Being a season of viruses, we’ve definitely been cooking up some antiviral recipes lately that can be prepared with or without meat. Late spring is sort of the beginning of the winding down of our veggie season at ARTfarm, but ingredients can be sourced from other local farms or your own backyard Victory Garden. The recipe ingredients list seems long here, but in these days of social distancing we thought it best to give people lots of options and substitutions. It’s mostly a lot of chopping and preps quickly.
We will be presenting a series of articles on starting a small home garden for those of you who have been asking us what to plant and when. Stay tuned on our website, we’ll be offering some information and also soon put up a signup sheet if you’d like to attend a Zoom videoconference class with local experts from UVI’s Cooperative Extension Service to answer more of your questions on starting a home garden.
Tom Khing Michi-Gai Phak*
(Ginger Not-Chicken Coconut Soup)
Feeds about 3 hungry people who really love soup. We usually double it. 10 minutes prep time, 40 minutes cook/simmer time.
This is a garden veggie heavy/homemade sort of homage to one of ARTfarm family’s all time favorite Asian soups: Galangal Chef Kenneth Biggs’ Tom Kha Gai soup. We are substituting ginger and turmeric for Chef’s galangal root and adding more veggies.
The coconut is nourishing and anti-viral, the turmeric color is cheerful, the gingery warmth of the rich smooth broth and onions and chili peppers (if desired) help open the sinuses without acidity, the customizable, whatever-you’ve-got-available veggies make it hearty; it’s just soothing and lovely. The citrus tang and floating cherry tomatoes added at the end offer little pops of sweet vitamin blasts and the cilantro is cleansing to the body.
This recipe is verrry adjustable. You can make it with some, or all, or substitutions for, the various chopped vegetables and herbs in this recipe. Tiny white Japanese enoki or bonapi mushrooms are a fun texture in this if you can get them, but any (or no) mushrooms will do. (Mushrooms may have anti-viral qualities!) This is traditionally a chicken recipe and we’ve suggested tofu or a light milder fish like mahi or wahoo to substitute, but you can make it without – it still has such a rich broth and holds up well if you add other veg.
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers removed
1 one inch piece (a man thumb) baby ARTfarm ginger, grated, no peeling necessary
1 one inch piece (a man thumb) baby ARTfarm turmeric, grated, no peeling necessary
3 large kaffir lime leaves
1 – 2 sprigs Thai basil
1 sour orange or other large citrus: all the juice and a tiny bit of the skin oil or zest
6 cups broth – veggie or whatever you’ve got
1 lb. your favorite protein: a pack of firm tofu, cut into 1” or smaller pieces
– or – chicken (boneless breast or thigh), sliced into thin strips
– or – mahi or wahoo, cubed
1 large onion, sliced thin into crescent moons
8 oz. mushrooms (Japanese or whatever you’ve got)
1 13.5-oz. can coconut milk well shaken**
– or – make fresh coconut milk!!! (Crucian Contessa’s recipe)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
– or – a slurry of 2 Tbspn. miso paste dissolved in some of the broth
– or – 2 Tbsp. Bragg’s Aminos to taste
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
1-4 finely chopped Thai chili peppers to taste
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves with tender stems
a few sour orange or lime wedges (for garnish, if you’re feeling fancy)
——–optional add-ins (we do all of them!!)——-
* 1 cup pumpkin, sliced thin then cubed into chunks
* 1/2 bunch cooking greens (radish tops, kale, chicory etc.), remove hard center ribs, cut leaves into 1″ pieces or julienned
* 4-5 seasoning peppers, seeded and sliced
* 1 bunch radishes or turnips, washed, root sliced into coins, use the tops as greens
* 2 medium bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
How to make it
Using the back of a knife, lightly smash lemongrass; fold and bundle it up to about 4-5″ long, to fit in a large sauce pan. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors are melded, 8–10 minutes. Pull out the lemongrass with tongs and discard, and add microplaned/grated ginger and turmeric to the hot broth.
Add tofu and your big pile of chopped onions, pumpkin, greens, (and seasoning pepper if desired), and return to a boil. Reduce heat, add mushrooms and citrus juice, and simmer, skimming occasionally, until cooked through and onions and pumpkin are soft, 20–25 minutes.
For the last five minutes, turn the heat to low and add radish coins, bell peppers, (chicken/fish if applicable). Simmer until the protein is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Ladle some of the hot broth into a teacup and add your miso, stirring until liquified.
Mix in coconut milk, your brown flavor sauce option (fish sauce/miso slurry/aminos), tiny leaves of Thai basil, and kaffir lime leaves. Heat through.
Divide soup among bowls. Serve with garnishes: cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced pieces of thai chili peppers, cilantro, and citrus wedges. OMG it’s so good. If you have any hint of a cold this nutritious soup will blast it out of you!!
*thanks Google Translate. Apologies to Thai people. Hopefully we haven’t said something rude.
** Chef Ken’s coconut tip: if you purchase canned coconut milk, check the fat content (in grams per can, not the percentage). Look for something in the 10+ grams range. Less than that, it can come out too thin – and sometimes canned coconut milk contains emulsifiers that can give it a weird mouth feel.
One of the great secrets to really tasty food preparation is just to start with really good fresh ingredients. If you do that, you can keep things very simple and they will taste incredible.
This Saturday’s farmstand, 10am – 12noon: welcome to February! Tomato incredibleness continues, with even more heirlooms (please don’t squeeze), loads of fresh sweet salad mix, teen arugula, baby ‘almost micro’ spicy salad mix, tons of figs, beautiful seasoning peppers, sweet bell peppers, assorted spicy hot peppers, no-peel baby ginger and turmeric, lettuce heads, various cooking greens, dandelion greens, endive, Italian basil, lemon basil, Thai basil, holy basil, cilantro, dill, garlic chives, a few bunches of parsley, sage, French breakfast radishes, baby carrots, butternut squash, Thai pumpkin (so so so good with edible skin), and zinnia flowers.
Early birds will also choose from a few bunches of scallions and onions, some watermelon, some cucumbers, and the first of our Hawaiian sweet corn.
Saturday farmstand: Lots and lots of farm fresh goodies with two checkout lines set up to serve you. We have such insane amounts of stuff that you can easily sleep in and come at 10:30am and still select from of 95% of our offerings.
Loads of sweet salad mix, lots of baby arugula, and lots of baby and teen spicy salad mix; slicer tomatoes, salad tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, lots and lots of yellow and pink and red watermelons, beautiful sweet mini white bell peppers with thick flesh (use raw or cooked), cooking greens, bok choi, radishes, lettuce heads, Serrano peppers, Indian hot peppers, Thai chili peppers, Italian basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, cilantro, dill, garlic chives, baby ginger and turmeric, a few bunches of onions, a few bunches of carrots, a few cucumbers, lots and lots of figs, and lots of cut flowers.
On our Hurricane Maria recovery fundraising front, we’re up to $24,282 out of $44,000 total funds needed to restore farm buildings including our seedling house and gallery building, and ensure resilience for future events. Check out and share our GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/artfarmllc …and a huge thank you to everyone who has donated!
It was just another Saturday, until I heard this: “NOOOOOOOooooo!” The anguished cry went up from the farmstand, more than once. “I missed the greens?” Soulful eyes pleaded. “I can’t survive without them.” And another, maniacally gripping my lapels: “Don’t you see?! I have an addiction!!” My partner and I couldn’t escape the plaintive cries, even through our phone lines: “But…I’m a chef! What about my customers?!” As the voice trailed off into gentle sobbing, even the cashbox had a hollow, mournful clunk at the end of the farmstand, devoid of lettuce sales.
How to explain this? It all began in 1999, with the coconut coir, and it ended in December, with hundreds of pairs of beautiful legs. But I digress…
(To read more of this agricultural noir thriller, scroll down after the farmstand listing!)
Wednesday afternoon 3-5:30pm, we will have: loads of tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, criminal amounts of cherry tomatoes, regular cucumbers, tiny wild pasture ‘gherkin’ cucumbers, lots of cooking greens, bunched arugula, beets, various butternut pumpkins, radishes, carrots, seasoning and Serano peppers, Italian basil, very little cilantro and parsley, lots of dill (great for pickling those tiny cucumbers), garlic chives, tons of ginger and turmeric, a good bit of watermelon including the yellow variety, about 10 bags of fresh figs, and zinnias! Also, no lettuce or salad mix. Learn why:
It was late November, 2017. The island mood was lifting after the storm, but many of the electric lights were still dark, when I stumbled across a tragedy of growing proportions. The crisp, leafy victims? Young, too young. Baby lettuces, mysteriously disappearing or dying. Their tantalizing, sweet potential, dashed into the compost heap like another shiny American dream. Nearly broke the heart of even a seasoned professional farmer like myself. My partner and I were determined to dig to the bottom of this and find out what was happening. We hung out our agricultural investigative shingle and started burning the shoe leather.
At first we had fooled ourselves, bellying up to the bar of the future for a lukewarm glass of false hope with a chaser of denial: we chalked missing lettuce seedlings up to the statistics. But as a week passed, there was a pattern: part of a tray of lettuce seedlings, just missing. Then another section, and another. Too many, just not surviving to the light of day.
But those who were able to thwart this mysterious abduction were not thriving. Instead of the vibrant, green, bushy seedlings I had grown accustomed to, they were limp. Lanky. Languishing. Lifeless.
And then came the wilt. The rot. The small percentage of who had survived were now dying. Something was destroying our lettuce before it ever made it to the field. Four out of five seedlings, dead. What was this mysterious, unseen, evil force? I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, as the dreaded words I could not say aloud flooded across my mind: “lettuce crop failure.”
My mind spun, counterclockwise, to the past. September, 2017. I thought of the powerful, angry dame with the breathy voice who had whirled through my office then. Maria, she said her name was. Could she be behind this? There was no doubt in my mind, but I still had no way to pin these crimes on her. I knew I had to find a way. I was being cold framed!
I combed through the furthest reaches of my memories, scratching my beard and searching for clues.
Could it be the seeds? It was now early December. We’d gone without electricity for months after Maria ravaged the island’s infrastructure, maybe the seed stock had gone bad and wasn’t germinating. I checked with my partner, but she said she’d ordered new seeds that miraculously came in the mail as soon as the airport reopened after the big storm. So we ruled that out.
I knew that Maria had destroyed our seedling house. It was the place where these young lettuces would have been protected and nurtured, instead of being exposed to all the tropical dangers that can turn a fresh, innocent seedling into a twisted heap of rotting cellulose before you could say “romaine”. I had hard evidence. I had satellite photos at the scene of the violent crime. Maria had her footprints all over the mess. We knew this was big. Then, Washington put out an APB over the wire on Maria and was offering a reward for information, so we called our contacts in D.C. and filed a pile of paperwork that could’ve choked a horse. But the Feds said their hands were tied. They wouldn’t back us up. My partner cursed them with language that revealed her nautical roots. But it wouldn’t change anything. We, and all the other farmers on the island with broken and crushed buildings, were going to have to go this alone.
We knew there were occasional roving gangs of mice in the neighborhood. Mostly they stayed clear of us, but with the seedling house reduced to a pile of broken lumber, their territory had likely shifted. Meanwhile, the lettuce trays had been crowded together in a smaller space to survive. The presence of this crowded, vulnerable population could have caused the gangs to become organized. We set up a sting operation involving some traps. But these were well trained soldiers and they did not fall for our subterfuge. They continued to pick off the young innocent sprouts, one by one. I laid awake at night, hearing their teeny tiny squeaky voices. Mocking me.
And what about the rot? That was not gang-related collateral damage. There had to be something…something in the coir.
Over eighteen years of farming, I had stubbornly resisted the use of commercial potting mix. My partner and I were both philosophically opposed to importation of resources that could be found on the island. The commercial potting products usually contained questionable characters, such as peat bog products which are not renewable. We had inherited a mountain of coconut coir nearly 20 years ago in 1999, and had been using the goldmine of fibrous hairy brown material to keep our potting mix light and fluffy. But it was heavily processed, and had to be imported. And we were running out. Maria’s punishing rains had soaked the molehill of our coir mountain that remained, and it had grown fungal and rich. Perhaps too rich for the young and delicate, innocent victims of this mysterious crime.
Perhaps it was time to shut the door on the coir and find a solution that could close the book on this perfect storm of plagues. But what was the answer? I began spending sleepless nights in the crime lab, trying old and new formulations. Each one took agonizing days to test. Failure after failure threatened my resolve. There had now been nearly two weeks of greatly reduced lettuce production, a disaster that I knew would come to haunt me in early February 2018, if I couldn’t solve this problem now. Only one in five seedlings had survived the mysterious onslaught of crime. The compost was piling up. Two weeks had passed.
Time was running out. Christmas was nearing, but despite the cheerful blinky battery operated lights and the holiday songs on the emergency radio, my heart was a fragile, empty shell. Bleary-eyed, I could see a dismal future ahead, full of disappointed customers, angry chefs, bills stacking up with no sales. It was a disaster borne of a disaster. But what could I do?
Then my partner said, “Wait. I know a guy.”
Bob was a guy, a Guy that could Build Stuff. Sure, we’d brought him in to repair the miles of fencing that had gotten knocked down. But this was a culinary emergency, we needed all hands on deck. Bob and I threw together a tiny protected hut from the shattered remains of the seedling house. It wasn’t much, but perhaps it could save a few lives. Then another mysterious figure emerged from the mist. It was Roi. We couldn’t believe our luck. Roi knew how to build stuff. He put a sturdy roof on the hut. The shattered pieces of our lives were starting to come back together with the glue of the Guys who could Build Stuff.
Back in the lab, I had become obsessed with the granularity of wood chips. We had stockpiled mountains of wood chips for mulch prior to the storm. Could an answer lie within these sleeping behemoths? I didn’t know it at the time but it was a dead end, an end that would lead nowhere and would not solve my problem. Or could it? One night, as I mopped my brow under the dimming light of the failing solar lantern, SHE walked in.
She was petite, not unusual, I’d seen her type around the farm before. But what really caught my attention were those legs, those beautiful legs. She had a sinuous way of moving them that put my frontal cortex into a deep freeze. They were smooth, waxy, bright red. She had to have about 300 of them, two per segment to be exact. She crawled up my arm and looked me straight in the eyes, meaningfully waving her feelers at me. I could almost hear her teeny tiny voice say, “Use the force, Lucaaaaaaaaa.” I knew it was the hand of fate, Lady Luck dealing me a winning hand. And I knew what I had to try.
The wood chips to replace the coir had to be gongolo and millipede composted.
I tried to hold myself back from counting unhatched chickens, but I could feel it in my bones. I knew I had finally stopped this crime wave and restored a new normal to these young summer crisps, with the help of my leggy friend, the Guys Who Could Build Stuff, and my faithful and salty partner.
After a few days, I reaped the success of my experiment. The sweet sweet smell of our new formula of potting soil soothed my soul. The emergency lettuce hut kept the mice at bay. And the seedlings begin to show a vitality and vibrancy that made my heart sing. The lettuce was growing leafy and full again.
I knew the customers would never understand. It was too complex, too nuanced, too frightening, too much to wrap your head around. Plus, insects. The whole thing was like a dream. A nightmare, really, one that I’d feared I’d never awaken from. But now, the birds were singing. The lettuces were growing again. The mice had moved on. I knew that there would be lean times ahead. There would be at least a week, maybe two, in mid February, when the people would cry out in sheer agony, for lettuce, for lettuce products, blissfully unaware of the struggles and darkness we had been through in the dark, dark days of December. But that didn’t matter now.
Because we had so many cherry tomatoes.
Post-hurricane adjustments took time, during which we were also trying to train a new employee, repair broken infrastructure on the farm and in our home, apply for federal disaster programs and make business decisions based on unknown disaster zone variables, including the size of our customer base post-storm: many of our permanent resident customers had taken mercy flights to the states for an unpredictable period of time, and we had no way of knowing whether our seasonal resident customers would be back for the season. The customer response this season has been unpredictably huge, and we are fielding a few complaints that there is not enough produce to go around (despite the fact that we are always packing away some food items at the end of every farmstand). Please know that if we could grow more food for you, we would. Farming is seasonal and subject to the vagaries of nature. And other farms on St. Croix will soon be producing more food, stay tuned!