Today was a great day for the Oops! team, dear friends. Not only did we reunite (a feat that has become somewhat rare due to distance between the lame suburbs and the not-so-lame Ann Arbor), we reunited in the name of farming. Organic farming. Sustainable farming. Urban farming.
That's right. Today we got to play in the dirt.
One of the many wonderful and deserving local food organizations that we support is Growing Hope in Ypsilanti. Volunteering around their gardens or in the hoop house is always a fun and enriching experience - particularly when it's been too long since your last farming fix. Tuesdays are for market preparation, so we met up bright and early to see how we could help out.
Joy of joys! The first thing we did was harvest that springtime delight, the beautiful and ever-bountiful pea. So crisp, so delicious, so sweet - and with no sugar added! These peas were better than candy. It was hard not to eat every last pod, but the guilt of taking from the food bank donation row helped a little bit.
Next we moved on to the hoop house, where several rows of raised beds produced hundreds of pounds of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables each season. Being around all the plants makes me giddy. Me and Pancake helped clear a few beds of spinach gone to seed, and enjoyed making Beerdsmith be our personal wheelbarrow servant - every good farm has a compost pile, and our dearly departed spinach friends were retired there to decompose. I'll see you again, my vegetable friend. I'll see you again.
Other tasks of the day included harvesting chard and turning garden beds. We transplanted some little chard seedlings too. The glorious thing that comes with caring about food and gardening is the cycle of interconnection between the two - where does one end and the other begin? Does the superior quality of freshly grown ingredients inspire a cook to plant a garden? Is the first step of any recipe simply to plant some seeds? Do we garden because we cook, or cook because we garden?
All I know is, our morning of farming worked up a mighty fine appetite. After we helped load the truck, we wished the GH staff good luck at market and proceeded to Pancake's fine apartment, where we created an EPIC LUNCH OF AWESOME SEASONAL INGREDIENTS.
Here, Beerdsmith displays the fierce attitude necessary to execute our main dish, Garlic-Dill Polenta. It was his creation.
1/2 cup dry corn grits
1 1/2 cups water
1 extra large garlic clove, minced
1 large handful dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fake butter
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
Brown the garlic in some oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove and set aside. Add the water to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Salt the water, then add the grits and cook, stirring often, until soft. The cook time will vary depending on the type of grits you use - ours took about 14 minutes. Stir in the dill, garlic, fake butter and a little more salt, then taste for seasoning. Once it's where you like it, pour into a pan and chill in the fridge while you prepare our next creation, the Broiled Veggie Topping.
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 or 3 small tomatoes, about 1 cup chopped
2 generous drizzled of extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Combine everything on a baking sheet and broil until asparagus is cooked and tomatoes are soft. This took us about 7 minutes, more or less. Once that's done, you can get the polenta out of its pan by flipping it upside down and if you're lucky, it will make a really funny noise as it leaves. Heh. Anyway if you're like us - and it's ok if you're not! - you'll end up with something like this:
The awesome-ness doesn't even stop there! The meal was rounded out by the third and final creation, a seasonally epic Strawberry Spinich Salad, with toasted hazelnuts and a maple-balsamic dressing (I refuse to call it a vinaigrette). The great thing about community farmers is that, on the whole, they are an exceedingly generous group. Not only did we walk away from Growing Hope with joy in our hearts from the nourishing work, we also scored a bag of fresh spinach!! These perfect leaves formed the base of our simple salad. Oops! tip: when using few ingredients, make sure they're really, really good.
1 bag freshly harvested spinach, rinsed
1 handful hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
6 strawberries, sliced
Assemble ingredients in a bowl. While assembling, eat a strawberry before anyone sees you.