Uncle Bill’s Farm: Our First CSA

Uncle Bill's sign

Even though we’ve frequented farmer’s markets for years, this is our first year joining a CSA (community supported agriculture). This past Saturday was the first weekend for pick-up and I took my camera to capture the occasion. Our local CSA is Uncle Bill’s Farm which is owned and operated by Sarah Carden and Alex Cookfair. The farm is right smack in the middle of New Jersey horse country. In fact, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters is practically around the corner. Given that we’re in horse country, it should come as no surprise  the 40 acre property is a former horse farm which has been slowly converted over the last few years to a small scale produce and poultry farm.

After visiting the Uncle Bill’s Farm in April for a tour I have been anxiously awaiting opening day of the CSA. And because I was so excited to feast my eyes on the veggie bounty I was one of the first to arrive. (Well, that and I was getting nagged to hurry so we could drive down to Philly for Comic Con.)

Upon entering Uncle Bill’s Farm, the first thing I encountered was the veggie washing station that included a groovy claw-foot tub.

washing station

Getting closer to the pick-up area, I spied a cool table holding some herbs and veggie plants for sale. Those are some serious table legs.

Herbs

The first step was to sign in.  Sarah verified my purchase of one full share (one bushel basket) and one full egg share (one dozen eggs) per week.

Sign in sheet

Now it was time to check out what was available for the week – all picked fresh that morning.

First up, wild garlic. I swear this is the stuff I have been weeding out of my yard! I had no idea it was actually edible.

Wild Garlic

Next up – beautiful, fresh radishes in different varieties and baby turnips. Lovely.

Radish

And then my favorite – beets! It never ceases to amaze me how many people have never eaten fresh beets. Beets and their greens are both wonderful. I’ve posted several beet recipes because I love them dearly. (Links at the bottom of this post).

Beets

The freshly picked greens were in abundance, delighting the early members. The offerings included common curly kale, lacinato (dinosaur) kale, mixed greens, arugula, butter lettuce and chard.

GreensShoppers

The rainbow chard was especially spectacular. (I’ll be posting a recipe for rainbow chard in a day or two.) Continue reading

How to Bake Bacon in the Oven

What do bacon and flowers have in common? Well, nothing, really. But before I show how to bake bacon in the oven I just have to share what is blooming in my garden this week. Last week was lilacs and now we have some purple iris. We have lived in our house for thirteen years and I have divided and moved the iris several times over the years. Now we have dozens and dozens of these purple and blue flowers all over.

Iris are exquisite.

Iris

iris closeup

We also have some False Blue Indigo behind the garage overlooking the vegetable garden.

False Blue Indigo

And the Columbine have emerged and bloom proudly in the shady part of the back yard.

Columbine

Along with our flowers are three raised beds where we planted a square foot garden. The strawberries are in their own free form part of one bed. I spied some fruit forming under the bright green leaves. So exciting!

strawberries

Strawberries in hands

Total non-sequitur alert!

How To Bake Bacon In the Oven

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Healthy Homemade French Dressing (American Style)

Paleo French Dressing

Weekends have been so perfect lately I can’t really complain about the last two days of rain. The only downside is this is the exact week the lilacs are blooming in our backyard. Every year I look forward to the days when I can sit on the back patio and drink in the intoxicating fragrance of the lilacs. But I’ve either been at work or it has been raining. Fortunately, before the rain started, there was time on Friday night to enjoy the flowers while decompressing from the busy week. And by Sunday afternoon the rain had stopped which allowed me to make up for lost time by capturing a few shots of these beauties in full bloom.

These are just two of our mature Palabin lilac bushes.

Backyard lilacs

Palabins have cute little heart-shaped leaves.

Lilacs and heart leaf

We planted them several years ago and every year they are more beautiful than the year before. I found a poem about lilacs planted by a mother and it makes me wonder if my boys will ever come back to this house years from now and think about how we planted and enjoyed the lilacs.

Here’s an excerpt. (You can find the rest at the link.)

The Lilacs Mother Planted

by Ed Blair

Oh, sweet and fragrant lilac, the one she loved so
well,
Thy fragrance brings to memory sad thoughts I
cannot tell;
Sweet lullabies of childhood sung at the evening
rest,
By mother clasping closely the one she loved the
best.
A voice that gently whispered sweet words of
love to me,
A face so kind and gentle, a heart with love so free;
Still yet my heart throbs feel them, still yet I see
them there,
When lilacs that she planted with fragrance fill
the air.

Wet Lilacs

The rain drops are actually rather flattering don’t you think?

lilacs after rain

While taking pictures of the rain soaked lilacs I noticed the chives also blooming on the back patio.

wet chives

Who knew chives could be so beautiful!?

wet chives 2

Paleo French Dressing Continue reading

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Birthday Blessings and Lilacs

Today is my birthday so I hope you will excuse me if I take a few minutes to revel in my blessings. Some years my birthday actually falls on the same day as Mother’s Day. Minimally, both big days are always around the same time each year. It’s a double whammy of sweet gifts and well-wishes. Today, my youngest son’s classroom had a special event for Mother’s Day but it felt like one big birthday present. We did a little gardening, created some art, and were treated to a musical show. I was even interviewed (by my son!). He was sweet enough to whisper to his teacher about my birthday whereupon the entire crowd sang the Happy Birthday song to me. What a considerate sweetie and what a nice crowd!

Here we are with our gardening projects: a planter with sunflower seeds, an impatiens plant we put in a pot he decorated and some thyme we also planted together. You can’t see it but there’s also a clay project in the shape of Nathaniel’s imaginary friend “Rockguy”.

Here are my gifts that include a card he made and a poem. I love that Nathaniel’s teacher emphasizes poetry to the kids.

One of the benefits of a May birthday where I live is the gorgeous weather. This year our garden is already growing strong thanks to my husband, G, who built three raised garden beds last year. Here’s a peak. Continue reading

Daily Dose of Beauty: August 7, 2011

Heat

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

-H.D.

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Daily Dose of Beauty: August 3, 2011

“There is something in us that loves symmetry, selection, arrangement, as well as wildness and irregularity. A small garden, accordingly, gives its owner a far greater opportunity to express himself than a small lawn. The usual lawn expresses nothing so much a vacancy of mind or an impious waste of good material; whereas in a garden any man may be an artist, may experiment with all the subtleties or simplicities of line, mass, color, and composition, and taste the god-like joys of the creator.”
- H. G. Dwight, Gardens and Gardening, Atlantic Monthly, 1912

Heirloom Cocozella di Napoli, Roma tomatoes and Heirloom Red Beefsteak Tomato
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Daily Dose of Beauty: July 24, 2011

A little baby bunny lives on my back porch. I see him almost every day. When I have coffee out there he hops out of his hiding place, if i am very still, and nibbles on my flowers and blueberry bushes. I’m not sure he has discovered the three raised garden beds full of veggies in the far backyard. Maybe he’ll stay small and cute and be content to stay here on my porch and entertain me and never leave.

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Cauliflower, The Other White….Vegetable??!

As part of what we have dubbed “Camp Paleo Spirit”, my boys and I have been doing lots of activities together this summer including vegetable gardening. Even though I am no expert on organic gardening I have learned a lot in the last couple of years. Our new raised garden beds have given me the opportunity to learn growing strategies for some different plants and involve the boys in the process. In another post I described a little about growing cauliflower and included a recipe for “Cauliflower Rice.” Here I will go into a little more detail about growing cauliflower as well as the health benefits of eating it.

I purchased some small cauliflower plants at a local nursery in a buying frenzy – the result of my excitement over the new garden beds. I had no idea how to grow it and only later found out cauliflower is considered “difficult”. A “high maintenance” veggie if you will. At the time it seemed like a good choice for our garden given its “low carb” status and prominent place in the paleo diet. Having successfully substituted it for rice and potatoes in a few paleo diet meals I was motivated to try growing it myself.

Cauliflower is part of the Brassica oleracea species like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and collards and shares many of their impressive nutritional benefits:

  1. Antioxidant: Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C, manganese, beta-carotene and phytonutrients. These antioxidants provide broad spectrum support in the fight against free radical damage which can reduce the risk for diseases caused by oxidative stress, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
  2. Anti-inflammatory: Chronic inflammation can significantly increase the risk of cancers and other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, obesity, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin K, omega-3 fatty acids and glucobrassicin, all of which are strongly anti-inflammatory. A cup of boiled cauliflower contains about 11 micrograms of vitamin K and 0.21 g omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Digestive Support: There are nearly 12 grams of fiber in every 100 calories of cauliflower. A substance in cauliflower called sulforaphane can help protect the lining of the stomach by preventing bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori thereby reducing the risk for stomach ulcer and cancer.

Cauliflower, as the name implies, is an edible flower. The flower of the cauliflower is known as a curd. It grows best in well-compacted, fertile soil that has a pH balance between 6-7. The leaves of the plant flop over the curd to protect it from sun and pests. The only trouble we had with pests was white butterfly caterpillars eating some of the leaves. Fortunately, they did not wreak too much havoc and the curds were unscathed. We learned cauliflower is ready to harvest when it is about 6 inches across (smaller than what you will find in the grocery store) and has smooth florets that are tightly compacted and have not yet flowered.
To harvest it you should use a sharp knife and cut out the curd just below some of its protective leaves.
It is possible to keep the heads up to two or three weeks after harvesting before being used. But once it is cooked, it should be eaten within two or three days to maintain more of the nutrients. The remaining plant will not reproduce another curd. So my son, B, pulled the plants, roots and all, out of the ground and shook off the soil. Some folks use the leaves in soups or stir-fries. But since we chose not to go that route this time B helped me out by throwing all the plants into our compost bin. Even though cauliflower is considered somewhat difficult to grow I would consider our experience a success. Next time we will try growing some of the different varieties like orange, green or purple and planting in different seasons as cauliflower is fairly cold tolerant.

The paleo diet emphasizes eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods. Because cauliflower is so much more nutrient dense than rice or white potatoes it is a great choice to replace them when you can. It is also much lower in carbohydrates and will not contribute to a spike in insulin levels like the other choices. In addition to the “Cauliflower Rice” recipe already posted I hope to include more recipes in the near future that use cauliflower in creative and tasty ways.

I Have Made Cauliflower! Basic Cauliflower Rice Recipe

This is the first year I have attempted to grow cauliflower. My husband, G, built three raised garden beds and I got very ambitious and started planting all sorts of new things. I knew next to nothing about growing cauliflower and resorted to consulting YouTube for some how-to videos. Some were helpful. Others, like much of what is on YouTube, were downright bizarre. But I digress….

I learned that cauliflower grows in the middle of a large plant with lots of leaves and the ones in the middle sort of flop over the floret to keep it cool and shaded. It was for this reason that one day it seemed as if nothing was there but the very next day I poked a little deeper and discovered a serious cauliflower floret! I used a large knife to cut the floret out of the plant just as the large, nameless man in balloon-fronted shorts on YouTube had instructed. The moment, for me, was very reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Castaway” when he is finally successful in making a fire. I actually exclaimed out loud,

“I have made CAULIFLOWER!!!”

After exulting in my success in growing this organic gem I pondered my next step. Of course I would need to find a recipe worthy of my first actual homegrown cauliflower floret. Shortly after starting the Paleo Diet I read about “Cauliflower Rice” and was intrigued. I happen to like cauliflower. But my husband and kids definitely do not like it in any form. In fact G tells a story of going home with a college buddy for a weekend and being horrified when the guy’s mom proudly declared that dinner was “Cauliflower Casserole”. Woo hoo! Not. Given the PTSD he suffered as a result of this experience I was not optimistic that G, or our boys, would be remotely interested in eating cauliflower in any form. But I am happy to report they ALL enjoyed the cauliflower rice and even asked for seconds. Given that the recipe is gluten free and low carb it works great for anyone on a Paleo, Primal or low-carb/Atkins type diet. It seems to fill the void that sometimes exists on a grain free and white potato free diet when you long for something starchy. Cauliflower rice fits the bill – without the starch and high carbohydrate count.

Basic Cauliflower Rice:

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
Instructions
  1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and place in a 8×8 microwaveable dish and cover with plastic wrap. There is no need to add water because the cauliflower will cook in its own moisture.
  2. Microwave on high for 4 minutes.paleo cauliflower rice recipe
  3. Use a food processor to pulse the steamed cauliflower until it is the texture of rice. (You may have to do this in a couple of batches.) Place the cauliflower in a medium bowl and set aside.paleo cauliflower rice recipe
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute’ for about 30 seconds being careful not to burn the garlic.
  5. Add the cauliflower into the pan and stir fry for 7-10 minutes, until tender.
  6. Add the parsley, the sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
Serves 4-6
I recommend you start with this basic recipe and change it up as you desire and depending on what you are serving it with. For example the basic recipe calls for flat leaf parsley but I have also used fresh basil with great success. Additionally, sauteing a diced onion in the olive oil prior to adding the garlic and cauliflower would be good as well. I have even seen a recipe that called for a cup of finely chopped celery. The possibilities are endless. I did find that steaming the cauliflower prior to sauteing it made the whole process easier. You can steam it and process it in advance and store, covered, in the refrigerator and saute’ right before serving.
Cauliflower rice goes especially well with the Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic recipe. I added about a half cup of the garlic sauce from that recipe into the cauliflower rice and served them together. It was really delicious, low carb, grain free – Paleo!
For more information on growing cauliflower and its nutritional profile you can check out this post.

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A Caveman Carpenter’s Raised Garden Beds

 

Paleo gardening, in the form of building raised vegetable beds, is good for the soul.  I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands – I find it very relaxing, and satisfying, too.  In fact, I’ve become fairly adept at handiwork for small household projects and hobbies, but when it comes to larger jobs that involve carpentry and serious power tools, I’ve always been hesitant.  Part of that stems from a lack of experience; I’m not clueless when it comes to tools, but at my core I’m a suburban guy who’s used to calling the “experts” (carpenter, plumber, repairman, etc) when there’s a problem that needs fixin’ or a project that needs gettin’ done.

All of that all changed a few years ago when my garage door fell apart.  True to form, I picked-up the phone and called a carpenter who came by the next day and promptly gave me a $9,000 estimate to do the job! I decided on the spot that I would do it myself.  “Seriously,” I thought, “How hard can it be?”  Well, as it turned out, not that hard at all.  Armed with nothing more than a pencil, a pad of paper, a tape measure, and my knowledge of 5th grade math, I drew-up a plan.  Then I bought the wood and the hardware, and with the help of a good friend on a sunny Saturday afternoon, built the whole thing for less than $200.  Sure, it was only a simple barn-style door, but I was proud of the results, and six years later, that door still stands as solid as the day it was made.

However, the most important message I gained from that day was confidence.  No doubt, I was still mostly a typical suburban guy on many levels, but still I felt as if I’d breached some heretofore-mystical divide.  For the first time in my life, I was “handy”!  Not only that but I liked it too.  The entire process, from the planning stages through the buying of the parts and especially the assembly was highly enjoyable. So when my wife asked me to build her a series of raised gardening beds in our backyard, I eagerly dove into the project.

As with the garage door, the first task was to draw-up a blue print.  After finding a simple and sturdy design on the internet, I measured out the dimensions of the yard, and decided on the sizes and quantities of wooden planks I would need to build three 10’ x 4’ x1’ raised planter boxes.  We decided on cedar because of its durability. (Note: When building raised planters, NEVER use treated wood, as it contains chemicals that will leach into the soil and contaminate your food).  We purchased it from a local lumberyard for about $500.

Once delivered, I set about separating the planks according to their size, and moving it all to the backyard.  Then I assembled my tools and got to work.

First, I lined-up all of the like-sized planks to make sure that they were properly cut-to-size by the lumberyard.  Good thing I did, because they weren’t.  With the help of my neighbor’s mitre-saw, I cut them correctly to size.

Since I’m occasionally impatient and somewhat Impulsive, I then began to immediately assemble the basic frame, and this was a mistake. What I should have done first was to measure-out and counter-sink ALL of the intended screw-holes, instead of doing it hole-by-hole as I lined-up the planks and moved them into place.  My chosen method was not only more labor intensive (I had to keep the planks balanced and in position as I screwed the holes), but it was also fairly tedious since I was constantly swapping-out the counter-sinking bit for the screw-driver bit on my drill.  Regardless, I managed to get the basic frame assembled on my trusty old sawhorses, and within two hours, I had managed to complete one of the raised panting beds.

After applying my learnings from assembling the first bed, the remaining two were easier and quicker to put together.  Pre-drilling all the holes with the counter-sinking bit really sped-up the process.  I finished beds 2 and 3 in the same amount of time it took me to assemble the first one.

Once I had completed the assembly stage, the next step was to literally “plant” the beds into the ground.  Once again, I mistakenly chose a method that was accurate but time-consuming.  I carefully measured the distance between the centers of 4”x 4” corner posts, and then measured out the approximate distances on the ground with my tape measure and right-angle.  Then I dug-out each spot with a post-hole digger (and let me tell you, this was a real workout for my shoulder and pectoral muscles).  Unfortunately, my holes were not as accurate as I would have liked.  When I attempted to lower one of the beds into the holes, I realized that I was off by a few inches, and had to readjust by digging a bigger, wider hole.  Vowing not to repeat this mistake again, for the next two beds, I put them into place and marked-off the holes with bright yellow spray paint that I sprayed around the posts.  This worked very well, and when I lowered the beds, they slipped perfectly into place.

Of course, an experienced carpenter or handy man would have never made a the minor errors I made in the assembly process, but then I wouldn’t have learned anything in the process, so I consider it to be good value for the effort, and I’m more than pleased with the results (and so is my wife – even better!)

You might be asking yourself “What makes this ‘Paleo’?”  Well, actually, a lot of things, in my humble opinion.

First, there’s the aforementioned idea of working with one’s own hands that really appeals to me, personally.  You can’t get much more of a back-to-basics feel than by doing something yourself. There’s also the joy of working with wood, one of God’s most versatile creations.  What hasn’t mankind been able to achieve without wood?  For thousands of years we’ve made tools with it, we’ve hunted with it, heated our homes, and built them, too. Wood is a fundamental construct of nature that has played an essential role in the development of civilization (and it smells good, too, especially cedar!).  Then there’s a healthy, physical component that can’t be overlooked.  Why don’t you often see images of paleolithic man in jogging shoes? Because he was too busy working!  To me, the best kind of exercise is the kind that doesn’t seem like exercise.  There’s also the satisfaction of working close to the soil, and creating something that will be used to grow natural, organic food that replenishes our bodies.  And finally, there’s the creative stimulation of the learning process that helps us to grow intellectually and intuitively.

That’s definitely Paleo!

 

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