldn’t help myself and sprinkled salt and fennel pollen over some fresh from the oven.

walnutcookies

4. Grow pumpkins, like these sugar pies, which were prolific and one roasted made a great pumpkin pie. As for the rest, kabocha “jade” was the best of the batch (not pictured here).
bestpumpkins

5. You can do a vegetarian Thanksgiving. I wasn’t up for raising a turkey this year, so we did Indian inspired dishes. It was delish. Next year, though, I think we are going to get turkey legs and smoke the hell out of them, Texas style.
vegthanksgiving

6. Conserva, sun dried tomato paste, is divine. Learn how to make it at my tomato processing class this August!
conserva

7. Plant a tree–or 8 of them. The citrus hedge I jackhammered a place for in the garden, was well worth it. They are doing great despite the frost and dry weather. We even have two tangelos on one of the youngest trees.
newlyplantedcitrus

8. Forgive. It’s hard, but once you let that past go, you are free.
meandgeorge

9. Finally, love them while they are here. We miss you Phil Druker.
novellaandphilfran

Happy New Year to Everyone; I can’t wait for 2014!!

Talking turkey in Austin

No one brought a camera for the turkey slaughter class in Austin, including me. It was more personal that way.

Heck, it was personal on so many levels. First off, one of my best friends in the world hosted the class at her little urban farm in East Austin. Leilani is from the Bay Area and I have been missing her for a few years now as she’s settled into life in Austin. Part of settling there involved raising chickens and turkeys. She and her beau, Luke, starting keeping a few Rio Grande turkeys, the oldest relative to the original turkey of North America.

Instead of just buying turkeys every year, they reasoned, they would retain a breeding pair and let the tom and hen go for it. This spring, the turkeys mated secretly, and the hen hatched out 8 adorable little poults. Tom and mom protected the poults, showed them what to eat, draped their wings over the babies at night. When I first saw the poults, they were almost full grown, five months old. And frankly, they were ready to eat.

I had come to Austin for the Texas Book Festival to be on a panel with a famous vegetarian, Jonathan Safran Foer; a professor; and a bad boy chef named Jason Sheehan (for that round-up, see here). Like any book related trip, I wanted to do some hands-on work. It was a delicate issue–err, Leilani, can I kill one of your turkeys? and teach other people how to raise turkeys…at your house? Any other friend would have been annoyed. Leilani, on the other hand, was delighted. She loves hosting parties and doing workshops.

And so, the four people who could make it to a Halloween turkey slaughter class arrived that Saturday, dressed for the occasion, ready to learn. I was charmed by the easy-going nature of Texans, their good humor, their independence. That was why they were there. After an hour discussing the ins and outs of turkey husbandry, we went up to the coop to collect our girl for slaughter. Leilani grabbed her, I did some wrangling–these were almost wild turkeys!–and we brought her down to the burning sage area. The turkey seemed mildly curious, we said our thanks and goodbyes and got out the loppers (my new dispatching implement). Her death was swift, with good intentions from all of us. Then we dipped her in hot water, gathered around the table, and plucked all her feathers away.

The difficult part–the real reason for anyone to take a class like mine, was the evisceration. I showed people my almost fail-safe method to avoid contaminating the meat. This is the thing that trips up most people, and by showing them this, I feel like I am really imparting some important, empowering knowlege. Someone fished out the lungs. Someone else examined the gizzard, cut it open, and saw what the turkey had been eating. And then our turkey was all cleaned up. And she was beautiful, with perfect conformation, wonderful black feet, meaty breast area (but not abnormal like those Standard Whites). She had been born on this farm, lived a great life, and now was ready for eating.

Almost. First we put the bird in some salted water for a few hours, just to get any residual blood out. Then we rinsed and dried the turkey off, wrapped it in a tea towel and stowed it in the fridge to rest.

While the turkey rested, we were invited to a great dinner party at Boggy Creek Farm, an urban farm nearby. The farmers–Carol Ann and Larry–have been farming in Austin since 1991, and have a famous farm stand that Austinites flock to every week. I was so amazed how sweet and friendly Carol Ann and Larry were, they showered me with gifts like Holly Honey and smoked tomatoes. The dinner, cooked by Elizabeth from Farmhouse Delivery, was off the hook–local blue cheese and apples, arugula salad, and seafood stew made with local shrimp and fish, and finally persimmon pudding. Holy crap, Texans eat good!

I was only in Texas for a few days, so I left Leilani and Luke instructions for cooking the turkey and hoped for the best. Chefs had told me heritage birds need high heat, over a shorter period of time, and the turkey should be rotated every fifteen minutes or so. They also said to remove the legs and roast or braise them for a little longer. Leilani seemed a bit skeptical–their last turkey had just been okay. Today Leilani called me to give me the report. After four days of resting in the fridge, she rubbed it with olive oil, salt and pepper and put it in the oven.

“I didn’t turn it every 15 minutes,” she admitted. Despite that, the turkey came out great–roasted at 400 degrees for a little less than two hours. The breast meat was tender and juicy, the legs were perfectly delicious. She sounded like they are going to harvest the rest of the turkeys, keeping the tom and hen and following the cycle again next year. After I hung up the phone with Leilani, I felt so proud of her–of us–for raising, preparing and cooking our own Thanksgiving turkey, with love.

Rabbit Class: Brooklyn

I know, I know, first there was the chicken class in Kansas City. And then there is the upcoming turkey workshop in Austin, TX this Saturday. And now, I’d like to announce the Brooklyn rabbit class.

The Complete Rabbit, Brooklyn, NY November 15

Rabbits are the new chicken. More and more urban farmers are discovering the benefits of raising rabbits for meat in the city: bunnies are quiet, prefer to be kept in shady locations, reproduce quickly, and can be fed scraps.

This class will cover rabbit basics: housing, sourcing food for them on a budget, breeding, and harvesting. A quick and humane technique for killing meat rabbits will be demonstrated, as well as dressing and preparing the rabbit for the table.

Following the slaughter portion of the class, there will be a three hour break, and class will resume at Marlow and Daughter for a hands-on butcher and cooking class with Samin Nosrat. She will demonstrate how to extract the most flavor from your rabbit, with recipes for a rich stock, kidney and liver paste, Tuscan rabbit ragu and tips on how to best season, grill and braise the meat.

What: Complete Rabbit
Where: for legal reasons this class is being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn; once enrolled, we will give you the name and address
When: Sunday, November 15, 1pm-4pm how-to and slaughter; with butchery part of class starting at 7pm at Marlow and Daughter in Brooklyn.
Cost: $100
Number of students: 16 maximum, students will work in pairs with a shared rabbit and then take home half a rabbit.
If you are interested in the class, please email me: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com and I will tell you how to register.

So some might wonder, why is it that in every city I travel to, something has to die?

As an urban farmer I’ve been doing all these things–planting, breeding, harvesting–in the private world of my little farmlette. After being on book tour for a few months (on and off), I came to know that it was possible to just go from town to town doing a power point presentation and never get my hands dirty. This seemed unbearably isolating. In fact, I started calling my physical body “The Carcass” while I was on tour. As in, The Carcass boards plane at noon, then is on book panel at 3pm. Fed Carcass dinner, early to bed, then meet for coffee with a local newspaper writer where Carcass says tantalizing things about urban farming movement.

But, you see, what the carcass really wants to do is hang out with the chefs at the local restaurant, help organize an event with the local food rabblerousers, and perhaps teach a class that will help other urban farmers. So, that was the motivation.

Now that Samin (the chef) and I have been actually teaching the classes, I realized that there is a huge hunger out there for people to connect to their food. Maybe they are raising chickens themselves and want to learn the best practice for culling a rooster. Maybe they have been thinking about raising turkeys but don’t know how to start. Maybe they are disturbed by factory farming and want to know their meat by raising it themselves. All of the people I’ve encountered so far are fired up after our classes. Something as intimidating as processing your own animal suddenly makes sense, it is doable, and here’s the thing–it is kind of beautiful. I remember the first time I learned how to kill a turkey. It opened my eyes to the entire world. I suddenly saw connections between me and my ancestors. I felt connected and reverential for the animals we eat. I also felt skilled and useful. It makes me proud to pass that feeling on. And so, I do.

If you can’t do the rabbit class, I’ll be at the following places in New York City:

November 10, Presentation. Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm

November 11, Reading. Vox Pop cafe, 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY, 7pm

Hope to meet you soon…If I start to look like a carcass, slap me!

Inland Empire Report (and calling Kansas City!)

Oh lordy, things are really hopping here. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but there’s a really neat video that Chow.com did about me and my goats, it’s called Novella Carpenter’s backyard is a pigsty. Which is true in many ways. check it out here.

I just flew in from a few days in the Inland Empire, aka, Eastern Washington and Idaho, where I was doing a series of public talks and supporting a great new coop grocery store in Spokane. Moscow was very special because so many of my mom’s homesteading friends from back in the day came to listen to my stories about their stories. Fun. Someone at the pre-reading dinner said, “this is like meeting characters from a novel!” There they were–Barb, Phil, Lowell, Mary, and Fran–all so excited and supportive of my writing. I can’t express how great this made me feel.

After the reading I got the chance to talk to Lowell, the beekeeping “character” in Farm City. He doesn’t keep them anymore–foulbrood and equipment failure–but he still farms out on his land, growing corn and keeping chickens, has a few horses. I have fantasies of a “family” reunion in Orofino come August. Lowell said he’d make the chicken, which, if I remember correctly, involves vinegar, poultry seasoning, and a slow roast.

Barb drove me to Spokane. She’s the coolest mother of 20 year olds I’ve ever met, wearing this outrageous raven necklace and pirate stockings. She gave me a bracelet that I’ll treasure forever, which says: Redefine the Impossible. That is pure Barb. I can only dream of being as funny and plain old fun as she is.

Spokane was such a lovely surprise. The downtown is sweet, filled with gorgeous old brick buildings, pastry shops, yummy restaurants, and old classy bars. And did I mention a Dick’s Drive-in? Amazing fries. I did a rabbit demo class at a nice resto called Sante. The chefs prepared rabbit in various ways, and about 40 people were served a rabbit tasting menu–terrine, stew, confit, and an incredible cassoulet with green garbanzo beans. After eating, there was a rabbit butchery demo. Everyone gathered around a whole rabbit and a wise old rabbit farmer took it apart and made suggestions for cooking. I talked about my adventures in raising rabbits, and made people look at photos of rabbits having sex. What was especially cool about the dinner was the diners were all quite seriously considering raising rabbits, or wanting to get in touch with their food in a meaningful way. And they wanted to support local farmers and the broader community. It was like a little town, but with good coffee.

And a great bookstore. With total rabbit breath, I snuck up to Aunties, an impressive indie bookstore in the heart of Spokane and did a reading, with one of the sweetest, warmest audiences I’ve ever run across. Still, I needed a drink by then, so we headed to a bar/resto called Hill’s that features some tasty food, including locally grown favorites like Rocky Mt. oysters, and camelina seed hummus.

In the morning, I found myself in front of a big audience of community college students, talking about pig heads. They did not seem to mind. On the plane by high noon, wisps of Santa bresola in my carry-on. I had no idea touring would be so f-ing fun…

Which brings me to my next point: imagine this: me and Samin (!), in Kansas City, MO, in only a few days! We’re jumping on a plane to do a reading on Saturday October 24 at the Bad Seed Kitchen. Then Sunday there will be a chicken raising class and culling demo. Which will be hands-on, btw, everyone will have a chicken of their own. Samin will then do a breakdown and a demo on how to cook a home-raised hen (read: older, tough) so that it tastes delicious. Samin and I are going to be like your yoga coach, who will put you in the correct posture while you pluck a chicken, just as an example. If you live in the area, you better get your butt over to the reading and/or the class. More info is available at Bad Seed. Please help us spread the word, I’m not sure how many students have signed up!

Canning tomatoes…again

Roommate call: We have a room in our downstairs apartment that is opening up November 1. Perfect for a nice couple who likes music, ghettos, and goats. $725/month Contact me if you might be interested: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com

Original post:

God, I love a rainstorm paired with a day of roasting and canning tomatoes. Especially after a few days of traveling.  

roastingtomatoes

The day before I left for a reading in Madison, Wisconsin (for a report on that, see Farm City News), Bill and I went to Ned and Ryan’s farm, Blue House Farm in Pescadero, to glean our annual crop of dry-farmed Early Girls. For the past three years now we make the hour drive south, pick unsold fruit, then can it up for next year. It’s a gift to our future selves, future selves which will be cold and snotty in the winter, tomato-less in the spring, and food snobbish when it comes to store-bought, tinned tomatoes.  

Of course, it took us all day to pick the tomatoes. Blue House had suffered from late-blight, just as so many other farms around the country. Late blight is a fungus that can kill the entire plant, capable of hitting when the fruit is big and full of promise. The fields were filled with ravaged, dead tomato plants, two acres-worth. Some of the fruit looked okay–red, shiny–until you turned it upside down and saw the strange wrinkled pattern that marks blight. Some were green and black, covered with warts. In year’s past, these dry-farmed beauties were the best tomatoes I’ve ever had. So seeing the carnage of such deliciousness was supremely heart-breaking. All that work to plant, then stake and tie so many tomatoes. My poor farmer friends! Poor blighted farmers everywhere!

Lucky for gleaners, though. About one tomato in 20 were totally fine. It was too much work (and probably too depressing) for Ned and Ryan to salvage these, so Bill and I walked down all the aisles of tomatoes, pausing to check each one, picking the good, abandoning the bad. As we walked down the rows and rows, we could hear fruit thudding to the earth on their own accord. 

Still: happy day for these salvaged tomatoes! We took five buckets filled with yummy red tomatoes. You might never guess at the blight that had affected their siblings. Because the picking took so long, Bill and I didn’t start canning until 8pm. I had a flight to catch at 8am the next day, so I just stayed up all night, canning 50 jars of lusciousness to last all winter. Luckily, there were some unripe, greenish/orange tomatoes left over. When I came back from Madison five days later, they were ready.

lastoftomatoes

Since I had more time, I remembered what I learned last year: roasting them makes them even more incredibly delicious! So on this crazy windy, stormy day where everything is wet and tousled, I’m roasting tomatoes (added bonus that this then heats my house), canning them in the pressure canner, and I’ll be thanking farmers Ned and Ryan for their crop all winter and spring long. And next visit, I’ll be sure to bring them a jar of the good, roasted stuff. 

jarredtomatoes

Recipe: 

Wash and cut tomatoes in half, place cut side down on baking sheet (noticed glass pans work better), drizzle with olive oil. put in oven at 300 degrees. bake until collapsed and slightly brown on top. meantime, sterilize glass wide-mouth quart jars, either in the oven or microwave with some water in them. let the tomatoes cool slightly then add hot tomatoes to hot jar (if the tomatoes are too hot, the jar will crack). meanwhile also sterilize lids in boiling water. place a lid on each quart jar then screw the lid on with the collar (aka the other part of the lid–doesn’t have to be sterilized). if you have a pressure canner, process the tomatoes at 11 pounds of pressure/250 degrees for 20 minutes. If you have a water bath canner, you might need to add 1 tb lemon juice to be on the safe side and get the acid balance right. Process under 2 inches of boiling water for about an hour. Once the jars are done processing, take them out of the water and line them up where they can remain undisturbed for 12 hours (this is so they seal correctly). Store in a dark place. Caveats: i never peel or seed my tomatoes because i’m lazy and i think they taste better intact (i’m probably wrong). Freezing tomatoes is a great way to go, so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to can!

Triamble: A Love Story

I once worked for a certain professor who used to get tons of food-related books in the mail. One of the books was the Compleat Squash by Amy Goldman. “Do you want this?” he said one day when we were cleaning out his office bookshelves. I opened up the book. A few pages into it, I knew what it was: pumpkin porn. “Hell, yeah,” I said and took it home.
triamble1

That night I looked through each of the glossy pages, skimmed the text, with growing awe of the author, whose obsession with pumpkins and gourds and squash has led to a pumpkin curing barn, for example. I found myself staring at a blue-colored cucurbita maxima called Triamble. It’s one of Goldman’s favorites (and she is harsh on some of my favorites). “I adore Triamble for every reason in the book,” she writes, “… with the dense abundant flesh (there’s no hole or seed cavity, in these pumpkins) are about the most highly evolved pumpkins on the planet.”

It’s called Triamble because they have three triangular lobes. I had grown some of the squash in the book: Galeuse d’ Eysines (warty and wonderful but also watery). Blue Hubbard (yum). Rogue vif d’Estampes (the Cinderella pumpkin). Kabocha. Turk’s Turban. Butternut. Acorn. And then, I decided, I would grow Triamble.

First I had to find the seeds. I looked all over and finally saw them in the Seed Savers catalog. Since I knew I wanted to save the seeds, I planted only one c. maxima variety–the Triamble. It didn’t stop me from planting other cucurbits–I grew a Thelma Sanders, which is a c. pepo and thus wouldn’t cross pollinate with the maxima.

The Triamble plant sprouted and ran wild around the garden. Sprawling, sprawling. It is an ambitious squash. I got a fair number of small triangular fruits. They looked like pieces of art in the garden, blue against the green foliage, that wadded up shape that my friend David said looked like a piece of chewing gum. I managed to pull about 15 fruit off the plant–one was very large and had, somehow, four lobes–and let them sit in my kitchen on top of the fridge to cure.
triamblecut
I ended up giving many of them away to friends as art objects, door stops, gourd-y decor. And then, I started to cook them. Inside, they are strikingly orange. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to cut in half. The skin was brittle but not like armor like some squash I’ve met before.
triamblecooked
So far I’ve made soup, curry, pumpkin bread, donuts (yes!), and pumpkin pie from the lovely Triamble. The flesh is outstandingly dry, dense, and like Goldman promised, abundant.

I’d like to share the abundance–I saved some seeds from the biggest Triamble. If you’d like me to send you some, send me your mailing address (novellacarpenter at yahoo dot com), or come by to pick them up on the farm tour this Saturday, 10am-12.
triambleseeds

Update: i’ve gotten your requests and i’ll send seeds to you all this weekend! also, someone said the email didn’t work–try novellacarpenter (at) gmail dot com