27 April 2014

Redneck Gitana: Mercado de San Miguel

On our recent trip to Spain, we flew into Madrid and barely had twenty-four hours before heading south to Seville.  I wasn't going to pass through town without visiting it's premier market, Mercado de San Miguel.  

Mercado de San Miguel is a gourmet indoor market in the center of old Madrid, steps from the Plaza Mayor.  It's not where one goes to get groceries, but to have a snack, a drink, or pick up specialty items.

Our first stop was for a drink at the vermouth stall.  Vermouth is a very common aperitif in the north of Spain.  It's typical to order a vermut de grifo--literally draft vermouth or house vermouth.

I know it seems odd to drink vermouth straight since we don't have that practice in the States, but it quickly became a favorite.

It easily pairs with strong flavored tapas such as the assortment of olives--olives stuffed with tuna, olives stuffed with anchovy, olives with cheese or cured meats or sun-dried tomato.  The list goes on.   

A drink and olives (and several slices of queso manchego for Viv) sustained us through a quick tour of the very crowded market . . .

monkfish at the fresh seafood counter . . .

boiled Galician barnacles, a delicacy. . .

a stall devoted to fresh oysters and champagne . . .

large grilled red shrimp . . .

angulas, or baby eels, on bread . . .

the burrata trend is alive in Madrid as well . . .

a section devoted to the prized Iberian ham . . .

chorizo and chicharrones (crispy pig skin),

and then a beer and some chorizo bites before heading to our next stop.

19 March 2014

Longest Winter

I'm pleased to report that it is raining today.  Last week when it was still snowing, I wrote the following post:

I'm telling you nothing new in stating that this has been the longest winter.  The farm was covered in snow for ages.  Despite the crippling snow, severe negative temperatures, and high winds, my sunflower patch is still standing.

We've gotten a lot of aesthetic mileage throughout the seasons out of a dozen packets of seeds.

While I tired quickly of frozen toes and the glacier that formed over my driveway, the farm was truly beautiful blanketed in snow.

We got very good at snowstorms.  They are far more manageable with a good cocktail.  We came up with a couple good seasonal drinks with winter citrus.  The winner is a Meyer lemon infused vodka and tonic.  

Vodka is not the standard spirit in our home, but it's the perfect medium for flavorful infusions such as Meyer lemon and sour cherry.  I also candied some kumquats because one can only eat so many raw kumquats and candied kumquats sounds naughty.  They make a great gin and tonic.

There was a series of citrus experiments, but that was a hundred blizzards ago.  This list of 100  things to do with  a Meyer lemon yielded some good results: Meyer lemon infused olive oil, Meyer lemon confit, preserved Meyer lemons.  The infused olive oil made a fantastic vinaigrette and even better tapenade of artichokes, capers, and a few of the confited lemons.  I also found a pomelo, which was lovely, and candied the rind.  I still have no idea what to do with them.

Once the citrus experiments wore thin, and the snow became more tedious, and even I bored of variations on a gin and tonic theme, we decided it was time to escape.  Luckily, Chicago's Eataly opened a few months ago.  It's basically a foodie amusement park.


It would take a while, even the length of a particularly cold Midwest winter, to explore all Eataly has to offer.

We started with some of our favorites . . .

like Nduja

and Barolo.

Escaping the farm is necessary in the abysmal winter months when I freeze my face off and constantly wonder why we live in the tundra.  Soon enough spring will be here; in the meantime I'll pour another Meyer lemon vodka tonic, plan my 2014 garden, and dream of spring.  Here are some of my favorite photos from past spring seasons on the farm:

wild columbine by the creek


onion blossom

sour cherry harvest


rainbow over the farm after spring storm

first garden planted

24 February 2014

Losing the Coop

At 2:30 am we awoke from a dead sleep to a police officer banging on the side door.  I stood in the doorway of our bedroom as I heard him explain to my husband that one of the buildings was on fire.  As he described which building, I burst into tears.  It was our chicken coop.  My husband ran out into the -10 degree weather, and I heard him exclaim, “oh my god.” I knew immediately the chickens were gone.  Still, I quickly threw on clothes with the intention of running down and saving any that were left, but the police officer explained that we were to evacuate immediately and that the fire department had been called. The nearby industrial propane tanks could explode putting us all in danger.  Nick sent him to alert his parents. I threw our passports and cash in my purse, we packed Viv in the car, and drove down the road to safety. 

Once the firefighters had the area under control, I surveyed the damage.  I don't know what I expected, but it was shocking to see only the foundation of the building left smoldering.

We lost the coop.  And we lost 17 hens and a rooster.  All evidence points to the heat lamp starting the fire.   Nothing remains but the guilt of putting everyone in danger, burning down my father-in-law’s building, and the loss of the lives of those poor chickens. 

My perspective is not completely out of whack:  I understand that in the grand scheme of things losing chickens ranks low on the tragedy scale.  I am very grateful that someone noticed the fire.  I’m grateful that none of us were hurt and that we still have our homes; it could have been much worse.  I’m grateful for the fire department that put their lives in danger in the middle of a freezing February night in response to the call of duty.    

Furthermore, I understand that they were, though it pains me to phrase it this way, just chickens.  They were livestock, not human.  Regardless, they were living things in my care and for which I greatly cared.  Twelve of them were part of our original flock, the hens I hand-fed grubs collected during planting season.  They were the hens that ran to me when they heard my voice, that pecked all the snow off my boots when I entered the coop, that followed me around the property last spring when they were allowed to fully free-range on the property.  One of them was Henrietta, a Rhode Island Red who earned a name, who I saved from being a casualty of the new dog that has a taste for chicken.  I nursed her back to health in my kitchen, applied ointment to her wounds, and hand-fed her once back in the coop to get her back up to weight.  She had just started laying again.   

I wanted to give them a lovely pastoral life, unlike the stories of all those sad commercial hens.  I let them down.  I’m responsible for their sad death and their last living moments in panic.  And on top of the guilt, I really miss them.  I know that sounds silly, but they brought me true enjoyment.  They were a highlight of my day.  It was one of the things I really enjoyed about living on the farm.  Sometimes on those freezing January days, I would go down to the coop with special scraps and just hang out with my chickens.  I know it’s weird; I probably won’t include it on my resume.  

We are often asked in the wake of this event if we will rebuild and get new chickens.  I don't know.  For now, I’m eating more red meat and posting pictures of happier chicken days.

31 December 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

The sunrise and sunsets on the farm have been particularly beautiful lately.  Perhaps there is some special alignment of atmospheric conditions.  Or maybe the time in which I go outside to photograph them are the few very still moments of my day; the farm is noticeably still when blanketed in snow.  Or perhaps I'm just reaching an age in which I suddenly admire sunsets, watch squirrels, and hand feed recovering hens in the chicken coop.  Regardless, they've been beautiful, and it seemed a very appropriate post as the sun sets on 2013 and rises in 2014.






"Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn"
– Ralph Waldo Emerson