Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rosemary, Romero

The long-standing home where I lived on Azurduy street in Sucre was a gorgeous reminder of Bolivia's bygone glory days.  Like most homes it is built of mud brick, plastered, painted white, has housed many generations of the same family (the Palacios), and was designed around a beautifully flowere courtyard.  We lived on the secon floor with a veranda open to the courtyard, which we clutered with pots of jasmine, laurel, strawberries, succulents, grapes, olives, and rosemary bought from the plant and flower market that ran alongside the city's enormous cemetery.
The rosemary was a dry, depressing twig, with more bark than anything else.  Seeing no hope for the plant in our home, and my roomate's impending trip to one of Sucre's many "dumps," I decided to give it one last hurrah in the form of Rosemary, Lemon Shortbread.
At the main city marke I bought lemons from a Chola, sugar scooped from an enormous woven costal, then passed the "Pil" storefront for butter.  At home, the butter went out onto the roof to soften (I always used this trick because the teracotta tiles were level with our back kitchen window, and caught the perfect sun), and I collected the last few aromatic sprigs of Rosemary  from the dry, sad plant.  And then to work on my first ever shortbread.

Rosemary, Lemon Shortbread

With no electric mixer, my roommate and
I would take turns beating butter for each
of my new baking experiments

1C (2 sticks) Butter
3/4C Sugar
1 Egg and 1 White
1t Vanilla
1T Rosemary, finely chopped
2t grated Lemon Zest
2 1/4C Flour
1/2t Salt

-Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, and mix in eggs and vanilla.
-Add rosemary, lemon zest, salt and flour, mix thoroughly.
Divide dough in half, and shape into loggs 1 1/2" thick.  Chill well in freezer or refrigerator.
-Preheat oven to 375°F.
-Brush a log with egg white and roll in sugar.  Then cut into 1/4" slices, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
-Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Cool on wire rack before serving.

This shortbread (and the lavender version soon to come) have become staples in our farm house, and are the best use for rosemary that I can imagine.  Provecho!
Thank you to Peter Andrew Ryan's blog for this great idea!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Well excuse me, eScape Pesto

This morning, one of my few to sleep in, I lay in bed paging through Julie & Julia, and was shocked by what I read:
"Wealthy Victorians served Strawberries Romanoff in December; now we demonstrate our superiority by serving our dewy organic berries only during the two-week period when they can be picked ripe of the vine from the botique farm down the road from our Hamptons bungalow.  People speak of gleaming the green markets for the freshest this, the thinnest that, the greenest or firmest or softest whatever, as if what they're doing is a selfless act of consummate care and good taste, rather than the privileged activity of someone who doesn't have to work for a living."
Well excuse me, Ms.Powell, but I do work for a living.  I work 60-plus hours a week growing those fresh, green, local, dewy treasures for you to enjoy during those supposed two weeks periods of the year. 

And these two weeks we have scapes.  Garlic scapes, the top of the garlic plant (the part we eat being a bulb and all) which curl beautifully and would eventually flower.  Harvesting the scapes not only provides us with another delicious garlic flavor, but also encourages the plant to focus on a larger bulb, providing us with yet more in the long run.  It also, as a woman told me at the farmers' market, gives her husband "another stinky reason to avoid [her]."
The scapes can be sauteed, grilled, pickled, and my favorite, blended into pesto:

Escape Pesto
recipe compliments of Dorie Greenspan, yields 1 Cup
10 Garlic Scapes, chopped
1/2 Cup finely grates Parmesan (not "shakey cheese" for the can, please)
1/3 Cup chopped Almonds, toasted
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt (if the parmesan wasn't salty enough for you)

Blend the scapes, cheese, almonds, and half of the olive oil in a food processor until combined.
Add more oil if you don't quite like the texture.  Keep in mind that it separates a bit if you let it sit; but the extra oil I poured off was deliciously garlicy.  Also cover the pesto to prevent oxidization.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Heartbreak Potato Salad

This post is sure to be a heartbreaker; prepare yourselves.

Here at Buckhorn gardens we recently transplanted 225 starts of 35 Heirloom varieties of tomatoes, were admiring 50 or so beautiful, flowering eggplants, watering bright green peppers, and weeding 8 long beds of potatoes (including my favorites, Purple Peruvians).  Unfortunately we spent several painful hours of the  past week regretfully pulling the majority of these hopefuls from the ground.

Curly Top.  We have it.
The Beet Curly Top Virus is transmitted by leafhoppers, those bright or dusty green winged bugs I used to let crawl all over my legs while laying in the grass, and now have a deep and legitimate looting for.  These seeming harmless nestle migrate from the Southern US, infecting plants along the way.  Within a week or two farmers and gardeners begin to notice new leaves cupping and rolling inward, grey and purple discoloration, and swelling outgrowths.  Affected plants will not recover or set fruit.  They will die, and in the mean time pose a threat of letting more leafhoppers infect themselves and spread the virus even farther.  Hence our forced removal of these beautiful plants.

Many of the potatoes had already begun to produce small, round, dusty pink tubers, which made their removal all the more difficult.  These potato babies would never have the chance to grow to full size, become bakes potatoes, spanish tortillas, hash browns, french fries, or mashed patties.  But there were just enough of them to make the freshest German Potato Salad I have ever tasted; and no stored potato compares to the soft, smooth texture of one fresh out of the earth.  So, as some strange therapy and show of gratefulness for the few potatoes, I made this potato salad for out 4th of July dinner.

Heartbreak Potato Salad

-5 slices thick bacon
-3 T flour
- medium onion, chopped
-1/2 C vinegar
-1/2 C Water
-1/4 C sugar
-4 t salt
-ground black pepper, to taste
-1 t dry powdered mustard (or 1 T dijon)
-1/2 t crumbled whole rosemary leaves
-2 Quarts cooked, dices potatoes
-1/2 C chopped fresh chives

-Fry bacon until crisp.
-Remove from pan, drain on paper bag, and crumble.
-Add flour and bacon to fat in pan.
-When onions turn translucent stir in vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices.
-Cook until thick enough to coat potatoes.
-Add to potatoes, chives, and crumbled bacon.
-Cool and refrigerate, enjoy!

Before digging into out 4th of July feast, everyone took a moment to that the earth for everything she has provided: fresh goat cheese, made by out friends at Tomten, a Burbon Red Heritage turkey John and I slaughtered a few days before, lavender ice cream churning outside, an assortment of lovingly made bread, and out one, precious potato dish of the season.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Farm Fresh Deviled Eggs

We were recently invited to a pot-luck at nearby Tomten Farm, and I was going around in circles trying to think of something to take...  And then it came to me, Deviled Eggs, of course.  They're the perfect pot-luck dish, and always the first thing to go.  I was going to need a bit of creativity though if I wanted all the ingredients to come from the farm, and avoid using store-bought pickle relish, mustard, and mayo.  And this is what happened:

Dill & Radish Deviled Eggs
(This recipe does not come with measurements, so just keep testing the flavor and texture until it's the way you like it.)

Eggs- collected from the chickens that day
Mayo- home-made, recipe below
Leeks- in place of onions, that we don't have this time of year
Raddishes- I used mild French Breakfast raddishes, but would have preferred something with more spice and bite.

Dill- freshly picked from the dome green-house
Mustard Flowers- great mustard flavor, and bright garnish
Salt, Pepper, and Paprika- store bought, except for the pepper that I harvested on a farm in Belize

-Hard boiled eggs are always a struggle for me, but I followed James Beard's instructions and started the eggs in cold water, brought them to a boil, cooked for 10 minutes, and put them straight into cold water.
-When cool, I sliced them in half, scooping out the deep yellow yolks. I mixed the yolks with the mayo, finely chopped leeks, raddishes, dill (lots of it), and salt and pepper. 
-After scooping a dollop of filling back into each egg-white, I added a small bunch of mustard flowers and sprinkled with paprika.

This, I'm sure, was only the beginning of my Deviled Egg experiment for the summer.

Simple DIY Mayo Instructions:

2 Egg Yolks, 1 1/2C vegetable oil, 1T vinegar, salt and pepper.
-Wisk egg yolks with a pinch of salt
-Keep wisking, adding oil one drop at a time (We didin't have an electric mixer, but I hope you do!) until a quarter of the oil has been blended
-At this point, beat in the vinegar, and then return to wisking in the remaining oil.
-The mayo should be thick and creamy, and will ticken even more in the refrigerator.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mak Kimchi

I can't believe it either, but I made kimchi!  Well not just "I," because Alyssa and George were the team leaders and we were instructed via video by the adorable Maangchi.  You can watch her too at http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/easy-kimchi.  This recipe is worth the couple hours, and the perfect project to have friends come help with, not to mention it's a great way to use up some produce from around the house (or farm, in our case).

Maangchi's recipe calls for the following (but we made some changes, according to what we had from the farm.)
10 pounds Nappa Cabbage (we used a mix of cabbage, bok choi, baby bok choi, and tatsoi)
1 Cup Salt
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Sweet Rice Flour
3 Cups Water
1 Cup Garlic
1 Cup Onion
1-2 Tablespoons Ginger
1 Cup Fish Sauce (about half for us)
Squid (which we ommitted)
2 Cups Leek (scallions instead)
10 Green Onions
1/4 Cup Carrot (or more, if you like it like we do)
2 Cups Radish (we had big, beautiful turnips)

So, here goes:

-Chop the cabbage into bite-size pieces, soak in cold water in a huge bowl, and sprinkle with salt.  Every half hour our so you need to toss the cabbage and add salt; the whole cup of salt should be used on the 10 pounds of cabbage which will pull most of the moisture out of the greens.
-After and hour and a half of this, rise the cabbage well to remove all the salt, and let drain.
Keep soaking; Keep salting!
-Bring the 3 C water and sweet rice flour to a boil, stirring frequently.
-Add the 1/4 C sugar and continue cooking until translucent.
-Let cool
Kimchi Paste
-One at a time, add the 1C fish sauce (or less!), 2 1/2 C hot pepper flakes (we use about 2 C), 1 C crushed garlic, 1-2 T minced ginger, and 1 C minced onion to the porridge.
-Now add in the green onions, leeks, raddish and carrots (cut them how you like, thin slices or julienned) and mix it all together.

"Action! Mix the cabbage with the kimchi paste!" as Maangchi says.
-That's right, just mix it all together.  (If you're doing this by hand, please wear gloves!)
-Now store it in tupperware, or glass jars and wait for it to ferment... or start eating it as soon as your little heart desires.  It will ferment slower in the fridge, so you won't get that sour flavor so fast.
Our kimchi project yielded a total of 1.625 gallons from 8 pounds of cabbage, and now we can use our creation in fried rice, as a stew, served as a side dish, or the perfect condiment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Banana bread was my first real success in Bolivia and quickly became a staple in our house.  Every Latin American country has their own version of banana bread, but more than the flavor, what I remember are the women selling it.
The women at Lago Atitlan, Guatemala are hard to forget.  They balanced trays of banana bread on their heads, while relentlessly howling "Pan de Banano" until you, along with your eardrums, had been pounded into submission and bought a piece.  I later lived with the wonderful Emily in Xela, Guatemala, who would call out "Pan de Banano" and other varriations in her scarily accurate impressions.
As for my Bolivian Banana Bread, I can say with confidence that the countless loaves it were better than those of the Mennonite-run Bake Shop in Xela (to my Xela roomates, this is not meant to be a brag, simply the truth.) 
For my bread, I would buy bottles of honey corked with a worn down nub of corncob, and half-rotten bananas stacked up like Lincoln logs on crates.  At home, my cooling rack was a spare refrigerator rack, and I used a serrated knife to grind the nutmeg.  After picking seeds out of my suppodesly seedless rasins, and chopping Brazil nuts (which Bolivians confusingly call almendras) I would follow this well-tested recipe:

1/3 C Vegetable Oil
1/2 C Honey
1t Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs
2 C Smashed Banana (I like it with a bit more, or to substitute some of the oil)
1 1/3 C Whole-Wheat Flour
1/2 t Salt
Cinnamon & Nutmeg to taste
1 t Baking Soda
1/4 C Hot Water
1/2 C Chopped Nuts

-Preheat oven to 165° C
-Beat together Oil, Honey, Eggs; then stir in Banana (I mix in the Cinnamon and Nutmeg when I smash the banana) and Vanilla
-Add Flour and Salt
-Add Baking Soda to hot Water and add to batter
-Blend in Nuts
-Bake 50-55 minutes is a greased 5"x9" pan
-Cool 30 minutes before serving

So there you've got it folks, and here's one important note to keep in mind: I strongly believe in eating local and have officially given up bananas since leaving Latin America.  So please think about it before you buy something such as bananas that are grown with pesticides, shipped from so far away, and grown/harvested by underpaid and undersupported workers.  Not to be a downer, but this is important, so maybe hold out for an upcoming carrot or zuchinni bread recipe!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Food, where it comes from, how we eat it, and why we love it.

Well, a big "Welcome Back" to everyone who hasn't read the blog in a while, including myself!

Writing Worms Make Dirt during my Latin travels was almost torturous. I didn't feel like I had the knack for telling travel stories; life was far more interesting and exciting than I could portray it. And lets be honest, I wrote about food more than anything else anyway. So from now on I am staying true to myself and writing about just that: Food, where it comes from, how we eat it, and why we love it.

Each of my posts will be inspired by a favorite recipe; and fortunately for all of us, most recipes are linked to a specific memory, come with a family story, or were an unlikely success. Some entries are linked to my bake-craz-days in Bolivia, many from my current life on a farm outside of Montrose, and others from my Nana. So, with a more enthusiastic, enlightened, and hopefully mouth-watering approach, I am re-entering the world of blogging, and Worms Make Dirt.

Do, Welcome Back, and I hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hay Campo

Trekking in Bolivia is an incredible mix or rivers, mountains, farm land, fossils, rock paintings, small pueblos, and incredible views, but getting to all of these wonderful places requires transport...

We call if a flota; a truck cab with a 20 foot flat bed behind it which holds an average of 75 people. The sides are wooden beams up to my chin, with a few slots to look through towards the top and with small, low doors that swing open and have narrow metal ladders at the sides to climb in.
Once inside you're submerged in quite the overwhelming scene: wrinkled old women showing friends their new chicks and kittens wriggling in woven plastic bags, children eating boiled corn and potatoes out of their baseball caps, women breast feeding, and young boys dodging low branches as they sit along the edges holding onto the metal bars that arch across above our heads. Corn, potatoes, alfalfa, clothing, and possessions are all wrapped in brightly striped, hand woven awayus and stacked along the roof of the truck's cab.
The abuelitos and abuelitas seem impossibly resilient with their scarcely-toothed grins, work-stiffened hands, darkly wrinkled skin that has seen more sun that I ever will, and feet strapped into sandals made of recycled tires. The men chew coca leaves that they keep in a woven chuspa or empty milk bag, stripping the leaf from the veins. It stains their teeth a somehow pleasant light green and leaves a thick, dark film on their lips. The earthy smell of coca permeates everything and mixes with the mildewed scent of wool, wet from the rain. Below their white felt, or cowboy-reminiscent leather hats women gossip and visit in Quechua. The language is noticeably different from Spanish, most distinctly in the throaty pronunciation of the letter q and the vowels a, i, and u. These vibrant conversations mix with radios hanging from neighbors necks, and the moan of the engine to haul everyone up the steep switch-backs.
Throughout the trip open stares of elders, wide eyes of young children, and questioning glances of shy neighbors imply a short-lived interest in us. The ride is rarely comfortable and generally longer than expected, but you would be hard pressed to find a more genuinely Bolivian experience.