The American Thanksgiving celebration is around the corner and everyone is looking forward to this special meal. Thanksgiving is a very meaningful holiday for me as I give thanks for my harvest, my friends and my family. Being able to celebrate on the farm with a full table and a full heart is a blessing.
I celebrated Thanksgiving over a month ago in Canada. Happily, right now I am in Colorado so I get to celebrate twice.
This year I have been invited to dinner where deep fried turkey is on the menu. I have never tasted turkey cooked this way and I am looking forward to it. One word for any of you who are planning to deep-fry your bird: Please take all the safety precautions and make sure your bird is fresh or completely defrosted. Water and oil do not mix.
After all the dishes, sweat tears and laughter of our Thanksgiving Feast, we all felt as stuffed as the turkey. Yes, I am one of those old-fashioned cooks who insists the best tasting stuffing has to cook in the belly of the beast. I have tried cooking it separately but it never tastes the same.
The night after Thanksgiving we were pooped and ate the leftover wild rice while watching the weather update. Wild rice is a traditional holiday side dish that we never go without. It was my father's favourite. One hint – not all wild rice is the same, and I am noticing that it is often sold in broken pieces and does not cook up properly. Find a brand you can trust and stick with it. I am lucky enough to have an Indian reserve that sells its rice and it is not too far from my farm. I can also watch the cranberry harvest and buy fresh cranberries locally. By the way, as for the forecast, more snow in the forecast.
The day after Thanksgiving, my fridge was full of the remains of the day – I had my Marsala marinated ham joint, roast turkey with herb and lemon stuffing, my famous holiday mashed potatoes, roasted mushrooms, gravy, stock, peas, and cauliflower cheese gratin, and, oh yes, a spinach herbed goat cheese dip.
Everyone knows that each year brings the same dilemma. What to make with this mish mash of leftover food? The chef in me lies in bed and dreams about what to make with the food in my fridge. I truly enjoy planning and plotting to convert my leftovers into something magical – I believe that food is a gift and it should never be wasted.
Here is a peek into the mind of a chef. I ask my self, "Turkey potpie with a crown of puff pastry or turkey shepherds pie?" I could make turkey soup or navy bean and ham soup. Every cuisine has a casserole dish, and this year I thought about trying something new, cassoulet. Cassoulet is a classic French dish, just like Turkey Pot Pie it is a classic with many regional variations.
Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. I thought about coming up with an updated version. However I did not have duck or goose fat about or the sausages. My goal is to use what I have on hand, not to run out and shop!
I am a clear fan of traditional peasant food or comfort for the depth of flavour and variations that you come across from region to region. There are legends and rules in haute cuisine that determine how certain dishes should be made. In many regions, the preparation of certain dishes are sacrosanct and cannot be altered. The same is true over the age-old debate about who makes the best barbeque. Regional pride exists, that is for sure.
I believe that many dishes resulted from a cook’s way to assemble an assortment of leftovers to create a robust dish. Every cook faces leftovers – my mother always said that I had the power to perform the "miracle of the five loaves and two fish." With 10 of us at the table, there were never very many leftovers. As a chef I had to become very creative when using leftovers.
At the end of the busy holiday, I decide to rely on a family favourite, Classic Turkey Potpie. I love this comfort food and it is one of the best ways I know to make great use of the leftover turkey, stock and gravy. Many cooks have a recipe for this dish; mine is based on French cooking techniques. Many of you actually use the French sauce method but you call it a white sauce. It is the basis for the gravy in biscuits with sausage and gravy. Cheese sauce, or "mornay" in French, is often used in mac and cheese. It is also used in Cajun cooking where a roux is the base of the sauce.
I waste nothing so I use the turkey fat skimmed from the stock for the base of my blonde roux that will combine with the stock to make up my velouté. If there is leftover gravy, which rarely happens, I add it to the velouté to intensify the flavour.
I was a chef at the Arcadian Court in Toronto and their turkey potpie was famous. We used to order the potpie, as my mother was so busy taking care of 10 that she ran out of kitchen time. What I recall the most is that this potpie had very basic ingredients and huge chunks of meat, some peas and lots of sauce. The recipe was top secret, but I got a few peeks at how it was made. The Arcadian Court used whole, parboiled parisienne potatoes or small potato balls.
I think my version is even better, adapted to modern tastes. It is all about converting those intimidating leftovers into a meal that tastes brand new.
CHEF ELIZABETH’S CLASSIC TURKEY POT PIE
Remember – Always season your food to your taste. Add any combination of fresh herbs in the intensity that suits your palate. Cooking is about breaking the rules; baking is a different story.
I only use puff pastry on the top of the pot pie; you can do a traditional two-crust pie if you prefer. Sometimes when I have leftover mashed potatoes I use them as a quick topping for a "Turkey Shepherd's" pie. I prefer the flavour of a very basic turkey pie, but feel free to add vegetables of your choice. Incorporate any vegetable leftovers that seem fresh enough to withstand being cooked again. For instance, sauteéd mushrooms, corn or green beans. If you have extra stock, you can intensify the flavour of the dish by parboiling the carrots and the potatoes in the stock. The deeper the flavour of the stock, the richer the flavour of the pie. Add any leftover gravy if you like.
This is a dish that transforms your leftovers into a delicious comforting dish.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
1 box frozen pure butter puff pastry or your favourite pie crust recipe
Do ahead: Thaw puff pastry and then roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/4-inch thick square or rectangular, larger than the dimensions of your baking dish (or dishes) by about 3 inches on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
At this point you will cut the dough, leaving an extra amount to hang over the dish. To do this, remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a cutting board. Place your intended baking dish directly onto the dough, with the opening side down. With a sharp knife, cut around the dish so that you have an even 3 inches around the dish on all edges. Return the dough to the baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic, and chill for an additional hour.
1/3 cup turkey fat or butter
1/3 finely cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken broth (I use my homemade stock)
1/2 cup whole milk or cream infused with 2 bay leaves and 3 sprigs thyme
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme or marjoram, or to taste
2 1/2 cups cooked turkey, in large cubes or shreds
1 cups rinsed frozen green peas
1/2 cup parboiled carrots
1 cup of cubed and parboiled russet potatoes
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons water, milk or cream
1. Heat oven to 400 F. Prepare a deep-dish casserole by lightly buttering the bottom and sides.
2. In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and infused milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened. Let cook for 5 more minutes. Add thyme and adjust seasonings at this point.
3. Stir in turkey and vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon turkey mixture into prepared casserole dish or crust-lined pan.
4. Finish the Puff Pastry: Blend the egg and water for the egg wash. Remove dough from refrigerator and brush surface evenly with egg wash. Invert dough and place directly over the casserole, pressing lightly to seal overhanging crust to the side of the dish. Brush top surface of dough with egg wash. With a large round pastry tip or other small round object, cut a small circle in the centre of the pastry, removing the pastry circle. This allows the steam to vent. You can use leftover pastry to create decorative cutouts for the crust.
5. Transfer dish to a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment (to catch any boil-over!). Bake for 10 minutes then cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent crust from burning, and continue baking for about 25 minutes more, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serve this with some of your cranberry sauce on the side, a mixed green salad with lemon-herb vinaigrette and a crisp glass of Joel Gott or Hess Chardonnay.
Who doesn't love a hot biscuit right out of the oven? Here on the farm, biscuits are a staple and always a huge hit. This is a great recipe to have on hand as the weather gets cooler. We are working outside getting the winter bird feeders set up, trying to catch the rest of the fish from the pond to bring indoors into the warm great room. We are also putting the garden to bed, chopping wood and kindling, and winterizing the machines. I love making a batch of these biscuits to serve with chili, stews, soups or pasta.
Herbed Buttermilk and Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 to 25 minutes
There are hundreds of biscuit recipes. Every family has itsfavorite version. Here is one of my favorite savoury biscuit recipes. This is a recipe for biscuits that taste like the ones served at Red Lobster. Everyone loves them, and you can now buy the mix if you want that shortcut. You can prepare these delicious biscuits very quickly to serve with a hot soup, pasta, stew or chili.
For the Biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning or Cajun Spices, optional
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
For the Topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 450 F. Place baking shelf in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and then set aside.
For the biscuits: In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients; flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic powder and salt, and Cayenne pepper, Old Bay Seasoning or Cajun Spice if using these optional ingredients.
In another large bowl, whisk together buttermilk and butter. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Gently fold in cheese.
Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup or ice cream scoop, place the batter evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for between 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully to make sure they do not burn. While still warm and on the baking sheet brush the topping over the biscuits.
For the topping: Whisk together butter, parsley, chives and garlic powder in a small bowl.
Fall is in full swing, and a late-autumn snow storm reminds me of what a fleeting season autumn really is … it only lasts a short time here in the crisp, Ontario country air. Before you know it, the brilliant trees are bare and the leaves make a glowing carpet of red, gold and orange on the forest floor. After a busy summer and early fall canning and preserving grape jelly from my vines, hundreds of mason jars of heirloom tomato compote, spicy dilly beans, caramelized plum jam, peach barbecue sauce, hundreds of pounds of blueberries, basil puree, drying herbs including coriander seeds, I thought I never wanted to see another canning pot or mason jar again. I had canning and preserving fatigue!
However, just when I thought I could not face another mason jar or piece of fruit, I had the incredible good fortune to discover an abandoned apple orchard at the back of the farm property. I gathered a crew, and we set out on a few visits to harvest the jewels that hung like Christmas bulbs from the tree: The yellow variety ware so large that the branches drooped under their weight.
We all had great fun trying to decide what variety they were. We were unable to come up with a consensus. What I do know is that they were insect free … yes, they had blemished skin, but the insides were pristine. Too many people expect perfect fruit and vegetables and refuse to buy any that are bruised or imperfect. As a small-scale organic farmer, I know that in its natural growing condition each piece has its own personality, appearance and taste. There is no generic perfect apple and, as a chef and farmer, I am glad. The red apples' flesh was a gorgeous pink hue. I was very excited about cooking with the apples to see if they would hold up to the heat.
I must have been facing more than 100 pounds of wild yellow and red apples. What to do with all of them? I immediately baked an apple crisp pie with a pure butter crust. It was sensational. I recall that as a child, when eating apple pie you expected to be offered a piece of sharp cheddar or have it served a la mode. Now, instead of ice cream, there is frozen yoghurt, marscapone or creme fraiche. I also prepared Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake, and chunky applesauce with local apple cider made by friends.
As I write this, I have apple butter cooking in the slow cooker. I plan to batch cook this, label and freeze it to use in barbecue sauces and baked goods. Intensely flavored apple butter can be used anywhere jams and jellies are used.
Apples are an Ontarian way of life … I grew up eating them and I took my children to pick them. We used to visit Chudleigh’s regularly until it became impossible even to find a place to park the car. We then started visiting Long Lane Orchards … a much quieter alternative where I could bring the children to pick and where my son and I could trout fish. Sadly, this year I found out they had closed their doors. Another casualty.
My father would bake apples with raisins and walnuts and drizzle them with his beloved maple syrup … he seemed to have found a way to get maple syrup into everything he cooked. Farmers would visit our neighborhood selling bushels to the bustling households. On the street I grew up on, almost every family had six to eight children. We would place the bushels in the cold cellar … but they never lasted very long. There were 10 of us, and they were a delicious after-school snack. I used to be horrified when my childhood best friend sprinkled the apples with salt.
I was lucky enough to have a European housekeeper who made the most delicious apple fritters dusted with cinnamon and lots of sugar … one of the best treats to come home to. After that iconic 2-mile walk back from school that we all seem to remember, I would open the huge front door and I could smell delicious. She also taught me how to make homemade strudel with dough gently dragged over a cloth-draped table. Do you recall when you would hate it when someone handed you an apple instead of candy on Halloween? Or that rumor, never eat them because they had razor blades in them? What would a Halloween party be without bobbing for apples?
I would like to toast the mighty apple, and next time I see a scout selling apples, I will wear the apple badge with pride and walk away with at least six! They always had the crispest and juiciest Macs. What was William Tell’s target? It was the apple. Which child did not offer up an apple as a gift to their teacher? Every parent told us that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. We have lost many varieties of apples and those growers who are trying to preserve ancient varieties face an uphill struggle.
One of my complaints is that many of the apples for sale are old and woody and lack the crisp tart flavor that I so enjoy. Here in Midland, you can find farm fresh apples such as Winesaps, Spys, Idared, Crispins, Cortlands, Empire, Spy and my favorite Honeycrisp, to name a few. I would suggest you try a new variety just for the fun of it. Many farmers offer free samples of their fruits.
Debate rages about whether it was a forbidden fruit or in fact an apple, which was the term for all fruit and nuts until the 17th century, that tempted Eve.
I can understand why the ancient Celts considered apples the fruit of the gods and why the unicorn lived under an apple tree. The unicorn was wise. Discovering that apple orchard in the wild was magical.
So if you’ve missed your chance to go and pick some apples at a local farm … you can still find large varieties at indoor local farmers' markets. Snack on a few to decide what you like best and, to keep warm, I suggest you sip on some warm mulled cider.
Here is a recipe for a Chunky Apple Cake. It keeps well if it lasts that long! Use your favourite apple variety.
Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake
Yields 8 to 10 servings.
1 1/2 cups peanut, safflower or canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each of ground cardamom, cloves and nutmeg (optional)
3 1/4 cups peeled, coarsely chunked Granny Smith or Spy apples
1 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted
1/2 cup of dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons Calvados, Brandy, Spiced Rum or Pure Vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan; set aside.
Iin large bowl (you can use a stand mixer if you like), beat together oil and sugars until thick, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each edition. Add the vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to oil mixture until well blended.
Toss apples, pecans and dried cranberries in 1 tablespoon flour to lightly coat. This prevents the nuts and dried fruit from sinking to the bottom. Then stir fruit and nuts into batter along with Calvados until pieces are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Try not to over mix.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the cake from the Bundt pan and allow cake to cool completely.
If you are planning on using the glaze, here is a hint: Use a wooden skewer to poke holes in the cake so that the glaze can penetrate deep into the interior of the cake. This step is totally optional.
Pour glaze over the cooled cake while the glaze is still warm. If you like, you can slice the cake and pour the glaze over the individual slices. If the glaze thickens, gently reheat and then glaze.
Serve the cake with frozen yoghurt or whipped cream. This is also great as a coffee cake. Feel free to switch up the fruit – use pears or plums if you prefer.
Apple Cider Glaze
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons Calvados or Rum, Vanilla (any liquor you prefer)
6 tablespoons sweet cider or tart fruit juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in both sugars. Cook until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 4 minutes, or until thick.
Here is a great link to give you all the facts on apples.
Here on the farm, I often have overnight guests and I always make a big breakfast or brunch to start the day. These perfect pancakes served with my homemade fruit compote and jams are always on the menu. My family loves them. The fruit in the compote changes as the seasons change.
Recipes seem to be becoming so complicated and sometimes I reach for an easy one. It is great to have a really quick pancake recipe on hand. I am sharing a family favorite with you. It produces delicious, perfect pancakes every time. This recipe is so simple and it is made with items you already have in your pantry. Once you make these fluffy flavorful pancakes I doubt you will use a mix ever again.
Perfect Farmhouse Pancakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes
Servings: 10 to 12 medium pancakes
NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled.
1 cup of buttermilk or 3/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten lightly
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
Cooking spray or butter for cooking
1. Preheat oven to 200 F to keep the pancakes warm as you cook them.
2. If you are not using buttermilk, combine milk with vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup or small bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes to "sour."
3. In a medium bowl, combine and whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
4. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the egg and the melted butter into the buttermilk or "soured" milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone. Do not over mix.
5. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with butter or cooking spray. For each pancake, ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the batter onto the skillet. Do not overcrowd the pan; you should be able to fit three pancakes into the pan. Continue to cook the pancakes until bubbles appear on the surface. This will take 1 to 2 minutes.
(This is the moment when you can add berries, chocolate chips, dried fruit if you choose.) Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.
6. Transfer to a baking sheet and cover loosely with aluminum foil, and keep warm in the preheated oven. Continue with more oil and remaining batter.
Serve warm with desired toppings. I serve with fresh fruit and homemade compote made with seasonal fruits. Here is a hint – I use some of my homemade preserves to thicken the compote and to add the sweetness.
Capture summer in a jar to have in your pantry all year round – that is if it lasts that long. This jam is delicious – family and friends adore it. It has become a staple new condiment on Chef Elizabeth’s table. We especially love it with eggs or in any way:
Ways to Use Spicy Tomato Jam:
Use it wherever you would use ketchup, on grilled and barbecued meats and fish.
Use on hamburgers, hot dogs or vegan burgers.
Add to soups to give a punch of heat.
Add to sandwich fillings like tuna or chicken.
Add to grilled sandwiches or paninis, or top fajitas, baguette or pita toasts.
Serve on your cheese board or with charcuterie.
Serve with your favourite egg dishes.
I love this jam because it does not call for peeling or seeding the tomatoes – you can use any variety you choose – just alter the cooking time for watery tomatoes. I keep a canning journal to keep track of additions or alterations to the recipe and to record yield. The real secret to fabulous preserves is to taste as you go and to season to your taste.
Yield: Roughly one 8-ounce jar per pound of tomatoes used.
The yield varies depending on the kind of tomato used. If the tomatoes seem very watery, after dicing, place in a colander and let drain for 30 minutes. Reserve the juice for your Bloody Marys. Make sure to use a thick, non-reactive heavy bottomed pan. Also remember that the width of the can impacts the cooking time and finished thickness, due to evaporation. You can make this in a slow cooker – but please remember to stir as you go. Things can burn, even in a slow cooker. I use a heat diffuser on my gas stove as I find it hard to get a consistent low flame.
Elizabeth’s Spicy Tomato Jam
5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped or processed
3 1/2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup lemon or lime juice
Grated zest of 2 washed lemons or limes (optional)
6 to 8 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon|
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
1 to 2 hot chillies – cayenne, jalapeño or red (optional)
Wash the tomatoes and remove the stems. Process or dice the tomatoes and, if they are watery, place in a colander and let drain. Reserve the juice for another use. If you decide to add the lemon zest, wash the lemons and zest them using a micro plane zester – an indispensable kitchen tool. After zesting, use the lemons for the juice.
Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, check the seasoning.
Simmer the mixture until it reduces to a jam-like consistency. This will take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, depending on how high you keep your heat. This also depends on how watery the tomatoes were and how much acid you decide to use. I prefer a tart jam so I add the maximum suggested amount of lemon juice and vinegar. This gives it a longer cooking time.
When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Use a kitchen timer – it is a canner’s best friend. I carry mine around if I need to leave the kitchen. If you omit this step, make sure to keep the jam refrigerated.
Remove the jars from the water bath and allow them to cool. When jars are cool enough to handle, test the seals. Those that do not seal need to be refrigerated.
Label the jars immediately – we all forget what is in that jar. I find that too often the labels do no stick so I make sure to write with a permanent marker on the lid. That way I am sure to know what is in that jar. Store jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Enjoy !
Fall has arrived very quickly and put an abrupt end to a rather short summer. Where did it go? It seems as if I just put all those plants in the ground. It is the summer that never was. Harvest time has arrived and, as I pick the last of the tomatoes, I have mixed feelings. One of the wonderful things about farming is the lessons you learn along the way. I have discovered that you need to be flexible and roll with the punches.
I started the season determined to grow heirloom baby tomatoes - the yellow pear and black cherry varieties. I thought they would sell very well – people are looking for new varieties that are difficult to find in the markets. I had a vision of people coming to my farm stand to buy my produce. Problem was, my business plan was blown because I could not find the tomatoes seedlings anywhere. One nursery promised me for three weeks to bring them in for me, and they never did. Next year I will source them out by catalogue, and I have saved seeds from this year’s crop. I had to settle for regular cherry tomatoes. I chose two varieties - 100 Million and large cherry tomatoes.
One suggestion is that if you do plan to grow cherry tomatoes plant the BIG ones. Why? Cherry tomatoes are time consuming and backbreaking work. You smarten up quickly when you are in the hot sun harvesting your crops. You stop and ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”
Cherry tomatoes are best eaten as they ripen, and, although I made tomato jam with them, it took me hours to cook the water out of them. I finally just started placing them in colanders and pressed them. The juice was delicious as a vegetable drink and great in Bloody Marys as well. I also used some of the juice in my pasta dishes. Waste not, want not!
After having half my crop devoured by a variety of critters last year, this year we settled on a few electric fences. I had my doubts about any fence that could protect against deer and chipmunks at the same time. It is a bit of a pain stepping over it every time you need to access your vegetables, however, it sure did work. I tripped on it last week as I was harvesting the tomatoes. It was a hard fall.
Fact of the matter is that this year we had TOO much rain. Too much early in the summer so that the bees could not pollinate my zucchini plants, and it continued to pour all summer long. Around here all the farmers were complaining about the rain and how the tomatoes just did not get that sun-ripe taste. It is small comfort to hear that others shared my woes. I have learned that I am dependent on what the skies give me or don't give me. I had known that all along but living it is very different. As a chef farmer, I never stop learning. Just when I think I have conquered a problem, it shifts on you and you are back to ground zero.
Mid-summer I made the sign, put a country tablecloth over a table, decorated it with garden flowers and made a price list and placed a scale with stamped brown paper bags on the table. With a sign by the road side I thought I was in business. No one came; I left the sign out for a few weeks and felt sad. Now I know why the large farm at the end of the road had taken its wooden booth down – no business. These are tough lessons, and I have to rethink what I am going to do. The farmers' market that I asked to join never got back to me after weeks of trying to reach them. It is a tough go – so I had to switch gears and can my crop in the hopes of selling the jams, jellies and chili sauces. I had to convert cherry tomatoes and beefsteak into chili sauce – my San Marzano were a disaster this year. That is the chef and farmer in me … no waste, and work with what you have. In fact, the results are delicious.
As I pulled up the rest of the plants, I looked at the dying leaves of my potatoes and the prolific fruits of my chili plants. I was wistful that another season was over as I tossed hundreds of tomato cages over the asparagus ferns. I had promised to make trellises for the tomatoes this year and never had time to get to it as all the other farm businesses needed to be handled – the plants had to get into the ground and that was that.
This year I had decided to make a reality of my lifelong dream to build a cooking studio in my outbuilding. This spring, all the snow over the winter – more than 16 feet – had caused the roof to buckle. Insurance had agreed to fix it, and I made up my mind to renovate it into a kitchen. I decided to give a friend’s recommended local contractor the business. He never turned up and stole my $25,000. I was heartbroken, and being robbed truly hurts. I was trying to give him some work to pay his bills and hoping to be able to supplement my income doing the work I love. What he did really set me back. This was a bitter way to learn a lesson. No good deed goes unpunished, I tekk myself. In the country you tend to take a person's word because you are surely going to see them in town. That did not stop this fellow. I worry about running in to him as I do my chores.
It is the time of year when you face and tally up all of your efforts. Your successes and failures are right in front of you. There is no running and hiding from the facts. I have lots to be thankful for. As we begin the potato harvest, another truth comes out – they are all different sizes and, of course, they need sorting. One more task I had not considered. I love the whimsy of the random sunflowers that pop up in my garden among the vegetables. I wonder who brought them.
It has been a short summer filled with all sorts of unusual happenings with wildlife. We had a just-born fawn on our lawn in the middle of a storm; we rescued seven newborn skunks; a fish turned up in our pond when there was none; we spotted an albino raccoon; and flying squirrels fed at night on our side porch. We had scores of mewling baby raccoons in daylight, and we had Powder Squeak, a half albino premature red squirrel that we nursed back to health with a steady dose of peanuts. That little squirrel taught me what it means to be determined and to never give up. At one point I thought he was near death, and it would be best to put him out of his misery. He rallied and continues to be the first and last at the feeder.
There is much to be done before putting the garden to bed. I still have my grapes to pick – they are late this year – and then to make grape jelly. I have yet to harvest the basil to make pesto, and I need to dry my herbs. I have peppers, potatoes and a few zucchini to pick. There is always something calling me. I was thrilled this year to see apples on my tree and, as luck would have it, deer ate them just as they were ready to be picked. No apple crisp pie this year. But I do plan to harvest wild ones from the backfield. That is if there are any – you never know.
This summer I had the delight of my children sharing the work and the bounty of the farm. We had wonderful meals out on the porch – both breakfasts and dinners. We went blueberry picking and kayaking and camping. Tornado warnings came on a regular basis. We had mosquitoes in September. I also was delighted to find damson plums at the farm stand and was able to make the plum jam that took me back to my childhood. I was taught the rules of canning as a young girl from my godmother Clara. She made the best jams and jellies and would always use paraffin to seal them. She even used the old-fashioned jelly jars. We shared memories, made memories and had some great nights playing cards. This is why I wanted to live on a farm, to share work, tears, love and laughter.
Fall is a time to give thanks and I do. I hope all of you visit a farm stand to enjoy the bounty and to support farmers like me. They really do appreciate it. I know.
I made salsa, tomato sauce for pasta and stews, bruschetta, tomato sandwiches, gazpacho, caprese salad with basil from the garden, fried green tomatoes, and I also canned tomato jam and chili sauce. Next is preserved salsa. The list is endless. I practically put peppers in every dish I made. I just toured the garden and ironically now the zucchinis are filling in, just after the first frost warning.
I know that most serious farmers would never think about leaving the farm during growing season. I admit it – I do love to travel. I planned the two-week trip after all the produce was planted and long before the harvest. The hardest part of leaving the farm is finding someone you trust; someone who will take care of it as well as you would yourself. In the past I thought I had found the perfect match- half an hour before leaving on our cross-country trip he backed out. While in France last summer I returned to find my beloved garden eaten by voracious weeds and all of my herbs mowed down. There are down sides to leaving. One bit of advice is to do everything you can to find a reliable helper. It is sort of along the same idea as finding a good babysitter you trust so you can get out of the house. Yes, it is true all farmers need and deserve a vacation!
As a chef and farmer, I believe the best way to get ideas is to travel. I read a lot but seeing things for myself always breathes new thoughts into me. Traveling gives me the chance to see how other farmers work and sell their goods. I love to check out the pick-your-own and local farmers' markets along the way.
I am blessed enough to have a son to take care of the property when I am gone. His girlfriend is happy to help around the farm and is very competent. My list of chores is enormous. Setting up the watering system requires a mechanical engineering degree. There are so many gardens to water, a pond to maintain, feeding the fish and the birds, electrical fencing to turn on and off, weeding, watering, harvesting when needed; the list goes on and on.
I am writing this while in Colorado. It has been a busy 10 days so far with a trip to Glenwood Springs, white water rafting, Durango, Four Corners and Mesa Verde. This is interesting country.
White water rafting on the Colorado River
“Absolutely fantastic – perfect day on the Colorado River”
This has been on my bucket list for decades and what better place than Colorado to try this out. Colorado is a state for outdoor recreation – it seems as if the entire state is dedicated to sports of one type or another – hiking, skiing, cycling, zipping, horseback riding.
If you are in the Glenwood Springs area, please go and check out Blue Sky Adventure Tours.
This is a trip of a lifetime – I promise you it will be an adventure to remember. The excursion is well planned and the guides are experienced, friendly and informative. We decided to do the large boat and then break off and kayak in a boat for two. There was a perfect balance between the rapids and the still water – it gave you time to look up at the splendor of the canyon – what a great way to experience the Colorado River. I had one of the best kayaking adventures in my life – I am going back as soon as possible. Will, our guide, was top notch and made the experience the best.
Hints: What you should bring – a hat for sure, sunscreen, shoes with a heel, water and a waterproof camera – you are guaranteed to get wet. If you have one of those plastic bags that are designed for boating, bring it to store your things. A towel may be helpful. Bring a change of clothes so that you don't have to take the trip back to the headquarters soaking wet – on a cold day it can get very chilly! Have a thermos of hot coffee in your car waiting for you – you will be glad you did.
I always try and pack a whole lot of living in the time I'm away. Once back on the farm, it is pure farm focus. It is just the same as when you take a vacation from work. We all know about how much planning you have to do before you go away. Then when you get back there is three times the amount of work waiting for you. That is what happens when you leave the farm so I make sure that I have lots of great memories to remind me of why all the extra work is worth it.
Mesa Verde National Park
We still wanted to explore so we decided to go to Mesa Verde National Park, known for its cliff dwellings.
Let me start with the temperature – 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Then comes the altitude, 8,000 feet and counting. We arrived from a visit from Four Corners – the only place in the United States where four states come together, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Now this spot is a true desert, and I could barely believe that the wild horses we saw could survive.
We paid $15 dollars to enter Mesa Verde National Park and the pass is good for one week.
We decided to stay at the Farview Lodge to really enjoy the views of the mass expanse of buttes, chimneys, finger mountains and wild life. I am going to review the hotel and dining experience in a separate review. Just a hint – absolutely stunning.
The park is enormous, victim of a large fire in 2002, and there are many spots to check out. This is a brief description from Wikipedia: “Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. It is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.” It is a very large park that you can drive through and stop at scenic spots to view the dwellings. However, to see the real sites it is best to go on a guided tour.
The lodge was spectacular, and you could dine on top at the restaurant or just have cocktails and appetizers along with an incredible view. One criticism is that they have no umbrellas on the outside patios – it is far too hot to eat with that sun beating down on you.
In the morning, we hiked to Spruce Tree House – no fee. I was rather alarmed by the red faces and panting of the tourists as we passed them on our descent into the cave dwelling. This is not an easy hike for those who are not fit – let me put that to you plainly. Many people had to stop to catch their breath. Wear appropriate shoes and bring water. All that physical labour on the farm made me prepared for this hike. This is one of the benefits of hard work. I walk miles and miles each day around the farm just to get to the spot where I need to work.
It is a really fascinating place and a trip back into the life of man. The study of archeology has always fascinated me, and I love to wonder how past peoples eked out a living in such harsh terrain. To me it made me think of the earliest farmers – just how difficult a time they must have had. The cliff dwellings seem inconceivable and they let your imagination flow. You can follow the trail to get to petroglyphs. I passed knowing I had a four-hour tour in the afternoon. I needed to save my resources. Needless to say it was a wise move.
We arranged for the tour with Aramak – this company runs the parks’ concessions. They do not offer any tour information. When we stopped and asked a ranger about the tours, he told me the bus tour was run separately from the ranger guided tours. The cost was $41 per person. We did not receive a map to tell us where we were going. We were picked up by a bus and we drove around the park, with lots of water offered to us at no price. It was HOT. We stopped at a variety of sights including early underground living spaces and kivas – places of worship. Our guide Holly was informative, friendly and knowledgeable. This really added to the experience. The tour was worth every penny.
Now here comes the part that I did not enjoy at all. While I had anticipated some climbing – I had packed my hiking boots – I had no idea that this leg of the journey was going to involve scaling cliff walls, climbing ladders and being forced through tiny spaces between enormous cliffs.
As we lined up to start the descent it sort of felt like the lineup for Mount Everest.
We were set to take a tour of Cliff Palace. I will admit that the ranger who took over this part of the park tour made it fairly clear that there were going to be a few challenges along the way. As someone who is admittedly petrified of heights, I had second thoughts about participating. I looked around me in the sweltering heat and I spotted little children, some as young as 2, many of the children were around 7 and many grandparents. While we collected at the top of the cliff and we were given our safety lecture, I really wondered about how safe this was going to be for the little children. I seemed more frightened than they were.
In any event, we started the trek down, which seemed not too frightening. However at this point the ranger decided to stop and to have 30 or 40 tourists sit underneath a cliff hanging – we could barely all fit. All I could think about was that I was going to fall off into oblivion. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. At this point, terror set in and I really thought that I was going to go back on my own. My partner talked to the ranger, and she confirmed heading back the way we came was even worse. One woman was feeling dizzy and the ranger addressed her issues with a wet cloth around her neck. Fear is not so easily addressed – no wet bandana was going to cure my ill. I decided to keep going with the rest of the group, and we ended up in Cliff Palace. You're really not allowed to enter most of the area but you can walk around and view it from the outside. While some people looked around, all I could think about was how was I going to finish the hike as I stared up at this little wee ladder. I did manage to finish the trip with a very narrow pass between two enormous mountain boulders.
It was an accomplishment, and yet I worried about the fact that I never signed a waiver. Looking back, I understand how really dangerous this hike could be. I did feel a sense of pride for completing the hike, however my fear still lingered. When our guide described another tour where you scale 30 feet of ladder and burrow through a tunnel, I shuddered. Never.
Mesa Verde National Park is worth visiting. You need to be fit enough to hike and scale – and if you have a fear of heights, the hiking part of the tour may be uncomfortable. I would suggest you plan for at least one or two days to really explore all that the park has to offer. I would also suggest you try and plan your trip when the temperatures are a bit cooler and not in the heat of summer as we did.
I also suggest you plan to stay at the Fairview Lodge. A drink or meal on top of the scenic restaurant with a spectacular view is another wonderful way to enjoy this great world heritage site. It leaves you with a sense of wonder and expands your horizons. I highly recommend a visit. While many families were there, I do not think it is the best park for young children – they need to be watched very closely. I am sure teens would love the challenge. Make sure to fill up on gas before entering the park.
My sabbatical from the farm is not quite over. My adventure continues until I am back on my farm. I make sure to find something new to do and learn each day. Thank God for technology. I have kept in touch through photographs and am pleased to see that all is doing well and some of the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to ripen. I hope to have organic potatoes and tomatoes when I get back.
'Til next time!