Tag Archives: winter

Thoughts on Squash in Winter

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We’ve all noticed it lately: more light. On the Colorado Front Range where the sun drops abruptly behind the mountains rather than drifts slowly to the horizon, we notice when the days get longer and 4:00 isn’t twilight anymore. Longer days mean shorter nights for the cold to settle in and more time for the sun to warm the frozen earth. By the third week in January, even the chickens take note of the increased sunlight to start laying again.

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At Stonebridge, we’re eating our winter fare from storage vegetables grown last season—the tail end of the harvest when meals are both simple and inventive. Take winter squash, for example. We usually store our winter squash in the closet of an unheated bedroom where it won’t rot or freeze. Yesterday I spotted a few butternut hanging out in the cool room of our barn. I thought they may have frozen since they weren’t covered with a tarp like the other vegetables we store there (onions, carrots, garlic, leeks, and roots). I tested one with my thumbnail. Seemed okay. Why not make Thai butternut soup?

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I’ve written about this soup before (check it out here if you want the actual recipe). The first time I made it was for a January yoga and writing retreat at the farm. Thai butternut is the perfect soup for mid-January: savory and filling from the squash, garlic, onions, and ginger, with a tangy dose of citrus from the lime juice and lemongrass. Now I get hungry for this soup every January–plus it’s a good way to use the storage vegetables in the barn and closet.

The hardest part about this soup is peeling the squash. Most of my winter squash recipes involve baking squash first to use as an ingredient rather than peeling them. I generally enjoy the textures and smells of fresh vegetables as I prepare them, but I don’t love peeling squash, I decided once again as I stood at the sink for longer than I’d like. I do know what makes it easier: my Japanese vegetable peeler, the kind that doesn’t swivel.

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John volunteered to quarter the large squash  first. (I’m not sure whether he likes doing it or he’s worried about my using the knife.) I cut each of those sections in halves or thirds, depending on the curvature of the piece. Smaller pieces are easier to peel; if you get them too small, you’re likely to peel your fingers. About like this is good:

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Cutting and peeling a squash reminds me of the time my Grandma Short brought a big Hubbard squash to our house when I was a kid. I wrote about that squash in A Bushel’s Worth but I mis-remembered who chopped it. Recently a family photo surfaced of my Grandma Smith with a hatchet and Aunt Lola holding the squash on the ground for Grandma to whack the tough thing. In the book I debated whether the squash was hard because of the variety or because my Grandma Short saved her own seeds (squash cross-pollinate with others within their species). We’ll never know but that was one thick-skinned cucurbit.

Besides craving its warming flavors, I like to make Thai Butternut soup so I can use my vintage juicer, just like the one Grandma Smith used to juice lemons for her meringue pie. I do buy fresh limes for this recipe, if I think of it beforehand. Like chocolate, salt, and olive oil, I forego my buy local habits for this recipe because fresh lime juice enhances the flavor but a good bottled juice is fine too. Similarly, if I happen to see fresh lemongrass, I’ll pick it up, but I’ve also used dried (raised by farm members) to great success.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, borrow one for this soup. I resisted buying an immersion blender for many years—just another appliance to store—but it’s worth every penny for the time and mess avoided ladling soup into a food processor.

Last night’s soup was perfect for a cold winter’s night. I’m sure our version isn’t authentically Thai—especially when served with baking powder biscuits—but the recipe is pretty simple once the squash is peeled. Tonight we’ll have the leftovers with some Thai veggie rolls I’ll pick up from our local restaurant. When you make enough for leftovers, a big pot of soup becomes fast food.

Someday I’d like to write a book on storage vegetables, the kind that only need a cool, dry place to get them through the winter. (A heavy box covered by a blanket in your garage can even work.) Winter squash will be on that list, especially butternut with its solid upper section providing a larger flesh-to-seed ratio than other squashes. Eating storage veggies is one way to hunker down in the winter—you don’t have to go to the store to get them!

Cinnamon finds her own winter storage food–in the compost pile

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Beans, Onions, Eggs, and a little Spinach: A January Cuisine

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Our seed order came Saturday, which is always a sign that winter won’t last forever and we’ll be working in the greenhouse again soon. Actually, John and our friend Peter have already started leeks and onions there to transplant in April. With this week’s temps in the high 60s, we’re beginning to think about spring while we wait for the gardens to give again.

What do farmers eat in winter? If we’re eating seasonally and locally—meaning what we’ve put up or still have laying around the farm—our cuisine is more limited than what we eat when the gardens are producing. Still, we’ve got plenty of food to last us through the winter.

Our Stonebridge freezer is full of peppers for stuffing, tomato sauce, applesauce, and berries. We’ve also dried tomatoes and shelled beans for winter use. After the deep cold of the last couple months, a few rows of spinach are coming again in the bluehouse and we’ve just seeded kale in the greenhouse too. The storage room of the barn is full of last season’s carrots and potatoes, late keeper apples from the Western slope, a trug of winter squash, and lots and lots of onions from last fall’s bumper crop.

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A couple years ago, John and I got over our fear of pressure cookers and started making our beans that way. What a difference in texture and a good savings in time, as well. We throw in carrots, potatoes and garlic, but never salt because that can toughen the beans. We eat bean soup, freeze some, and eat the rest in burritos or enchiladas with our own salsa. This year we grew black and white Oregon Peregions, large red kidneys, and golden buckskin, all flavorful and filling.

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People usually think of onions as the first step in cooking a meal rather than the foundation itself. Onions play a prominent role in lots of our winter dishes, especially when caramelized. Our pizza the other night was heaped with tasty golden onions and they’re also great as the filling in quiche or a layer of lasagna. French onion soup topped with broiled bread and cheese is especially hearty. Salting the onions in the skillet helps them brown more quickly—or at least I like to think it does.

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The longer days at the end of January bring a bonus to our winter meals because that’s when our chickens start to lay again. We don’t light the coop, believing it’s better for the chickens to take a rest. We have to buy a few eggs in the winter, which aren’t at all the same color, freshness, or flavor as our own. So when we get the first egg of the year, we celebrate. Here’s the first three we’ve gathered in 2015.

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I’m especially excited about the lightest egg because it was laid by the Speckled Sussex we raised last season. She’s a gorgeous bird, my favorite all-around variety of chicken. We also raised Americanas for blue eggs, but we haven’t seen any of those yet, except for the eggs our neighbor shared with us last week when her chickens started laying a bit earlier than ours.

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With all this wealth of food, what are we having for dinner? Eggs baked in tomato sauce and spinach, with onion, of course. Saute an onion until golden and then a little spinach until wilted. Add to some chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, season with ground cumin, sweet or spicy paprika (we dry and grind our own), and salt and pepper. Divide in four oiled ramekins, crack an egg in each, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes at 400, until the yolk is set to your desired firmness. Easy, healthy, and good—my ideal of a meal.

Some folks might see our winter meals as boring; we think of them as an opportunity to use up what we have and ready ourselves for the next season. As I write in A Bushel’s Worth, “The winter wipes clean the slate of last year’s misgivings, knowing spring will offer us a new chance to re-write our dreams.” 2015 will be our 24th season as a CSA. Enthusiastic inquiries are coming in; returning members are happily re-subscribing. John’s built another cold frame; I’ve been sprucing up the Sunflower room and updating our outreach information. We don’t know yet what the season will bring, but we are sure whatever bounty or loss may come, we’ll be sharing it with a wonderful community once again.

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Norwegian for the Holidays

My sister says I get “Norwegian-y” around the holidays. She means I go a little overboard with my Norwegian sweaters and “prairie tree” made by my father from dowels to imitate the twig Christmas trees of early Norwegian immigrants. I unwrap the Norwegian Nisse doll knitted and felted by a newfound Nordic cousin. John and I fire up the Norwegian woodstove in the milkhouse sauna for chilly winter nights. We even make lefse—a thin Norwegian potato pancake–for Christmas eve dinner using my Grandma and Grandpa Short’s lefse griddle and fancy rolling pins. My holidays wouldn’t feel complete without these Nordic customs.

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This year I’m feeling even more Norwegian-y because I’ve been researching my father’s Nordic heritage on my grandmother’s side. Her father—my great-grandfather Martin Jacobson—came from Oslo as a young child in 1883. Her mother—my great-grandmother Jossie Dokken Jacobson—was a first-generation American daughter born to Norwegian immigrant parents. It’s these great-great-grandparents for whom I’ve been searching recently, aided by Jean, an expert genealogist who keeps me pointed in the right direction with her generous guidance and lightning-fast retrieval of archival information; Janet, my dad’s cousin-in-law who shares her own valuable discoveries; and a handful of Minnesota historical librarians and genealogists. With their help, I’ve reconstructed a good bit of information about these ancestors.

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Genealogical research is one part methodical fact-finding (pouring through census and other records; checking and rechecking names, dates, and places), two parts sleuthing (following up leads, pursuing hunches) and three parts serendipity. Jean reminds me that some of the best clues are found in places where we aren’t even intentionally looking for them. I enjoy this meticulous kind of work, and the connection to my own family makes it even more satisfying.

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Searching for Norwegian ancestors in the winter makes a certain kind of sense because Norwegian immigrants settled first in the colder mid-Northern areas of the United States. Norwegian immigration is really two movements: emigration from Norway, where economic opportunity was limited by lack of land for the growing population, and immigration to the United States, where land was becoming available as states like Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa “opened” (a euphemism for claimed and taken by settlement and force from Native people) for white, European homesteaders.

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Norwegians immigrated to the rural northern climate to continue the agricultural work they’d known back home. Garrison Keillor jokes that Norwegians came to the US to try horizontal farming, meaning they were leaving the mountains of Norway behind. These immigrants weren’t daunted by the cold winters of the mid-Northern states. In his 1909 study Norwegian Immigration to the United States, scholar George T. Flom remarked on the affinity of Norwegian immigrants to colder climates: “Even Kansas is too far south for the Norwegian.”

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My great-great-grandfather Ole Olson Dokken came to the United States in the late 1860s or early 1870s with his older brother Arne. Census records show two different entry years for Ole—1868 and 1872. Census records are notorious for imprecision and error, but at least we have a range of dates from which to work.

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We have yet to find the entry year for my great-great-grandmother Anna Engebretson Dokken and we may never find it. Women in those days weren’t usually asked for such details on the census since the husband was considered the head of household whose information was most important. I’m still searching for Anna’s death record. My great-grandmother Jossie—Anna’s daughter–noted on the back of her own wedding license that Anna died at age 50 in Swift Falls, but research there has yet to turn up anything with Anna’s name. The last official document we have for Anna is the 1895 Minnesota state census in which her name appears with her husband and children. By 1900, she was gone and Ole was remarried to Karen Thompson, another Norwegian immigrant.

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I may never know much about my great-great-grandmother Anna but I’m willing to keep looking until the all leads are spent. Finding connections between the women in my family helps me understand my own life better. In A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, I wrote of how my Great-Grandma Flora Hunsley Smith’s teaching and farming life was passed down to me. I hope to find a similar resonance with Great-Great-Grandmother Anna. After all, she came to a new country as a young, unmarried woman and raised her seven children on a farm. She must have valued education since her daughter Jossie went to school through eighth grade, which was equivalent to high school in those days. I imagine she made the most with what she had without complaining because that’s the ethic I observed in the Norwegian family and community of my youth.

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I’m further south than my Norwegian ancestors, but it still gets cold here on Colorado’s Front Range. If I feel like whining about the frigid, snowy weather that occasionally descends on these dark winter days, I remind myself that I come from hardy Norwegian stock. When the snow’s falling and the days are short, I can put on a Norwegian sweater and stoke up the Norwegian woodstove.  I can get “Norwegian-y” for a while and warm myself with the customs passed down to me from ancestors who took a long ship’s ride across an ocean to reach new land where they could make a home.

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A January Tribute to Aldo Leopold

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We’re in January, that frigid first month of the year when the sun shines intermittently as snow pellets the already frozen ground. John and I don’t go out much at night in January, but last night we donned heavy sweaters, parkas, and ear grips to attend a small screening of the recent movie Green Fire, a beautiful evocation of the life and land ethic of the early conservationist, Aldo Leopold.

While I appreciated learning more about this important founder of The Wilderness Institute and activist for land preservation, Leopold’s passion for hunting took me aback. When I came home, I re-read some of his essays, not to excuse his killing of animals, but to try to understand his ideas in an historical light. Leopold’s environmentalism evolved from his early days as a forester who approved the killing of game predators like wolves to increase deer for hunters. As a hunter himself, he seemed to view hunters as inherent advocates of wilderness preservation. Later, when overcrowded deer populations devastated wilderness, he realized that such killing only served to unbalance natural ecosystems.Certainly the movie’s use of vintage photo after photo posing dead animals next to men with guns is meant to illustrate the wrong-headed ethic of killing animals with no regard for what their loss means to their environment.

Leopold was also critical of what he called the “artificializing” of the “mass-pursuit” of “trophies” by intensive land management practices that increase the availability of fish and game for “trophy-recreationists,” including by constructing roads into wilderness. Leopold advocated stewardship rather than dominion over the natural world by viewing ourselves as part of that world. The last lines of A Sand County Almanac echo his plea for a change in how humans view land: “Recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”

Leopold died at age 61 in 1948 of a heart attack while fighting a fire near his family’s Wisconsin farm retreat. One can’t help but wonder how his conservation ethic would have evolved had he lived another twenty or thirty years to see the birth of an environmental movement and the earth’s increasing degradation by short-sighted human folly.

On this cold January day, with a fire in the woodstove to keep us warm, I want to honor Leopold’s passion for preserving wilderness as wilderness with an excerpt from my forthcoming book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography (Torrey House Press):

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, like other classic nature writings such as Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey and Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, combines exquisite detail of his corner of the natural world with an urgent appeal for protecting that world—if it’s not already too late. First published in 1949, Sand County is arranged by months; the February chapter is particularly apt for Stonebridge: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator.”

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Here on the Front Range, winter eventually catches up with us. New Year’s Eve is cold and snowy and snowstorms come in waves, diminishing in power but keeping the landscape softly blanketed in white. The nights are frigid, but in the house, we’re warmed by a wood fire, one provided by nature and by John with his chainsaw and his willingness to go outside first thing in the morning for wood. Many years ago, our hot water heating system went on the blink. We were using the woodstove pretty regularly already because we liked the warmth it gave, reaching further into corners than less powerful heat. When the furnace went out, we decided to go all the way with wood.

Or almost all the way. The ceiling-high windows on the south side of the farmhouse provide passive solar heat and we have a couple space heaters for our offices or to warm the cast-iron tub in the bathroom. Primarily, though, the woodstove does the job.

Each year since we let the furnace go, we’ve made some improvements. Because the farmhouse is 100 years old, we had extra insulation blown into the walls. What a difference that made, mostly to keep in the heat from the woodstove rather than lose it out the wood walls. Next we built a wood hut to keep the logs dry and handy outside the back door. Designed by Jon Bell with a scavenged satellite dish for a roof, it makes trips to the woodpile much more pleasant, even in the snow. We’ve lined and improved the old chimney and have it cleaned periodically by a chimney sweep. We also bought, at our friend Peter’s advice, a colored temperature gauge so we could monitor the optimum flame. Yellow is too low; red is too high. We like to keep it “in the mustard,” we say, where the wood burns most efficiently.

The biggest improvement is the wood itself from the trees growing along the three irrigation ditches. For years we burned cottonwood, since it was the most common, but that wood burns like toilet paper—lots of ash, not much heat. Now we’re burning willow, apple, and Russian olive, the latter a weed tree that John has sworn to rid from our land.

I’m glad John doesn’t mind swinging an axe as he’s “let[ting] his mind work the while.” And I’m glad to hear the “thump” in the woodbox in the morning as he drops a load of dry logs for the first fire of the day. It’s good to know where our heat comes from, as well as our food. Leopold would approve.

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Almost Solstice, Almost Snow

Last night, the first snow fell at the farm since October. We got almost a couple inches, but it’s a pretty dry snow that isn’t going to leave much moisture behind. Still, we’ll take it.

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Besides the moisture, I wanted a little more snow for a picture today of the tree line along our Rough and Ready ditch. I found another of my old postcards, one that always reminds me of the farm this time of year. I thought I’d get a shot in the snow to compare them but, as you can see, the postcard scene is much snowier.

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I like the two figures walking out in the snow. Maybe they were looking for the great-horned owl like I was yesterday at twilight after hearing it hoot in the trees on the other side of the Rough and Ready. I walked across the wooden bridge to the flowers and found the owl in a willow along the Highland Ditch above the garden. It saw me, too, and flew away in a high-winged flap more like shirking my company than escaping any danger I might present.

I was walking out to give the chickens some scraps and check on John, who has started the granary renovation project. His better-than-farmpentry skills come in handy for adding a front porch to the building. Eventually, it will have two doors, one for each room that we hope will house writers and others.

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The sun’s coming out now, so we’ll have a couple light hours before the almost-solstice sunset. In previous years, I could hardly wait to turn around the shortening daylight, but this year, I’m not in a hurry. On these brief days, the light seems all the more a gift, a good reason to celebrate this ancient holiday along with all the others.

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Winter Leftovers: From Closet to Bowl

Today feels like spring might be . . . almost . . . willing to show its face around here. That doesn’t mean we won’t get snow in March or even April or May. But it does mean it’s time to start working on Saturday mornings with our bartering crew again. Tomorrow we’ll make soil and seed brassicas and transplant lettuces into the newly renovated bluehouse and rake the sticks that have blown all over the farm this windy winter. Stonebridge Season 21 will be underway!

The advent of spring brings thoughts of fresh vegetables but we won’t have veggies in the garden for a while yet. We do have some wintered-over spinach in the fields that we can harvest from time to time, but mainly we’re still eating the food we preserved from last year’s gardens by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or just storing in various ways.

Carnival Winter Squash

We still have lots of “sundried”—dehydrated—tomatoes for pasta, quiches, and omelettes. In the insulated cool room of our barn, we have garlic and onions. In the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, we have a few carrots that haven’t gone soft yet (hint: leave just a stub of green stem on them and they’ll store longest). In the freezer, we have broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and some chopped peppers, along with frozen tubs of marinara sauce, salsa, and cooked squash. In the closet of the unheated bedroom, we have a butternut and a carnival squash that still look great (an insulated cooler in a garage works well too). The shelves of the root cellar are lined with canned chutneys and jams.  And in buckets in the barn, we have dried beans.

Speckled Rose Beans (we're not sure of the variety name)

This winter we pledged to start using a pressure cooker. Our friends who use them kept encouraging us to give it a try, but we’d both been scarred by childhood fears of kitchen explosions in the old days when pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they have now. I also associate pressure cookers with what my grandmother called “pressed chicken,” which she’d make for sandwiches on our long drive home from North Dakota to Colorado every summer. My grandmother was a great cook and I miss her fresh bread, but I always found that chicken a little strange with its gooey texture and suspicious gel when refrigerated. Just another childhood memory to make me a vegetarian today.

But we figured we could get over those scars enough to use a pressure cooker for beans at the very least. We grow several varieties of dried beans at Stonebridge, including the Oregon state bean, Peregion, a beautiful black and white bean that has a distinctive flavor. I like beans but never felt like we were cooking them to their optimal texture.  One trick that helps is to put 1 tsp of baking soda in the soaking water overnight and then rinse well before cooking. This helps make the beans less gassy. Another trick is to never, ever salt them until they’re done cooking because salt makes them tougher.

Oregon Peregion Beans

These tricks helped my bean consumption but I still didn’t like having to leave them on the stove or in the crockpot for hours and I still didn’t love the texture. I wanted more from my beans, especially after we’d spent so much time growing, threshing, cleaning, and soaking them.

So we bought a 6-qt pressure cooker, held our breaths, and got it rocking with our soaked beans, water, a couple veggie broth cubes, some Cuban-inspired cumin and oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes, the cooker come to pressure and the top regulator weight started dancing over low heat. We simmered for 15 minutes and then shut off the burner and let the cooker slowly release the pressure, another 25 minutes. Now we’re brave enough to put the whole thing under running water, which makes the steam release in a few minutes, but that first time, we thought we’d wait.

Jacob's Cattle Beans

The beans were wonderful—tender, creamy even, with delicious flavor. We’ve been making beans once a week all winter in a large enough batch to freeze extra for lunch burritos, nachos, or enchiladas.

We’ve graduated to another dish as well, one that uses a winter-stored squash from our closet. If you’ve got a pressure cooker, try the Risotto with Squash and Sage recipe below. I don’t have fresh sage this time of year so used dried and it was just fine. I also had enough uncooked squash left to use in a soup, so I got two dishes out of one butternut squash.

If you’ve still got pumpkin in your freezer (many people roast, puree, and freeze them for bread or pie), try the Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake recipe too. We host digital storytelling workshops here in the summer so I was looking for something that I could make ahead and freeze for a morning treat later. This cake is delicious and gets even a little moister with freezing. I left out the poppy seeds & orange peel and added mini-chocolate chips because I love pumpkin and dark chocolate together. I don’t see why winter squash wouldn’t work here as well—they’re pretty interchangeable with pumpkins.

We’ll keep eating beans and finish off what’s left in our freezer and storage. By then, the spinach will be thriving and the lettuces will be big enough in the bluehouse for harvest. Next year, we’ll have greens and carrots growing all winter in the bluehouse and that will be a delight. But we’ve done okay this winter with what we’ve put by from our own fields–and we’re glad we got over our fear of exploding pressure cookers!

Pressure Cooker Risotto with Winter Squash and Sage
Adapted from County Home, Feb 2008

½ cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbl. Olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 ½ – 4 cups veggie broth
1 ½ Lb. butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh sage or 1 heaping Tbl dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for topping

In a 4- or 6-qt pressure cooker, sauté onion in hot oil over medium-high heat until golden. Stir in rice and coat with oil. Carefully add wine; cook and stir until rice has absorbed the wine (about 30 seconds). Add 3 ½ cups broth and cubed squash.

Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat just enough to retain pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Quick-release the pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. When the pressure indicator has popped down, carefully remove lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.

Set the cooker over medium-high heat again and stir vigorously. It will look fairly soupy at this point.

Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens and rice is tender but still chewy, about 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. If it becomes dry before the rice is done, add ½ cup broth. The finished risotto should be slightly runny because it will continue to thicken on the plate.

Turn off heat. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with additional cheese on top if desired. Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings.

Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake
Adapted from Krista Frank’s recipe in Country Woman

2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 ¼ cugs sugar (turbinado is fine)
1 ¼ cups fat-free milk
2 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat or WW pastry flour
2 Tbl grated orange peel (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom
½ each allspice, nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup mini dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.

In large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, juice, oil, and vanilla until well blended.

In separate bowl, combine flours, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, poppy sees, spices, and salt.

Beat dry mixture and chocolate chips into pumpkin mixture until blended. Pour into prepared bundt pan.

Bake at 350 for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes clean.

Cool for 10 minutes. Place a rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.

This freezes well when wrapped in foil and thawed before serving.

Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins

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Fresh in February

I bought a head of lettuce yesterday, something I haven’t done for years. We grow our own most of the time and when we don’t have lettuce in winter, we usually can find some other green like fall-planted spinach or wintered-over chard or kale to provide something fresh for our meals.

But yesterday the spinach was deep under row cover and snow. I could have foraged for some leaves but I didn’t want to disturb its sleep. Better to let it rest under its blanket until the snow thaws and the days warm up again.

We also normally have greens growing in our smaller unheated greenhouse this time of year, but that building is being renovated right now. Nothing for a salad is growing in the construction zone. So I went to our thirty-year-old local natural food store and purchased a lovely head of organic lettuce.

The Bluehouse renovation with salvaged glass

We were having a guest for dinner; I had planned to put spinach in the lasagna, as I usually do, and to make a spinach salad with our own sundried tomatoes as well. I could go without the spinach in the former but couldn’t completely give up the latter.  I wanted something fresh, despite February’s chill. Remember American Pie: “February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered”? February is the month that can go either way—sun warmed or frigid cold, on any particular day. We’ve had plenty of snow and low temps so far but not like last year when schools closed because of below-zero temperatures. I grew up here and so did my daughter but never did we get a Too Cold Day off from school.

My mother and me sledding in 1965

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of farming in terms of efficiency vs ecology. We’ve just lost the fight against GMO crops on our county open space land and pro-GMO advocates and their big backers are organizing to influence the upcoming county commissioners race. Organic farmers and organic consumers are small potatoes, so to speak, in the world of Big Ag. Even the biggest organic producers still maintain a very small part of the overall market.

It’s not just being smaller, though, that makes us less efficient. Being sustainable—and I mean that in the environmental sense, not the co-opted financial sense purported by the ag industry—brings a commitment to ecology that precludes some kinds of efficiencies such as chemical inputs, i.e., synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

Another efficiency, monocropping, lessens plant diversity and, even more worrisome, the rush to patent all forms of seeds threatens to diminish even the continuance of plant availability. Loosing diversity will bring untold vulnerabilities to our food systems—think Irish potato famine—as well as increased dependency on food and seed monopolies.

None of that is ecological. Industrial agriculture doesn’t support a balanced ecosystem in which farmers work within natural systems as closely as possible to produce food that is healthy and nutritious while preserving soil, water, and air for future generations. Further, the efficiency imperative puts more and more power in the hands of a few biochemical companies, increasing costs for small farmers that is already driving them out of business. It may increase efficiency—bringing down the cost of raising food but not necessarily of food itself– until the point that vulnerabilities to unforeseen consequences (the rise of resistant diseases, for example) or uncontrollable circumstances (our increasingly volatile weather patterns) overwhelm the system.

It’s complex but thinking about how efficiency and ecology can overlap, both on small, organic farms and in the larger scale of agriculture, is helpful to me. Next week John and I are going to the Colorado Big and Small conference. That says it all. How can the actions of Big not threaten the existence of Small? And can Small become any bigger without subscribing to the problems inherent in Big? We’d all like to think we can work together as “good neighbors,” but the stakes seem to be getting pretty high. I’m just not down with world domination of seeds, no matter how efficient that may seem. We’ll see what people have to say.

February is a transition month. Our small starts in the big greenhouse look good, our members are sending appreciative notes, and we’re excited to get back into the fields.  A new season always brings promise. That’s the encouraging thing about ecological farming. We’ll get our “bluehouse” rebuilt and grow some winter greens; the spring will come around; and we’ll get a fresh start once again.

PS Did you notice that today’s date is palindromic?

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Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture