What you are about to see was almost illegal in Minnesota. Continue reading A good morning for the Sleeping Cat
“It’s what’s on this table” Mike said, as he scooped his hand through the soft brown pellets, lifting up a handful and letting it drop from his fingers like sand. It reminded me of rich chocolate Ovaltine, that drink we used to have as kids, only much darker.
“Black gold?” I said.
“Hey, have you been reading my notes?” Mike replied, laughing. He was getting ready to give a “market talk” about earthworm castings at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Some of the growers have been mentioning castings a lot recently, mostly in reference to how they make a casting tea to spread on their crops. This, they have found, gives them a better product.
“Castings”, it turns out, is just a fancy word for poop.
Poop tea.We joked around about earthworm castings for several moments, before the conversation turned to the mating habits of bees. It seemed a totally natural turn, considering the other half of the table contained a giant display of worker B products. Mike (pictured above) and Liesa (pictured below) are the worker bee’s of Worker B. “So I understand how bees mate, and it’s crazy, but I still don’t get the whole chicken egg fertilization thing.” Liesa said.
“Uhhh..” I said, trying to find a response that would make me seem knowledgeable, or at the very least, clever. I had nothing.
“yeeeaaaii don’t know about that one. I’ll find out for you though!” I said.
I took out my phone dove out of the conversation and into the chaos of shoppers zig-zagging through the aisles. With loose shoulders I dodged and shimmied my way through, narrowly avoiding many a fanny pack. Unruly green onions sprouted from shopping bags, whipping me as I passed. I had to tip-toe through buckets full of tulips, but nothing would stand in the way of my mission.
Destination: Blue Gentian.
Darryle, of Blue Gentian, farms chickens… and ducks, and turkeys. He also has sheep, pigs, goats, and cows. Here is what he had to say about chickens:
Chicken mating lasts less than 30 seconds, during which the rooster sperm enters the oviduct. The rooster sperm then travels through the hen’s reproductive organs to the infundibulum, which is downstream of the hen’s ovary. The journey to the infundibulum can take over a week, but once there, the sperm can remain for several days, ambushing eggs as they are released from the ovary. The unsuspecting chickens are used to laying eggs, fertilized or not, they do it almost daily.
“My chickens leave me 3-5 eggs every day” said one of the master gardeners at the market.
“Wait a minute, you have chickens? I thought you said you lived in Minneapolis?”
“Oh yes, I have 8! The city allows you to have them after your neighbors have signed off that it is okay and your coup has been inspected.” She replied.
Interesting. I don’t have a coup, and I am pretty sure my neighbors wouldn’t be too thrilled with me housing chickens in our apartment (not that it matters much, turns out Saint Paul is much more lenient than Minneapolis when it comes to owning poultry.) I wanted to stay and hear more about how to own chickens..but I was dying to get back to Liesa with my new found knowledge.
“Makes sense” Liesa said, shrugging. “Thanks!” She grinned.
“Thank YOU!” I replied. “This is totally interesting. Now I need to know your favorite egg recipes so that I can make a dish to go with this story. Any ideas?”
“I usually just make leftover omelettes.” Mike chimed in. “I’ll put anything leftover in an omelette. Even pizza!”
“Well, I do have some asparagus leftover from yesterday..”
The contrast of color is amazing. Red, purple, blue and yellow flowers protrude out of the dull gray skies, with soft petals that look as though they were carved out of butter.
The sound of rain smacking into puddles is relaxing.
The produce stays perky all morning, and due to slower traffic, the good stuff is still available so when I am done with work and ready to shop.
Their is plenty of time to exchange stories with the vendors. For example:
And it got me thinking. Why don’t I ever cook with tea? Mrs. Kelly has lots of award winning tea’s available at the market, and all of them seem like they would contribute a really unique flavor well suited for…well I don’t know, asparagus maybe? Here is Mr. Kelly talking about one of their latest creations:
Feeling inspired, I swung by the table of Produce Acres Cold Springs Farm to visit “the asparagus guy”. I bought a pound of asparagus. Then, after some discussion with the Mr. Kelly, I decided to flavor the asparagus with green jasmine tea. First, I melted some butter (~1/2 stick) over low heat, and poured in 2 tsp green jasmine tea. It seemed like the tea trapped the milk solids (or something) because when I went to strain the mixture, only liquid poured through. This is a good thing, because the milk solids in butter is what causes butter to sometimes burn. Essentially, what is in the bottom of this measuring cup is jasmine green tea infused ghee (clarified butter). After a quick sautee of the asparagus with 2 cloves of garlic, a little salt, and this delicious butter concoction, I poured about 2 tsp water into the pan and covered with a lid to steam for 2 min. The end result was quite tasty!
The wind stampeded through the lot, picking up napkins and knocking over plates, and leaving smears of mustard and coleslaw in its wake. The market employees, it seemed, had all managed to position themselves away from their shady tents in order to absorb warmth from available patches of sunlight. I had abandoned the demo station, and was standing next to Loretta and Sandy watching helplessly as gusts threw themselves into the tent’s billowing white walls.
“I’ve heard of tents actually lifting off of the ground and impaling people before.” Sandy said, sounding depressed.
Both Loretta and I looked at her, quizzically
A strange rustling was brewing behind us. I swung around and observed a parting sea of market shoppers as a large white van emerged. The bright-eyed and sunny, Mrs. Bonnie Dehn (affectionately referred to as the MN herb lady, because she and her husband are associated with the delicious herbs that they grow on their farm, Dehn’s Gardens) was in the driver’s seat. The van stopped at our feet and Bonnie jumped down, smiling and waving as she rushed to open the side door. Within moments all thoughts of the wind had vanished and we were reclaiming our fallen empire by bringing in herbs, terracotta pots, and potting soil.
As she hooked on the microphone for her market talk, I mentioned to Bonnie that earlier in the morning Loretta and I had a tasting of several of different varieties of Dehn’s farm’s mint, including apple, pineapple, chocolate, and orange mint.
“Oooooh, try THIS!!” Bonnie said, excitedly, and she picked a little red bud off of one of the herb plants and handed it to me. I placed the flower on my tongue and tasted.. petal, with a hind of grass, then nothing..and then..
All at once like a shot of compressed air, the pineapple flavor exploded on my palate, and as quickly as it came, it was gone.
“Wow, what was that?” I asked.
“It was pineapple sage, here, rub the leaves it’s very fragrant”. Bonnie pet the sage gingerly with the flat side of her fingers, the way one would if they were to carefully stroke a chinchilla, or brush a harp without making a sound. I ran my fingers over the leaves and inhaled their scent, which was fresh and cleansing, like being washed with rain.
The wind continued, but Bonnie had barricaded herself behind a fortress of herbs and laughter. One by one the people gathered, feeling assured by her presence that they were safe from the chilly assaults of the wind. A few soldiers went down, the tri-colored sage, the lemon thyme, and the Greek oregano, but Bonnie plowed through her talk as though it were a mild and temperate summer day. The entire time she spoke, I asked myself why I don’t simply surround myself with herbs all the time. It feels so good to be around them, yet I always seem to talk myself out of buying them, fearing that I will be neglectful, or harvest too much too soon and end up killing the plant. Fortunately for me, Bonnie doesn’t let people go around empty handed.
“Here honey” Bonnie said, before leaving after her talk. She was clutching the edges of a pot overflowing with a cornucopia of herbs. “Take this home and put it on your windowsill.”
I practically skipped to my car, herbs in hand, mentally hooking their flavors together and taking them apart as though I were a kid on Christmas morning having just received a kit of Legos.
I love my job.
“Have you ever had a spring-dug parsnip?” My hand hovered over the little basket of what looked like white carrots. I froze at the question, and looked up from under my sweatshirt hood.
“no, why, are they different from fall parsnips?” I asked, slightly embarrassed for my ignorance. His tone implied that I might want to reconsider my purchase after the lesson I was about to receive.
“YES..” Heinel’s farmer Don answered, in a cautioning tone. Then he said”…they are much SWEETER!”
It was like having somebody say ‘sorry, I don’t have a dollar for you…but you can have twenty!’
My hand came back to life, and commenced greedily loading parsnips into the loot-bag that swung from my wrist.
Farmer Don continued, “we made parsnip chips with them, they were really good.”
At those words my taste-buds sprung out of bed. The salty-sweet crispness of a parsnip chip would be just the thing to justify this wintery day in mid-May. Since the heat in our building has recently been switched to air-conditioning, I figured it would be nice to have the oven going for warmth.
When I got home, I consulted the internet about spring-dug parsnips. According to various sources, many vegetables get woody or bland durning the winter rest, but parsnips seem to just get tastier.
Sometimes they get so sweet that you can even eat them raw. Timing is important, however. If they are left in the ground too long, the budding foliage will rob sugar off of the parsnips and you will be left with a hardened bitter root. I knew I wasn’t going to have to worry about that. Farmer Don is an excellent grower of vegetables. I made Heinel Farms spring-dug parsnip chips today and they were delicious!
Note: I like to finish my parsnips with a sprinkle of mint. We have several varieties of mint at the Minneapolis Farmers Market this time of the year, including chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and orange mint!
We wintered hard in Minnesota this year, packing ourselves up daily for a snowy trudge to work, pulling on furry boots, the outer hide still wet and matted from the previous day. Our morning rituals were closed by the reluctant zip of a feathered-down jacket. Our gait reduced to a heavy waddle under the weight of 3, sometimes 4 layers. We shivered through the first 5 minutes of our favorite morning radio show, rewarding our resilience with sips from tightly sealed traveling coffee mugs.
After all that work, it was difficult not to feel entitled to a little reprieve. When Spring poked her head up and tiptoed across my bedroom floor to greet me on that first bright morning, I felt for sure she was here to stay. The boxes came out of storage. Closet hangers were emptied and refilled with glowing clothes that bounced and swayed.
Alas, the following morning spring was nowhere to be found. She was hiding somewhere, giggling and waiting to be caught, while snow flurries tickled the shy, naked ground, causing it to tense up.
My bouncy clothes proved to be poor armor from the darkness. I watched and felt camaraderie as drivers stopped at stoplights, clutching their travel coffee mugs in desperation.
I’ve heard grief comes in stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. In the past few weeks I am sure I have felt them all. I ran through the bitter wind and flurries of May day. I cursed the sleeting skies of April. I promised to take advantage of ever ounce of sunlight granted. I slept and watched bad TV shows instead of blogging; and finally, I welcomed the weather in whatever form it chose to appear.
Late this 43 degree morning, Spring padded her sleepy feet slowly out of hiding, rubbing her eyes, and widening her lips into a smile that warmed us to 62 degrees! I whistled my way to the co-op with a delicious craving to blog!