Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Equinox Pie!

They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade.

So, what do you make when life presents you, just before the Spring Equinox, with too many eggs, a handful of kale sprouts, and eight kinds of goat cheese?

Equinox Pie!

This kitchen experiment was the happy result of a seasonal culinary confluence. The eggs, (including one double-yolker), came from our chickens who have now ramped up production to an average of 14 eggs a day. (Ironically, after weeks and weeks of TOO MANY EGGS, I may not have enough for this week's Winter Market because we're about to put at least a couple dozen into the incubator for our first batch of Spring chickens.)

The kale sprouts are our first harvest of 2010: a handful of sprouts that had to be thinned out from among a spritely batch of seedlings nestled in one of the cold frames inside our hoop house. I couldn't bear to just toss them to the chickens—I wanted to enjoy, appreciate, and honour every tiny green snippet.

And the eight kinds of goat cheese? Oh, what a lovely mishap! A fellow market vendor (Creeping Thyme Farm) had set out his full range of goat dairy products for folks to sample at last week's market. Usually, the samples are consumed with the enthusiasm his delicious products deserve, but it was an unusually warm day. Maybe most of our usual customers were suffering a bout of Spring Fever and couldn't bear to come inside-- even though “inside” just meant walking through the open doors of an otherwise unused commercial-size greenhouse at a local garden center. By noon on that unseasonably warm, clear March day, the solar gain of that unheated greenhouse had all the vendors peeling off their coats and sweaters. By one o'clock, the heat had us rolling up our sleeves. By two o'clock—closing time for our Winter market—my fellow vendor was looking at his table full of fresh, handmade cheeses with something approaching despair. “Could you use these?” he asked, “'cause after all this heat, I really can't save them for anything.”

One delighted smile and an enthusiastic nod later, that entire array of cheeses was bagged up and set in my cooler. I swapped him a dozen eggs and some other farm goods to make it worth his while. Once home, I combined all the softer cheeses (plain chevre, garlic & herb chevre, plain bondon and bondon with bruschetta) in one container. Into another container I packed all the harder cheeses (feta, queso fresco, queso fresco with sundried tomatoes, and ricotta salata). I knew I needed to use them all quickly, but what to do, what to do? I mused and pondered for a couple of days, thought about the eggs and the kale that needed thinning, and rummaged to determine what else might need using up. Then, inspiration struck:

Equinox Pie!

In celebration of the year's turning—complete with my tiny handful “harvest” of the year's first green growing things—I would make a quiche. Now, I've only made quiche a few times in my life, but after flipping back and forth through a few cookbooks to get the proportions and techniques, I thought I had it figured out well enough to have a go.

First, I put on my apron—a custom one made for me by another one of our market vendors. This apron takes a bit of fussing to get off and on, but the vintage style ensures that clothes are well-protected (and it makes me feel ridiculously charming, which boosts my confidence in the kitchen).

Next, I made a batch of pie crust (Pate Brisee, Joy of Cooking, p.591, chosen for its ability to “withstand a moist filling”). I used a cup each of unbleached wheat flour and white spelt flour, a stick of butter, about 2/3 cup cold water, and about ¼ tsp of “Sea Shakes,” a locally-made blend of sea salt, seaweed, and herbs. There: the fruits of the sea and the bounty of the oceans were properly blended with the gifts of the earth. The elements were balanced and harmonized, as equinoctal ingredients should be. Once made, the dough was set in the fridge to rest for a couple hours before rolling out, trimming, and draping in a pyrex pie dish. I crimped the edges by hand, a process that always makes me feel like a happy five-year-old.

Time to tackle the filling: I used six eggs, including one smallish pale green Araucana egg and one monstrous double-yolker from an overachieving Golden Comet. I broke them into a large mixing bowl, beating each egg in thoroughly before the next was added. Into this lovely golden puddle I poured two cups of milk (raw whole milk from nearby Winter Hill Farm, shaken well to incorporate the cream). Next, I added the soft goat cheeses-- about 8 ounces-worth-- and mushed them around a bit. Then I took all the harder cheeses—another 8 ounces or so—and whizzed them in a food processer just enough to break up the larger chunks, then added them to the milk-egg mixture as well. I also tossed in about ½ cup of peas (for color and a sweet contrast against the cheeses' saltiness) and about half of a leek, sliced thinly. For seasonings I added a finger-full each of nutmeg and paprika. I figured the salt and herbs in the various cheeses could provide all the rest of the excitement.

Lastly, I tossed in my handful of kale snippets. ( I think the high-end restaurant menus refer to these as “gourmet micro-greens.”) I knew they'd get lost in the mix, but I trusted they'd contribute some ephemeral hint of greengrowiness. I poured the soupy mess into the waiting pie shell. Lastly—and, I suspect, utterly unnecessarily—I grated about 1/3 cup of Monterey Jack cheese and sprinkled it over the top—because, really, is there such a thing as a quiche with too much cheese?

The Equinox Pie baked for about 50 minutes at 350 degress Farenheit. I took it out when the crust was nicely browned and it was no longer jiggly in the middle. It was served to our “Good Dirt” farm book group during a discussion of Derrick Jensen's extraordinary collection of interviews, “Listening to the Land.” (This is, hands down, one of the best books I have ever read. You should read it. In fact, everyone should read it... preferably while eating locally-sourced quiche.)


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sticker Shock

I was frightened the first time I saw it. The words were plastered to the bumper of a science professor's car, and although their purpose eluded me, I couldn't help feeling a deep sense of foreboding when I read the statement:
"The Universe is Expanding and Everything is On Schedule."

"On whose schedule?" I wondered. On whose agenda, with what printing press? And if everything was expanding, did that mean the very stuff of life itself was being pulled gradually apart? I wasn't sure of its meaning, but that odd little bumper sticker disturbed me enough that I started averting my gaze when I walked through that parking lot on the way to class. Perhaps it was right--it probably was--but I didn't know how it should impact my life and it made me feel anxious. I resolved to avoid it. And yet, every time I walked through that lot and averted my gaze, that sticker's text would swim back into my mind's eye. The very discomfort of it had imprinted it, indelibly, on my awareness.

Last Friday we went to see environmental writer and educator, Bill McKibben. His lecture was part of a series entitled, "Sustainability: Transitions to Resilience." But what McKibben really came to talk about was his current work, a worldwide consciousness-raising initiative called "350.org." 350 parts per million: the level of carbon in the atmosphere above which "life on the earth, as we know it, becomes unsustainable." He spoke with great excitement of displays created on every continent, images sent in from desert villages, metropolitan high-rises, rain forests and glaciers, all proclaiming "350 ppm." Then, almost as an aside, he mentioned that the level of carbon NOW in the atmosphere is actually around...oh, 390 ppm. Oh. Dear.

I found myself right back in that university parking lot, staring at the back of that science professor's car. Two little numbers--two little factoids backed up with reams of evidence--had sent me plummeting into anxiety and fear, despair and depression. Where's the sustainability, the "transition to resilience" in THAT?

Science and religion both have their sacred litanies, their liminal lists of power and persuasion. The litany of environmental degradation inspires its own special terror and awe:

More plastic in the oceans now than plankton...
More heat and moisture in the air than we've ever known...
More cancer-causing poisons in water and soil...
The coral reefs dying...
The topsoil being stripped away...
The Arctic Ocean ice-free in our lifetime...
Less than 5% of the old-growth forests left...
1% of species going extinct every year...

How long, O Earth? How long?
We believe, O Earth.
Help our unbelief.

Despair and depression serve neither the Earth nor the God of Creation. Of this I am convinced. But how shall we respond, in the face of such overwhelming and condemning facts? How shall we pry ourselves off the dead center of ignorance and denial? How shall we transform the self-medicating culture of wasteful, careless consumption that is leading us toward our collective death?

An unquiet mind is a fertile, creative space. So is a troubled heart. Perhaps this is where we begin: in that wild teetering on the edge of the void, where the view can, by turns, terrify and inspire. Perhaps it begins with a willingness to engage, fully, with claims both profound and irreverent, to reach out our aching arms and enter the dance with partners we never thought we'd claim.

I'm still not sure about that bumper sticker. I'm still not sure about its creator's intent. I'm no more certain how to live in an expanding universe than I am sure of how to live in a world that appears to be dying. But bumper-sticker statements offer little in the way of wisdom, and science and technology have failed us--and our planet--repeatedly.

I'm not saying I deny the harsh evidence. I know the great evil and great destruction of which we are capable. But here is what I believe: that our deepest identity is that of creatures, and as creatures we are connected to the entirety of the Cosmos, the Community of Life. I believe we are called, as human creatures, to meet our present challenges with all the soaring, joy-bringing creativity we can summon from the core of our beings. If the universe is expanding, we dare not shrink away into depression and silence.

We had best open our hearts, open our ears, expand our lungs and learn how to tune our voices to Creation's own harmonies. We had best reach out our hands to heal the weary earth. We had best learn how to unplug from all the pretty little energy-sucking techno-pacifiers and reconnect ourselves to the Creating, Redeeming, Sustaining powers of the Universe itself.

And that won't fit on a bumper sticker.

(image source: galaxy)