Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Amazing Dandelion!

How can you not love a dandelion?

I ask this because a dandelion is one of the first bright signs of spring. Their yellow flowers spread along the ground like stepping stones of sunshine heralding the change of season all sun lovers welcome.  I understand there are those among us who see the dandelion as a dreaded weed to be controlled as to not upset the balance of a green monochromatic landscape, but I would suggest a more wild and colorful reflection in one's yard is a representation of a life being lived fully.

Beyond visual appeal and seasonal anticipation, there are many reasons to welcome the dandelion into your life. A few of my favorite have to do with eating, of course! As my knowledge of food as medicine grows, I am fascinated by the healthy benefits of the many plants growing in our own yards and nearby forests.

Dandelions are completely edible from roots to leaves to flowers, and the many ways of enjoying these edibles is evident in the many recipes you can find. Dandelions have been on the human plate throughout history and if we know anything from history, it is everything serves a purpose. Our ancestors chose the plants to eat for a reason. They did not have the science we have today to determine a plant’s properties, but they knew what made their bodies function well!

It may seem strange at first to eat a flower many of us have grown up thinking of as a weed. However, after reading what medicinal plant experts and enthusiasts have to say, you may welcome the dandelion as more than just a sign of spring, but instead as a sign of nature’s bounty and gift for increased vitality.

Here are the basic nutritional facts. Dandelion greens are a tremendous plant based source of vitamin K.  One serving of dandelion greens provides 535 percent of the recommended daily value of this important vitamin known for bone health and as a support to the circulatory system meaning heart health! Dandelion greens are a rich source of beta-carotene, which the body converts into Vitamin A. One serving of fresh dandelion greens provides 112 percent of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin A translating into medicine for healthy skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. These greens are also loaded with vitamins C and B5, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese.

In one statistical comparison I reviewed, dandelion greens ranked ahead of both broccoli and spinach in overall nutritional value. Two other top ranking nutritional powerhouse weeds are amaranth (pigweed) and lambsquarters. Collards are the only domestic green to break into the top four followed by broccoli and spinach. As if this were not enough, dandelion is an excellent source of lecithin.  Lecithin is a nutrient that elevates the brain’s acetylcholine, a substance that helps maintain brain function and may play a role in slowing or even stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. As a bonus, lecithin also helps the body maintain good liver function.  

Now that you have the nutritional scoop, here are a few easy ways to include dandelions in your diet. Dandelion greens are bitter when eaten raw. Bitter greens are good for digestion, but if you want to make them more palatable- combine them with other lighter greens or perhaps a honey dressing and some bits of dried or fresh fruit. Eaten raw, they will retain the most nutrition. If you cook the greens, keep it to a quick cook tossing them into eggs, pasta, or on a pizza. 
Dandelion greens in a quick sauté with fresh asparagus, shallots,  garlic, and morel mushrooms. Delicious on a pizza !

Spring Pizza

Dandelion Flowers can be eaten raw in salads, dried for tea, or used to make wine, vinegar, or jelly. The possibilities are only limitless if you stretch your taste preferences and culinary creativity!
If you are feeling industrious on your dandelion harvest, bring along a spade and dig up the whole plant. The nutritious roots contain a milky sap that contains valuable properties.  Steam the whole roots to seal in the sap. This happens when the sealed roots don’t release the sap when cut. Once steamed, cut the roots into pieces. Air dry on a plate covered lightly with a paper towel for a day. Spread the root pieces evenly on a baking sheet and roast in a 250 degree oven until completely dry.  A lighter colored roast will impart a milder flavor and a darker roast will have a stronger aroma and flavor. The pieces can be stored in an airtight jar and used for making tea, or the pieces can be ground and used as a coffee substitute.

Before you head out to harvest your own wild edibles, here are a couple of things to keep in mind…

~remember to harvest only from an area that has not been sprayed with any chemicals and stay away from any areas frequently visited by your pets!

~if you have allergies to ragweed, marigold, mums, daisies, or yarrow, you might be allergic to dandelion flowers, too.

Be curious and have fun exploring what the earth abundantly provides!

  The Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail – a great book for tons of recipes and general information on history and benefits of eating dandelions.)  

http://foodfacts.mercola.com/dandelion-greens.html - a fabulous website for everything about the body and keeping it healthy

 http://www.vitaminstuff.com/herbs-dandelion.html - one more resource on the dandelion’s health benefits

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tomato Stack

Recently, my brother, David, and his wife, Mary Lyn drove up from Birmingham for the day to visit us at the farm. David brought a picnic of his home fried chicken and fresh yellow squash casserole. We added a few heirloom tomatoes and basil from the garden and topped off the feast with a select beer. We sat at the picnic table under the big tree canopy we call our office and shared one of the best meals I've had all summer.

What is it about sharing a meal with those you love that makes it so much better? A close second - in my mind- to enjoying a meal with loved ones is any conversation related to food. As we wandered through the gardens picking baskets full of tomatoes and beans and blueberries for them to take back home, David described a meal they recently ate at  Foodbar Restaurant in Birmingham. He called it a Tomato Stack and it sounded divine with layers of heirloom tomatoes and  fried green tomatoes all drizzled with a light basil dressing. When they got home with their garden booty, they made all sorts of yummy dishes, but the one I was most interested in hearing about was their re-creation of the Tomato Stack. Below is the inspiration Mary Lyn sent to me. I've made it twice. The second time, I topped the stack with some crumbled bacon. Everything's better with a little bacon!

Here’s the fried green tomato recipe: /http://allrecipes.com/recipe/best-fried-green-tomatoes/
For the dressing: 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup packed basil, chopped finely, 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
I just alternated slices of each tomato type and dressed the top, serving them like a stack of pancakes. Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy trying this summer treat and remember I'd love to hear about the ways you are sharing your summer bounty!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

CSA Week 7 ... Tomato Time!

Last week the first official day of summer arrived, and with its appearance came the first batch of ripe tomatoes. We are so excited to see  the plants  skillfully started from seed by Steve and our friend, Chris, grow to true tomato producing maturity. All the heirloom varieties are at a peak, and if Mother Nature continues to bless them with just the right combination of sunshine and rain, we think we will have tomatoes for many weeks ahead.

So pull out your favorite recipes along with your curiosity for trying some new ones!  Below is a recipe for Tomato Tart which I had many, many years ago at my friend Karan's house. I texted her to see if she remembered the recipe, and not long after, she forwarded me a picture of her handwritten recipe handed down from  her Mother. I made the tart tonight to test it out and it is just as delicious as I remembered it from all those years ago.  Cooking and sharing recipes makes eating such a joy!
                                                                   Thank you Karan!

Above is the base recipe. I made a few changes as I will explain in the following photos. First, I doubled the recipe making 2 tarts. It's easier for me to cook extra and not be left with another pie crust in the frig waiting to be used. For the first tart, I added shredded zuchinni as a final topping. The second tart was made without zuchinni.

Start by choosing a few ripe tomatoes. You can peel if you want, but I did not. Slice thinly and place on paper towels to remove some of the liquid.

You can also take a few squash ( I know you have plenty!) and shred them. This is really easy  if you have a food processor with a shredding attachment. Wrap the shredded squash in paper towels to remove moisture. You will use about 1/2 cup in this recipe. You can save the rest for zucchini pancakes or zucchini bread!

  Chop the basil, shred the cheese, and then you are ready to assemble the tart.

Here is the tart ready to go in the oven. For this one, I put shredded parmesan and mozzarella on the bottom, then basil, tomatoes (2 layers) and topped with the zucchini, salt, pepper, and olive oil

So delicious!!!

Prepping tart without zucchini

Tomato Tart

Try not to get overwhelmed with the amount of produce you receive in your CSA bucket each week. If you and your family cannot eat it all or give it away, know you can freeze almost anything, including tomatoes. Just toss them whole into a pot of hot water for a few seconds- just long enough to see the skins loosen. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Pull the skins off, then chop the tomatoes and put in a ziploc type bag squeezing out as much air as you can. You'll be glad later this fall and winter to open your freezer and see a taste of summer before you. These frozen and chopped tomatoes can be made into salsa or tossed into soup or chili.

Here's another recipe to try with the kale you will receive in your bucket this week.

Dinosaur Kale Chips
                One bunch ( about 7-10 leaves) Dinosaur Kale
                Olive Oil
                Sea Salt
                Fresh Cracked Pepper or red pepper if you like extra heat

                  Pre-heat the oven to 250°F.
Wash the kale thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Run a knife down each side of the center rib to remove the leaves.  Discard the ribs.


Place the leaves in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss to coat rubbing each piece with fingers to evenly coat. Arrange leaves in a single layer on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. 

Roast in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until dry and crispy. If edges start turning brown, remove immediately! Serve right away or cool to room temp and store in an airtight container.
Kale Chips
         These chips are delicious as a snack or crumbled over a baked potato!
In addition to the tomatoes and kale, your CSA bucket this week will also include:
blueberries, cucumbers, green beans, red cabbage, onions, and sunflowers!
We hope you and your family enjoy cooking and sharing this week's harvest!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bridge Project Complete!

For the past five years, to enter our farm, we had to cross Lookout Creek through the water. On most days, it required a four wheel drive vehicle to cross the water safely. Every time it rained, the first question out of my mouth was, "How high will the creek rise?" Steve would have already been to his bookmarked favorite website which monitors the creek level, and would respond with a "looks ok" or "it's still rising" or (as he often said this past year) "we'll be out for days, but maybe we can take the boat across tomorrow." As a natural worrier, this always made my  heart race, but for my guys, it was just a pain. As an additional water marker,  Steve placed a metal rod at the bank across from the old mill where we cross the water. The rod was painted green at the bottom,  yellow in the middle, and the top red, each color indicating the level of safety in crossing the creek.
The creek crossing on a average day.  Remains of Cureton Mill in the background.

You have to understand that Lookout Creek is an unusual creek. First of all it flows north. "It runs through Lookout Valley, along the base of Lookout Mountain beginning just across the state line near the little town of Valley Head, Alabama. It then slices across the extreme northwestern corner of Georgia, ...(where Rising Fawn is located)... then into Tennessee, where it empties into the mighty Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Lookout Creek belongs to the Tennessee Valley watershed which explains why Lookout Creek can maintain its water level, since it is filled by water running off the western slopes of the entire Lookout Mountain Plateau."

 Over the last 5 years we have talked about the bridge we need to carry us over Lookout Creek into the farm. There have been times when the high water has kept us out for days while we stand on the other side watching the rushing water and wondering how the crops are faring, but this year's onslaught of rain and high water which constantly kept us from accessing the farm finally wore us down.

Lookout Creek at our crossing place after a heavy rain.

Bill & Ted
So, after much talking and planning, in May we began building the bridge to cross the creek.   We were incredibly fortunate to have right in our backyard - literally within 4 miles - all the people needed to build our bridge. Seventy-six year old Bill Wallin is a bridge builder with over 240 private and state bridges under his  belt.  He lives in Rising Fawn, GA and he is an enigma!  His humble and self-deprecating nature belies his experience, judgement and downright intellect. His cousin, Frankie Wallin of Wallin Drilling began the project with the drilling into the bedrock for the caissons that form the supports for the bridge.  Ted Rumley, the Dade County Executive, was another important partner as he guided us through the environmental and water regulations, and  Malcom Hartline of Hartline Excavating in Trenton, GA completed this powerhouse of workers as he skillfully excavated and graded the earth surrounding the bridge. 
Malcom and son Eli doing dozer work together.

Drilling for the caissons

Forming sidewalls for bridge

Sidewalls for the bridge

While the summer gardening duties of weeding and harvesting continued, in the background was the ongoing construction of the bridge. It took 5 months to build this bridge and I daresay there was ever more than one day when someone was not working on it, including weekends! Everything seemed to go on without a hitch. We were blessed with good weather and a builder who contracted all the work coordinating so there was no down time at all.

On September 11th, the beams for the bridge were set. The five beams that would span the creek were built in Bristol, TN. Each concrete beam measures 36" x 33" x 90' and weighs 72, 000 pounds. A 250 ton crane arrived from Chattanooga the day before to prepare for the beams' installations. 

Each beam arrived on a tractor trailer.
Cables being attached to the beam

First beam going in!

Final beam being placed

After the beams were set, there was a lot of grading work and building of the bridge rails to complete the project.

Here we are with Lookout Creek below us and Lookout Mountain behind us!
We share immense gratitude for all who made the bridge possible. Each person involved played a role in making our bridge dream finally come true. We are also incredibly thankful for kindhearted neighbors who patiently tolerated a very noisy summer. Now we can all gather on the bridge and sit a spell or cast a line as we reminisce, ponder, and, enjoy the peaceful surroundings!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Featuring Butternut Squash and Edamame!

This week's CSA bucket contains a few items we have been eager to harvest. They may be a little unfamiliar to you, but  I am sure you have either  seen  them in a store or on a restaurant menu.  The first, butternut squash, is a gourd which is typically harvested in the fall.  We wanted to harvest just a few so you could try them out! Butternut squash is delicious paired with apple and pureed into a fall soup. Since it is still hot and summery and a hot soup may not be what you want to cook, you may like to try Roasted Butternut Squash with Apple Cider Vinaigrette . We made it over the weekend and it was delicious!  We substituted red leaf lettuce for the arugula the recipe calls for and found it quite nice! If you want to hang onto your squash for a while, don't refrigerate it but instead store it in a bowl on your kitchen counter. It should last at least a month. To learn more about butternut squash and its amazing nutritional value, follow this link.

The second veggie to share with you is edamame. Edamame is basically a young soybean. They are easy to cook, and fun to eat!  And  because they are loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamins A and C, they are good for you too! Check out this edamame site for more nutritional  information.

The easiest way to cook fresh edamame is to put the whole pods in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Drain the water and then  put the whole pods in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the pods with coarse salt. To eat , squeeze the beans from the pods straight into your mouth. Edamame makes a great appetizer served warm. To enjoy the beans on a salad, cook the pods as described above. Once cooled, squeeze the beans from the pod and refrigerate until ready to toss into your favorite salad.

We hope you enjoy the harvest this week. In addition to butternut squash and edamame, you will have silver queen corn, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, fresh herbs, and summer flowers! The summer harvest is at its peak, and we are so happy to be sharing the bounty of the garden with you!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beet Brownies

Here is a great way to use those garden fresh beets! 
This recipe was in Gaining Ground's Eat Up Spring 2012 Cookbook. It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but try it! You'll get  beets numerous benefits of fiber, folate,  and manganese along with dark chocolate's antioxidant richness! Sounds like a win-win to me!

Beet Brownies

1 stick butter
4 ounces good unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 fresh eggs
1 beet, grated (about 1 cup)
candied ginger, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour and baking powder, and set aside. Melt butter and chocolate together over medium-low heat. Pour into a large mixing bowl and beat in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one by one, and add the flour mixture. Stir in the grated beat and candies ginger. Pour into a greased 13x9 inch baking pan and cook for about 30 minutes. The brownies are done when they pull slightly away from the edges but are soft in the middle. A knife stuck in the center should have soft brownie clinging to it, but not be totally covered. Slice into 12 pieces while still warm and serve at room temperature.

Mix and match additions include 3/4 cup fresh raspberries, blueberries, cherries, or sliced strawberries sprinkled on top of batter before baking; 1/2 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, 1/2 cup flaked coconut, or 1/2 cup cocoa nibs mixed throughout the batter before baking.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Certified Naturally Grown

It can be confusing when you are grocery shopping for your family and you see foods labeled organic, conventional, sustainable,  non-GMO, bio-dynamic, free range, etc..... It can be daunting to understand, but as consumers we are concerned about what we eat, and we want to know more about the farming practices of the farm growing our next meal.

 The label, Certified Organic, is one we may be familiar with and one we have come to trust as the gold standard for fruit, vegetable, and animal growing practices, but what many consumers may not realize is how expensive and time intensive it is to become Certified Organic. It is often these challenges rather than the organic practices that keep small farmers from achieving this standard.

 As an alternative to Certified Organic, a grassroots group called Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) was formed in 2002. It is a certification program specifically for small-scale farmers to inform and reassure their customers.  CNG members apply to the program by first  providing detailed information regarding their farming practices. Then, a fellow farmer completes an on-site inspection of the farm. This thorough evaluation is reviewed, and if accepted, is  posted onto the CNG website making it available for public viewing.  It is a rigorous process, but attainable by farms willing to put effort  into the paperwork and open their farms for inspection.

We are happy to let you know we recently received notification that Rising Fawn Gardens is officially a registered and active member in the Certified Naturally Grown program. You can visit our CNG Profile here.

So what does the CNG  label mean to you?

  • It lets you know that there have been no synthetic chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, or GMO seeds
  • It means we protect the soil, water, and air with crop rotation, cover crops and buffer strips
  • Raise free range livestock on open pasture
  • Never use hormones or routine antibiotics on livestock
  • Maintain open records of farming practices
For now, our farm is certified for produce and apiary assuring you of the quality farming and beekeeping practices we use. Each year we find our farm evolving, and taking this step to become Certified Naturally Grown is one we are proud to have taken. It gives us a standard to follow and a group of peer farmers to join in doing our part not only to grow the healthiest and most nutritious food, but to also take the best care of this beautiful piece of earth we are blessed to steward.

Most importantly, we are so glad to be growing food for you!