Pumpkins and Honey

Thanks to everyone who came out to the farm last Saturday. It was a great day, though it was too hot. I swear, I’m going to buy an umbrella. I’m also going to perfect the samples so everyone gets to try everything without cutting off a finger (eg employing a useful tool called a cutting board).

This weekend, I will get to put these new ideas up to good use because here comes another flurry of activities at GT Farm.

This Friday, Oct 4, 5pm-7pm, we will be celebrating Oakland First Friday art walk by having a little open farm stand. Maybe we will be carving pumpkins. Maybe doing a honey extraction. Definitely I will be selling produce. I still have some tomatoes and pumpkins, and a couple plant starts too.

Here’s a pumpkin growing in the garden….

Image

Then, Saturday Oct 5, 10am-1pm, it’ll be another, and the last of the year, open farm day. There will be tours at 10:15, 11:15, and 12:15. Come on by and meet the chickens, buy some honey, and snag a pumpkin.

The address, as always: 2727 Martin Luther King Jr Way (that’s 28th street and MLK, entrance on 28th Street).

Also: thanks to that guy who brought me that giant beautiful green pumpkin!! That was sweet.

We are ON

People: Yes, open farm day this Saturday, Sept 28. 10am-1pm. Tours on the hour. I’ll have honey, dino kale starts, and tomatoes for sale. Also a few books and t-shirts. The farm is at 2727 Martin Luther King Jr Way, at 28th and MLK. Entrance on 28th Street. The sign marking 28th street is MISSING. Look for the abandoned building and a bent stop sign. See you then.

How Novella Got Her Chickens (Groove) Back

I got my first hens in 1998. I was living in Seattle at the time, Beacon Hill, in a house we called the Hen House. Not because we had chickens. Bill and I found the remnants of an old Chinese restaurant sign, written in that funny chopsticks font, on a street corner. Being hoarders, we took the sign home and hung it on our porch awning. The word in chopstick font, cut off in the “N” area was HEN. Then I got chickens. Maybe it was a sign from the universe.

Anyway, I didn’t know anything. I remember feeding them cornmeal. Only later did I figure out they will lay more eggs if you feed them actual chicken food, specially formulated. I also built a very questionable chicken coop. This type of construction would continue until I finally figured out that carpenters/builders are worth their weight in gold, and make things look beautiful–and can make a fully functional (ie predator proof) coop.

Since that first flock, I’ve had several more, but none feel quite as special as my current flock. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was so sick and tired, I couldn’t do anything. Including shutting the chicken coop up at night. I lost that flock to predators–raccoons? oppossoms? I don’t know. But there were feathers everywhere, and I had to face the facts: my life as a mom wasn’t going to be as easy as it was when I was single and able to do everything on the farm that needed doing.

Fast forward two years, and I have a new flock of hens. Here they are.
chickens

Some came from a friend who raised them from chicks, some came from Dare 2 Dream Farm, which sells chicks and chickens, coops, and cool t-shirts. The pullets we got from Dare 2 Dream started laying a few weeks ago! Here’s the nest o’eggs.

eggphoto

Note that the dark brown one is a wooden egg, which fools the girls into thinking no one (no one!) is taking their eggs. Sneaky. Post-baby (I have a toddler now, I’m told), the chickens feel so right, so good. They are easy to care for (just some feeding and cleaning). Putting them to bed, shutting their door, is part of our bedtime ritual now. Frannie says, Goodnight chickens, and helps shut the door. I know, it’s sick how sweet that is. And…eggs.

eggeater

We like ours poached. Served on a small rickety table. We eat them in our pajamas. They are the Best Eggs Ever.

If you have any chicken questions, and you live in the Bay Area, I’ll be at the Biofuel Oasis’s Harvest Festival at 3pm on September 21. The BFO is having lots of fun events that day, like a honey tasting and kombucha making class. Here are the details.

Grapes

My sister, Riana, has been doing a fun thing all month on her flickr site. Every day in August, she has been preparing something for the Fall/Winter. We both have (and love) Nikki McClure calendars. If you haven’t seen them, they are really beautiful, paper-cut images along with one word that defines the month. The words are weird, almost prescient, because they always seem to sum up the core meaning of a month. Last month the theme was DELIGHT, and man, July was delightful. August’s word is PREPARE, and there is an illustration of some kids working on some projects.

Like my sis, I’m squirreling foodstuffs away like crazy. Confiting San Marzano tomatoes, freezing Early Girls, drying kale chips (BTW, the Gundruk made last post got really gnarly. I think I let it go in the jar for too long. Or maybe I got it right but it might be an acquired taste.). The latest is freezing grapes. A volunteer came from Queens, NY (Thanks Jac!), and we got to talking about grapes. Should I juice them? Make raisins? Jac said, busy cutting off mildewy pumpkin leaves: freeze them.

Frannie helped. It’s really messy. grapes

Freezing them actually intensifies their flavor. I have two gallon freezer bags full of them. They taste just like summer. Back to squirreling….

Farm Stand

I was laughing the other day when I had my farm stand and no one showed up. Laughing because I remember how the City of Oakland had been worried about traffic and parking. Yes, just swarms of people showing up to buy some kale. Ha ha.

gtfarmstand

Actually, two people showed up. Jillian, who took these cute photos! and Jared, my upstairs neighbor. Thanks guys.

I really don’t mind the low attendance. It’s good for me to clean up a bit, harvest what’s ready, and put up what always feels like a kid’s lemonade stand.

It being a literal ghosttown at my GT Farm stand this month did make me face facts: I have to get out there and sell my farm products.

So, I’m excited to announce that I’ve started selling produce to the following restaurants:
Sweet Bar. Just around the corner from my house, this bakery and restaurant makes some really excellent food (cauliflower pizza; bacon scones, crispy flatbreads with hummus). The owner, Mani, is buying dry-farmed early girl tomatoes, Paul Robson tomatoes, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, beets, and Pink Beauty radishes from me. They are having a story night August 22, and a Michael Jackson dinner August 29 (Mani used to cook for MJ, who apparently loved chilaquiles).
Cafe Bartavelle. My friend Suzanne opened this coffee/wine bar in the old Cafe Fanny location. The coffee is epic. The little wooden plates of tasty tidbits are adorable. She’s buying honey for her honey ricotta french toast, and kale for their kale/arugula/ricotta sandwich. Simple elegance.
Cosecha. Authentic Mexican in Housewives Market in Old Oakland. The posole, the wild shrimp tacos, the guacamole…it’s all delicious!! Chef Dominica is buying purslane and Pink Beauty radishes from me. She even uses the greens from the radishes to make mole and the green posole.
Township (Not yet opened but doing private parties). I’m selling tomatoes and table grapes to Abeni’s new restaurant slash urban farm store.

The hustle is on.
But still, come by to the next farm stand, if you can. Next one is Saturday, September 28, 10am-1pm; then October 4, 4pm-7pm.
gthoney

Transforming Greens

First came the apricots. From a nearby backyard–their tree had so much fruit that even after picking gallons and gallons, boxes of boxes, there were still More. So I came over, climbed up into their tree, and picked a box (even though I have apricots on my tree, but not surplus like this tree). At the same time, I started Rebecca Solnit’s new book, the Faraway Nearby. Oddly, within the first pages, Solnit talked about her huge score of apricots. She did what I did: raw packed the apricot halves, poured honey syrup over them, then sealed them tight in a water bath, preserving them for a later date. Solnit’s book is about her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. She mentioned the apricots because they came from her mother’s tree. The book is a meditation on how we remember things, and it’s lyrical and beautiful.

Apricots are easy. They make sense to preserve–their season is short and sweet, and in the winter a jar of honeyed apricot halves are a taste of that golden season. I quickly worked through my box, and like Solnit I also made jam. I dried some too. But there was another kind of surplus in the garden that I had never much tried to preserve: greens. Tons and tons of greens. Chard. Dino kale. This weird cross between dino kale and red Russian kale. I way way overplanted. When I had the goats, this was not a problem. Goats love greens–they are rich in calcium and taste delicious to the caprine palate. But the goats are gone, and my chickens aren’t that interested. I made a mistake, I realized, and needed to transform the greens before the aphids took over.

I did three things.

One. Kale salad. Massage finely cut kale with salt and lemon juice. Eat. Repeat. You’ll feel like a shiny new person. Your bowels will thank you.

Two. Kale chips.
rawkaleMy oven is old and the pilot light runs really hot. It might be 200 in there. Just as an experiment, I picked a bunch of kale, washed it, stripped out the stem, drizzled the leaves with olive oil, and stuck the pan in the oven.
kalechips
The next morning, the kale was crispy and dessicated. Delicious. I added nutritional yeast (hippie dust) and sea salt. What a great snack for a road trip when I don’t have access to fresh kale.

Three. Gundruk*. This is from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. You pick kale or greens and let them sit out in the sun. Then you beat them. Then you cram the greens into a jar. Then you put this jar in the sun for a few weeks. gundruk

What? I thought, that sounds gross. There’s no salt added. I thought for sure it would become an aerobic stinky pile of slim. Oddly, I opened the jar a few days in and it smelled kind of sour, but not rotten. Kind of fresh and green. It needs to ferment a bit longer, will give the gundruk update.

While I crunched on my kale chips, I recognized how different this process was from the apricot processing. It wasn’t about preserving something–to recall a fond time. It wouldn’t really make sense to try to bottle kale because I can grow greens year round. The chips and the gundruk is about transformation. But then I remembered another part of the Solnit book: she takes the pits of the apricots, puts them in Everclear and lets the concoction steep for several months. When she pours off the alcohol, it’s turned the color of apricots, and tastes wonderful–just like…almonds.

*Here’s more about gundruk from the charming nepalese website we all nepal: “Gundruk is fermented green vegetable (leaves). Allow mustard, turnip, radish, cauliflower, etc leaves to wilt for one or two days and then shred (unevenly cut into small pieces). You can use Sometimes roots of the plants too, but not all the plants, raddish or turnip, etc. You can mix roots of radish with the leaves and smashed together. Don’ make it too small while smashing.

Put those smashed stuffs into a wooden, earthenware or in glassjar very compressed. Close tightly the mouth of the container. Put it in safe and sunny place. It may be placed in an open place. Don’t check it often. After few days let’s say 3 days check the acidity (sourness), you can know if it is ready from it’s strong smell.

Dry it then under the sun. After few days take it off the sun and Taste it. If it taste Gundruk, you are done. Mix it in any vegetable and eat it. Don’t try to cook it. You can’t cook Gundruk.”