A call for help from outgoing president of the Board of Directors for the Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden, Jeffrey Caspary, come to my in-box last week. He needed people on Wednesday to help cook for the class of student apprentices that had arrived in late April at the farm. So I thought, "That can't be a bad way to spend part of my birthday."
I had promised a 2:00-6:00 shift, but when I checked in yesterday at 11:00 in the morning, I found that I was needed sooner than later. So I loaded up my Indian spices, my new mortar and pestle*, and several ingredients of promise, into the car, and arrived at the farm at noon.
Walking to the kitchen was a joy: a hillside of bright orange California poppies were blooming under fruit trees, surrounded by tall red clover, also in bloom. (No pictures except one, below: I was too busy and time was tight.)
"Many hands, light work." Is that a Shaker or a Quaker saying? I don't know, but it's one of my favorites, and Jeffrey himself said it as we started to shell some of the seventeen thousand pounds of fava beans he ambitiously had blanched. He then busied himself with other tasks as Edna, also on the board, tried to master the art of shelling favas. She admitted defeat early on, saying, "Never has a vegetable gotten the best of me so quickly," which left me to shell them for the next two hours, until my neck and shoulders could take no more.
* Both Jeffrey and Edna wanted to order one after working with this wonderful kitchen tool.
The apprentices showed up at noon, milling hopefully around and enjoying the enticing aromas that filled the large room. Jeffrey had been toasting spices, and had made two different dals, along with a green salad and more, for lunch. I'd been sitting in the shade outside, awaiting the arrival of one particular apprentice, Suzie Yates.
Suzie and her sister, Christie, have a blog of their own: The Perfect Bite. She and I had waved to each other across the internet a time or two, and I was really happy when I learned that she was one of the handful of applicants to the CASFS six-month program to be accepted. Somebody told her where to find me, and let me just say that Ms. Suzie did not fail "great handshake" lessons. (I wish someone would teach all women how to shake hands, seriously. What are people so afraid of? It's a hand: grasp it!)
She quickly joined me under the eaves, and shelled favas for quite a while until the line for lunch had thinned. Meanwhile, she caught me up on her plans: Christie is a chef, and they want to open a restaurant as partners, with their older sister being the business visionary. She also hopes to establish some kind of basic farming with her church, in communities in Afghanistan (I hope I got that right).
Suzie said it's been amazing being at the farm, that they're being treated like kings and queens. Which is only as it should be. Another apprentice, a "second-year" (seven or eight students stay through the winter and go through the program a second year, guiding the first-years and overseeing a LOT of aspects of running the farm) named Leon stopped by to tell me that the tomatoes donated by Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farm had just been transplanted into one-gallon pots, and that everyone was keenly aware of the promise they hold for the apprentices' personal kitchen garden. Leon also brought the slab of honey you see above: he's pretty involved with the bees at the farm. (I'll get there, I promise.)
At a little after 2:00, my daughter arrived: she'd made the trek to spend the afternoon and evening with me. She gamely shelled favas while I chopped a dozen onions for the evening meal (a classic dish called rajma, made with kidney beans). I don't cry when I chop onions, because of my contact lenses. This, as you can imagine, makes me very popular in volunteer kitchens. Plus, I love to chop. Love it.
After I finished making the cucumber-mint raita, it was pretty much time to go. I couldn't stay for dinner, as I had plans with Bob, my daughter, and my ex-husband to go out to dinner. We went to Ristorante Avanti, which is one of my favorite places of all time—they've been serving local and organic food for twenty years, and truly are friends of the farmers.
Dinner was as good as food gets, and Miguel sprang for a bottle of Talley Pinot Noir which our waitress had convinced us (easily) to buy. Calamari fritti...Caesar salad...lasagna with lamb and chicken and pork...chicken poulet (was that it?). All just perfect, and the company, especially.
Even at ten o'clock, it wasn't over: our friend, Charley arrived bearing birthday wine (La Crema Chardonnay, mmmmm), and stayed for a while. As is usual, hilarity ensued because he's a goofball who has a roaring laugh.
All in all, I'd do it again, even though I was not happy when I woke up. Just being on a farm changes everything, as always, for the better. You'll be hearing more about the apprentices here, as I want to focus on them for a while. Their stories are inspiring, and the things they are learning, even moreso.
Last little tidbit: for years, I've described the little hamlet where I live (Soquel, an unincorporated part fo Santa Cruz county) as "Mayberry LSD," based on a comic strip I'd seen years and years ago. Charley somehow unearthed it, and here it is: "The Quigmans."
I hope you laughed. I did.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." —Will Rogers
Thanks for visiting.