Tag Archives: January

On Onions

This morning we finished seeding onions and leeks in our greenhouse, the first starts of our spring planting in preparation for the farm season to come. John already planted and covered Walla Walla Sweets in field beds last fall for spring onions, but this time of year we plant other less winter tolerant varieties in the greenhouse instead. Many farmers start onions as seeds or bulbs outdoors but we’ve found that seeding in flats in the greenhouse and transplanting in spring when the plants are about the size of a blade of grass works best for us. Seeding onions is cheaper than bulbs and easier than cultivating newly emerged alliums amongst exuberant spring weeds.

One of the varieties, Cortland, will provide the yellow storage onions that we’ll give to our CSA members in the fall because that variety keeps better than others. Here we are in January and we’ve still got Cortlands in our root cellar to take us through the next few months until we harvest Egyptian/walking onions (so-called because the flower heads lean over and plant themselves) and green onions in the early spring.

This week I got hungry for onion quiche, a recipe I’ve been making for 25 years that’s a kind of cross between French onion soup and quiche lorraine using onions instead of ham. The crust includes sesame seeds, which makes it extra hearty for a winter meal. We sliced and caramelized onions, grated cheese (we use Naked Goat from our local cheese shop), cracked eggs from our chickens just starting to lay again, and added some milk.

Even though I’ve made this quiche many times, this time the quiche came out even sweeter than ever. The Cortlands in winter storage had sweetened; the taste was something like onion marmalade on crust. We probably could have eaten the whole thing between the two of us but saved half for lunch the next day, when it was just as sweet, if not more so.

If you’ve got a few onions in storage, or even if you have to buy a few (preferably at a winter farmer’s market), try this hearty quiche for a warm and filling winter meal.

And what to serve with it? This time of year on our Front Range farm, “salad” is hard to come by, at least in the traditional lettuce sense. Because we’re rebuilding our season-extending “bluehouse” (named as such because it’s not the “greenhouse”), we don’t have our usual winter bed of kale and spinach. But we’ve got some small spikes of last year’s chard and fall-planted spinach out in the field under row cover that will do for now. I like those tiny leaves of spinach with grated carrot and tart green apple with a lime juice and lime-infused olive oil dressing.

Eating last fall’s onions for a winter dinner and starting next summer’s onions in the greenhouse in January bring the cycles of the seasons together. As one year’s harvest turns to the next year’s planting, we’re reminded that farming requires both looking back and looking forward, learning and planning and growing again with one eye to the weather and another to each other.

Stonebridge Onion Quiche
Ingredients:
Filling: 2 large or 4 small yellow onions, peeled and sliced in thin half-crescents
3 Tbl butter
2 cups grated Swiss cheese or a hard goat cheese like Naked Goat
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp nutmeg
Crust: 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut in pieces
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 450.
Melt 3 Tbl butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and add onions. Stir to brown evenly, about 15 minutes, until just beginning to caramelize.
Shred the cheese in the food processor and set aside.
While the onions are cooking, make the crust in the food processor. Mix flour, seeds, salt and baking powder until blended. Pulse in butter until pea-sized. Drizzle water through top of feed tube until dough forms a ball. It should be moist but not soggy. Roll out dough on pastry cloth and place in standard pie plate (8” diameter across bottom; 10” across top).
Place shredded cheese on top of the crust and top with cooked onions to cover the top evenly.
In food processor, mix eggs, half and half, salt, and nutmeg. Pour over onions.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake another 45 minutes. Let quiche sit 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 2-piece servings.

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Along the Farm’s Edge

I went out this afternoon to look for abandoned nests, something I occasionally find this time of year. I felt like a walk to wake up after lunch on this partly cloudy, partly sunny day. Not too bright for photographs, a day when white clouds provide the sky some interest behind the winter mountains. Just a little snow powdered Mount Meeker and Long’s Peak in the distance, with the red of Steamboat Mountain in the foreground.

As I walk along our middle ditch, the Rough and Ready, all the way down to our north property line,

I find the frowsy heads of wild clematis,

 a small bird twittering in a bush,

 

 

 

 

and a few bees buzzing in a hive, 

 

but no nest, so I head back along the east ditch, the Highland, which is a little wilder than the R&R. I walk past the herb garden, middle orchard, iris bed, raspberries, and flower gardens, back into the older orchard, the one with trees we can’t name but that give good apples some years when their budding misses the last frost.

I like this part of the farm. It’s not tidy, the grasses are long, and the trees can’t be called anything but gnarled. Deer sometimes make a path here where the two ditches draw close together and the wild land narrows. But today, I find the path overtaken by cottonwood saplings and tiny grey firs.

Here I spot the yellow-green berries of poison ivy

and the wine-red branches of new dogwoods. 

I’m glad to see the dogwoods spreading along that bank, but I’m not so happy about the poison ivy. As we tell the kids on the farm (and some adults too), “leaves of three, let them be.” The dogwoods and the poison ivy like the moisture between the ditches; I think we’ll let them both be.

I end my walk by the old apple tree that someone girdled with barb wire years ago as a boundary, I suppose. I don’t really know where our property ends up on this bank and I don’t think it matters much. I admire this old tree; half its limbs are lifeless but it still produces new growth. I only know it’s an apple because I found a few dried cores on it years ago, though I haven’t come across another apple there yet.

I’m warm now in my heavy sweater and long underwear so I head back to the house past the chickens. Maybe there’s an egg today. We’ve been getting a few blue ones from our Araucanas since last week. Today, I find the first dark brown egg of the year; one of the cuckoo marans must be laying. We have Welsummers too but their brown eggs are spotted. We lost our cheerful little Red Sussex hen this winter and another chicken to a weasel that tunneled under the chicken house in the fall. I’m hoping our animal-loving young friend will start a few chickens for us this spring, if we promise her mother to take the chicks back when they start to fly around the house.

 

January is almost half gone and I’m a little sad this year to see it going. Without the busy-ness of a new semester, I’m enjoying these long days, especially as the light lengthens each evening. Yesterday we started leeks and onions with friends in the greenhouse. The seeding’s underway, but I’m glad to see the land resting, taking in what moisture we have to revitalize the soil for the coming spring. I’m hoping to find the owl’s nest this year too so my strolls along the edge of the farm will continue as the season comes around again. These cycles provide a new kind of schedule, one offered by nature and accepted with pleasure.

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A First Week of Firsts: 2012

The chickens started laying again this week after a couple months off. We got our first egg on Jan 2 and our second egg on Jan 5, quite possibly from the same chicken, but the others should follow before too long.

We don’t light our chicken house because we think it’s good for the hens to follow their natural cycles and take a break when the days get short. I once asked a group of students what natural phenomenon determines when chickens lay eggs during the year and one thoughtful student (whom I imagine was a woman) wrote, “They start their cycles in the spring and go through menopause every fall”! Imagine menopause on a yearly basis! The answer is the amount of daylight but maybe mini-menopause is accurate in its own way.

Another first this week was spotting a bald eagle over the meadow yesterday. I noticed a very large, dark bird flying overhead with a flash of yellow and pointed it out to Peter and John, who were taking stock of our materials pile for an upcoming building project. John said he thought he saw its white head and Peter, a birder, said it flew like an eagle rather than a turkey vulture and that it would have to be a mature bald eagle to have a white head. I’m not sure whether the yellow flash I saw was its beak or the sun on its head but it was a thrill to know an eagle is circling Stonebridge in this new year.

This week has been warm, in the 60s, which is a high temperature for Colorado’s Front Range in January but not terribly unusual. I’ve been wanting to take a little drive in the mountains; with such nice weather, yesterday was the day for my trip. The sky was clear and the afternoon sun on the peaks magnificent. I couldn’t quite capture it because I couldn’t quite reach it—the highway just didn’t take me close enough yesterday. Here’s a pic from the pull-off where tourists stop to take their photos with the Estes Park sign. I thought about erasing the yellow curve markers but that’s the reality of a mountain highway—lots of signs to tell you what to do and how to act in the natural world.

With the warm weather, the ground has thawed a bit so this afternoon John and I dug some leftover carrots for winter meals. They look fresh and will taste good tonight with our lentil walnut burgers.

Walking back to the house, we heard the shriek of red-tailed hawks and then some sounds we hadn’t heard before, like squealing more than cries. We saw a pair of snowy winged red-tails circling each other in what might be a mating dance and then they both dove to the earth, perhaps to “have a moment,” as John said. I don’t know the mating habits of red-tails but I loved hearing their banter on this clear January day.

 

 

Snow comes tomorrow, ending our lovely warm first week. As Front Range farmers always say, we need the moisture, so snow is not unwelcome. John’s laying in wood and I’m taking stock of the New Year, loving the slower pace of a January retired and revitalized for what comes next.

 

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Still Winter Granola

Those of you who don’t live along Colorado’s Front Range of the Rockies would probably be surprised at the vicissitudes of our winter weather. Last weekend felt like spring with sunshine and highs in the 60s. Now it’s bleak winter again: highs in the teens today and ten below zero tonight with just enough icy snow falling to make the roads slippery and dangerous.

As one friend wrote this morning, it’s a good day for seed catalogs. I agree, but since we sent in our orders last week, I’m making granola instead.

I started making my own granola several years ago and couldn’t believe how many years I’d wasted buying granola. As many of you undoubtedly know, making your own granola is really easy, but even better than that, you can customize your own recipe in so many ways, why settle for less? Ingredients, sweetness, texture, and, best of all, toastedness are all under your own control. To make granola, all you need are ingredients—most of which you can buy in bulk, a large baking dish, and half an hour when you’re hanging out near the kitchen taking care of some other domestic task like balancing your checkbook, folding laundry, sending emails, or writing your blog lol.

To me, granola is SO 70s, part of the “back to the land” and “natural foods” movements that inspired me as a teenager. Unlike my memory of my first quiche, I can’t remember exactly when I first tried granola but I did make “Back to Nature” granola cookies in high school from store-bought granola (or “store-boughten,” as we say in our family).

I like making granola because it combines two kinds of activities: mindless and mindful. When I’m mixing the ingredients, I like to be mindful of the textures involved: the round flakiness of the oatmeal with the shredded flakiness of the coconut, the precise size of the walnuts chopped in my vintage chopper, and the smoothness of the honey drizzled gently into the oil and vanilla.

But once granola’s in the oven, you don’t have to think much about it, just enough to stir every five minutes or so until the end, when you better get mindful again or you can ruin the whole batch. The last few minutes are when you need vigilance to attain the perfect shade of brown and crunchy texture for your personal granola. No one can put that in a recipe—you have to discover that for yourself.

This past Christmas I gave my daughter and son-in-law—who have a beautiful new house with a perfect kitchen for cooking—my granola recipe and bulk bags of ingredients. They made their first batch right away and now can adapt the recipe to their liking.

Also last Christmas, a dear friend gave us a huge bag of homemade granola, a wonderful gift because she’d used walnuts AND almonds, honey AND maple syrup, while I always use just one nut and only honey, since we’ve got our own farm hives. It felt luxurious to eat such exuberant granola, a welcome change from our own.

So to celebrate the last day of January by warming up our kitchens as well as our palates, I’m including my Stonebridge Farm granola recipe below in the hope you’ll share your own granola recipes, favorite ingredients, and innovations.


Stonebridge Farm Granola

4 cups organic rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup coconut flakes (I use 2/3 cup shredded and 1/3 cup larger flakes)
1 cup chopped nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans
2 Tbl of seeds like sesame, ground flax (or wheat germ)
¼ cup honey (1/3-1/2 cup if you like it sweeter)
¼ cup safflower oil (or same as for honey, plus some for oiling pan)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp good ground cinnamon like Vietnamese cassia
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit like cranberries or cherries or apples

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Very lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish and mix first 4 ingredients right inside the dish. If you’re using larger coconut flakes, you may want to reserve them because they brown more rapidly than the shredded kind.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes.

Take out of oven and stir well.  (Add large coconut flakes now if you’ve reserved them.)

Bake 5 minutes, remove, and stir. Repeat. (15 minutes total).

Sprinkle cinnamon over granola and mix well.

Mix safflower oil, honey, and vanilla in a two-cup measuring container with a pouring spout and pour uniformly over granola. Mix well.

Bake 3 minutes, remove, and stir.

Now comes the mindful part. Bake another 1-3 minutes depending on your oven and how brown you want your granola. I’d suggest baking for one minute, checking and stirring, and then repeat until you’re there.

Once you’ve attained perfection, stir well, being sure the granola isn’t sticking to the dish. Cool a few more minutes and stir again. If you don’t stir a couple times initially while it’s cooling, it’ll stick to the dish.

If you like your granola chunkier, you could mix 1/8 cup honey with 1/8 cup oil and drop in spots to harden some of the granola into chunks during this cooling period.

Once cooled, add fruit and mix.

Store in gallon glass jar or container.


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Still Winter

In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone.

Christina Rossetti,  1830-1894

It’s January, and still winter. Still winter because nothing is moving. The ice in the ditch is frozen; we have to haul water for the chickens in a bucket filled from the kitchen tap. Laundry freezes rather than dries on the line. I pin towels and socks as quickly as I can but my fingers numb and slow me down. At least the sun is shining. At least the snow stays in the mountains for another day.

In my grandmother’s diaries, she starts each entry with a weather report. Farmers depend on the weather so recording its changes helped her mark the years, but in rural North Dakota, the weather meant something more.  My grandparents lived in the country so snowstorms meant no trips to town and no visitors dropping by until the weather cleared.

One entry makes me smile at the typical understatement of her voice:

Sat Jan 29, 1966: This morning it’s 40 below so won’t be very warm today.

In my grandmother’s make-do world, “Won’t be very warm” means “Won’t be going anywhere today.” I can imagine her watching the wide wintergray sky from the kitchen window while she baked her weekly loaves of bread. She was a slim woman and in her later years, never seemed to get warm. For her last Christmas, we gave her a thick wool sweater to take away the chill; after she died, the smell of her face powder lingered for years.

Winter in North Dakota is unforgiving. An incautious mistake—an empty fuel tank, bad tires, turning down the wrong dirt road–can mean death in a blizzard that shrouds the prairie in icy white. And winter stays into spring there, as my grandmother’s diary confirms.

Fri March 4, 1966: 12 degrees above hi for today. It’s nice here today but not so warm. Is close to zero. We were lucky to miss being in the storm the last three days. Some lives lost in S. Dakota.

I baked a pie.

Here and on the next page, my grandmother tucked two newspaper clippings about the days-old storm.  “Snows Wrath on Our Path” warns one. “Holy Cow! No Snowplow!” cries the second.

Luckily, my grandparents missed that blizzard and got to town so that my cousin could try on the dress our grandmother had been sewing for her of “tissue gingham.” But, Grandma Smith admits again in her understated way, “The wind was so howling, I didn’t like it.”

Christina Rossetti wrote the Christmas poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” as an allegory of the life of Christ. I learned the poem in junior high choir as set to music by Gustav Holst and never forgot its austere yet eloquent first verse. I think of it often in January when it’s still winter.

I think too of my grandmother, watching the sky for snow and waiting for the roads to clear so that she could venture into town to visit family and buy supplies, perhaps even some fabric for my Easter dress in Colorado.

Here at Stonebridge, winter is a time when both the land and the farmers rest, at least until it’s time to plant onions in the greenhouse. The land sleeps under a coat of white and the frozen ditch quiet silent in its banks. But even in the stillness, small movements stir the air. Wooly mice and voles tunnel under the snow for harvest remains; red-tail hawks with their snowy breasts survey the fields for any movement that portends dinner.

And inside the house, the busy-ness of our lives turns inward: we knit, spin, write, and plan the next season’s gardens. With the fire glowing in the woodstove and the root cellar stocked, we are safe in our farmhouse, waiting and watching for spring.

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