I spent most of my day Thursday in the dirt and god damn did it feel good. My leg muscles are burning. My nails have soil lodged under them. My wedding ring is a little less shiny than it was before and there is the tiniest bit of color and life back in my cheeks. All is right with the world.
It’s been a weird spring so far, eagerly anticipating the warmth to come when it insists on instead presenting a couple teaser days of sun and temps above fifty only to go back to snowing immediately after. SNOWING. I mean does it really need to be that dramatic?
Irregular weather that includes snow and nights well below freezing have slowed us down a bit but we’re trying to be mellow knowing that at worst we’ll be two weeks behind on a few crops and at best, we’ll have no real trouble catching up because this is the first season farming that my Carrot won’t have to work full-time until mid-May in addition to getting a farm started. But it still messes with our mind yielding a constant sense of urgency that is probably unnecessary.
But Thursday, Thursday was one of those rare perfect days. With abundant sun, gentle wind and weather so warm we needed no coat, we decided there were a few things that could get done out in the fields.
We drove out to our neighbors’ vegetable farm and began dividing up their rhubarb. Rhubarb plants are amazing and require little to no effort from year to year, but this particular rhubarb patch has an amazing history. Dug up, transported and replanted from Steve’s former farm in Fitchburg to where he now operates outside of Evansville, this rhubarb has been with Steve for nearly forty years. And it therefore requires a little more love and maintenance. You want to divide rhubarb plants every so often (like once a decade) to keep them healthy and producing good, tender stalks. This, of course, has the added advantage of more rhubarb because you can replant the divisions.
Shovel in hand, we divided dozens of plants, stacking them into crates in our truck and hauling them back to our farm. My Carrot hopped on the new tractor, tilled up the first soil of 2018 and we got to planting. By mid-afternoon my hamstrings were shaking from the hours of standing, squating and bending but we looked out over the field to see 450 feet of rhubarb staring back at us: the rhubarb patch we’ve dreamed of ever since starting our farm five years ago.
Still inspired by the rare day of warmth, we tilled up another couple beds and seeded 300 feet each of radishes and turnips. We wrestled the row cover over the tiny seeds to keep the pesky flea beetles away from early growth and help warm the soil ever so slightly.
My dad stood close by for most of the day, casually taking his dog for walks through our fields, really wanting to watch our tractor being used for the first time. As the my husband and father fiddled and adjusted the attachments to get them just right, I laid in the warm grass doing some of my favorite yoga poses to stretch my legs, hips and low back. It was a perfect day on the farm. It was the way I want to start every season from here on out. With balance and focus, ambition and hope, kindness and community. If yesterday resembles the kind of season we have ahead of us, I can’t wait.
Now we may (finally) be outside planting rhubarb and radishes and turnips, but the reality is we still have a good month until those crops are actually ready at our farm so we’re still cooking with fall and winter staples and adding as many warm, inviting spring flavors as we can to nudge the weather into action.
These roasted Brussels Sprouts get a pop of brightness from harissa (a spicy pepper paste available in the ethnic aisle of any grocery store– probably somewhere near the tahini, sardines and sun-dried tomatoes) and storage shallots that have been pickled and stashed in my fridge since a couple weeks ago when I made that delectable cheese board. Picked storage veggies are essential for me this time of year. The acidity and layers they bring to otherwise mellow flavors gets me seriously amped up for the warmer days ahead.
The recipe below for pickled shallots is super simple but just be sure to do it a few hours (and up to two weeks) before you want to eat this dish. I like to pickle a couple things on Sunday for the week ahead (mostly shallots and carrots lately). Leftover pickled shallots can be used on practically anything but my favorite way to eat them other than on this lovely dish (or a cheese board) is on burgers and in beet salads.
Wishing us towards warmer weather,
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH HARISSA & PICKLED SHALLOTS
Serves 6-8 as a side (great potluck/party dish)
Takes 45 minutes (excluding pickling the shallots because you made them the Sunday prior)
2 pounds, halved or quartered based on size
1/4 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pickled Shallots, as much as you like
Diced cilantro, optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Toss Brussels Sprouts with olive oil, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper before spreading out on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 30-35 minutes until charred in places, removing the pan once or twice and stirring the Brussels sprouts for even browning.
- If you forgot to make your pickled shallots ahead of time, you could start them now (recipe below) though they will be a little less bright and acidic than if you made them in advance.
- Prepare your sauce by combining remaining ingredients with remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Stir until well combined and uniform. It will be lumpy because harissa has a lot of texture.
- To serve, spread the harissa sauce on a large platter. Cover with roasted Brussels Sprouts and top with pickled shallots and cilantro, if using.
Adapted from Food & Wine
Makes 1 pint
Takes 15 minutes but should chill at least two hours for best flavor
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon honey (or sugar)
3 large shallots, sliced
- Combine water, vinegars, salt and honey in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Heat over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and stir frequently. Cook until sugar dissolves.
- Put the shallots in a mason jar and cover with liquid leaving about a 1/2-inch of head space. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The shallots will float to the top– this is normal. Sometimes I store the jar upside down for the first couple days so I know everything is fully submerged.
- These will store well in the fridge for a couple weeks.