Thursday, September 27, 2018

Farm to Table Dinner with EverGood Farm and Black Forest Restaurant

Before I can say anything about a most blissful evening a few weeks ago, let's just get this out of the way.
Yes - yours truly caught her first musky since 2007 yesterday with plenty of jumping up and down on two feet and squealing like a small child. I didn't pee myself, my ever faithful Husband-Guide talked me through the pickup, and I only slimed myself marginally as I adjusted the hold to something more proper.
We returned home and I opened a special bottle of wine to calm my throbbing heart. Magically I summoned the energy to cook a simple dinner, then considered going to bed. At 6:30. Catching a fish like that zaps you of all mental, emotional and physical energy. But I muscled up, wrapped myself in an afghan, and poured myself a dram of scotch to scuttle down to the dock so we could watch the full moon rise over the treetops across the lake. From here on out, we will be paying close attention to the moon phases and will always make an effort to watch it rise when it's full. And go fishing. Apparently they bite when the full moon is underfoot, and I'm the newest believer of that propaganda.

***

In case you missed it on my Instastory this week, I'm slightly smitten with a local family who runs a vegetable farm nearby. Several years ago I meandered through the Eagle River Farmers' Market, stopping short in my tracks to see a sign advertising fresh vegetables from none other than my own little town in Sugar Camp. I immediately introduced myself to Jenny, who owns EverGood Farm with her husband Brendan. Intrigued, I listened to her story about how they came to buy the farm, admired all of their fresh produce, made googley eyes at the infant strapped around her middle, and bought some salad mix and broccoli. That night I roasted the broccoli with some olive oil, salt and pepper for dinner.

Fork paused mid-air, Mr. Musky's eyes widened. "Where'd you get this broccoli?"
"From a farm down Highway A. EverGood Farm, if I recall correctly. Why?"
"You gotta get some more. This is the best broccoli I've ever tasted."

The next week found me back at the Market - which to me is a veritable Christmas Morning every Wednesday in the summer. I beelined to the EverGood stand, on a mission.
"Hi there! Do you have any more broccoli?"
"No, I'm sorry we don't," Jenny replied. "We put it all in our CSA boxes this week."
"CSA? What is that?" admittedly, I felt left out of a cool kid group or something.
"It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically people buy shares of the farm in January, and whatever we produce we put in boxes for them each week during the harvest season, which runs from about mid-June to the end of September. Of if you opt for a summer share, you receive vegetables from mid-June to mid-August."

Fascinated and motivated by the fear of missing out, I went home and researched CSA memberships. That fall I bought a late harvest membership when we returned to Illinois from Green Earth Institute in Naperville. Then in January, I bought a summer half share from EverGood Farm and have been a CSA supporter ever since, with one exception when I forgot to sign up and they sold out before my lightbulb went on. I really missed my weekly box of goodness that year, and vowed to never grow a post-Christmas brain fart again.

Fast forward to this summer, and this week I picked up our last box official box of the season. I'm seriously bummed that I have to start buying grocery store produce again. A transformation occurs when you support a local farmer through a CSA program, and that is you eat what you get, you enjoy vegetables you've never tried before, and it sparks creativity in the kitchen. Not to mention realistic expectations based on what's currently available. In June, if someone in your house says, "Can we have caprese salad tonight?" the answer is simple. No.

But you can have as much as you want in August.

Instead in June, you'll crunch into the most flavorful sautéed bok choy with seasoned, grilled garlic scapes and a tender green salad, followed by a rhubarb crisp if you're a lucky duck and your mother makes desserts twice a year.

I modified the way I cooked once we became CSA members, and this summer I started to embrace freezing and drying vegetables and herbs that we didn't consume fast enough. This winter I'll have kale and beet greens to throw in soups and stews, leek tops to add to bone broth, and dried parsley to season our food, just to name a few items. Several jars of celery salt sit in the fridge, just waiting for their turn to nuzzle some chicken or roasts. I'm not able to can foods since I have a kitchen conundrum called a single induction burner, but once we update things around here I'll be working on additional preservation methods to enjoy their unbelievable vegetables as far into the fall and winter months as possible.

Two weeks ago the farm hosted a dinner with Black Forest restaurant out of Three Lakes.
They set up tables in the middle of the farm, complete with twinkle lights all around and a roaring campfire in the middle, while wine and beer flowed, live musicians performed, and people came together to celebrate the harvest.
 We procured glasses of wine, then roamed the farm.
Mr. Musky was astounded at the size of a plant it takes to grow his beloved broccoli, and I loved walking through one of their many greenhouses.
Someone pulled his best Don Corleone. I giggled. "Now you just need a grandson running around squirting you."
NOT!

We introduced ourselves to some people who ended up sitting at our table, and enjoyed getting to know them, along with the other dinner guests.

It was as idyllic as it sounds, particularly as the sun set while we dined on countless veggie dishes,
enjoyed grilled chicken and fire roasted, spatchcocked pork,
and homemade pies for dessert. The food was plentiful, delicious, and extra special knowing it was all grown within about a 50 mile radius, and the people who grew it truly care about the sustainability of our local area, in addition to creating a true community around food.

This man gets me. He knows how much I looked forward to the dinner, and I think he just might have enjoyed it more than he anticipated as well.
We continued chatting with our table-mates as the sun finally faded over the horizon, then moved around the campfire to hear more music and gaze at the northern Wisconsin wide open, starry filled sky.

On our way out of the event, I grabbed my half-share box out of the cooler to take home with me. In it was yet another zucchini - they were particularly bountiful this year - and I knew exactly what I intended to make with it thanks to a recipe in one of Jenny's newsletters. Check it out today on my food blog, Apéritif Friday.

Happy Autumn, and THANK YOU ALL for reading!

XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Life in the Woods

Why in the world would you live there? What are you thinking?
We get that a lot. And truth be told, I asked myself the same thing ten years ago, when living in the Northwoods was but a mere pipe dream. It happened one night at a supper club, while I sipped on a Brandy Old Fashioned, and looked around at people clad in Packers gear noshing on traditional supper club fare: roast chicken. Grilled steaks. Thick cut pork chops. Lamb shanks.

I sat there and really contemplated the future, a bit of panic creeping into my psyche. I looked across the table and shared my concern. "Babe, how are we going to do it? How will we live here?"
"What do you mean?" he barely looked up from his plate.
"Look at us. We're eating comfort food atop a mound of mashed potatoes in the dog days of summer. How will we survive without sushi? And fish?"
"They have fish here," he argued back. "Friday night fish fry, Babe."
"I mean FRESH fish - from the ocean - that isn't fried in a vat of peanut oil that hasn't been changed since God knows when."
"Well you're just going to have to get your fill when we visit the big cities, like Madison or Milwaukee."

His words did little to dissuade me - I was perturbed. It really bothered me for awhile - giving up all the big city amenities in order to live Up North. However, over the ensuing ten years, my outlook changed dramatically. Now I dine out far less for the food and more for the overall experience of someone else preparing my dinner and serving it to me. I so appreciate the people who grew that food, and the ones who transformed it into a hearty, satisfying, and (hopefully) eye appealing meal, not to mention the fantastic beverages we sip before ordering. And allow me to permanently enter this for the record: no dishwasher = eat out at least twice per week.

But the move here is about so much more than food. Every day I look forward to what I'm going to do outside. At the beginning of summer, a simple walk to the dock is distracting, thanks to the moth outside the door,
the frog lounging on the tiniest of windowsills,
and the gorgeous widlflowers that lazily wave their heads around in June breezes. I ask Mr. Musky to spare them when he cuts the grass.
When I finally do arrive to the dock, I throw out a line at dusk, ambivalent about actually catching a fish. Sometimes I bring a book along and become so absorbed I forget my original intent, jerking back to reality as a large mouth bass tugs furiously on the end of my line.
The first things I search for by both sight and sound are our Echo Lake loons. My head swivels madly like a rubberneck on that inaugural boat ride of the season, anxiously searching for their nest. I spy it in the channel.
And thrill in the prospect of two chicks joining the adults - something we haven't seen for a few years now.
But sadly, flooding rains destroy the nest and dash my dreams of watching babies grow up this summer, leaving our dock underwater for nearly a week.
On picture perfect days, I move my office outside and listen to the squirrels chatter in the trees and play chase all over the yard.
And in the evenings, if it's cool enough, we build a campfire and roast ribeyes and potatoes over the flames, then serve them atop a bed of lettuce with goat cheese and a honey lemon drizzle. It's my most favorite meal in the entire world.

Guests breathe new life into us when they arrive, seeking solace, relaxation, and adventure. We enjoy time with friends and family, and those moments are always golden highlights on our reels of summer. We horse around and act half our age,
 treat my parents to some fun and relaxation, grateful for all they've done to help me live this life,
and BASK in time spent with our own brood. First with Kahley and Nick and naturally, a random horse alongside the road,
and then at Jake's 10 year camp celebration.
Gratefully, the kids were here to help us break in a new toy.
We're still tossing names around for this beaut.
Front runners include Get Rhythm, Sweet Escape, The Remedy, Valkyrie, and How Sweet It Is. Let me know what you think! I'm taking any and all suggestions and/or opinions on our choices.

Probably the saddest moments for me all summer came in the form of goodbyes to lifelong friends - people who showed up on our patio with less than 24 hours notice to have a final apéritif with us before we moved North for good.
And saying goodbye to my tribe, half of whom are extremely uncomfortable with hugs and kisses. Once I got that memo, it was far too late to modify my behavior.
It's rare to cultivate a group of friends who you trust and struggle alongside every single day and can sense from one look whether you're in a great mood or if you're bothered by something. My workout friends are some of the best people I've ever met.
But we move on, and I have done just that with my fitness journey (drink). I found a new home, which I call the Stairway to Hell.
I kid (sort of). More to come on my ongoing adventures in training. I'm still working on connecting with a new tribe in this place. For now I'll just leave it as my dork flag is flying high, but thank God there are no candlesticks here.

That brings us to now. The air is crisper today, the leaves change daily to deeper hues of orange, yellow, and blaze red, and they're already beginning to fall. Squirrel and chipmunk behavior escalates in urgency as they pack away nuts and seeds for the winter months. Boats no longer lazily amble by, and we only occasionally see the dedicated musky fishermen trolling along. But one thing remains constant. Everyday he asks me:

"Are you having fun?"
And my response remains the same, every single time.

"I am. I love it here."

XOXO,
Jen