Taste.

When I decided to start writing this blog, I imagined it as part farm blog, part food blog, but I have hardly written about what I’m cooking at all. Part of that is because I’ve really been cooking relatively little since I got here, much less than I expected considering my love of good food. We rotate dinner-cooking each night, which means that I eat quite well and only cook one night a week (no complaints here). Cooking for so many people (people who do physical work all day, too) can be challenging, so we tend to overestimate—it’s easier to deal with some leftovers than a kitchen full of ravenous farmers—and so usually lunch is easy to scavenge the next day, and our boss keeps furtively tucking packages of hotdogs (made from our cows) into our freezer, which have lately been my lunchtime failsafe. People who work here are acutely aware of the kind of appetite a farmer can work up, and so we have food thrown at us at every turn: day-old bread and pastries from the bakery, seconds on yogurt and cheese from the dairy, leftovers from the deli and the cafeteria at the Visiting Students Program, etc. It’s a running joke that the farm apprentices are only one step above the pigs, and it’s true—what the farm can’t sell, we eat, what we won’t eat, the pigs eat, and what the pigs won’t eat gets composted. It’s actually a good thing that other people feed me most of the time, because at the end of the day I’m mostly too tired to cook anyway. I’d kind of like to renew my commitment to writing about the food I do make, though, since so much of my life these days is about growing it and eating it. Our first CSA distribution day is in less than 3 weeks, too, so there are more and more vegetables that I can pick in the field instead of buying at the store, which makes cooking and eating infinitely more exciting. Most of the vegetable fields still look pretty sparse, with their tilled, bare soil and only the occasional bed planted in lettuce, peas, Swiss chard, beets, turnips, broccoli, and other frost-hardy crops.

Beets in the fog. This week has been wet in upstate New York, and all the plants--vegetables, grass, and weeds--seem to be loving it.

These vegetables are mostly not ready to be eaten, but we still find ways to feed ourselves with what is growing around us—wild edibles from the woods and pastures, like dandelion, stinging nettle, and lamb’s quarters; ramps (wild leeks that grow in the woods around the farm); overwintered lettuce and patches of kale that have started growing out of our compost piles. This spring, cooking dinner has involved as much foraging as time over the stove, and sometimes I feel as much like a hunter-gatherer as a farmer. We have a few perennial crops that I have been able to harvest and eat this early in the year; chives have been an ingredient in our salads every day this week, and the garden space the apprentices inherited came along with some already-established rhubarb plants. This afternoon, I decided to try a recently posted recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen for rhubarb muffins. It was super easy, and had a really nice contrast between rhubarb-y tartness and a sweet, crumbly topping. It’s hard to justify baking sometimes, since I get so many baked goods for free, but it’s just such a good weekend rainy-day activity. Aside from the joy of eating them at the end, I love the way the smells fill the house, and licking the bowl, of course.

Muffin batter on the kitchen table.

Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

…as seen at Smitten Kitchen

Streusel
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Muffin
1 large egg
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
3/4 cup sour cream
1 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour (see Note)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 12 muffin cups.

Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.

Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.

Wading through Agawamuck Creek at dusk, May 21, 2011.

Quote(s) of the Day:

“Where does taste end and smell begin? They are inseparable. The temptation of coffee is not born of the taste, which leaves smoky dregs in memory, but in that intense and mysterious fragrance of remote forests. With our eyes closed and nostrils pinched shut, we can’t distinguish between a raw potato and an apple, between lard and chocolate. The nose is capable of detecting more than ten thousand odors, and the brain of distinguishing among them, yet that same brain cannot distinguish between lust and love. The olfactory sense is, from the viewpoint of evolution, our oldest sense. It is precise, swift, and powerful, and it bores into our memory with persistent tenacity…”

“Despite the mountains of cookbooks published every year, there is very little written about the sense of taste, because it is almost as difficult to define a flavor as it is a smell. Both are spirits with their own lives, ghosts that appear without being invoked to fling open a window of memory and lead us through time to a forgotten event. On other occasions we call to them eagerly, seeking an erotic effect from the past, and they bring us instead our naked innocence.”

-both from Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

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