Ellen Roggeman’s farm-worn hands are covered with cuts and calluses, and her fingernails are stained brown from the dirt. Her hands testify to her dual passions: growing and cooking seasonal food in community with others. She spent several years working for an NGO with small-plot farmers in Thailand and when she relocated to San Francisco, true inspiration struck when the peas she planted and tended at Alemany Farm produced pods. Now, she gardens for McEvoy Ranch, for whom she is also developing a line of boutique jams, jellies, and marmalades. Ellen organizes local-food events through a personal passion project called Radical Radish, the culmination of her efforts to harvest by hand to feed others.
Imperfection is what made me fall in love with growing food and eating seasonally. Doing so forces me to accept imperfection. And for a Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa girl like me, who spent most nights at college in the library until they kicked me out, that was revolutionary. What gardening and seasonal eating has taught me is to plan…and then to put that aside and react to what is happening: Record-cold weather and rain stunt all McEvoy’s stone-fruit harvest; there goes all those jam ideas for our new food product line. No one at the farmer’s market is selling cilantro; I guess I won’t be making Roasted Pepitas with Cilantro Salad for that 12-person dinner party tonight.
Each year is a new challenge, and this one is no exception. See, the weather has been very odd in California. Rain storms at the end of June, with hot-spells followed by cold-spells followed by hot-then-cold. That climate variability is one of the things plants hate the most, which for the summertime eater means no tomatoes. All the peaches, plums, and nectarines taste watery or tart instead of sweet. And most people lost their apricot crop, which is very sad news.
What is a girl to do? Especially when it feels like it should be summer and when (some days) it is. Well, to take stock, the cherries on the farm are doing great along with things that don’t mind the wet coolness; this means that the lettuce is flourishing, peas are trellising, and mint spreading as only it can do, chard and kale standing tall, and radishes and carrots hunkering down. I work with what I have and make my kitchen as summery as I can, while also enjoying being able to garden without being a sweaty mess.
Today, during my shift gardening at McEvoy Ranch, I’ve been dreaming about how to start off my dinner tonight: a salad of garden-grown Arugula, strawberries, peas, mint, and Nicasio Valley’s Foggy Morning, a fresh, soft cows’ milk cheese. Arugula is super-easy to grow—-just sprinkle its seed over some bare ground, top off with a thin layer of soil, and water regularly. These fiery greens are a luscious treat when paired with quartered strawberries and hulled English peas from the farmers’ market, as these ingredients add different types and textures of sweetness. The certified Organic Foggy Morning—-which so happens to be crafted by my cheese-making roommate with whom I share a little country house in Petaluma, California—-is creamy, salty deliciousness. Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is a family-operated dairy and creamery, meaning all the milk used is from pastured cows milked that morning. This freshness and holistic connection to the earth is something you can even taste in the quality of the products (not a far cry from Abigail’s favorite Northern California dairy, Straus Family Creamery).
Dang—-I’ve was dreaming of this salad all day, but forgot to pluck some fresh mint leaves before leaving the ranch. Ok, what now? For the dressing instead I’ll use some of my spearmint tea. I added about 1 Tbsp of tea leaves with a slosh of Napa Valley White Wine Vinegar, letting it sit for five minutes before whisking in some McEvoy Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. After dressing the salad, I sprinkled on some AllStar Organics Rosemary Salt (my not-so secret ingredient in nearly all things) and freshly cracked black pepper. Light, sweet, and bright.
The weather can decide when it wants to be summer, in my mouth it already is!
PS: Abs has a cute Facebook fan page–I totally ‘like’ it, and you should, too! Just click here.