Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our New Address

Our website it operational! Sure, there are details that need updating, but you can navigate from page to page and even see a few pictures. From now on, you can get your dose of farm new at openbookfarm.wordpress.com. We have a new blog there as well, hosted by Wordpress, which includes fancy new features like subscription (never miss another one of my too infrequent posts!) Despite our Luddite tendencies, we have also have bowed to the forces of modernity and also created a Facebook page for the farm. We'll keep it stocked with pictures of our progress, as well as pithy wall posts. Please "like" us!

And if you're in the neighborhood, visit us. Our farm is, after all, an Open Book.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Learning Curve

No matter how long you farm, you've always got something new to learn. Here are just a few of the gems we've gleaned from our first week as Open Book Farm:

  • If you own multiple vehicles and live on a farm, it is a bad idea to carry the keys in your purse. You just might drive off somewhere really far away (say, New York) and accidentally take both sets of keys with you.
  • Chick hatcheries can (and do!) sometimes send you your chicks earlier than you ordered them to arrive.
  • It is very difficult to pick up baby chicks which are at the post office if you do not have the keys to a vehicle.
  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car actually will deliver a rental car to your door.
  • The rental car will not be, as in the commercial, completely wrapped in brown paper.
  • It is advisable to complete the roof of your brooder before your chicks arrive.
  • Day old chicks do not have much sense of self preservation.
  • Black snakes can eat three baby chicks in about two minutes.
  • Black snakes continue to move for a disturbingly long time after you chop off their head.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Shepherd

Ever since I figured out that children are a lot of work, I've been thinking about getting a dog. Andrew, as the more practical member of our partnership, spent the past year reminding me that nomads who live out of a Mazda Protege do not need a dog in the backseat. When we signed our 20 month lease at the beginning of June, however, my mind very quickly made the jump from former nomad to future dog owner. I started doing research.

Because Andrew raises chickens and turkeys, I knew that golden retrievers, the dogs of my childhood, were out of the question. I made a list of my desired dog characteristics: calm, friendly to people, poultry, and pigs, hostile to deer, able to live outside year round, and (preferably) cute. Looking back at my list, I suddenly began to worry that I was seeking a mythical creature, the ideal dog that never existed outside of Plato's cave. Still, I figured that I might as well look.

One breed that caught my eye was the Great Pyrenees, traditionally raised in France as livestock guard dog for flocks of vulnerable alpine sheep. I posted a thread on a farming list serv asking if anyone had any experience with the breed, and was immediately flooded with effusively positive reviews (as well as links to several flickr photostreams). The pictures quickly confirmed that Pyrs passed the cute criteria with flying colors.

The next evening, I received a call from a woman near New Paltz, New York. She had two Great Pyrenees, she informed me, both of whom were excellent guard dogs. Unfortunately, her male Great Pyr, Patou, had lately taken such a fierce dislike to her herding dog that the two of them now fought like cats if ever their paths crossed. It had gotten so bad that she now kept Patou on a leash all day while Berge, the herding dog, had free run of the farm. In the evening, when Berge came inside, Patou and his sister Marie patrolled the perimeter. Would I be interested in giving Patou a new home?

Needless to say, I was hooked. Last week I drove to New York to pick up my new baby (I mean dog). After a few days of confusion over his new surroundings, he seems to have settled in here in Maryland. He spends most of the heat of the day snoozing under his favorite bush. As the day cools off, he perks up, and he stands guard all night. In the evening, when I take him for a walk, he likes to make a circuit of the barn to check on the chicks and piglets before we head out across the fields to look for deer to bark at.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big News (and some little news)

We're finally starting our farm! We're deep in the throes of website development at present (as well as chick brooder construction, market research, crop planning, and of course food preservation), so please forgive us the dearth of details. I must, however, share at least one with you--our name. Welcome to Open Book Farm.

Until we launch our new website (with its own, integrated blog), I'll keep y'all updated here. Three years of farming and I still consider myself a greenhorn, so rest assured I've not run out of things to say.

Starting a farm from scratch is a time consuming, expensive business. Andrew and I have an line item in our accounting software called “Business Owes Me” and, at present, this is the only account that seems to be growing. Still, we have a business plan, enough savings to help us through this lean time, and a healthy dose of optimism, so we feel good to be starting off on our own.

Indeed, fortune favors the bold! Exploring our new farm on Wednesday we discovered that Open Book Farm is already producing a crop, and without any work on our part. Andrew stumbled upon a very productive thicket of wild raspberries behind the old ramshackle milk house, and closer inspection revealed sister brambles all along our driveway: blackberries, black raspberries, and more raspberries. We are not, sad to say, so overwhelmed with fruit that we need to open a pick-your-own stand, but we seem to be well enough supplied for abundant snacking, occasional freezing, and last night's treat—raspberry swirl ice cream.

If I have the time, I like to make a custard based ice cream, as I think that the final consistency is a bit richer and the ice cream less likely to melt into soup. My mind has been overflowing with to-do lists and crop plans lately, however, and I did not have the foresight to make custard in the morning. So I took a somewhat slapdash approach to frozen confectionery, trusting in the quality of ingredients to carry the day. We were not disappointed. And while we did end up slurping the last of the pink ice cream from the bottom of our bowls, I do not think that the experience was compromised whatsoever.

Lazy Person's Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream

1/2 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup sugar + a bit more
pinch salt
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups raspberries

Whisk everything but the raspberries together until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker. While ice cream is churning, mash the raspberries with the extra 2 or so Tablespoons of sugar in a separate bowl. When the ice cream is frozen to your satisfaction, gently fold in the raspberries.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Not For the Faint of Heart

Like every great epic, we begin in medias res:
I'm in Hong Kong!
And I'm married!

We'll catch up on the details some other day. For now, I'm on epicurean holiday.

I read in a cookbook recently an old joke that the Cantonese will eat anything with four legs except a chair. Based on my admittedly limited sample set, this seems like a conservative assesment. For starters, Cantonese cuisine incorporates a good many ingredients with greater or fewer legs than the inauspicious number four: goose, duck, pigeon, crab, shrimp, shark fin, abalone, squid, sea cucumber, jellyfish, and sea urchin, to name a few. Then there is the abundance of leg-less Chinese fruits and vegetables: delicate bok choi no bigger than my thumb, tender Chinese broccoli, hulking daikon radish, crunchy pea shoots, pomelos, lychee, and apple-pears.

These, of course, are the more "normal" ingredients (albeit with some celebration food thrown in for good measure). For the more adventurous palette, signs in mainland China advertise rabbit, snake, turtle, and, yes, cat. They eat things in China that the writers of Leviticus never even thought to prohibit.

My own religious beleifs say nothing about food other than warnings against gluttony--too late! As such, I've cut quite a few notches in my gastronomical belt. Happily, the gourmands of Hong Kong don't venture down the pet food path.

Most of our communal meals have been banquets hosted by Andrew's relatives. I've married into a family of gourmets, so dinners have been, without exception, scrumptious, expertly prepared, and extremely filling. We've been walking as much as possible as a counterbalance to the crispy skin chickens and succulent suckling pigs. But on Friday Andrew and I found ourselves simultaneously unscheduled and hungry, and so decided to have an adventure.

We settled on dim sum, bite size Chinese delicacies that are served a bit like Spanish tapas. Out of curiosity more than anything else, we checked the Michelin guide to Hong Kong for their recommendation. The guide waxed poetic about a tiny shop in Kowloon, to which they had awarded a prized Michelin star. What's more, this place has to be the cheapest Michelin restaurant on the planet, with plates of dim sum costing less than $1.50 US. Now if there are two things that my husband loves more than me, they are eating good food and not spending money. Normally, these two passions come into painful conflict with one another, leading to long, indecisive super market expeditions or restaurant forays. On Friday, the kitchen god and his wife were clearly on our side.

The catch--because with cheap good food there is always a catch--was that Tim Ho Wan (our destination) only seats about twenty people at a time. As it is also serves haute cuisine at unbelievably reasonable prices, the queue is absurd. We arrived at 2 pm on a weekday and were told (in grouchy Cantonese) that the wait would be one hour. We didn't mind--we went exploring in Kowloon while we waited for our number to come up, weaving our way through the throngs of shoppers stocking up for the Chinese New Year. We were seated immediately upon our return, and we handed over our order slip to the harried hostess.

When I say that Tim Ho Wan can seat twenty, I mean that twenty-one customers would warrant intervention by the fire marshall. We sat elbow to elbow with everyone else, and our little table was soon piled high with bamboo steamer baskets, tea cups, and chopsticks. We began with their baked barbecue pork buns, possibly the most popular item on the menu. Sweet fluffy bun, savory pork filling--I wish we had ordered more. From there we moved on to shrimp dumplings, steamed dumplings chiu chou style (containing a mixture of pork, cilantro, peanuts, shrimp, and chives) steamed beef balls, and a light, aromatic egg cake. We tried the pig tongue with black moss, braised lettuce, fried turnip cake, and a sweet dessert soup with pumpkins and chestnuts. Everything was outstanding, and we left feeling perfectly sated. Total damage? $15 US.

Which means we had lots of cash burnings a hole in my pocket for Sunday's Lunar New Year candy splurge. Hooray!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Prosperpina's Return

In Roman mythology, Ceres was the goddess of growing plants and mothering relationships, though she is perhaps most remembered as the mother of the abducted goddess Proserpina. According to the myth, the god of the underworld fell in love with Prosperina, kidnapped her, and made her his queen in the realm of the dead. Ceres, out of grief at the loss of her daughter, immediately stopped the growth of plant life on Earth and the world plunged into its first winter. Jupiter then intervened, persuading Pluto to return Proserpina to her mother, but not before the young goddess had eaten six pomegranate seeds from a tree in the Underworld. Having eaten the food of the dead, she was subsequently required to return to the Pluto for half of every year. In Prosperpina's absence, Ceres allowed the plants to wither and die, and upon Proserpina's return every year, spring came forth out of Ceres' joyful celebration.

I have an inkling of how Ceres must have felt. I can imagine that the annual wait must have seemed interminable, despite Jupiter's promise. Ceres must have worried that Pluto would renege, that Proserpina might decide to stay, that some chore would delay her daughter's return. This is spring for me on the farm: a season of worry even as the earth explodes with life. Until the first distribution, I am forever afraid that something will go terribly wrong and I'll be left standing by a barren, blighted field. Every little mishap leaves me questioning my skill as a grower--why are the peas still so short? Will the cauliflower recover from the frost? My spinach is growing too fast--what if it bolts before the rest of the crops are ready for distribtion? I'm a mess, constantly swinging from joy in the spring to despair that I will ever reach June.

On Friday, however, we had our first distribution. My spinach was huge, but delicious. The Turnips were sweet (and almost softball-size thanks to our strange, warm weather). We had bok choy and head lettuce and radishes and pea shoots. I was content. Prosperpina has returned to the world and life can go on.