Thursday, April 26

Wednesday, April 25

Swiss Chard & A Little Self Promotion

Swiss Chard Is The New Celery

The year I turned 30, I had two friends who turned 60, and I took full advantage of the situation.

"Save me some trouble," I said, "and tell me the most valuable thing you've learned in the last 30 years."

The first one offered up a piece of advice I've tried to abide by ever since. He said, "Be happy, not resentful or envious, when good things happen to other people."

But it was seven words of wisdom from the second friend that truly changed my life: "Always plant Swiss chard in the garden."

Many of you know about my longtime love affair with Nero di Toscana cabbage. And while that flame will certainly never fizzle, I have to admit that if I were allowed to grow only one dark leafy green for the rest of my life, I would have to choose Swiss chard.

I've been meaning to write about how enamored I am with this hardy, versatile, and gorgeous vegetable since, oh, about the time I started blogging. A few months ago I realized that for once my procrastination paid off. When an editor at asked if I'd be interested in contributing to 'Kitchen Window,' their weekly online food and recipe column, it didn't take me long to come up with the perfect topic for my first piece: Swiss chard.

"Letting Leafy Greens Into Your Life" can be found here. It includes two of my Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes, both of which I am now officially addicted to: Swiss Chard Tuna Salad and Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip. In the sidebar you'll find detailed instructions on how to grow your own Swiss chard (it's easier than you might think and can even be done in containers).

If you enjoy the article, or if you have delicious success with one or both of the recipes, I'd love it if you'd take a minute to leave a comment on 'Kitchen Window.' It's a little different than leaving a blog comment; just click on the 'Write To Kitchen Window' link located in the upper right side of the page and fill in the blanks. Thanks so much.

Oh, and be sure to check out the other 'Kitchen Window' columns, especially "Restoring Humble Pot Pie To Its Rightful Place" and "Chowders Lighten Up" which my bread baking buddy Kevin managed to write even though he's been busy covering for me (along with my pal Beth) over at our new project, A Year In Bread.

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Monday, April 23

Give Beets A Chance: Recipe for Caramelized Beets with Garlic

Thinning beet greens in the kitchen garden with baby Cary -
Harvesting young beet greens with Baby Cary last spring.

"Who here likes beets?" I asked my cooking class students. Almost everyone raised their hand.

"Wow. A room full of beet lovers. This is great. Okay, do you like garlic?" Enthusiastic nods all around. "Then I'm going to tell you the easiest, amazingly delicious way to prepare them."

It didn't matter to me (or my students) that this was a class on making cream cheese pastry. Certain things simply need to be shared no matter what the circumstances, and my recipe for Caramelized Beets With Garlic is one of them.

Last summer's tiny but tasty beet harvest.

One of the best things about homegrown beets is that even if you abuse them, they will still taste delicious. The plants will put up with frosty mornings as well as hot and humid summer days.

The beets you see above were planted late and thinned too late (those are the giant thinnings in the top photo). They were also left in the ground until July 31st, so some of them ended up much too big—and looking a little strange.

I then stuffed my poor harvest in a plastic bag and stashed it in the refrigerator for two months because I wanted to save it for my beet-crazy mother's upcoming visit. I was sure the beets would be tough and woody (not to mention half rotten), but I should have known better--beets from the garden do not hold a grudge. They were wonderful.

It's not too late to plant some beet seeds in the garden. Check out my kitchen garden blog post, How To Grow Beets from Seed and Why You Should, to learn how.

Farmgirl Susan's Caramelized Beets with Garlic
There are plenty of other ways to cook beets, but even if I have a 100-pound harvest someday I will probably never try any of them because I am so addicted to these.

The two most important things you need when making this recipe are plenty of beets and plenty of time. Beets shrink down a whole lot while cooking, and if you or a kitchen companion is a hungry nibbler, they'll shrink down even more. Start with way more beets than you think you'll need; my foodie mother and I ate this entire harvest in one sitting.

Cooking time will vary depending on how big a pile of beets you're cooking, the size of your beet dice, and how high you set the burner on your stove. Figure a minimum of 45 minutes, but it'll probably take more like an hour (trust me, it's worth the wait).

So easy. Scrub your pile of fresh beets under running water. If the skins seem a bit thick or tough, you can peel them. (I’ve never made this with store bought beets—or ever bought beets at all, come to think of it—so I don’t know what the skins are like.) Trim the tops and bottoms, then cut into about 1-inch dice.

Pour a generous amount of your favorite olive oil in a large skillet or pot and heat (a cast iron skillet works great and is one of the best kitchen bargains around). Add the beets, stir to coat with oil, then cook slowly, stirring often.

Meanwhile, peel several cloves of garlic, sprinkle them generously with salt, and chop them up. When the beets are fully cooked and caramelized, make a hole in the center of the beets and add the garlic, stirring around to make sure the garlic touches the bottom of the pan and cooks.

Cook about 1 or 2 mintues; do not let the garlic brown. Stir the garlic into the beets and serve.

If you happen to have any leftovers, they taste great the next day, either reheated or straight from the fridge.

Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the beet loving foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.

Sunday, April 22

Farm Photo 4/22/07: Curious Critters

Dog Inspection

Lucky Buddy Bear is half English Shepherd and half Australian Shepherd, and his favorite thing to do is work, preferably with his sheep.

He loves them all, but this time of year it is obvious that little lambs hold a special place in his heart. Bear would like nothing better than to have bouncing babies around all the time.

For the past six weeks or so, the entire flock has been penned up in the barn and the adjacent half-acre barnyard (well, the entire flock minus The Dirty Dozen, aka Studly Do-Right Jefferson and the wethers). This is for two reasons.

One, it keeps the sheep from munching down all the new spring grass before it has a chance to grow (instead they're fed bales of hay and grain treats several times a day). And two, it makes it much easier for us and the moms to keep track of all the new babies.

Unfortunately we only have a couple of days' worth of hay left, so everyone will soon be out happily eating sweet green grass with The Dirty Dozen (who were let loose a few weeks ago in order to save on hay). This means that frequent hikes out into the fields to do sheep-checking and lamb-counting will start taking up large chunks of my days.

But back to the barnyard.

Each night all of the moms and babies are locked in the barn so that hungry predators have a much harder chance of getting at them. The gateway separating the farmyard and the barn patio is about four feet wide.

This means that every single evening (usually before I get my dinner), 79 woolly creatures must be convinced to trot through this narrow opening. And every single evening a pack of baby lambs refuses to do just that, either because they simply haven't figured out The Nightly Plan or they're just too busy racing around having fun.

This is by far Bear's favorite part of the day. Once the majority of the sheep have been lured into the barn with a bale of hay, the two (or three, depending on if Joe has been roped into helping) of us spread out and attempt to move the babies and any straggling moms into the barn.

It feels a lot like you are in a life size version of one of those hand held games where you have to get all the little metal balls through some itty bitty opening—and inevitably there is always one stubborn ball that refuses to comply.

Unlike me, Bear never loses his patience. You won't catch him yelling, "Well you wouldn't be crying your head off for your mother if you hadn't run back out into the farmyard you little trouble maker!" or "Turn! Turn! TURN!"

No, at times like these, Bear is in his element. He gives me a patient smile that says, "We'll get this last one in, don't worry." And eventually of course we do. Then I tell Bear what a great job he did, and if he could stand up and give me a high five, I have no doubt that he would.

Bear knows that the sheep need to maintain a healthy respect for (and slight fear of) him, but he also knows that the baby lambs must learn early on that he is friend rather than foe.

Lambs are naturally curious, and so when they sneak over to check Bear out, he lays on his back with his paws in the air, as this puts him in the most submissive position. He lets the lambs sniff and inspect him all they want, and he never moves a muscle. And when they and their attentions wander away, he rolls back over, stands up, shakes himself off, and grins the biggest grin he possibly can.

Current Lamb Count: 39. Number of lazy, hungry farmgirls who ate their dinner (grilled homegrown, grass-fed, Angus T-bone steaks; warm and crusty pain au levain; and freshly picked spinach and mesclun salad) before tucking in the sheep tonight: 1. Number of stock dogs who didn't hold that against her: 1.


Saturday, April 21

Farm Photo: 4/21/07

Action Shot (click on photo to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 18

Farm Photo: 4/18/07

Even Farm Bosses Have To Sleep Some Time

Our houseguests have arrived for their working vacation, and inbetween some fantastic meals, great progress is being made on the artisan bread bakery we're slowly building here on the farm. As I type this, a wonderful picture window is being installed above the spot where my 3-compartment stainless sink will go. I'll be able to wash dishes and gaze out at my favorite view.

The good news is that it doesn't look like I'll have to bring a couple of bouncing baby lambs into the living room to distract our guests from the dust--the food thing is working just fine. And silly me, I didn't even take into consideration the distracting effect just the smell of stuff cooking and baking has on hungry visitors.

There are three freshly baked loaves of pain au levain cooling on the counter, and the dutch oven I'm lovin' has been put back in the oven for another couple of hours. It's filled to the brim with short ribs from our own grass-fed beef, several pounds of sliced organic onions, two heads of chopped garlic, Italian heirloom tomatoes and sweet red peppers from the kitchen garden (via the freezer), and half a bottle of good red wine. The tummy-rumbling scent of dinner has wafted halfway to the barn.

Lamb Report:
The latest lamb arrived just minutes before our houseguests did. Both mother (a yearling ewe who still needs a food related 'C' name--click here to see all the choices or to suggest a name of your own) and baby (a healthy boy with some of the longest legs I've ever seen) are doing just fine. We finally have some vacancies at The Bonding Suite Inn, and the end of lambing season 2007 is in sight. What a wild spring it's been so far. Current Lamb Count: 38.

Saturday, April 14

Farm Photo: 4/14/07


Now I remember why I don't let the sheep eat out of buckets.

Lamb Report:
Things have been difficult, and there have been problems. (Is it just me, or does trouble always seem to arrive in clumps?) This is to be expected--we do live on a farm full of animals after all. If an entire lambing season ever went off without a hitch, we'd probably both drop dead from the shock.

Why did this happen? How did this happen? Was there something I could have or should have done? There is nothing to do but deal with things one at a time, the best you can, knowing there will never be answers to most of the questions. (Though I'd really like to know just how a baby lamb can manage to tear a large chunk out of his cheek.)

And then you carry on. You think about the bed of baby spinach in the garden and the first of the mesclun mix in the greenhouse that are waiting to be picked for tonight's salad. You smile as you play work down by the spring, clearing paths through the piles of leaves with your rubber-booted feet so all the ponding water can flow downstream, happy that so much badly needed rain has fallen in the past two days. You scoop up a baby lamb in your arms, bury your face in its warm woolly body, and wonder if it is the softest, cuddliest thing you've ever held in your life. You look at this photo of Snugglebunny and realize that it is going to make you laugh out loud for at least the next 30 years.

On Monday we have houseguests arriving for the week. Since this is a very rare occurrence, there has been a flurry of frantic activity in the house as well as the barn as we struggle to make The Shack look halfway presentable. All the lilacs froze to death last week (they sure were lovely while they lasted), and the raised bed I sowed about 5,000 seeds in hasn't offered up a single sprout yet, let alone a bouquet of blooms, so I won't be able to distract roving eyes with vases of freshly cut flowers.

Nope, food will have to do it. Menus are being decided (Grilled lamb chops or roast leg of lamb? Two kinds of pizza or three? Apple pie or blueberry--or both?), and the house is full of the mingling scents of homemade chicken stock simmering away on the stove, an old-fashioned pecan coffee cake cooling on the counter, and an oven full of baking bread. And if all that doesn't distract them from the dust, I figure a couple of lambs in the living room should definitely do the trick. Current lamb count: 37. Number of little things to be grateful for: the same number as yesterday & the day before that--way too many to count.

A year of Farm Photos ago:
4/14/06: Bright Spots Are Everywhere
4/13/06: The Forest Floor Is Blooming
4/12/06: One Final Photo Of BB & Her Baby Girl
4/11/06: Looks Like He Has His Mother's Eyes
4/10/06: Look What Landed At My Feet

We also had:
Spring In The Spring
Girls' Day Out: No Room At The Bonding Suite Inn

Things weren't going real well with the sheep last year at this time either:
4/12/06:Hearts & Rocks & Numbers & Thoughts
4/13/06:Shepherd's Nightmare

And out of the kitchen came:
Toasted Almond Chocolate Chip Biscotti (Chocolate & Kitchen Therapy)

Sunday, April 8

Farm Photo: 4/8/07

Homemade Pizza With Red Onion, Pecorino Romano, & Fresh Sage From The Greenhouse (recipe here)

A Year In Bread has begun, and the pizzas are done! Click
here to read more about A Year In Bread, the new project Beth, Kevin, and I started a few weeks ago. It's 3 bakers, 12 months, 36 original recipes--and more fun than should probably be allowed in the kitchen. We're definitely having lots of fun, and the pizzas so far have been fantastic.

Click here to read my pizza dough recipe post and see how the pizza above turned out after it spent a little while on a hot baking stone in a 500 degree oven
. I also hope to have a separate article about pizza toppings up soon. Meanwhile, Beth and Kevin have already written about their favorite pizza dough recipes, and the all the comments sections are filled with dozens of questions, answers, and helpful tips (along with plenty of kidding around of course).

We've also created
A Year In Bread flickr group, where you're invited to share up to three of your homemade bread and pizza photos a week. I'm just getting the hang of flickr, but I'm Farmgirl Susan if you'd like to add me as one of your contacts.

Ready, breadie? Then head over to and come bake bread with us!

Thursday, April 5

Farm Photo 4/5/07: Lilacs!

I'm in love with these beautiful blooms.

There is nothing like the scent of lilacs riding on a warm breeze. The other day it followed me all the way down to the barn. There I was, lugging a hay bale to the starving sheep and sniffing the air like a dog.

I never take our lilac blooms for granted, as they only appear every few years because of our crazy weather. Last spring our two lilac bushes were covered with tiny buds, and I was hopeful (what timing—see the link below to my farm photo from a year ago today), but a hard frost destroyed every one of them. This year we've been lucky.

On Tuesday I snipped a handful of blooms, brought them into the house, and arranged them in a neglected crystal vase. There's something about freshly cut flowers--put some in a room, and I fail to see anything else. The ridiculous clutter, the dusty shelves of books, the incredibly ugly fake brick paneling on one wall of the living room--they instantly vanish.

The problem is, though, that the stems on lilac flowers are more like woody branches than stalks. Even when I crush their ends so they can absorb water more easily they don't last long indoors.

Today I wondered if this might have been by design. If the lilac flowers have to remain outside, the lilac lover is forced to stop whatever she is doing, walk over to the blooming bush, and bury her face in the flowers. She has no choice but to inhale deeply—the kind of deep breath that instantly soothes and relaxes every inch of your being. That lets you draw in one last little bit of scentillating air, even though you know your lungs are full. You feel your head tingle for a second, and you wonder if your brain is trying to capture the heady fragrance and store it as a memory.

For how nice it would be if we could summon up the scent of lilacs all year long.

A year of Farm Photos ago:
4/5/06: The Lilacs Are Coming! The Lilacs Are Coming!
4/4/06: Babies Chew On Everything
WCB #43: Molly Doodlebug & The Cat Cabin
And A Sweeter Sheep You Will Not Meet

Tuesday, April 3

Farm Photo: 4/3/07

The Grass Looks Fake This Time Of Year

A year of Farm Photos ago:
4/3/07: Big World, Small Donkey
WDB#28: Can The Grape Hyacinths Survive Dogfoot?

Monday, April 2

Farm Photo: 4/2/07

Not to worry—these two are on top of breakfast.

Lamb Report:
We've done a little remodeling at The Bonding Suite Inn. Late this morning, BB chose to have her darling twin girls (one black, one blacker--you know I love the black sheep best) in a cozy, hay-covered corner of the barn. Rather than kicking one of the other mothers out of their suite early, I swiped a 16-foot metal fence panel from the barn patio (that was helping to hold up the falling apart wooden fence but was only tied on with baling twine because we keep stealing it to use other places) and slid it across BB's stall and the adjacent bonding suite. Ta dah! Instant, stressless (and free!) expansion.

It's so nice to have these kinds of brilliant ideas before going to all sorts of trouble--and it happens so rarely I can't help but make a big deal out of it. Of course before I had even finished congratulating myself, I realized that a dozen lambs curl up and sleep together in that corner every night.

4/3/07 8:00am Update: I was jolted awake this morning by an alarming thought: At this time of year, that metal panel helps keeps predators from slinking in between the wooden fence slats and snatching a baby lamb. I threw on my clothes and headed straight to the barn for a lamb count. All there. Thank goodness.

But as I was feeding hay to everyone, I noticed Bear a few hundred feet away, barking his head off and chasing the biggest, whitest coyote I've ever seen. I think this enormous beast may be half dog, half coyote. It has that distintive coyote lope, and I've never seen a tail like that on a dog. Unfortunately I was able to get a very good look at it, because, despite my attempts to scare it off, it has followed us back to the house. Now what to do? I hate it when the would-be predators are friendly.

So the fence panel is getting moved back today. And if I ever have another brilliant idea, I'm keeping it to myself.

Current Lamb Count: 33. Wow. That's more lambs than we've ever had--and there are still more to come.

A year of Farm Photos ago:
4/2/06: Same Scene, New View
Too funny. I almost put up a photo nearly identical to this today--only the leaves are already popping out on all the trees, and the last of the hay is in the center section of the barn. It is so wonderful to be making this visual record of life here. It feels like everything on the farm is constantly changing, and I am always surprised to see just how many things stay almost exactly the same from year to year.


Sunday, April 1

Farm Photo: 4/1/07

Making Mischief In The Morning Light

Lamb Report:
It's no joke! There are 31 lambs bouncing around the barnyard, including a big baby boy born less than two hours ago to Silly Wendy. Yep, I need to get back down to the barn. More details regarding all these baby lambs hopefully soon. I've written numerous posts and stories in my head, though so far they haven't made it any further than that. But you know I'm taking plenty of pictures.

A year of Farm Photos ago:
4/1/06: Spring Has Sprung! (And it sprang even earlier this year, as that flowering bush is already in full bloom. It's going to be a very strange spring.)
Doll Face & Her Baby Boy
More Old Stuff Just Hanging Around