It was early morning and the ocean fog, still drowsy, was idly hanging over the kale and wheat fields on Long Island. Katie* was stacking hay bales into a 1967 Ford pickup, bales that were soon to become seats for a 130-person outdoor lunch on the farm.
This is one of the happiest times of the year for me, when I get to escape the city with its pavement soft as yoga mats, and its smoldering buildings that trap heat and don’t release it until October. It’s when I get to come out to the East End of Long Island on weekends and sink my hands into the earth at Amber Waves Farm.
All winter long I have the joy of talking to farmers at our farmers market, but then for three short months I get to “be” a farmer – a farmer who works in the fields when she wants to, skips the too-hot and too-wet days, assumes no risk for crop failures and is elated by long dry spells. In other words – not a farmer. At the end of my self-assigned shifts, I head home, my hands filthy, my take home pay – in the form of vegetables – filling my arms. I’ll come back the next day for more time in the fields – if I feel like it.
At this lunch (put on by Amagansett Food Institute), we feasted on red tipped lettuce picked that morning from Amber Waves, asparagus collected from the neighbors, chickens that had grown up a mile away, rhubarb from down the road…. It’s the difference between eating spaghetti made with Mexican tomatoes by a Spanish speaking chef in Little Italy, and eating pasta in Rome.
The lettuce, chard, asparagus salad served pig-trough style and created by the co-chefs, Sara Kate Gillingham Ryan of TheKitchn and Amy Chase Gulden. I sort of riffed off this salad, tweaked and played and wound up with “Asparagus Salad with Roasted Garlic and Sesame Seeds”.
I have been tossing spring garlic into things when it seems appropriate, and even, at times, when it doesn’t. This one, brushed with pink, made its way into the re-created salad.
Cupcakes in a field – made from Amber Waves’s own wheat, the center was filled with an oozing lava from local rhubarb. If there is ever a time to sneak dessert, it’s when confronted with cupcakes in their natural habitat.
(A nutritional sidebar about asparagus (since it’s in season and I’ve been consuming it like I may never see it again) — next to spinach, it’s one of the richest sources of both iron and the B vitamin, folate. Folate in synthetic form is called folic acid and is the more commonly spoken of of the two. We pop folic acid pills (ditto with iron) and consume folic acid enriched foods (orange juice is a popular destination for the supplement, bread too), but we rarely talk about folate, the real nutrient that is right there, in our food! The reality is, for all the studies done, we simply don’t know whether our body metabolizes synthetic vitamins differently than the natural form that comes in the food. (Some studies even suggest that folic acid (in large doses) could be harmful.) But I do know this, eating seasonal asparagus, picked at the height of its flavor, is far, far! more enjoyable that tossing back a dry, throat-sticking pill.)
I think there is something universal about our desire as humans to feel a connection with the earth and the treasures it gives us. Even simply in the buying and eating of whole foods, we experience a sense of connectivity. But when we get a chances to eat the food, while sitting on a stack of dried grass, feet touching the very soil that gave life to that food – that’s magical.
Share your favorite “close-to-the-food” experiences, ideas for what to do with asparagus, supplements versus au-natural. (Ok, that one’s a landmine, I know, and I think deserves an entire post, or two, or three…)
* Main photo: Katie Baldwin, one of the real farmers at Amber Waves Farm.
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