Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back in Brooklyn

The day after farm camp ended - the same day I was hosting a family-and-friend party in honor of my daughter's fifth birthday -- my laptop got into an terrible, nearly fatal accident. Accidentally knocked to the floor, its screen cracked. Since then, my three-month-old laptop has been in a computer coma, its power light blinking, but just a black screen staring back at me.


That's the sound of the wind going out of a massive amount of sails, each of them representing a part of my creative and financial lives.

We had only a week left in NH, so I sucked it up and let it go. Why think about a potential $700 bill with a dwindling number of days hiking and river trolling?

But now we're back in Brooklyn, and it's time to think. I'm on my husband's middle-aged desktop computer, with its cranky mouse, slow internet, and all his .... stuff. Record album covers, ebay auction lists, dept of buildings research. It's like trying to get comfy in someone else's living room. Or, more aptly, in my husband's dusty cluttered antiquated study. Can't even make an italic on this blog without summoning some archaic html code.

I'm off to Tekserve on Tuesday to cough off almost the original cost of my computer to fix it. Blech.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gettin Farmy

We're so farmy. We feed apples and onions to the oxen, chuck citrus fruit past the pigs into the mud, and argue over who gets to carry the eggs. Eggs are magical and must be fought over to gain possession. Some get broken every day.

Hens always escape and must be held.

This is the Cobb Oven, an outdoor clay situation, built around a discarded steel drum.

Tyler built a fire. We gathered blueberries and blackberries to make a bruise-berry pie.

This five-year-old brushed the pie dough with a beaten egg yolk.

Then this nine-year-old slashed the top, and we brushed it with egg yolk again.

While the pie baked in the Cobb Oven we gathered eggs!!

This hen was not budging.

Voila! Beautiful Pie! Two of the kids had to leave early, before it was done, so we agreed to wait until tomorrow to eat.

Tomorrow is our last day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Farm Camp

Here's what we did today at d'acres:

We started out the day with Tyler loading up the solar cooker with rice and lentils. The solar cooker! Who knew there was such thing as a solar cooker!

Then we walked over to hear this guy telling us how they get used oil from restaurants and filter it and use it to run their truck and wood chipper.

Then it was time for everyone's favorite activity - feeding the pigs. The local supermarket gives the farm all the food that it's going to throw away. Like I said yesterday, it's truly shocking what gets thrown away. Like this entire cornucopia of mostly perfect food.

We have to unwrap everything, like these sliced portobello mushrooms.

Then we drag it over to the hogs.

I think this is Pretty Eyes and Big Mama. Either that or Pretty Eyes and Big BIG Mama. Big Papa isn't in the picture. We have spent so much time every day, mesmerized and content, tossing food to the pigs and watching them eat. Why is this so satisfying?

The pigs eat almost everything, except citrus and peppers. But we still give them the citrus and the peppers, because they stomp on it, and it gets composted into the soil. The pigs also clear the vegetation == they pull out almost everything green, until it looks like an atomic wasteland inside their fence. In a few years d'acres is going to plant a vegetable terrace up here. It will be cleared and composted by then, and ready for planting. Amazing, the eco-system that exists on a farm.

The out house was a subject of fascination. We'd already had a lesson on how to use the composting toilet inside the farmhouse, but this was something new -- a three-sided, off-the-ground outhouse nestled in the woods, with a magazine rack and a sign that said "don't pee in pooper". A couple kids actually used it after our group had thoroughly checked it out. I was sort of amazed too -- no smell, no flies. The receptacles are 5-gallon buckets that get emptied either daily or weekly, depending on whether you believe my or my son's memory recall.

This is either August or Henry. These gorgeous, gentle, brute-strong oxen were tethered to graze in one of the pastures. The kids were awed by them, and fed them ferns and clover (and then started catching grasshoppers to feed to the nearby henhouse.

Eventually we headed back to the main area of the farm. This is the greenhouse, which I love because it's so crammed with hanging tomato plants and lettuces and other garden creatures, and also because it's made entirely of recycled doors.

These hens cracked me up. Inside their coop, all the kid are gathering eggs. You could hear a maelstrom of activity, including a conversation between Tyler and a child about what to do about an egg that had clearly broken. If it were a cartoon, there would be fists and feet and puffs of smoke coming out of all the chicken coop windows. Meanwhile, the hens gathered on the ramp outside the coop, nervously clucking and looking around at each other and trying to figure out what was going on inside.

This is my son telling me how he had to reach under a hen to pull this egg out.

One hen got out of the coop, was caught by a kid, and then duly held by each kid. The kids and the hen were so gentle with each other.

The kids kept asking all day when they would get to "steal an egg" from the hens. They loved gathering the eggs, and were reverent about them. They all wanted to take the eggs home, wanted to hatch them, and carried them around like they were pets.

Okay, it's not really camp. But it's just so great.

Quote of the day: "I LOVE composting toilets! YOU DON'T HAVE TO FLUSH!" - my daughter

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Farm Camp

I'm up in New Hampshire for the month of August now, and as usual in a state of semi-paralysis when it comes to food.

It's partly due to being in my mother's kitchen -- my mom is lovely and a great cook but something still happens and I just don't feel so motivated. Any Freudians out there? -- and also due to New Hampshire's short growing season and sluggish nature when it comes to embracing the foodie local yokel thing.

For example, I have to drive 25 minutes to get organic milk. I am not a total freak, so I just drive 2 minutes to the local Cupboard and buy regular milk for my coffee. There's no Applegate Farms turkey for my son's sandwiches, so I just get the Sara Lee at the Hannaford. And there are only 2 farms within 25 miles when I do a search on, so... I bring a cooler full of frozen meat and chicken and fish from Brooklyn.

I love New Hampshire, so I'm happy to weather these food challenges, but I do find it ironic that being in NH for the month of August means I eat more crappy food than I would if I were in NYC.

And anyway it is changing -- dramatically, even since last year. Bigger farmers markets, more produce, tons of publications about the local foods. Watch out, Vermont. New Hampshire is on the move.

One of the leaders of the change is d'acres, an "educational homestead" in Dorchester, NH. It is a super-groovy place with hippie interns who live in tree houses, and a dreamy farmhouse kitchen with a bunch of musical instruments and beautiful carvings and a composting toilets. They raise pigs and chickens and vegetables, and hold workshops and circle dances and do a lot of educational outreach. But they don't do a lot for kids, as I learned when I was searching for a farm camp for my kids. So I contacted the farm and offered to help them start a farm camp for kids. They took me up on the offer, and so here we are, taking part in the first ever Kids Week at d'acres. Two days into it. Here are some of the highlights:

Feeding the Pigs. We meet at the recycle station in the morning, where we help unpackage a truly alarming amount of food that the local grocery store throws away every week. Perfect bananas, whole watermelons, celery that looks better than anything in my fridge. It is appalling, and that's not even getting into the amount of packaging we amass. Anyway, we gather it up and help take it to the pigs, who gallop to meet us. The kids have been climbing right into the pen and helping unhusk the corn and break open the watermelon. These are the piglets, just a few months old and very funny and sweet.

This hen got loose, so all the kids took a turn holding her. She got very quiet and let them all take their turns. This is the first time either of my kids got to hold a chicken.
On our way up to the pasture to see the oxen, we picked apples off the ground, where they'd fallen from a 100-year old tree. They were a small yellow apple that I've never seen before. To quote one of the kids, "this is the best apple I've ever had in my life." It really was -- tart and sweet and crisp. No one on the farm knows what kind of apple it is.

We picked millions of blackberries!

This kid kept hugging the pigs.

The hen house! The kids gathered over a dozen eggs, and we made thumbprint cookies with blackberry jam.

What a great time. The kids are having so much fun being farm kids, without the chores.
ps don't ask me what d'acres stands for. Nobody knows.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brisket on the Grill

I am really fond of cheap cuts of meat -- because of the price, the flavor, and also because traditional styles of cooking usually come up with up with kickass ways to get around the shortcomings of the cut, while still getting all the flavor.

Brisket's a perfect example of this, except... I've almost never had a brisket I liked. Too stewy and soft, with some kind of bland tomato sauce, at least one time I had it, and it scarred me for years to come. But this year my friend Nick served barbecued brisket at his summer birthday party and it was delicious. I got to thinking I'd serve it at my daughter's late August birthday party, which is usually a family/friend affair more than a kid's party. Because... why settle for dogs and burgers?

First I had to test it. I can't be cooking a brand new dish while making sure the table's set, the kids didn't break into the marshmallows and my mom's not putting too much tequila into the margaritas. While I was musing on all this, Cook's Illustrated sent out a recipe for brisket cooked on a charcoal grill. Yes, because who wants to keep the oven on for hours in the summer?

I followed their instructions to a t.

You have to use a combination of wood chunks and charcoal, and set up a bowl of water to steam the meat. I made a bowl out of tin foil.

Then the meat cooks slowly for hours. After three hours you swiftly add a few more chunks of charcoal.

For the first few hours you shield the meat with a piece of foil. I made this on a HOT day, and it was really nice sitting in the backyard under the fig tree, drinking iced tea and playing cards with my daughter, while I kept an eye on the grill.

It was truly delicious. My kids loved it, too. "It's kind of like bacon," one of them said, bestowing the most powerful compliment possible.
We are definitely having this for my daughter's bday. Following my friend Nick's lead (who is following Southern America's lead) we'll serve it with barbecue sauce, cole slaw and burger buns. YUM!