It seems some sort of evil joke that the hottest weeks of the year are also the time of the biggest bounty in the garden – meaning I must spend hours and hours in a boiling hot kitchen, standing over a steaming pot, cooking down tomatoes and canning food for winter. Each time I think I am done, I head out to our wash/pack shed and fine MORE tomatoes. Bins and bins of beautiful, ripe tomatoes. And I cannot let them go to waste. My future self calls out to me through time, telling me how much she is enjoying having tomatoes on a cold, snowy day. I hear her, and I obey. I can some more, I shuck and freeze corn, ball the leftover melons. Thinking and planning ahead, providing for our family and trying to make a little bit of this summer feeling of abundance stretch into those lean winter months.
I am starting to get a little bit burned-out on plain old tomatoes, though. Last night I canned ketchup, and next, I’m thinking about sun-dried tomatoes. How do you preserve your tomatoes? Anybody tried freezing them?
I know who I was before I was a farmer. I know who I was before I was a writer. But I have no idea who I was before I was a father. That person is a stranger to me.
And I remember the moment it happened, the moment I changed. All of the time I now spend staring at my son in awe, all of the intense and overwhelming love (for lack of a more piercingly accurate word) that I heap upon his very existence – that didn’t start when I found out I was going to be a father. Not fully. Fatherhood was still too abstract of an idea. It started when, after several days of intense labor in the cabin with my amazing wife, I caught his tiny frame in my hands. I probably hadn’t cried in ten years, but I bawled that morning. Some of the happiest tears in all of Bugtussle.
However, something changed that day. Something profound and visceral. Whether it was oxytocin––a contact high from the love hormone that mothers create to bond with their children––or overwhelming relief after a long week, I became a new person, forever leaving behind whoever I was before I was papa.
I knew it then, but I’m writing about this now because it still exists in the exact same capacity. Nothing has changed about this change in me. It doesn’t dissipate, it doesn’t go away. When I look at my son running through the sweet corn, or jumping on the couch, or reading a book with his mama, or sleeping––which I spend several minutes a day watching him do––I see him with eyes that are exactly his age. He asked me the other day, “Are you two and a half years old, too, papa?” And I laughed, but I guess I am.
I am two and a half, too, baby boy. Same age as you.
We give at least four different fresh herbs every year with our CSA: parsley, dill, cilantro and basil. In the below video I take you through the process of chopping those herbs, but I wanted to add a little bit here about usage and storage so you can get the most out of each.
We give an Italian flat leaf parsley with our CSA, but of course these same rules more or less apply to curly parsleys.
Storing: Store your parsley in the fridge, sealed in a ziplock bag or wrapped in a damp paper towel. You can keep it in a jar of water (like flowers) on your countertop, but you will need to cover it with a plastic bag to prevent wilting.
Chop: cut off the stems as best you can and reserve for soups, stocks or to be chopped up finely and tossed into potato salad (our stems are delicious). Pack the parsley against the side of your knife as tightly as possible. Slowly chop until the green are as fine as desired. Large leaves can also be used for chiffonade as demonstrated for the basil in the video. Cut it as you need it, or just chop it all at the beginning of the week and sprinkle over everything. Literally. Read on.
Pairings: everything. Really, I mean that. Parsley’s flavor is simply freshness (with a hint of anise) and it goes with almost every other flavor––anywhere a fresh blast of savory could go. Garnish pastas, soups, salads, fish or even beef with it. You can also make a parsley oil with the herb––recipe to come––to drizzle over soups, salads, etc.. Extremely healthful and versatile, use parsley like mad. Dill
Dill is a flavorful herb whose utility is perhaps broader than you might think (or at least broader than I realized when I first started cooking). Without it we would have no dill pickles… or ranch dressing.
Storing: If you wash it, make sure it’s dry before storing. 1) you can pack it into a jar with enough water to reach all stems (no fronds) and cover it with a plastic bag. Put in the fridge for longest life. 2) To save some space, place the dill in a plastic bag with a dry paper towel and place in fridge. Both ways will get you at least a week.
Chop: Dill makes a very professional garnish. Pick off fronds as shown in the video and garnish fish, salads, or potato salad––great for hors d’oeuvres. You can also cut off the stems, and chop the fronds as you would parsley. Press the dill against a sharp knife and chop until fine.
Pairings: Dill is great with cucumbers, obviously, but also salmon, potatoes, garlic, carrots, parsnips, and goat cheese (that may be a personal preference, but I stand by it).
An herb as divisive as our politics, cilantro is among the essential ingredients from many Latin and Asian cuisines. It’s chemical structure however makes some people genetically predisposed to hating the flavor. In other words, it tastes like soap or metal to some, so don’t assume everyone will love your cilantro ice cream and with sundried tomatoes tart. I will, though. I will.
Storing: Much like dill, cilantro leaves need to be dry for storage to avoid rot. So do that first––get them dry. Then same as dill, either place in a jar, cover and set in fridge or in a plastic bag with a dry towel. Good for one to two weeks.
Chop: Remove the stems and save them for juices or salsas. Gently chop the cilantro leaves as you would parsley or dill, using a sharp knife so as not to bruise the leaves. You want a chop, not a mush. That is where the flavor lives.
Pairings: Cilantro goes with anything you would put in salsa––beans, tomatoes, lemons, limes, onions, and garlic. It is also excellent with avocados which itself is excellent with all those salsa things. Another fun pairing? Roasted chicken with cilantro butter or heck, just try your hand at some bahn-mi.
Definitely among the more familiar herbs, basil is a powerful member of the mint family that grows like crazy so long as it’s warm. Cold? Not so much.
Storing: Basil loves to rot. It’s a pro. And it hates the cold. So––both for purple and green basil––if it’s long-stemmed, store in a jar with water not touching the leaves, changed every other day. (Sometimes the basil will even begin sprouting roots, at which point you could plant it and extend the season!). Otherwise, if small stems and leaves, make sure the leaves are dry and place in a plastic bag with paper towel in cool but not cold place.
Chop: Basil is a bruiser. It will bruise under the slightest pressure. So however you choose to chop it, be gentle and use a sharp knife. The chiffonade in the video is the most common cut, but you can also turn those strips and dice them for a nice garnish.
Pairings: Basil and tomato. Basil and Mozzerella. Basil is versatile. Use it to top salads, in pestos, and over almost any dish that has tomato in it. Basil is also known to go with fruits like strawberries, but I had a basil and blueberry popsicle recently that was on of the best flavor pairings I’ve had in years.
I want to share something––something we haven’t really had a chance to say in our blistering sprint to get this farm started: we really like the new place, and we’re really happy here.
The move was scary. Truly. With so many unknowns about this new farm while leaving a place we knew we loved, a cabin we had built, and customers we adored, made it particularly frightening. But now, a year after we first decided to go for it, we are feeling good. We are feeling like this was the right decision for our family, for our business, for all the reasons we had decided to move in the first place.
Decisions are challenging occasions and rarely pristine. There are always unwanted sacrifices that must be made one way or another, and knowing you made the right ones isn’t always tangible thing. Our business is growing and our garden is doing well this year––both of which we can measure––but those aren’t the only measurements of success in a decision like this. For two people, now parents, who got into farming more or less to homestead, the success of a decision like this is measured, for lack of better word, in feeling. A year later does it feel right? Does it feel good? Are we heading in the right direction? Can we build the life we want here? And when I ask myself those questions strolling through the garden at six in the morning, or moving the sheep around the pasture, or watching Further chase the ducks out of his kiddie pool, the answer is unequivocally yes. It feels great. It feels like home.
We have received a lot of help, love, and support over the years, and we know how incredibly lucky we are for that. We have learned how critical it is when starting one farm––let alone four (yeah, this is RDF’s forth)––to have people believing in you. We are so thankful for everyone who has helped get us here and stood by us through the ups and downs, written us letters, supported our cabin campaign, bought our produce and t-shirts, all of it. Ultimately, this farm is the product of your support, and we hope you feel an attachment to it. You helped get this small farm going and we hope it feels that way to you––like your new farm, too. And in that spirit, I have to say, guys, I think we did good. I think we got a keeper.