Crispy Egg Breakfast Tacos + Black Garlic Pineapple Salsa

IMG_4161

A few weeks ago one of our long-time-farm-customers turned friends gifted me a bag of single clove black garlic she’d brought back from a recent trip to Japan. I’d been contemplating how I wanted to use them, reading up on how chefs around the world have been using black garlic and what other foodies have to say about it. This combination was purely accidental. I had a slightly overripe pineapple that needed to be used up and I went to the cabinet for a head of regular garlic to toss together a salsa. The black garlic just happened to be in front of the regular on the shelf. I remembered some of the flavor profiles I’d read on it and decided to substitute it instead; a decision, it turns out, that would disappoint exactly no one in this house.

IMG_4162

The black garlic is everything I’d read about it and more. Smooth, pungent, sweet, earthy, charred… umami. The single clove variety is supposed to have even better flavor than the multi-clove type, but both are reportedly delicious. Essentially, it’s fermented garlic. Held at sixty degrees for months, under just-so humidity. But “fermented garlic” doesn’t do it justice. A lot of chefs are using it in savory and creamy dishes, but I think it really shines against the bright acidity of the pineapple and lime. You can definitely expect more black garlic recipes to come. I can see it becoming a staple ingredient here.

This recipe makes about a quart and a half and we’ve been eating it with everything — carnitas, blackened chicken, plain tortilla chips — I just happened to think about putting the recipe up here at breakfast this morning when I was serving it wrapped up with the best damned eggs you’ll ever eat in a perfectly charred corn tortilla.

Crispy Egg Tacos + Black Garlic Pineapple Salsa

Prep time: 

Total time: 

Ingredients
  • 1 Ripe Pineapple
  • 2 Med. Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 Sweet Onion
  • 1 Head Single Clove Black Garlic
  • 1 Sm. - Med. Bunch Cilantro
  • Coarse Sea Salt
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Lime
  • Butter, Lard or Oil
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Large Eggs
  • Coarse Sea Salt
Instructions
  1. Finely dice pineapple, tomatoes and onion.
  2. Peel and finely chop black garlic, being careful not to smash it.
  3. Remove Cilantro stems, chop leaves.
  4. Combine all of the above in a bowl or large jar, squeeze juice of the lime overtop. Add salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Mix well. Chill. (Best after flavors have had a few hours to a day to intermingle.)
  5. In a large fry or cast iron pan, heat your cooking fat -- a couple pats of butter or lard, or a couple "glugs" of your favorite oil -- until a few drops of water flicked into the pan makes the oil crackle and pop.
  6. Add your tortillas, frying on each side for a minute or so, until they begin to brown and crisp. Transfer them to a plate.
  7. Immediately, using the same hot oil, crack your eggs into the pan. The oil and pan should be so hot that the whites immediately solidify when they hit the pan. Sprinkle the top of the egg with coarse salt while it cooks. It is ready to turn when it naturally pulls way from the pan without prying. This only takes a minute or two, the whites will be browned and crispy around the edges. Flip, repeating the process of browning and crisping the whites on the other side, cooking just a thin layer over the yolk, but leaving it runny.
  8. Transfer the eggs to the plate, placing one on top of each tortilla. Top with pineapple salsa and enjoy!

Miscellany: “No Time to Say Hello, Goodbye”

IMG_4127

Every so often I take a picture that is technically atrocious, but I love. And then I am appalled with myself. That’s the story behind this one from a short road trip I had to take yesterday. As soon as I saw it there were a list of things wrong with it in my head, but I also immediately knew I’d use it. Usually, the thing with those unsound pictures is that while they may not capture the imagery very well, they capture the mood full stop.

:: :: ::

Still no lambs. Last night I even did a midnight check because Louisa had been nesting and restless, her flanks have been sunken for a week and her udder looks like an over-inflated water balloon. But no luck. I didn’t originally have her on the calendar as due until the end of this week, but then the shearer convinced me they might be ready a bit earlier. Now I’m getting impatient.

:: :: ::

Remember last week when I said all the tomato seeds had been planted and most were up? I lied. I had the bright idea to go through my stash of seeds and unload… eh hem, GIFT… a bunch to my Mother-in-Law, who loves to garden and is better at it than I am anyway. I did manage to get rid of a whole bag full of seed packets, but I also found a few other varieties of tomatoes I just had to plant. Every time I think I have escaped the grip of the tomato-addicted gardener’s disease it reels me back in.

On the bright side, I ran across a pack of regular San Marzano seeds and decided it would be a grand idea to plant a bunch to compare side-by-side with my beloved San Marzano Redortas. So we all have those notes to look forward to mid to late-summer.

:: :: ::

The season is both literally and figuratively heating up now. Seventy degrees by the end of this week. My to-do list seems to grow with every passing minute. This is the time of year I love, but also find it curious that when I am most on top of things I feel most scattered. Like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, “No time to say ‘Hello,’ Goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

Going too many directions at once, I suppose. Which is also not unlike the white rabbit. No matter, I’ll be back later this week with a couple more posts. One on speaking the language of pigs by request, plus a some more garden thoughts on what’s worth planting and how much.

A Few Favorite Things: April 8

IMG_3989

Read: The books I’ve been reading this week don’t really fit with what I usually post here so this week’s book recommendation is an oldie, but goodie I pulled off my shelves. Tracie McMillan put more personally on the line to write The American Way of Eating than any of the big name food and agriculture writers, but didn’t get nearly as much attention. She went undercover for a year working at all stages of the food system — alongside migrant vegetable workers in California, while working at a Wal-Mart produce section, and from the kitchen of an Applebee’s restaurant — and living off the wages she earned doing those jobs. The result is this book. It’s well-written and reported, and probably didn’t garner as much attention as it deserved for that latter reason alone.

Watch: I can’t believe I didn’t watch Salma Hayek in Frida sooner. It doesn’t even need a blurb here. It’s Frida and Salma as Frida and it was a huge success back when it was released in 2002. If you haven’t seen it yet, do. (I linked to iTunes for those who want to rent it online, but it’s also on Netflix.)

Eat: We usually eat Manhattan Clam Chowder several times throughout the winter. It’s one of our favorites. Somehow it kept getting pushed down the menu plan this year though so I’m making it this week before it’s too hot for bowls of soul-warming, hearty soup.

Listen: I listen to country music often, but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of many artists. Eric Church is one exception to that rule. I respect him for doing the opposite of what most singers do. Usually, they start off with their own style and artistic vision and then, when the industry gets a hold of them, they lose it to the demands of mass-production radio hits. Eric, on the other hand, seems to only get more creative and personal with his music as time goes on… and still manages to pull off chart toppers. There is something to be said for artists who can produce entire albums full of good songs, rather than albums with a couple of decent tracks and the rest full of songs no one will ever listen to more than once or twice on purpose. Eric is one of those artists for me. This one is from his newest album.

Miscellany: Lamb Watch, Garden Progress

IMG_4092

“Your favorite ewe is restless,” I texted my Mom earlier this week, “Maybe lambies soon!” She has been asking when there would be lambs to visit for weeks now. She’s also a fan of baby pigs and has been nudging me about why I no longer have geese for at least two years. She seems to fancy us her personal petting zoo. The first time she saw Louisa (not pictured, that’s Penelope at the top) she marveled, “Ohhh, that one is so pretty!”

Now, I think Louisa looks like an unremarkable old Amish man. And frankly, her nose is kind of crooked. But my Mother loves her, so I’m glad we’re expecting her to lamb first this year. My Mom will, no doubt, trot right over here at the first sign of lambs on the ground and she’ll get to see some out of her favorite ewe when she does.

:: :: ::

We’re now taking bets as to whether or not Penelope (pictured) is in lamb. She’s got a nice bit of belly on her in this picture, but I’m not convinced it isn’t just a big meal. She doesn’t appear quite so rotund in person. She’s going to keep us guessing right to the end, I suppose.

:: :: ::

On the garden front, all of the tomato seeds have been started, and most are up and growing.

Last year I got a bit overzealous with herb garden clean-up and hacked away at most of my plants. I’ve been meaning to move the herbs to the main garden for a couple years now anyway, so this is as good an excuse as any to start over. I found more herb seeds that I remembered having when I went through my seed stash looking for the Riesentraube seeds last week, so I’ll start a bunch of those too — chives, garlic chives, basil, lemon basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, oregano… the list goes on.

:: :: ::

We traded a young boar for about eight tons of stemmy hay last week. It’s of no nutritional value, but will be fine for bedding for the animals and mulch for the garden. I’ve had a post in draft about no-till gardening — which we started experimenting with years ago, but committed to in earnest last year — and will probably get around to publishing it once we plant and mulch for this year so I can share pictures of the process. I am a fan of the rural economy of barters.

The farmer we traded with is one we do business with often. He’s a [I’m not sure how many, but many] generation family farmer about my age who has been working with his Dad and Uncle and Grandpa on their farms since birth and has been working now on building his own legacy for his kids. Sometimes I wonder who will be tying into this local economy when we’re old. His kids? Ours? Someone else’s? Will there be new farmers just starting? I can’t think of any other than us who are new now, so it seems unlikely that there would be new ones then, but only time will tell. I suppose that’s why agriculture manages to keep me interested; it’s never static.

On First Storms

IMG_4090

As I was writing yesterday’s post about folk wisdom and the fine art of applying science to real life I was reminded of something The Man has said every year since I met him, and this picture I took last week after the first real thunderstorm of the season. I have never heard anyone else say it and while I could speculate as to what scientific principles may be behind it, I’ve never seen any sort of evidence that could be reasonably correlated to it. Still, he has always maintained that the first thunderstorm of the season “shocks” the ground.

I have never been clear whether he means an actual shock, as in by lightening. Or a more figurative shock, as in the way one particular boom of thunder while I was loading groceries into the truck last week made me jump. And I’m not sure it matters.

In any case, the outcome has been implied a million ways. “Looks like we’ll have our first thunderstorm tomorrow, that ought’a pull the last of the frost out,” or “We need a good thunderstorm to get the water moving out of the fields,” or “A thunderstorm’ll wake the earthworms up.” It seems counterintuitive. If there’s too much water standing in the fields the last thing you might think we need is for more of it pour out of the sky by the bucketful. But I also have to admit there’s something to it. And maybe that something is just coincidence, but around here the first thunderstorm of the season almost always seems to directly precede a rapid acceleration of spring into summer; the ground opens up and swallows up the standing water, the grass grows by leaps and bounds, the leaves appear on the trees in short order. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.

On Soil Temperature and Seed Germination

IMG_4115

The last time the soil was as warm as it is right now, this early in the season, was 2012. That year we didn’t have a proper winter at all, and I had been harvesting lettuce from the garden until well into the middle of January. Last year at this time the ground was still frozen. This year the frost laws have already come and gone, and the soil temperature is climbing — both at two and four inch depths — into the low fifties. Today, as if by clockwork (it’s wet and the weather is nasty to boot) the county came by and graded our road into a soft, red-dirt mess.

SoilTemp_0316

A couple of years ago while talking to Maasai elders they assured me and the other journalists I was traveling with that they no longer used their traditional Maasai calendar, but had instead transitioned entirely to a western method of time and season-keeping. Later, the woman who ran the NGO nearby said that she was almost certain they do still use the Maasai calendar, but that they also always deny it in the presence of westerners. Western methods are viewed as more legitimate, more scientific. The modern western world doesn’t suffer famine and the traditional African tribal men do not want to be seen as lesser; as being at fault for the hunger and poverty that wracks their communities. So they tell people they have abandoned the folk wisdom passed down through their generations full stop for a “proper” calendar with twelve months, three hundred and sixty-five days, four seasons.

By the time the woman at the NGO had confided in us we were a couple beers and a whole-roasted-goat-over-an-open-fire away from the days meetings. The elders were asleep in their bomas; a short hike over a dusty hill slung low out into the black sky west of Kilimanjaro. There was no going back.

To this day I wish that hadn’t been so; that I’d had the opportunity to tell them about our folk wisdom. About how the western calendar that adorns my wall tracks the phases of the moon, as well as the days of the month. About the racks of Farmer’s Almanacs in every Tractor Supply Company in the country. Maybe even the common saying in my neck of the woods that you shouldn’t plant until the leaves on the oak are as big as a squirrel’s ear, if only I thought I could figure out how to translate “oak” and “squirrel”. Not to make the point that scientific methods of production shouldn’t be embraced — this is a post about soil temperature and seed germination, after all — but that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive; that often the old folk wisdom has a little science behind it, too. The leaves on the oaks around here tend to be about the size of a squirrels ear just about the same time the soil temperature is just right for planting our major summer crops — corn and soybeans. The old farmers might not have known that connection, or maybe they did, but also understood that, “don’t plant until the soil is fifty or sixty or seventy degrees (depending on the crop)” wasn’t as memorable.

A lot can happen to a seed in the ground. Left too long and too wet it can rot and decompose. Left too long and too dry it can shrivel and die. Left too long under almost any circumstances and it can become dinner for the local pest population from varmints to birds to insects. I once lost three plantings of green beans to a very hungry family of shrews, before I turned the dogs loose in the garden and the Schnauzer brought me their heads (and bodies, she’s not a total barbarian.) The sooner after being planted a seed germinates the less risk there is of the crop failing before it even begins.

Most seeds need two things to germinate well: moisture and warmth; water and heat, the two fundamental elements of life as we know it. For seeds started indoors or in greenhouses both are easy enough to come by, but outdoors is a little trickier. You can go by the size of the leaves on the oak, or you can use a soil thermometer. A little of both probably never hurt. Many universities — especially in agricultural states — also have weather stations scattered throughout the country with the data they record daily available online. I usually watch the data from a local weather station online (which is what I have charted above) until it consistently records a reasonable planting temperature. Then I use a combination of a soil thermometer, my own judgement and folk wisdom about the weather we’re seeing, the forecasts of a couple local meteorologists whose work has proven most accurate over the years, plus a glance at my own schedule to see when I will have time to plant. I guess you could say while some regard an approach to planting as an absolute science, I consider it more the art of applying science to real life.

Either way, this chart of optimum soil temperatures for germination, by crop, is (one of) my bible(s). The shortest length of time from planting to germination can be expected when planting into soil at the optimum temperature, and deviations from that temperature in either direction will delay seedling emergence until, at some point on the continuum the seeds won’t germinate at all — those are your maximums and minimums. Whatever your approach to planting I hope it helps you, too.

Soil_Temperature_Germination

A Few Favorite Things: April 1

IMG_4047

Read: I’ve been in a philosophic mood lately. Last week I pulled a copy of Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on The Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels of my book shelf and tucked it in my bag to carry along and read in those in-between moments. It’s edited by my good friend Cathleen Falsani and her friend Jennifer Grant, and contains essays by other friends — Karen Walrond, Alice Currah so I may be biased, but it has been a lovely addition to my day. The essays don’t need to be read chronologically and they vary in length, so it’s perfect for jumping around and fitting a little reflective reading in when you only a few minutes of down time here and there.

Watch: I can honestly say I had no idea how competitive the world of wine could be. And though it absolutely makes sense, and had you asked me about it before watching this documentary I would have accurately predicted the gender ratio of Master Sommeliers, I can’t say that I ever really gave the fact that it would be a glorified boys’ club much thought. The gender gap isn’t what Somm is about — it’s about the grueling studying process of becoming a Master and follows four men as they work towards that goal — but you can’t watch it without noticing the lack of women. Also, I would be lying if I didn’t admit the competitive side of me wanted to run out and start learning about wine immediately after watching this. It takes a topic you might otherwise expect to be boring and makes it engaging. I’ve linked to the iTunes page here, but it’s also available on Netflix if you have a subscription there.

BONUS WATCH: A packed Irish Pub paying tribute to their friend who died of Cystic Fibrosis by singing Mr. Brightside. At least one middle-aged Irishman removes his shirt and trust-falls off the bar.

Eat: We have been stuck in a nothing-sounds-great dinner loop lately. “What do you want for dinner? / I don’t know, what do you want for dinner? / I don’t know, what do you want for dinner?” Has become the nightly song of our people. Eventually, we give up and eat whatever is easiest. I think it’s the time of year. We’re ready for fresh spring and summer food, but fresh spring and summer food isn’t available yet. We’re tired of hearty winter fare, yet on the cold and rainy days it’s what’s most appropriate. The New York Times’ version of Mississippi Roast is bridging the gap. Paired with coleslaw, rather than the roasted or mashed root vegetables we’d choose if it were January. A hunk of sourdough and tall iced tea on the side doesn’t hurt either.

Listen: Billy Strings is a Michigan Bluegrass artist who has been a marvel from a young age. I was not a Bluegrass fan, but he converted me. More specifically, his Bluegrass rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man converted me. This one below isn’t too shabby either. Billy travels all over the U.S. and you can often catch him in small, local venues like craft breweries. You can check out his schedule and a full, free playlist recorded from one of his live sets on his site.

On Silence and The Whirr of Life

IMG_4085

Last night, as I was plugging links and pictures into this week’s newsletter* before bed the power went out for the third time in as many months and I thought, “so this is how 2016 is going to be.”

To be fair, three times in as many months when they are the stormiest months of the year isn’t so bad out here and none of those have been long drawn out affairs. I remember plenty of times in the past decade when we have had it worse; when the power has been out for days at a time. We spent a week a few winters back with a tractor generator purring outside our bedroom window. It was frigid that year and snowy and blustery and we had a few outages if I remember correctly. The years run together a bit after a while, but I think that was also the winter when the snow in the paddock behind the horse barn was waist deep by Christmas and somehow the unheated barn felt warm compared to the double-digit negatives outside while one of my best friends and I would stand around in our carhartt overalls having a beer and a chat every night after work, oblivious to the risk of frostbite and the wolves of winter nipping at the old barn door.

At least in the winter you don’t have to worry about your food going bad; just tuck it in the barn freezer or a snowbank and wait for the power company to get the grid back up and running again. Last night it wasn’t frigid or snowy or blowy though so I double-checked the outage map on my phone to make sure we didn’t need to set up an alternative power source. When you raise your own meat and keep two freezers full of it, you become intimately aware of both the value and the cost and you take no chances.

It was moderate and rainy, but since there seemed to be little risk of an extended outage — the map showing just two outages in the whole state — it was kind of nice to sit in the silence and listen to the patter of raindrops against the windows and roof in the wake of the first thunderstorm of 2016.

No matter how often the power goes out I always forget how much white noise there is from the whirr of electrical appliances when it’s on. At first, the silence is always exactly as they say: deafening. But then, I have found, that if I let it, it becomes restorative in its simplicity and lack.

So I sat and listened and observed and composed passages for a book I’m working on in my head, and then on paper by candlelight. And when I noticed that the clock had long since clicked over from Wednesday night to Thursday morning, I met up with my pillow and a favorite handmade quilt, knowing I would wake to the whirr of life again a few hours later.

* Each weekly-ish newsletter includes exclusive content for subscribers. You can sign up in the sidebar at the top left of this page.

On Curation and “Fine Art” Farm Photography

IMG_1783412

One time when my youngest was little (but big enough to clean up after herself) she refused to straighten up her room. After battling wits and wills with her to no avail for hours I finally laid out the old you-will-clean-it-up-by-this-specific-time-or-it-will-be-donated-or-tossed ultimatum. The deadline she was given came and went and after I had spent at least an hour bagging and boxing up all her things and hauling them out of her bedroom she met me in the hallway on my last load, “It’s okay, Mommy. I didn’t want those stuffs anyway.” She grinned innocently and I almost went stark-raving mad right then and there.

To this day, she is impossible to motivate. If she wants it, she will get it — whatever it is. She is not afraid of hard work, or taking risks, but she will do it on her time. No amount of money or bribery or punishment makes any difference. She is equally difficult and rewarding to parent. And though I guess you could say that about most kids, both her difficult and rewarding come in super-sized portions due in no small part to her very particular set of motivating factors. Most of which I still do not understand myself.

Another time, when I told her, “your room has to be clean by lunch,” she went on a hunger strike. “I’m not that hungry anyway,” she told me, meal after meal.

I tell you this, because over the years several regular readers have requested the option to buy prints of my photos. The reasons I have not made them available before are numerous, but probably mostly excuses which I realize are both unreasonable and boil down to “it hasn’t felt right.” The apple never falls far from the tree, is what I’m saying — even if it bounces a few times on landing. There is no denying that child is mine; I understand her, because my own set of motivators is often just as internal and ambiguously defined. But then, last week, as I walked by an empty wall in our hallway — ironically one right outside her bedroom door, as well as one I have been meaning to cover with a curated collection of photos — I had an idea that finally made print sales “feel right.”

I am a firm believer that, done right, curation takes time. Well-executed curation cannot be rushed, nor is there a substitute for it. It’s why some of the most amazing homes are so often the eclectic result of a lifetime of curation; a living testament to the owners over many years. It’s also the reason my photo wall hasn’t come to fruition yet. I keep trying to force myself to sit down and go through all my files and put together a cohesive, finished, whole-wall-worth of photos. That’s not curation; it’s torture.

So here’s what I’m going to do: approximately every quarter, I’m going to choose three photos for my wall. I’ll name and number them and make them available to you too. Each season will bring a new series of three photos curated for my own collection and yours too. And at the end of each quarter the chosen series will be retired. You can buy 8″x12″ prints of just your favorite photo(s), or you can buy all of them in either 4″x6″ or 8″x12″ size and follow along each quarter to create a full limited edition collection. The common thread running through them will be a theme of “rural life.” Barns, livestock, farm dogs, fields, gardens, homegrown food, fairs, equipment, Americana… they will be the best and my most favorite. Series one is available now on the newly created prints page. Enjoy!