Wednesday, June 19, 2013

At the goat farm...

The other night, at dinner time with Grandpa and Grandma, Pablo was served some pork chop with mushrooms. He happily grabbed his fork in one hand, and with the other hand, picked a mushroom from his plate. He examined it, and turned to me: “La mer?” Loosely translated as: “Does this thing I’m about to put in my mouth come from the sea?” We then had a conversation about the forest, the place where you can find bunnies, deer, trees, creeks. And mushrooms.

I felt very happy about this exchange, because I realized that Pablo is interested in where his food comes from. He knows it’s not just magically there. Not only does he know a process of shopping, and cooking went into it (which he participates in more and more), but he also knows the food grew, or lived, somewhere. And I have, without giving it much thought, just as part of our conversations at the dinner table during our family meals, pointed out to him where the things he eats do come from. Shrimp, fish, oysters from the sea. Herbs from the garden. Apricots and peaches from our market friend Sam’s trees. Cherries we picked ourselves. Eggs laid by chickens. I am very matter-of-fact about naming the meat we eat as well, whether it’s duck, chicken, lamb, etc.

Way before our children ask us where babies come from, they should ask us where their food comes from. Or at least, let’s hope they do. And let us have a good answer for them (one that does not include an unpronounceable ingredient, as Michael Pollan advises). If we want our children to eat and enjoy real, nutritious, clean foods and give them a lifelong love for them, we must 1/ have, 2/ nurture, an interest in those foods, a curiosity of the what (it is, it tastes like, smells like, feels like, looks like), the how (it was grown, made, prepared, cooked), and the where (it comes from.)

This pursuit of connection with our food, this love and interest for the sources of our food, has been so fulfilling, nourishing, as it were. And it led us a few weeks ago, to Mariposa Creamery Farm Stay, in Altadena, California.

Gloria and Steve, who both have day jobs while running this goat and farming community, welcomed us in their haven for a couple of wonderful days. By wonderful, I mean the type of vacation that makes you wonder whether that should be your full time life. Because then, every morning would be a little bit like this...

We wake up early and step outside within a few minutes of waking. We hear the birds, and the goats in the distance. Haphazardly dressed, Pablo refuses to put shoes on and wants to go explore the vegetable garden. It exudes free growth. It’s not a perfectly trimmed garden with ranks and beds. It’s a freestyle vegetable jungle. Pablo explores, passed the tall fennel, chards, amaranth, squash flowers, around the artichokes and the shiso. 

I try to follow but his small size gives him the advantage, to explore and find treasures. And a treasure he does find. “Tomate”. There, hidden in the depths of this jungle he’s so simply made his own, hangs a small, perfectly vermilion tomato. He extends his little hand and gently picks it. We both take a bite. 

Oh, that bite.

He continues on, feeling the earth on his feet. Steve greets us as he picks some chards for our breakfast. The goats bleat over there, on the other side of the big house where many people of all trades seem to evolve productively.  We walk over there. Pablo stops by the berry bush to pick a blackberry, and we meet the carpenter, whose shop is next to the creamery. He shows us how he spreads the seeds of the wild flowers around every so often. So they keep growing wild throughout the property, and they do. Bright orange and yellow blotches everywhere, which a certain goat might be allowed to exit the enclosure to enjoy, every once in a while...

We wonder into the chicken enclosure, and find Gloria grabbing some fresh eggs for breakfast. Pablo is eager to hold one. Pablo is eager to hold two. One gets broken, so he holds on to the other one carefully. Lesson learned. 

Now for another lesson, a goat milking lesson. The suggestion that I may milk the goat straight into my coffee enchants me. I follow suit.

Pablo is familiar with the milking movement, as it is also the sign for milk in sign language, which we used when he was an infant. This was always his favorite sign ;-) But he is a little intimidated by Brin, the goat we are getting our milking lesson with. 

He decides it is wiser to feed her treats while we learn. He watches baby goat Spike get some milk from Brin.

The fresh milk tastes exactly that. Fresh. It is not gamy as I expected, though I like gamy. It tastes very mild and delicious. Oh the wonderful things that can be made with that milk. And Gloria and Steve do make so many of those wonderful things here. They teach a cheese making course I am hoping to take some day. And yogurt.

We hang with the goats for a while, the 5 months old one are just about Pablo’s height. They are terribly photogenic. Dare I say hams even?

Petting, nudging, observing, climbing, jumping ensues. Kids.

We get this sense of family. The goats, Biscuit, Apple, Ice Cream, Rhubarb among others, are raised with love and warmth. It radiates.

It’s breakfast time. What a feast Gloria has made for us. One of our most memorable breakfasts ever. Fresh squeezed orange juice from that tree, right behind us. Homemade bread, with fresh chèvre. Homemade jam, homemade ketchup. Roasted potatoes, fresh herbs. Artisan sausage from a friend of theirs. Pablo discovers a love for sausage. And eggs of course. Sauteed chards with homemade goat feta. Goat milk yogurt. Brand new apricots deposited by a neighbor in the mailbox last night, packed in an egg crate. Juicy as can be.

This is how people lived hundreds of years ago. This is how some people live today, right here in a suburb of Los Angeles. And how wonderful, brave and beautiful.

After breakfast, Pablo wanders on the path in the back of the house, among the wild poppies, fruit trees and artichoke plants, holding a piece of cheese in his hand, mumbling to himself “squeeze, squeeze”, the goat milk the cheese came from.

I love that he can experience this freedom here. This rich environment.

Certainly our morning is a very romanticized version of farm life, which is tremendous hard work and commitment. But what a worthwhile venture.

It sometimes feels like the kind of life that I want, for myself, for Pablo. At the same time, I have no idea how we could get there, or how it would fit with the other stuff our life is currently made of. Sometimes we must make choices. As long as we don’t live by default. Food for thought, for now.

Inspired by our memorable breakfast at Mariposa and Gloria’s homemade cheese, and until I can take her cheese making class and talk to you about making homemade Camembert (!), I thought I’d try my hand at simple goat cheese ricotta for this tartine. I found numerous recipes online, but I found some details to be critical for success (after a couple of failed attempts), so sharing how I went about it here.

I heard of the happy marriage of eggplant and sumac powder, a Mediterranean spice that's lemony and slightly on the sour side, on The Splendid Table recently, I wanted to give it a try. It is confirmed, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is never wrong when it comes to good food. 

Before moving on to the recipes, if you want more info about Mariposa Creamery, check out their website, awesome airstream farmstay, and their Facebook page, for a daily goat cuteness fix.

Tartines of eggplant, ricotta & soft egg

Prep time: 10 mn (ricotta aside)
Cook time: 10 mn + 5 mn

Age for babies: 8-10 months for the ricotta and sauteed eggplant (break up the tartine in small pieces for a great finger food). 6-8 months for the egg yolk, 10-12 mo for the white.

Makes 2 tartines

1/4 cup homemade goat ricotta (see recipe below)
2 slices of bread, homemade if possible (this one is awesome)
1 egg (room temperature, if fridge cold, plunge them in hot tap water for a minute or so)
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small eggplant
A few pinches of sumac
Salt & pepper

For the ricotta (this yields about 1/3 cup)

2 cups of raw or pasteurized goat milk (not ultra-pasteurized, it won't work)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Pour the milk in a non reactive pan (glass, non-stick, or stainless steel) and stir in the salt. Heat on low, stirring every once in a while so the  bottom doesn't burn, until the milk just begins to boil (or reaches 180-190° on instant read thermometer, better to have it a little hotter than a little cooler, I found).

While the milk heats, line a colander with cheesecloth (4 layers worked for me), and place the colander over a large bowl.

When the milk has come to a light boil, remove from heat, and add the vinegar. Stir gently a couple of times, and let it sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. The curds should form fairly quickly.

Check with a spoon that you have curds, and gently pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander to drain.

After 20 mn, you will have a creamier/wetter ricotta, great for spreading. After 1 hr or more, you'll have a firmer, more crumbly ricotta.

Can keep in the fridge, wrapped, for 5-7 days.

For the soft egg

I used this exact method found on Cannelle & Vanille, and it is foolproof.

Fill a small pan with enough water to cover the egg, bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts boiling, swirl a spoon in it. Gently drop in the room temperature egg with a spoon, and swirl it around in the water for a few seconds, so the yolk stays in the center.

Cook for five minutes. Prepare a bowl with ice water.

Remove the egg from the boiling water and transfer to the ice bowl for a minute or two.

Then carefully peel the egg, and gently slice in two. The white should be cooked, but the yolk soft.

Putting the tartine together

Peel and slice the eggplant. Drizzle or spray the slices with a little olive oil.  In a frying pan, melt the coconut oil, and sauté the eggplant on medium high for a few minutes. When the slices start to get brown on one side, flip them, add salt & pepper, lower to medium and cover. Let cook for about 10 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft.

Toast your bread slices to taste.

Spread a generous amount of ricotta. Add a few slices of eggplant. Sprinkle with sumac, and add half an egg on top.

Enjoy with a side salad, for example.

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  1. What a wonderful holiday, so much fun to get out and play in the mud, no surprise that Pablo loved it!

    It always amazes me when newspapers report how many children don't know where simple things like eggs come from and I agree it's really important that we teach them. It goes hand in hand with a little ethical responsibility; if you know where your food comes from you become interested in how it's grown/raised

    1. Absolutely right, I think that's really an interest to nurture from a very young age too. The French in general are famous for being very particular about where their food comes from and how it was made/grown/raised, so it is very surprising to me when people don't think of these things.

  2. HOW FUN! That is my idea of a dream holiday, just being surrounded by clean air, food, lovely producers, and cute animals! That photo of Pablo with the goat nuzzling his cheek makes me melt... aww

    It really is a shame that so many people now (not just children!) have lost touch with the source of their food! I watched a Jamie Oliver program on tv the other day, and half the children didn't know where fries came from. A little boy I tutored once, said he wouldn't eat chicken because chickens are cute and it's mean, but he says he "loves nuggets". I was the evil one to break it to him that nuggets were made of chickens; I think he couldn't sleep that night oops.

    Anyway, enoguht alk, great post, love love love all the photos and the lovely recipe too! x

    1. Thanks, Shu Han! It's really hard to fathom - and sad - isn't it, a whole generation so far removed from their food! I love the "nuggets are chickens too" story! I can just see that scene from here! :-)

  3. He is getting so big and is more gorgeous than ever. I am so sorry, but I was too distracted by Pablo to take in much of what you were saying. baby love!

    1. LOL Jacqueline! How can I blame you, I am victim of this cuteness every day ;-)

  4. We absolutely love your photos and your account of your stay at Mariposa Creamery!


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