June 22, 2011

A 5th Generation Farmer, In the Making

This kid looks cuter in overalls and a sun hat than any farmer I know.

I mean, if for nothing else, the farming thing is worth it just to pose my kid in clothes like this against a background like this. Right?

I don't expect her to farm when she grows up. But, until then, she has no choice. In fact, she's already picking grass.

(Kid, I will tell you this now: This is an exercise in futility. Grass grows where you don't want it to grow and dies where you do want it to grow. This is the life you will know -- you might as well get used to it.)

June 18, 2011

From Jr. High Crush to Father of My Daughter

It's impossible to explain the swell of emotion that comes over a mother when she sees her partner and her child together.

In watching Jacob fall in love with Willa, I've fallen in love with him, all over again.

From the first moment I saw her in his arms, through a haze of pain and exhaustion, I knew, this father was going to be nothing short of incredible.

He comes by it honestly. Fathers teach fathers and my husband has an amazing teacher.

Willa's entrance into the world was tough on me -- an emergency c-section after more than 24 hours of labor.

After a transfer from the birth center I was planning on birthing in, they wheeled me into an operating room where I watched nurses buzz around me. I felt pulling and pressure and asked Jacob to hold my hand. Then, they brought her out. Things suddenly got busier. Jacob was gone and I heard her cry. It was like a hazy video on fast forward, blue and green clad people walking too fast across a linoleum floor as a newborn baby wailed for the first time. I was terrified.

But then I heard his voice -- Jacob's voice -- telling me that she was a girl, that she was beautiful, that her fingernails were long and that he thought we had a Willa on our hands.

And at once, I knew she was OK, she was perfect, and most importantly, that she was in the only other hands I would want her to be in at that moment -- his.

He knew to bring her to me to nurse immediately, even though we had never talked about what do in this situation. He entered the recovery room, stepping in gingerly, slowly, with a quiet, overwhelming joy, pride and respect in his eyes.

I see the same look all the time now and every time I see it, I know that in him, Willa will always have someone to protect her, to challenge her, to coddle her, to make her giggle, to make her trust and to help her know unconditional love.

I've watched this man grow from my junior high crush to the love of my life to the father of my children. It's been an incredible thing to witness.  

He is an incredible thing to witness.

Happy Father's day. I love you more than I will ever be able to explain.

June 14, 2011

Tabouleh, Tabbuli, Tabbouli, Perfect When the Weather's Cool-y

Last night, Willa needed some snuggles in the middle of my pizza making, so Jacob stepped in to finish what I had started in the food processor.

"Can you take out the dough and knead it a little and then put it in a bowl with some olive oil -- a glass bowl?" I asked.

"How long do I knead it?" he asked.

"Oh, a few seconds."

"Give me literal," he said. "I need literal."

Exasperated. "OK, 10-15 times. Knead it 10 or 15 times."

Later, I looked it up (in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Best pizza crust. Ever.) and what did the recipe say?  

A few seconds.

You can bet I rubbed that in.

Emmer. Jacob Cowgill photo.
How ridiculous it seems sometimes, taking two wholly different people, with drastically differing personalities, genders, upbringings, philosophies and cultures -- and asking them live in one house, raise children and generally move through life together -- and peacefully no less.

It's a particularly ludicrous notion in the kitchen.

I think it's safe to say it drives Jacob mad when I give him direction in the kitchen because no doubt, the direction is vague. Especially here, Jacob is a literalist. He follows directions, he measures, he counts, he watches. He's a researcher, a scientist, a man of precision.

I, on the other hand, am a little of this, a little of that, a try-it-then-taste-it kind of gal.

It's why Jacob is the baker and I am the cook. It's why he's known for his bread and I for my soups.

It's why I love to make soups and stews, gumbo, stir fries, dressings and salads -- start with a solid palette, then load up on whatever you have on hand, whatever strikes you, whatever the season is bringing into your house.

This method has its perks. Sometimes, it can mean total culinary genius. Other times though, it can mean a total flop. And since you don't really know what you quite did to create either, it's impossible to repeat the good stuff or avoid remaking the bad stuff.

I know I've made something really good if Jacob asks "Did you write it down?" and when I say "No," a wave of disappointment comes over him. He knows he'll never taste this goodness again.

Tabbuli -- a classic Middle Eastern wheat salad -- is one one of the dishes that lends itself to the genius/flop method and because of that, it's one of my favorites.

As mentioned in my last post, the garden is sort of light right now on production, the main reason being this:

But, the parsley and mint is doing quite well thank you very much (oh, and as you can see, so are the weeds), and that means it's Tabbuli season.

(Have I mentioned how amazing perennials can seem in a field of annual vegetables? When you clear away the snow in early April and find something green and sprouting, a person is liable to start to believe in miracles.)

Growing up, Tabbuli (or Tabouleh, or Tabbouli, depending on who your grandmother is) was on the table at just about every family gathering. You wouldn't know it by my transparent skin but my family is Lebanese (The rest of my family has gorgeous olive skin. The Irish genes were too strong in me, I guess.)

Each of my Aunties had a Lebanese dish they made for family gatherings, a dish that was theirs. Nancy's was Malfouf (stuffed cabbage leaves), Lucille's was Kibbeh and my grandma's is Tabbuli.

Virginia, a spicy dish herself, makes the best (and she pronounces it TAHbooli) and even now, I can see her long thin hands, always with the firey red fingernails, squeezing the burghul (cracked wheat) tight to make sure the salad doesn't get watery.

Lately though, I've been making Tabbuli with Emmer instead of the burghul (also called bulgar). Emmer is one of the ancient wheats we grow and offer as part of our Grain and Seed CSA (shameless plug: we're taking signups now and deliver across the state) and is by far, my favorite. I might be because I first discovered it (Jacob knew of it long before) in Italy on our honeymoon and one particular variety Jacob has worked on he calls "Honeymoon Emmer," or maybe it's because it was the first wheat we grew, the grain that seduced me back into grain farming to begin with. In any case, it's a long, hearty, fat grain and when boiled gets soft and chewy and makes for a great textured Tabbuli.

The best recipe I've found for the salad is from Madelain Farah's Lebanese Cuisine (the family cookbook), although as mentioned above, the recipe is really more of a guide than anything else. Tabbuli is like a great soup or a great dressing or a great wine. It can change so dramatically depending on the conditions: how much mint you want, how much parsley you have, if you add garlic, when you add garlic, what kind of olive oil you have, how fresh the lemons are, how long you cook the emmer, how tightly you squeeze the burghul ... or how the wind is blowing that particular day.

But, here's the basic Tabbuli recipe anyway:

Madelain calls this “Arabic Salad Supreme” and spells it Tabbuli.

¾ c burghul (crushed wheat #2)
2 large bunches parsley
1 cup chopped fresh mint
½ bunch green onions, finely chopped
1/8 t. cinnamon
2-3 t. salt
pepper to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 large tomatoes, chopped
½ – 2/3 cup lemon juice (fresh preferably)
½ cup olive oil

Rinse the burghul, drain. Then squeeze the excess water out. Place the burghul in a large mixing bowl. Place the parsley, mint and green onions in layers on top of the burghul in the order given. Add the seasonings to the onions and mix thoroughly. Put onions on half of the top layer and tomatoes on the other half. Add lemon juice and toss the salad with a spoon and fork. Just before serving, add the oil and toss thoroughly. Serve with grape leaves or lettuce on the side. (Or Prairie Heritage Farm spinach!)

Note: This is typically eaten by hand. Use the grape leaves or lettuce to pick up the tabbuli in bite-sized serving.

If using Emmer or another whole grain, simmer for 45 minutes or so, drain and substitute in for the burghul. (A general rule for boiling is two cups of water per one cup of grain. Add more water if necessary while simmering.)

June 9, 2011

The Stress of Community Supported Agriculture

This week marks our first week of deliveries for our vegetable community supported agriculture (CSA) program and only fitting, we made all four drops in sopping, pouring, downright miserable rain.

We decided not to do Farmer's Market this year, which is both sad and totally liberating. We're sad to miss out on the festive feel of early Saturday mornings, the smell of kettle corn and grilling kebabs mingling with coffee and bedding plants. We'll certainly miss the camaraderie we felt with other vendors and the feeling of community standing there under a canopy watching the town walk up to our little stand for vegetables, gardening advice or just a little chit chat. For these reasons, before Saturday came -- which would have been the first market -- I was feeling a little glum about not being there.

But when we woke up that morning at 6:30 instead of 3:30, I knew we'd made the right decision.

The market is an hour's drive and it ends up being a 10-12 hour day for us. Also, we've expanded our CSA -- doubled membership actually -- and more and more, we think doing exclusively CSA sales is  maybe the way we'd like to run the farm. We still sell wholesale to markets, restaurants and grocers (You can get our produce at Mountain Front Market in Choteau and at Gary and Leo's IGA in Conrad), but CSA is where it's at for us for direct sales. (We offer CSAs for vegetables, grains, turkeys and bread now.)

The CSA model is just a great way of doing business. It gives us much-needed capital to get going in the spring, it connects customers with the source of their food, it keeps local economies strong and most of all, it creates an important bond between eater and farmer -- a bond that benefits the health and wellbeing of the food, the community, the farmer and the eater.

But, this time of year, it's also really stressful for the farmer. When shareholders sign up, they know they are getting into something bigger than just buying vegetables. They know -- and if they don't, we tell them -- that they are signing up for both the bounty and risk of farming.

But that doesn't make it any less nerve wracking for us when the chard just isn't flourishing and the lettuce isn't growing the way we'd like it to. Or, when the weather isn't quite cooperating or worse yet, when a river threatens its banks or a hail storm moves through.

Our shareholders put their trust in us and although they and we know we can't control the weather or, well, much of anything on the farm, we do work hard to mitigate whatever we can whenever we can to make our customers happy that they did put their trust in us.

So, it's all a dance -- like always -- of trying your best to manage the chaos that is farming.

And as we watch streams swell across the state and friends' fields flood, or hear about another hail storm ripping through, we feel simultaneously sick and relieved, knowing that in farming, no matter how much you study or experiment or plan or care, sometimes, it all comes down to luck.

June 1, 2011

Dogs, Babies and Dogs That Were Once Babies

Once upon a time, Lydia the Dog was not a Dog at all. She was a baby. A hairy baby, but a baby nontheless. She cuddled in our bed. She rode in the front seat. She went everywhere we went, hairballs and all.

Then she was usurped -- by a real baby.

When Willa arrived, Lydia wasn't sure what to do. She carefully made wide berths around Willa and I.  She learned to keep her paws down. She got put on a leash. She started riding in the back of the car. Then to the back of the pickup. She was banished -- to a dog bed.

I felt bad for her, until, that is, she found a new best friend.

Here's what happens when Willa spots her doggie.

The approach begins.

She makes contact.

The licking begins.

Girl + Dog = True Love

In other news, there is officially enough hair for some sweet bed head.



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