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Crunch Time

We've really hit crunch time on the farm.  The greenhouse is bursting at the seams with transplants that need to go out, but the crop plan says we need to be starting more.  Those beds that have been planted need to be cultivated and weeded.  But beds need to be prepared for the next things to be planted.  Meanwhile, it's time to plant some trees and perennials as well.  It's always a crazy time of year, but this week's bout of snow and cold added extra work, and delayed planting some things, making this week all the more full.  I'll certainly be relieved when the time comes for Nathan, our field hand, to return to work!

In addition to the snow, it's a busy foraging time.  Ramps, violets, wild scallions, stinging nettles, bittercress, sheep sorrel, dandelions, and many other wild edibles are in their prime season.  And, of course, it's the time of year everyone gets excited about wild mushrooms!

It's also the time of year when greens start coming in, and diets start to get lighter and brighter.  That's right, it's time to embrace salads!  I've been working on some ideas for a more methodical approach to salads, helping keep things exciting for the whole year.  Basically, methods for improvisation.  So, to finish this Weeklyish, I share a rough draft version of my Salad Dressing System, which will let you improvise exciting, seasonal, and unique salad dressings all your own, any time you want. 

Dig in!

Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now

Snow Daze

The big news of the week was the snow.  After a fairly long stretch of warm weather, Mom Nature decided to grace us with a couple of days of cold and snow for Earth Day.    It was pretty.  Or, it would have been six months ago. 

It coincided with the blooming of some of our nasturtium microgreens that we allowed to grow a little past micro.  My first introduction to nasturtium was as an edible flower - I didn't even know the leaves were so delicious until I had been growing them for a couple of years!  The flowers are a nice addition to salad, with a flavor similar to, but a little less pungent than, the leaves.  Xenia had to pose with them in the snow!
The big concern, of course, is the fruit trees.  We've had a huge parade of early fruit blossoms this spring.  The almond and peach trees were in full bloom, there were still many cherry blossoms left, the pear trees were probably 70% from full bloom. Then the snow and cold hit. 

We did our best to protect them.  There was damage, but it doesn't look too terrible.  Really, the ongoing drought is likely a bigger concern than the two days of snow.  Will we have fruit this year?  Only time will tell...

Mushroom Magic

No, not magic mushrooms!  Xenia, our chief forager, has been spending some quality time in the woods lately.  Mostly that's for the ramps, wild scallions, violets, and stinging nettles that are currently among the offerings in our online store.   But, much to her delight, she has also been discovering a variety of spring mushrooms.

Of course, she has found a couple of pounds of morels.  Hasn't everyone?  And, oyster mushrooms are always a treat.  But, the new one for us this week has been Dryad's Saddle. 

This strangely beautiful mushroom looks like an organic version of a Federation starship from Star Trek, resplendent in a several shades of brown, both lustrous and mat.  They have a unique scent, reminiscent of melon rind.

Preparing them  is a bit fussy: you need to harvest them very young, or they become woody and unpalatable.  But, not too young, or they're too small to enjoy. Unlike most mushrooms, dryad's saddle needs to be thinly sliced before cooking - a mandolin seems to be the key tool here.  You slice the saucer section, until you start to feel a bit of resistance at the stem, which you don't eat.  Basically, I made mushroom chips (except they weren't that crispy), by slicing the dryad's saddle paper thin, then sauteing in butter until they started to brown.  Dryad's saddle was deemed delicious!

We are selling a few 'shrooms to folks as they become available.  We aren't pushing them through our online store or bringing them to market (yet), because they are so time consuming and unpredictable to forage.  We are experimenting with cultivating mushrooms to bring to market later this spring, though!  In the meantime, if you want to get on Xenia's list for wild mushrooms (and no promises it will pay off), send her an email!

Improvise the Perfect Salad Dressing

That salad time of year is fast approaching.  As much as we love the hygge aspect of winter braises and stews, spring is a time to be lighter, brighter, greener.  As the weather warms and the Earth gets greener, we want our diet to as well.  Lettuces, arugula, mizuna, mustard greens, edible flowers, radishes, scallions, baby carrots, salad turnips...  All of these delicious things beckon.  And they want something to accompany them, to bring out their flavors.

But, have you looked at the ingredients on a bottle of processed salad dressing?  Do we really need more Calcium Sodium EDTA to protect flavor in our diet?  Or high fructose corn syrup?  Maybe, rather than a preservative to protect quality, we can just make our own dressing fresh.  Yeah, that's the ticket!

But, once we perfect the perfect vinaigrette, we start to get bored, right?  No need!  We have been trained by industry and culinary school and celebrity chefs and Escoffier to believe that salad dressings are complex alchemy, requiring laboratory precision to come out right.  Follow the formula, or face failure!  But, I don't believe it's so.

I am working on a guide to improvising salad dressings.  It's not quite ready yet, but I wanted to share the concept with this group.  Give me some feedback on the general structure.  Is this useful?

A great salad dressing can be improvised using six categories of ingredients:
Base Flavor Often, but not always, the most prominent flavor in the dressing. The base flavor that the the other categories build upon: (Soaked) nuts, sundried tomatoes, miso, peanut butter, yogurt, etc.  This category also frequently defines the overall texture of the dressing.
Aromatics Sometimes these are the flavors that you got excited about, the ones that  enticed you into creating dressing tonight. Herbs, spices, alliums (garlic, onions, shallots), sesame oil, etc.
Sweet & Spicy Exciting spices, and tender sweetness can either balance the dressing, or be a secondary point of emphasis: Smoked paprika, honey, sugar, chile paste, miren, etc.
Acid Some dressings are very acidic (Vinaigrette). Others only have a little acid (Ranch). But acid goes a long way towards enhancing the flavors of veggies, and is a must in most dressings: lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, etc.
Oil/Fat Fats and oils are critical to dressings, enhancing and melding flavors, helping make nutrients available to your body, and creating the texture of the dressing.  Many flavors in the best salads are even imperceptible if there is no fat! They also make salads more satiating. Some oils/fats are important flavor components in their own right, and others are almost flavorless: Olive oil, avacado oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, cheeses, etc.
Adjustments Final adjustments to flavor and texture: salt, pepper, add more of ingredients above if needed, thin thick dressings with water, vinegar, juice; thicken watery ones with oils, nuts, etc.
To make a dressing, choose flavors from each of the first five categories.  Add the ingredients to a food processor or mini blender if they are fairly thick or large.  If you're using mostly liquid ingredients, as in a vinaigrette, you can just use a lidded container you can shake.  Blend/Shake to puree smooth. 

Taste and make adjustments.  It should taste stronger than you expect - remember, you only use a little dressing on a lot of salad!  Unless you used something salty, like soy sauce or peanut butter, in one of the other categories, you'll certainly need to add some salt.  If the texture is too thick, thin with more oil, vinegar, juice, or simply water.  If it is too thin, thicken with more fat/oil, or more of your base flavor ingredient(s) (nuts make for a very thick and creamy dressing, for example).

When it comes time to make a salad, or a dressing for the week, let yourself be inspired.  Go for a foraging walk in the woods.  Or, saunter through your herb garden.  Go to the farmers' market without much of a plan, and turn whatever excited you into your dressing.  Or, design your dressing to complement your salad ingredients. 

This is a great place to pull out The Flavor Bible, too.  I just did, to a random page: coffee.  Coffee goes well with almonds, marscarpone cheese, chicory, dates, and balsamic vinegar.  So, maybe a salad heavy on bitter greens like chicory, dandelion, and radicchio could be accompanied by a dressing made with a base flavor of almond, coffee as the aromatic, dates for sweetness, marscarpone for sweetness and fat, and balsamic vinegar for sweetness and acid.  It sounds rather odd, and I've never seen a dressing like it.  I probably wouldn't like it, because I don't like coffee.  But I bet it would be loved by coffee aficionados!

Or, here is an example an Asiago Onion dressing that I made a while back, using this system:

Base Flavor: Greek Yogurt (plain)
Aromatics: Nebuka Scallions (lots), Garlic
Sweet & Spicy: the yogurt does double duty (it's sweet), as do the scallions (also sweet), plus lots of black pepper
Acid: Rice Wine Vinegar, the yogurt does triple duty, plus I'll add a bit of buttermilk in a moment that does double duty. 
Oil/Fat: The yogurt does quadruple duty, grated Asiago Cheese
Adjustments: Salt, more pepper(?), buttermilk to adjust texture and add a bit more acid.

Coarsely chop the scallions.  Mince the garlic.  Dump all but the salt, additional pepper, and buttermilk into a food processor.  Puree until smooth.  Taste and adjust.  Yum!

I need to work on some guidance on quantities.  However, different ingredients vary so much in their strength and qualities that intuition really can (and should!) guide you.  Plus, you can keep tasting and adjusting in that final step until you end up with something you like.

Is this kind of improvisational system useful to you?  Let me know if I should develop it further!


Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now
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