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I can remember back to a time that I just didn’t get the appeal of fennel. This course, stringy, strongly scented vegetable didn’t seem worth the trouble to cook. But now I can honestly say that it is among my very favorite vegetables. I fully realize that there are many of our CSA members who still don’t “get” fennel, and if you are among these, you simply must try Jeanne’s recipe for roast fennel and onions.

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kale-lacinato

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Kale is a type of cabbage that does not form a head from the central leaves.We grow three varieties of kale, green curly leaf or Scotch kale, Lacinato or Dinosaur kale, and Red Russian kale.  Kale is high in beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin C and calcium.

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kohlrabiKohlrabi is an odd vegetable that I think is often bought more for appearance than for the desire to eat it. Looking like something from a science-fiction movie, they come in lovely deep purple or jade green, and the leaves come up from all over what seems to be the root.

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Lettuce Rows

Lettuce Rows

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Lettuces grow exceptionally well here at our home farm near the coast. They love the cool foggy summer weather. We grow Red Leaf, Green Leaf, Butter Lettuces, Little Gem, and Romaine varieties and offer a mix of baby salad greens in our early spring boxes.

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Think of how often a dish starts with a sauté of onions, carrots, and celery. In Italy this combination is called soffritto. In France it is cooked with butter and called mirepoix, but for general purposes I like it cooked with a light flavored olive oil or even grapeseed oil, which is neutrally flavored, so I call it by the Italian name. I like to make this in larger batches, removing some when it is still pale, or blond, then cooking the remaining amount until it is a darker shade of amber, giving it a caramelized flavor. I sometimes even let some go until it is quite dark, like tobacco, for a very deep flavor. I then freeze it in batches. I use large zip bags and flatten out the soffritto in the bags, making it easier to stack and easier to simply break off the amount I wish to use. Some people freeze it in ice trays as you might pesto. However you store it, having this in the freezer is like having a time machine. It can make having good tasting food on the table much quicker, or if you have several pans going at once it is quite helpful as well as it is easy to burn smaller amounts of onions.

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Vinaigrettes are usually thought of as oil and vinegar dressing. In actuality, vinaigrettes can be used as a sauce, especially for fish and poultry, on sandwiches, as a marinade, or even as a pasta sauce. Vinaigrettes are great poured over roasted vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, and beets, while still warm so the flavors are absorbed. This makes an excellent salad, and is, in fact, how German potato salad is made.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch of beets
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of water
1-2 tablespoons vinegar such as white balsamic or sherry

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This salad takes a little planning and has a few steps to it, but with a little bit of strategics it is easy enough. And the work that goes into this is rewarded with lots of clean flavor and crunch. Although substantial on its own, if you need more protein, it will take easily to some chicken or bacon.

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A variation on a theme, where carrots get cooked in some water and then a glaze is made of the cooking liquid. Pomegranates are in season right now, and if you see a white pomegranate, the seeds would look lovely in this dish and would add a nice textural and flavor “pop” to the whole.

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Be sure not to overcook the spinach. This recipe yields some nice color on the plate. The pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are there to provide a crunchy contrast, but if you don’t want to take the time to clean the seeds or if they are just too few to be worth the effort, use store bought or substitute toasted pine nuts instead. The ingredients list looks long, but half of it is just options you can choose from. This is a fairly simple recipe that can go in many directions with ease.

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soilHealthy soils not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, but also provide tangible benefits to farmers’ bottom lines, their communities’ health, and the wildlife around them. So wouldn’t it be great if the farmer you get your share from could get paid to improve their soil’s health? Thanks to new groundbreaking legislation, they can.

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This is another “vegetable as sauce” recipe, and is simpler than the others, both in method and ingredients. This was first made to go on roasted cabbage but is really nice on other things. See notes.

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Another dish with vegetable as sauce. The kids are not too fond of cabbage (except in egg rolls) usually, but seem to eat anything roasted. So this was a logical next step. And they really like carrot sauces, so here you go…

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This came about as a result of eating out and having pork cutlets with fried capers. The capers stole the show for me. One night I was craving the capers and had a different meat dish planned, so this came about. Be sure to dry the capers really well so they open out more and get crisp.

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A Myotis yumanensis hunting a moth. Photo credit: Michael Durham

A Myotis yumanensis hunting a moth. Photo credit: Michael Durham

October is Bat Appreciation Month, and with the celebration of Halloween this week I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some of the awesome things I learned about bats while earning my degree at UCSC. For my senior thesis I worked in collaboration with a PhD student to examine the effects of agricultural intensification on bat species communities, and wanted to share with you some reasons why bats are so important in agroecosystems and how the farmers here at High Ground are doing their part to support these important creatures.

Bats eat pests! There are many common Halloween images of bats as spooky blood-sucking vampires, but in reality the bats that live here on California’s central coast mostly eat insects. A large proportion of the insects that bats eat are in the families of moths, grasshoppers, and beetles, many of which are big-time crop pests. A single bat can eat up to its weight in insect prey in a single night of foraging, which makes these little guys incredibly important for insect pest control on organic farms like ours. In fact, studies have shown that bats may be even more important than birds for controlling insect pests.

Did you know that we have thirteen different species of bats in our area? Different species have adapted in different ways to be able to exploit the natural variation in the landscapes of the central coast. There are open-area bat species that are bigger in size and have long wings that make them fast flyers that can go long distances over open fields. These bats use low, long echolocation calls to be able to “see” long distances. Conversely, there are forest-dwelling bat species that are smaller in size and have short, stubby wings. These short wings allow forest bats to fly more slowly and give them more maneuverability, so they can fly in habitats that are cluttered with trees and other vegetation. Forest bats use short, high-pitched echolocation calls which make it so they can “see” really well close up and fly super close to vegetation in cluttered habitats. However, these high-pitched calls don’t travel very far across open fields, so forest bats have to stick near the trees to be able to “see.” Open-area and forest-dwelling bats eat different kinds of insects, so it’s important to have a balanced community of both types of bat species in order to have the most protection against insect pest outbreaks.

Large-scale industrial agriculture is really harmful to bats. Many of the native plants that grew in central California have been removed to make room for industrial agriculture, and the crops that are planted in their place have very little diversity. These big open fields are virtually impossible for many of the forest-dwelling bat species to cross, and the populations of forest bats are suffering because of this major habitat transformation. Even the open-area bats which can exploit these huge fields are suffering because of the land management practices used by industrial agriculture. The use of agricultural chemicals like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers leaves a lot of chemical residue in nearby bodies of water, which can make bats sick. When bats eat insects that have been sprayed by pesticides, the pesticides collect in their bodies and poison the bats and their young.

At High Ground Organics, we are dedicated to farming in a way that works with the natural ecosystem, not against it. Growing a diverse array of vegetables not only keeps our CSA members happy, it makes the bats happy, too! In addition to the vegetable crops that are rotated throughout our fields, our farm has hedgerows made up of large, perennial plants that provide year-round habitat for bats and other animals. The hedgerows help forest-dwelling bats navigate through our fields, and protect all kinds of bats from wind, rain, and overhead predators like owls. We don’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and instead rely on working with nature’s natural balance to keep pest populations under control.  By farming organically and providing non-crop perennial vegetation on our farm, we are supporting a balanced and diverse community of bat species. They might be hard to spot, but the bats on our farm are an important part of our farm ecosystem. So, here’s to bats, appreciated at High Ground during October as well as the rest of the year.

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This recipe takes my riff on the classic French peas cooked in lettuce as its inspiration. The squash stands in for the peas, and the trick is to not overcook the squash or it will turn mushy and bitter. The little bit of sugar helps with the flavors as well as helping get some color on the squash. This dish comes together quickly and is a boon when in a hurry or making something fancy on the other burners.

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Persillade is a condiment or topping, the most basic version of which is a mixture of chopped flat leaf parsley (persil in French) and garlic. Here is a riff on my variation that includes toasted bread crumbs that add a nutty quality, as well as crunch to a dish. This version uses grated or chopped carrots to add moisture and sweetness. The carrots must be chopped fairly finely to release enough moisture to achieve the desired effect. To that end, coarsely grate the carrots and then use a knife that is not razor sharp, or pulse in a food processor or blender.

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Here, the nutty earthy flavor of roasted broccoli is countered with a slightly sweet carrot inflected persillade-the classic parsley garlic mixture used to top many a bistro dish. The persillade has the crunch of toasted bread crumbs as well as carrots-and if you like, pistachios-to play off the slightly chewy broccoli. Serve as a side with steak, duck, tuna, or other items with a deep dark flavor.

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Here atop our coastal terrace where our home ranch is located, there is very little between us and the coast to slow storm systems down as they come off the Pacific Ocean. For most of the day last Sunday it felt as if our house was in an enormous car wash—being buffeted by near-40mph gusts and driving rain. As of Monday morning we had received around an inch and a half—a lot for a mid-October storm, but far less than the six inches my cousin Josh measured at their farm in nearby Corralitos where the moisture is compressed against the Santa Cruz mountains. Such gradients are not uncommon—on average we receive nearly half the rainfall as they do. And the further up the mountains you go, the more extreme the difference is. In Ben Lomond, for instance, over 9 inches of rain fell between last Friday and Sunday! That is nearly half of the rainfall we receive here in an entire season.

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Roasting concentrates the flavors of the squash and tomatoes, and adds sweetness as well.

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With the orange squash and almost black ribbons of lacinato, this dish is great for Halloween parties, although anytime is a good time for these flavors. It is great as a side dish with poultry, pork, and sausage, or add grains and mushrooms to it for a hearty vegetarian main course.

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Orange flavored, not orange colored. This dish takes its inspiration from Sicily and the Mediterranean. It would work well with some olive slivers tossed in as well, or without the olives, use this as an accompaniment to smoked trout or large-sized grilled prawns.

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pumpkins-2016You are invited to the farm this Saturday, October 15, for our annual Pumpkin Patch! Choose your jack-o-lantern, cinderella (rouge vif d’etampes), and pie pumpkins (Winter Luxury) for the upcoming season. The patch will be open from 10 am to 2 pm.

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While good all summer long, this salad is brilliant with end of summer tomatoes and squash. Here the quickles are made with oregano, but you can use whatever herbs you have to hand. If you have chervil, or marjoram, or thyme, so be it. Use the herbs in the dressing to link to the squash. Feel free to gussy up the salad with a little crumbled goat’s milk cheese and pine nuts.

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These are nice to just have around in the refrigerator, ready to jump into a salad or sandwich, or just as a snack. You can change the shape of the cuts based on the shapes of the squash. Cube-ish shapes if you have a patty-pans, crook-necks, and typical stick shapes, or if you just have cylindrical zucchini shapes, just cut into quarters or halves, or leave whole then cut into ¼ inch slices. Just keep things to a ¼ inch thick and roughly all the same size so they change from “raw” to “pickled”.

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INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon herbs; such as chervil, oregano, basil, marjoram, or a combination of the above-leaves plucked and chopped with a very sharp knife

1 tablespoon minced shallot

Salt and pepper to taste

1 clove garlic, peeled

¾ cup light flavored olive or neutral flavored oil

 

METHOD:

Rub a non-reactive bowl with the garlic clove vigorously enough to leave streaks of garlic oil behind. Discard the clove or use for something else. Put the vinegar into the bowl, and add half the herbs, shallot, and the salt and pepper. Allow to macerate 10-15 minutes.

In a slow steady stream, drizzle in the oil, whisking vigorously the entire time until all the oil is emulsified.

Gently fold in the rest of the herbs, taste for seasoning, and adjust if needed.

Will keep 3-5 days before the fresh herbs begin to breakfast.

Yield: 1 cup

Source: Chef Andrew E Cohen

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The sweetness of the apricots and the jammy mouth feel works with the slight minerality and “furry” texture chard has as a result of the oxalic acid in it. Pine nuts or almonds would be good substitutes for the pistachios, and changing the seasoning from herbs to cinnamon and a touch of cumin, allspice or saffron takes this dish straight to Northern Africa or the Mid-East. Use this as a side dish, to stuff poultry or “pies”, or in a frittata.

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harvestinglettuce_mobileTwo bills were signed into law that will have dramatic effects on all agricultural businesses in California. The one most people are familiar with is the minimum wage law that was signed back in April that will result in a $15 minimum statewide by 2022. People outside of agriculture, however, may not be aware that another bill, with possibly larger effects, was also signed into law–AB 1066.

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The “sauce” is similar, I suppose, to a salsa verde (Italian, not Mexican), except it has nuts. And no capers or lemon. Anyway, the bright herbaceousness and the nutty flavors work really well with the earthy sweetness of the squash. Kabocha tend to be drier than other squash, such as acorn or butternut, so the topping is stands out all the more. Pine nuts are a great choice in lieu of hazels, and you could even give this dish a South West slant by using cinnamon and coriander seed on the squash and adding a little cilantro to the garnish. The peel is edible on kabocha by the way.

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Quite easy, with big flavor. The sweetness of the tomatoes and mint, and the clean aromatic “whiffiness” are a great foil to the earthy kale. This dish would be fine with other kales as well as collards cut into ¼ inch ribbons.

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The broccoli is blanched just enough so it is no longer raw, and then seared in a hot pan to crisp it up a little before being tossed with a sweet and savory mélange of pancetta, diced tomatoes, and herbs.

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turkeysupclose2When the gang of wild turkeys arrived on the farm last year they didn’t cause much trouble. They hung around the pumpkin patch and scratched around in the grassy edges. However, they have now become a major farm pest for us.

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This is a dish that is fine served hot or room temperature. The sweet flavors of fennel, onion, and tomato play off the earthy quality of the chard, and while the topping is optional, the crunch really is a wonderful counterpoint.

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…and maybe other things too, if you wish. You could add chard and chard stems, or just stems if you have them left over from another dish. Olives, artichoke hearts, beans, mushrooms…Serve with avocado chunks, labne (I use it instead of sour cream), some fiery hot sauce and slabs of toast.

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cinderella-pumpkinsIt’s starting to feel like fall around here—warm and sunny. At times the sun is filtered through smoke from the Sobrantes fire, casting things in an orange glow. As with past Big Sur fires, because of the rough terrain, it will probably burn until the rains start later in fall, and our air quality will suffer as a result.

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I do get a lot of interesting looks when I mention cooking cucumbers, but they are really good. Much of their appeal rests on cooking just enough so they get hot all the way through, but are still succulent and crisp. This dish relies on temperature contrasts (hot cucumbers and cold tomatoes) and sweet/bitter contrasts (cucumber has a slight bitterness in the background, tomato has a slight acidity, and they both have sweetness) for interest. A very simple dish that is easy to play with; add garlic, basil, pine nuts, etc. for variation.

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SIGN UP FOR CSA PROGRAM

When you join our CSA, you sign up with the farm to receive a share of the harvest during our 36 week season from mid-March to mid-November. In return, you get a weekly box of organic vegetables and fruit (and optional flowers) delivered straight from our farm to a pick-up site in your neighborhood.

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View our CSA Members Page

This is where you can go to find out what's coming in your box each week, find recipes, identify your vegetables with pictures, and view or print the current and past newsletters. Check here for the information you need to use your box to the fullest.

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