Look at that face! It’s almost too cute to eat. I know that sounds wrong, but I love lamb (don’t worry, the sheep in the picture is too old to eat, he’s safe). I don’t usually get to meet my food before I cook it (or eat it), but living on a farm brings new meaning to the phrase “farm to table.” During my vacation earlier this month I spent 3 days on a farm in Pennsylvania (click here and here to read more about my trip). Even though I went to an Ag College (UCDavis), I am an urban girl through and through, and know very little about farm life. My mom’s cousins though live in a farmhouse built in the 1800′s in a small Pennsylvania town, and they raise a menagerie of barnyard animals. Since becoming a chef I have gained a new appreciation for how ingredients are grown and raised, and I was really looking forward to this part of my trip.
On the farm there were sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, cats, and border collies. And since it was Spring there were also baby lambs, baby chicks, pregnant sheep, and eggs waiting to hatch. The baby chicks are a new breed to the farm and are suppose to lay mahogany eggs when they reach maturity. I don’t think I have seen a mahogany egg before, but the pictures I have found on the internet show eggs that are a deep chocolate brown. Almost too beautiful to eat (again!).
The lamb in this photo is was only 4 days old. He (she?) was born just 2 hours before we arrived. It’s amazing how fast the babies on the farm grow. It seems like that within days they double their weight and size. I also found it surprising how little interference is needed by The Humans. Instinct kicks in and the animals know exactly what to do without having to be coached or helped along. It seems very different then Human moms who usually have help from their friends, family, books, and Youtube! Unfortunately (for the lamb), these babies are raised for food. In 7-8 months time they will grow big enough and will become dinner. Like I said before though, I love to eat lamb, and was happy to know that the lamb leg we ate for dinner while on the farm was raised and treated humanly.
That’s right, we did have grilled leg of lamb while at the farm. In addition to animals, my mom’s family also grow beautiful organic gardens. I was so jealous at how much was already coming out of the ground. In Nevada the ground is so hard, you can’t even begin to plant until late May. In the pictures though you can see many types of lettuces, greens, spring garlic and onions, bok choy, asparagus, many types of herbs, and broccoli (or was it romanesco?). In combination with the lamb, these veggies made a perfect Spring time meal.
Since I cook so much at home (and at work), my husband was nice enough to give me the night off and help make dinner. My relatives prepared the leg of lamb with a mustard marinade and also made scalloped potatoes, a wild rice salad, and a cherry cobbler (yum!). And oh yeah, I can’t forget the homemade wine and beer (yep everything was made from scratch). Luigi and my cousin harvested fresh veggies from the garden and Luigi made a curried bok choy and spinach dish along with grilled asparagus. He used what he thought was fenugreek greens to add a curry flavor to the dish, but we later found it was lovage. It’s a new herb on my radar, and I plan to plant it in my garden this summer. It’s flavor is described as a mix of parsley and celery with hints of anise and curry. It is perfect for salads and soups, but I can also see it as a great addition to risotto, omelets, cheddar scones, and meat marinades. Hopefully if I can get it to grow in my own garden this year, you’ll see it popping up in some of my recipes (a new post on my garden coming soon!).
Also while we were in Pennsylvania we made stops in Lancaster County, Amish Country, and Philadelphia for Cheesesteak. Lancaster county is beautiful rolling green countryside with no shortage of farm fresh produce stands, hand-made cheeses, and horse-drawn buggies. And as for the cheesesteak, I’ll let the picture do the talking (from John’s Roast Pork in Philly).
Life on the farm for 3 days was a very enjoyable and memorable experience. I sometimes wish that I could live farther out in the country and be more in tune with the land and grow my own food. But then I saw how much work it takes to sustain a farm, and decided that the comforts of urban living are not so bad! What I was reminded of though is how much better food tastes when it is not grown and raised on factory farms. I already try to support my small local farmers when I can, but I strive even more now to seek out those fresh local ingredients.
Stay tuned for my 3rd and final post about my East Coast Vacation, when I head to New York City for three days (a 180 degree turnaround from Farm Living).