Hayes Valley Farm

by Caroline

A lifetime ago, pre-husband and pre-kids, I lived in the not-yet-gentrified Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. My top floor apartment looked out over a vacant lot which had once been shadowed by the 101 freeway off-ramp, but after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the road, the ramp was torn down and the lot — in all its weedy, broken-asphalt ugliness — was exposed to new light. The weeds started growing denser and scrubby trees started to sprout; the lot was surrounded by chain link fence, but that didn’t stop people from camping in it. I used to sit in my window looking out over the space, wondering if the city would ever pay attention to the lot and make better use of the area.

The rest of the neighborhood started improving; hip shops and cafes moved in, and although I moved away, I’d drive past frequently on my drive to graduate school in Berkeley. Eventually a sign went up on the chain link fence, announcing a condo development, but nothing happened. Then last winter, a new sign went up, and then lots of new signs:

We had to go see it.

We love to visit farms. We tend our own little garden in the backyard and for inspiration we have visited farms on the prairie and on the coast and even one tucked behind a suburban development.

I discovered that when the condo development plans fell victim to the recession, the city opened the site up for “temporary green space use” and the community has taken it from there. On our visit, one group of folks sorted through packets of donated lettuce seed to plant out in flats:

We planted some of it in flats ourselves:

And we admired the healthy salad bar that’s growing from seeds planted earlier in the season:

We saw another group sorting and stacking cardboard, some of the over 80,000 pounds the farmers have used already to create the farm’s “soil” out of layered cardboard, wood chips, and horse manure:

The ingredients for soil (like the seeds) are donated; the community farmers collect the cardboard, wood chips and manure free and with the city’s thanks, from the local waste stream.

These folks are serious about their farming. They are developing dwarf fruit trees that thrive in pots, so that apartment dwellers can harvest their own apples and pears:

They are refining potato columns, which grow in simple, portable chicken wire towers and yield lovely potatoes that my kids couldn’t resist harvesting:

“It’s really not scary to grow food,” commented our tour guide; indeed, for all their innovations here, they are also doing some things in ancient ways, studying the terraced farms of the Incas because San Francisco’s climate mirrors that of the Andes mountains.

The farmers are making it fun, too, hosting volunteer work parties followed by free yoga sessions, movie nights and picnics, plus classes on topics ranging from medicinal plants to soil health to permaculture to emergency preparedness. “The main thing we’re growing is a community,” our guide commented, and it’s growing beautifully. It’s like turning swords into plowshares: the Hayes Valley volunteers are farming the freeway:

Nicoise for Kids

by Lisa

When I was in high school, my boyfriend and I went to Manhattan to see some show or other, but before that, we went to a classic French bistro for lunch. I suppose I ordered onion soup, and he ordered something else, and when we done ordering the server, who was an older, very severe, motherly kind of French woman looked sternly at us an asked with more than a little “And what will you have first?”

“Nothing,” we replied, not really understanding the concept of appetizer (beyond that plate of cheese and stone-wheat crackers we sometimes saw at parties), suburban kids that we were. She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows and seemed absolutely to judge us.  But a few minutes later she returned with two perfectly composed plates of salad.  “You will eat this first,” she said. “It is Salad Nicoise.”  And we did, and we thanked her, and it was delicious, and we understood. Since then, I’ve always loved a good Nicoise (in the style of Nice), which is a classic composed salad: rather than tossing the lot of vegetables together, each is tossed separately and arranged artfully on the plate. Or if you’re a real purist, the vegetables (and sometimes tuna) are arragned artfully and just drizzled with the vinaigrette.  A good composed salad is a meal in itself. The classic ingredients for a Nicoise will vary, but are selected from tomato, green beans, boiled egg, tuna, red pepper, maybe lettuce.   Debate rages about whether or not the vegetables should be cooked.  A purist will say all should be crudite.

Basically, all you need is the following vinaigrette recipe and whatever fresh (or leftover) produce you have on hand.  You can add fresh tuna, canned tuna, the rest of that grilled pork tenderloin you have lying around, that sausage you didn’t eat (see above), steak…or not.

With apologies to the French and the purists, Salad “Nicoise” works beautifully for a family for the following reasons:

  • On a busy night, you can whip up the dressing and toss it with whatever fresh vegetables you have around.
  • You can use up leftover green beans, corn, and all manner of meats swiftly and
  • The pretty plate makes it look like it’s not “leftover night” even though you know better
  • It’s healthy
  • It can be vegetarian or not
  • You can use whatever you have on hand–whatever is seasonal, local, fresh around you
  • You can cook or not cook, depending on your family’s taste
  • Your picky eaters won’t complain about different food touching each other.

The original recipe is here, on Epicurious.

Just the dressing :

  • 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Make dressing:
Whisk together vinegar, shallot, mustard, garlic paste, and anchovy paste in a small bowl until combined well, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Whisk in thyme, basil, and salt and pepper to taste.

MultiGrain Salad with Roasted Mushrooms, Walnuts and Grapes

by Caroline

The weather’s changed this week. The fog is coming with a little drizzle and the sun is sitting lower in the sky; we don’t have many autumn leaves or crisp days here in Northern California but still, it feels like fall. And so, rummaging around — in the kitchen for ingredients and online for inspiration — I pulled together this hearty autumn salad. Unlike the original, I didn’t use farro nor wild mushrooms, but I’m guessing most everyday pantries don’t stock those either. So here’s my version, which is great on its own, would be lovely on a bed of shredded raw kale or sauteed spinach, or make a nice side dish to your roast. I eyeballed the ingredients, and of course you can adjust the proportions up or down according to your taste, but here are some ballpark measurements to get you started:

2-3 cups cooked wild or brown rice, farro, Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain mix, or some combination thereof
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 lb mushrooms (button, crimini, shitake: whatever you’ve got)
1/4 lb seedless grapes
1/4 t smoked paprika
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400.

While the oven is heating, wash the mushrooms and grapes. Halve the grapes (I know, you probably thought you were done slicing grapes when your child outgrew her highchair, but do it for this recipe: more surface area = more deliciously caramelized fruit. Plus, they won’t skate away from your fork when you try to take a bite). Chop or tear the mushrooms into large bites. Toss them onto a large roasting sheet with the grapes and walnuts, give them a good dose of olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt, some freshly ground pepper, and the smoked paprika. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the grapes are shriveled and the mushrooms and walnuts are nicely toasted (15-20 minutes). Toss with the cooked grains, return to the oven for a few minutes to warm it all, and serve.

Puffy Corn Omelete

by Lisa

A few weeks ago, Ella bit into her corn on the cob, and before she had even set it back down on her plate declared, “I love summer.”

Like most, we love corn here and eat it as often as we can while it’s in season. Purist that I am, we usually don’t do anything more than a quick boil or grill and  then serve it with butter.   But  a few years ago this recipe was published in our my & Caroline’s Gourmet and it was an immediate hit with everyone.  This dish involves your good friend, the egg, butter, corn, and chives. It turns out a light, puffed, sweet and tender omelete,  loaded with fresh corn.  It works as a main course, which is how we usually eat it, a side dish, or even an elegant first course. It’s great right out of the over or at room temperature (potluck or lunch party anyone?).  I’ve served it many times to guests, who rave.  The kids could east the whole thing themselves. And while we’re still in corn season out here, I think you could easily substitute a few cups of frozen corn if the crop near you has already waned. It’s a good way to keep a burst of summer on your plate.

Puffy Corn Omelete

The original recipe is here. I modify the process slightly so it uses fewer bowls and a pie plate instead of a skillet, which I’ve found makes clean up a little easier. Also, you can skimp on the butter, but it definitely is better if you don’t.

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat convection oven to 350°F.
  2. Add corn to a 4-quart pot of boiling water , then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs with a sharp knife into a bowl, then scrape cobs over bowl to extract “milk.” Scrape into a large bowl.
  3. Melt butter in a 10-inch ovenproof pie plate  (I use a glass one, set right in the microwave) and remove skillet from heat, then transfer 3 tablespoons melted butter to bowl with corn (leaving remaining butter in skillet to cool).  Toss corn to coat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  4. When the corn is cool, whisk in the egg yolks with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until combined.
  5. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl using an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of whites into yolks to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Gently fold in corn mixture.
  6. Spoon mixture into pie plate and bake until pale golden and set, 10 to 12 minutes. The omelete will puff nicely as cooks.  Loosen omelet with a heatproof rubber spatula and slide onto a plate, or cut and serve directly from the pie plate. Serve sprinkled with chives.

Garbage Salad

by Caroline

critical tools for garbage salad

When I was in 3rd grade, I ate lunch with my dad nearly every weekday. Although my school day went to 3 PM, the school didn’t permit children to eat lunch at school until 4th grade. I remember my mom grumbling that this was a conspiracy to keep moms from working outside the home, and she endured it awhile, but finally when her youngest child (me) hit eight, and having been out of the workforce since her oldest child was born (sixteen years earlier) my mom was ready to get back to work. She cobbled together a schedule for me of lunchtime playdates with friends and — since her job didn’t allow her the flexibility to drive home for lunch each day, but my father’s did — Lunch with Dad.

Lunch with Dad was great. We would sit at the dining room table, he at the end and me around the corner next to him, and play double solitaire between bites. I have no recollection of my meals – a rotating menu of sandwiches, I expect — but Dad always made what he dubbed Garbage Salad. He’d start with a plate, a big carrot and maybe one of the enormous white daikon radishes he’d grown in our front yard, and the box grater. He’d grate himself a bed of vegetables, then rummage in the fridge for good-looking leftovers and toss those on top, together with perhaps a scoop of cottage cheese and a sprinkling of peanuts and a splash of vinaigrette. He ate this nearly every day when he was home, the ingredients varying with the seasons and the contents of our refrigerator. Now that I don’t have kids coming home for lunch any more (happily, mine are fed well at school, from kindergarten on), I find myself reaching for the box grater, looking for good leftovers, and composing Garbage Salad, too.

You might want to rename your version of this salad, though sentiment and honesty will always keep it Garbage Salad in my house. As for the ingredients, I find people have strong feelings about cottage cheese, and while I like it well enough I’m not going to risk family harmony by bringing any into the house. Today, my version of Dad’s salad used more salad greens, because our CSA share is bursting with lettuces, plus a shredded beet, a shredded kohlrabi, a tomato, some leftover stir-fried green beans and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I take the time to boil an egg and chop that into the salad, sometimes I toss in some cannellini beans. Tonight, we’re roasting potatoes for dinner, so any leftovers will likely go into tomorrow’s salad. The main thing is to get out that box grater and some shreddable vegetables – carrots, summer squash, beets, kohlrabi, parsley root, radish – and start with that base, because as my Dad taught me, they soak up your vinaigrette and make a delicious bed for just about anything you find to put on top.