I met Larissa in the 90’s when we were waitresses together at a tapas restaurant in Philadelphia. We were broke and fabulous and trying to make our way in the world while serving paella to Center City regulars. Over time, things changed, and we both left the restaurant business. Larissa moved to Brooklyn, got married and had two children.
As her kids got older, Larissa started dreaming of living life on a farm. I reconnected with her on facebook around this time and was skeptical that anyone could make such a drastic life change work, but she did it! She and her family have settled into a lovely life in upstate New York and couldn’t be happier. She’s like a modern day Eva Gabor from Green Acres.
Larissa is a great writer, and she began documenting her new life in a column called Diary of a Transplant for the Upstater, an online magazine about life in upstate New York at http://www.upstater.net. I’ve read every post, and her most recent was so fantastic I had to share it. I asked her to include a recipe or two that capture her life on the farm, and she was happy to oblige. I highly recommend following her blog – she has a way of making ordinary moments pang with emotion. You’ll love it!
Diary of a Transplant: Summer’s End by Larissa Phillps
Our first summer up here, a friend told us she hated it when the goldenrod came out in late August. “It means summer’s almost over,” she said. “And summers in the Catskills are so spectacular, you know? It’s painful when they end.”
That was our first summer out of the city. It was great and everything, but “spectacular”? My mother lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and I grew up partly on Nantucket, and spent a winter once skiing in Bozeman, Montana. If anyone wanted to talk spectacular, I had some places in mind that beat the Catskills.
But now, our third summer up here is coming to an end, and the goldenrod is out, and I know exactly what she means. I am ready to go into mourning that this spectacular season in the amazing region is ending.
It’s partly that we accomplished so much — taking our garden so far, building our farm, raising our goats, finally doing the fair. We worked really really hard. But we also played hard, slept in, held parties, hosted friends and family, drank summery cocktails, ate so well. After so many years in the city, it is still a thrill to have enough space that we can so casually welcome friends and family to visit and stay over, or to casually suggest a potluck and have it morph into something huge.
Here are a few highlights:
Our garden grew exponentially. We built a hoop house and a raised bed garden for our tenants, and added three raised beds in our own garden. We are on our second round of potatoes, and grew arugula all summer long, and pickled jars and jars of cucumbers. We also grew around 60 tomato plants from seed.
We made sauce and ketchup from tomatoes, and finally just started stuffing the tomatoes into Zip-Loc bags and throwing them in the freezer. I’ll make sauce in January. It was a great season.
Our tiny little bantam hen Baby is about the size of a robin. She is a tough little broad though, who holds her own with the big chickens. When she disappeared a few weeks ago, we were all really sad about it. But then she came back! With six tiny puffball chicks orbiting around her. She is a great mom.
We lost two goats this year, both to issues possibly related to nutrition. Our goats are in a pen, and we decided they needed more time browsing for forage. Here’s Ernie taking the goats into the woods for their daily graze. Now we have them in a moveable pen in the pasture, but it was always sweet watching Ernie take them out, like he was participating in an ancient ritual.
Okay, so it wasn’t all good. Here I am with poison ivy in my eye. I don’t think there was more than a few days this summer in which I did not have poison ivy somewhere on my body. This time was clearly the worst. If I don’t look truly, deeply miserable, let me assure you: I was truly and deeply miserable. I went another day after this picture was taken before giving in and going to get a steroid prescription.
Our first season with a fresh doe. Ruby provided all our milk needs this summer. Ernie did all the milking and all the cheese-making. I did some of the ice cream duty. Lovely, exciting, and delicious.
Fourth of July cloudburst at Colgate Lake!
We are more settled this year, and I ascribe our perfect summer to our deepening sense of community and friendship in the area, our greater knowledge of local attractions, and the very personalized life we’ve carved out here through sheer, satisfying effort. We don’t have a lot of money. Our house isn’t finished. Our list of tasks is endless. We are still figuring out the education piece for the kids. But we are so happy with our lives up here.
Will the next three seasons be so awesome?
Can’t wait until next summer.
Fennel, Lentil, and Bacon Salad
Back when I lived in Philadelphia (and worked with Rebecca), I used to go to the White Dog Cafe, an eclectic-American-style restaurant. One of my favorite meals there was a brunch dish: grilled fennel, French green lentils, and goat cheese. It was so good that after the first time I had it, I left the restaurant, went to the grocery store, bought the ingredients, and attempted to recreate the dish when I got home. This didn’t work out too well, because fennel was impossible to find back then, and the only lentils available were regular soup lentils (which get mushy when you cook them). But I was always on the lookout for these ingredients, and gradually they became more readily available. Twenty years later, everything is pretty easy to find, and it’s a favorite dish for my whole family. Now we make a dinner of it, by adding arugula, lardons (essentially big chunks of thick-sliced bacon) and, sometimes, homemade croutons. Here’s how we do it:
1 fennel bulb
1 cup French green lentils
1 bunch arugula, washed and dried
1/2 lb bacon, preferably thick-cut
Fresh goat cheese (ie: chevre) (We also sometimes use feta or ricotta salata.)
1 clove garlic
Coarse sea salt
Croutons (optional, although my kids say they are essential)
Trim the fronds and thin stalks off the fennel bulb, and cut lengthwise into 1/2″ slices. Toss in olive oil and either grill or roast until fairly tender (about 30 minutes).
Put the lentils into a pot with two cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the water is evaporated and the lentils are tender but not mushy.
Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces and cook until crisp.
Make the vinaigrette: If you have a mortar and pestle, smash a clove of garlic with a teaspoon of sea salt (or more, to taste). Whisk in juice from half a lemon, and then about 1/3 cup olive oil (3 times as much as the lemon juice. I usually eyeball it). Mix vigorously with pestle or a fork. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you should get one, and make this dressing every night! Or, I guess you could use a food processor, or just chop the garlic really finely and then mash it up with the edge of the knife blade, and whisk it all together in a bowl.)
Toss the arugula with the vinagrette. Arrange plates: some arugula, some lentils, bacon, and the fennel. Yum!
Optional croutons: Cut some good bread into 1-inch chunks. Dry them out in the oven at a low temperature for about 10 or 14 minutes. Then saute them in a ridiculous amount of butter and bacon fat, with lots of chunky salt and freshly ground pepper. If you make them right, you are basically drenching them in fat and then crisping them up. They are so good, but you see why I sometimes skip this step, and why my kids always want them.
Goat Cheese and Honey
This isn’t really a recipe, more a delicious thing to do. Take a really fresh, excellent chevre. Put a disc or a generous spoonful of it onto a plate. Drizzle with a strong local honey. We use a buckwheat honey. You will be amazed at how perfect this combination is! It makes a lovely snack with a cup of tea.