Monday, July 30, 2007

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

if you love good food, you have to care about good farms ~ these are the ones where real people care about the folks who eat the food they raise, and about the impact they have on the earth and on generations of creatures after them. with industrialization, corporatization, globalization (and i'm sure we can fill that in further), the family farm has been in trouble for a long time. i opened up the Sacramento newspaper today and read an article about the local Bartlett pear crop. pear farmers say it's difficult to compete with overseas producers who pay their workers $2 to our $10-$12, and it's also hard to find laborers to do the work. "If you think you're unhappy depending on foreign oil, wait until you're dependent on foreign food," said organic pear farmer, Tim Newharth.

transgenic animals ~ not just for meat but for milk ~ are being touted as safe and soon could come to a Safeway near you ~ unlabeled. most of the soy and corn in the US is already genetically modified (and mysteriously folks are experiencing more and more allergies. . ). "USDA certified organic" continues to get watered down. we've heard plenty about e. coli in vegetables. and this doesn't even begin to get into the discussion that our food is just not nourishing us anymore; it's causing disease and degeneration. it is becoming grossly obvious that an industrialized food system doesn't work.

how do we, people who love delicious, nourishing food, combat this horror? here's the first step: insist on knowing where your food comes from. vote with your dollars and invest in your local food economy ~ shop at farmers' markets, join a CSA if possible, ask questions. raise food for yourself ~ even if it's just a tomato in a barrel or an herb on your window sill ~ and savor the deep satisfaction of providing for your own need.

our household went to the Gala Premiere Opening Night of The Real Dirt on Farmer John, at Sacramento's Crest Theater. It was sponsored by Organic Sacramento and Rudolph Steiner College (where i did some volunteering on their biodynamic farm), and had lots of tables set up with information and fresh produce from local farms, wine and cheese tasting. The film was great ~ essentially an autobiography of a man after my own heart: a sentimental, quirky artist and his love-affair with the earth. inextricably intertwined is the plight of America's family farms, and the struggle and pain of actual farmers and their families. and community. the happy ending is a call to action, and so i answer ~ by echoing the call.

here's the trailer:

go see it! :-D

un-pesto with roasted garlic and greens

it's everything-fresh-from-the-garden time! now's when we play "find the hidden squash in THIS meal!" and tomatoes, too, make it to the table every night. i gave up on keeping the oregano in line long ago and, clearly, it has its sights on the yard. with the refreshingly cool nights that Sacramento provides, our household enjoys quite a few meals out in the backyard under the fluffy arms of the crepe myrtle, with citronella candles ablaze. and most of the meals i prepare are salads.
our CSA box, which we get from Full Belly Farm ( ), came loaded with basil this week, and i was determined to use it before it wilted. the aforementioned tomatoes and herbs are out of control, and at the co-op (Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op), i saw some dandelion greens that called out to me. so here we are ~ a recipe with which i was particularly pleased:

~un-pesto with roasted garlic and greens~

at its root, the word "pesto" inherently means "to pound or crush", or the concoction thusly formed. however, when you say "pesto" today, we take it to mean that particular pounded or crushed concoction of basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts) and parmesan, or something reminiscent. this recipe uses all of those ingredients (and then some), but keeps all of them in their more recognizeable forms ~ un-pestoed. the greens add a bitterness that is a nice addition to the traditional basil, and they themselves are nicely complemented by the parmesan and walnuts.

olive oil

1 bulb of garlic

1 bunch fresh, gorgeous dandelion greens
1 bunch collards (or other greens ~ lacinato kale would be very nice; collards were just waiting patiently in the fridge)
cherry tomatoes, halved or quarted depending on size ~ about 20

a bunch of basil leaves ~ hopefully a cup or more, packed, chopped
oregano ~ perhaps 1/4 cup of the leaves, chopped
thyme ~ because it's so good, and because the oregano tries to crowd it ~ a Tbs or so, chopped
walnuts ~ about a cup, chopped, then slowly toasted with olive oil
parmesan reggiano ~ freshly grated ~ a whole heaping lot of it!
sea salt ~ don't be afraid to be generous b/c the dandelion greens will soak up a lot of the flavor
freshly ground pepper
a few dashes of balsamic vinegar

preheat the oven to 400.
loosely wrap the garlic bulb, drizzled with olive oil, in aluminum foil, or use a stonewear garlic roaster (i found one for 99 cents at a thrift store!), and roast until soft ~ up to an hour. unwrap it, and let it cool.

meanwhile, put the walnuts on to toast, and:

chop the dandelion greens and collards (stems removed) into pretty, 1-inch ribbons, and wash thoroughly.
heat a skillet (we love the cast iron!) to medium temp with a generous drizzle of olive oil. saute' the greens till they are soft, but have not lost their deep green. remove from the heat and toss in the cherry tomato halves.

add the herbs, walnuts, and parmesan to the greens mixture. it's ok if it's still a little warm; this will meld the flavors!
with a bread knife, or other large serrated knife, saw off the top of the garlic bulb and squeeeeze the garlic cloves into the pesto concoction. be careful not to drop any of the papery skin in there (or to remove it if you do). add sea salt and pepper to taste, perhaps leaving the option of vinegar and additional olive oil (and more parmesan!) up to each person as she serves up her plate.

i served this over a bed of lettuce greens as a cool salad, with slices of roast chicken.
however, the leftovers have made an absolutely divine egg scramble!! pile on the parm!

photos: backyard bounty:
cherry tomatoes, hefty mister sunflower, eggplant, squash blossom, and ripening bell pepper