Week 9, 2021｜Kristin Kimball ｜March 6, 2021
Sometimes a story ends in a predictable way but the plot point that gets you there comes out of left field. Mark was away this week, helping his mom and sister. Often, when he’s away, things get a little loose and nutty in the house. We could eat ice cream and popcorn for dinner and crank the dance music during dishes, for example. And then the girls, in anticipation of their evening chores, could put the calf buckets over their heads, and zombiewalk around the house, trying to tag each other with their outstretched hands, in a dryland version of Marco Polo. You, the main character, have already boogied downstairs to the basement to haul up the four gallons of slightly clabbered milk they will be taking to the barn for the calves and it is sitting there in an open bucket on the kitchen floor. Now you think this is where it all goes wrong in the story, but that would be a red herring. Because as you chase the blind children into the next room, shouting above the dance music for them to be careful of the milk, Mary, who is not an honest dog, takes advantage of your distraction to stick her head into the bucket and chug milk as fast as a dog tongue can chug. When you turn around and your narrowed eyes land on her, she jumps guiltily backward, and in her haste she hooks her collar on the rim and takes the bucket with her. Four gallons of spilled milk is no joke, from an olfactory point of view. You run down to the basement in time to see the milk begin to waterfall through the floorboards, over the blue foam insulation, over the stored sheep supplies, and onto the cement floor. You have a decision to make now. You can laugh or you can cry. Bah. You know what they say about spilled milk. And if this is the price for the fun so be it. While the kids go to the barn you crank the music even louder, and mop, and laugh, and wonder what it will smell like come June.
We just made it through what we hope is the last blast of deep cold. Four degrees this morning. All the ewes had the good sense to keep their lambs inside of them until now, for which I am very grateful. The coming week’s forecast looks fine, so feel free to let go now, ladies. I think we are as ready as we’ll ever be.
Our favorite meal in the farmhouse this week was good old chili and cornbread. I’ve made this combo so often I can do it in my sleep, but it’s a little different every time. The general outline is about the same. I soak the beans overnight, and cook them with an onion and celeriac and bay leaf until soft but not falling apart. For the liquids in the chili, I use about 50% canned tomatoes and 50% good flavorful homemade stock — chicken, pork, lamb or beef, all different but equal in goodness. For the meat, again, anything can be delicious — ground pork, beef, or lamb, or even minced leftovers, and it doesn’t have to be much. The beans are the invitee, the meat is its plus one. I believe good chili depends on having a free hand with the spices, onion and garlic (I keep adding more and never feel like it is too much) and on lightly frying the spices to bring out their flavor before sauteing the onions and garlic and adding the beans, meat and liquids. Having really fresh high-quality spices (and freshly ground if possible) adds a lot. A combo of hot and warm flavors does it for me: always sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cumin, and black pepper, sometimes cinnamon, cocoa powder or allspice, or all of them. Hot pepper flakes or another form of fire, as desired. Add salt to taste at every stage from cooking the beans to making the stock to final touches, and don’t be stingy. Nothing worse than flat chili (except undercooked beans). You will want some acid to augment that of the tomatoes, like a splash of vinegar or red wine, and a hint of sweet to soften the spice, for which my go-to is a small amount of molasses, and I recommend an umami bonus that can come from ground dried mushrooms or coco aminos or soy sauce or fish sauce or worcestershire sauce, you get the idea. If you have too much liquid at the end, the traditional cure is a little corn masa (the nixtamalized dough that is used to make tortillas) but since I don’t have masa on hand I just chop fine or grind a couple of our Essex Farm tortillas and let them dissolve in there. Since chili freezes well, I usually make a huge pot, and half the time it all gets eaten before it needs to go in the freezer. This week, we had eggs poached in leftover chili for breakfast.
For the cornbread, I believe in a 50/50 ratio of cornmeal to white flour, to avoid a 100% corn puck that is undoubtedly healthier but unpopular in our house. Briefly and roughly: 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup white flour, salt, 1 tsp baking soda, 2 T brown sugar, all mixed together well before adding two lightly beaten eggs, 1 ⅓ C yogurt or buttermilk, and 2 or 3 (or 4?) tablespoons melted butter. Mix, don’t beat, then pour into a well-greased 9X9 pan, bake at 400 until done. I forgot to note how long it took this week so look in at 20 minutes and see if the edges are crispy, the top golden. Eat warm, with butter and jam, next to your spicy bowl of chili.
We are sending huge thanks this week to Leo Galley who set up an array of sensors in our many temperature-critical spaces — refrigerators, freezers, basement, and greenhouses — all linked to an online platform we can monitor remotely. You can check it out along with Leo’s bio at farmsensordashboard.com. This is such a huge improvement because it relieves us of the tedious twice-daily job of trudging to each of these spaces with a temp gun. Thank you, Leo! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this bright bright 9th week of 2021. Find us at 518-963-4613, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram at kristinxkimball, essexfarmcsa, or farmerkimball, or on the farm, from a distance, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball