Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Dish: Creamed Spinach

A side dish of our freshly made creamed spinach
Spinach is such a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It can replace or add to lettuce in a salad or it can be cooked down and added to any number of dips, side dishes or entrees.
When we are looking for a nice, comforting side dish to accompany a meal, it is hard to look past creamed spinach. It has such a great blend of rich flavors that really satisfy your appetite. Here is a recipe for creamed spinach that is one of our favorites.

  • 2 Cups Cooked Spinach (roughly one full bag of uncooked spinach)
  • 1 Tbsp Margarine
  • 1 Onion; chopped
  • 3 Toes Garlic; minced
  • 1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste (Start with 2 tsps each)
  • 1 Tub (8 oz) Cream Cheese
  • 1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  1. Cook spinach in a large pot until it cooks down, stirring frequently. Then pour into a strainer and using a towel, press all of the excess water out of the cooked spinach. 
  2.  In a large sauce pan (or high-walled skillet) on medium-high heat, sauté onions, garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne in a little margarine. Cook until onions they sweat and soften.
  3. Add cream cheese and stir with rubber spatula until the cheese is a uniform softness, this should still seem like a paste. Add cream and whisk (or using a blending wand) until the mix feels like a thick sauce then reduce heat to low or warm.
  4. Add the cooked and drained spinach to the cream mixture and stir until well mixed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A New Volunteer

Wayne taking a quick photo break from harvesting summer squash
We have a new volunteer at Buttercup Farms. Wayne, who has lived in both California and Texas, brings a little cowboy culture to the farm. 

Wayne has been visiting us a few days a week for nearly a month. His willingness to tackle any task has been invaluable and we've enjoyed his help with our horses and his hands on approach in the garden. We are glad to have Wayne and his ten-gallon hat give us a Texas-sized hand on the farm. 

One of Wayne's lifelong dreams is to become a rancher and we are so grateful he chose to hone his skills with us here on the farm. As any farmer or rancher will tell you there is always work to be done and at Buttercup Farms we're no different. We have many diverse projects going on at any given time; we may need to walk a fence line, repave a portion of our driveway, clear out beds in the garden, or walk the horses to a pasture on the hill, and these are just a few that come to mind this week. Having a volunteer who is eager to learn about all aspects of farm work and life is a blessing for us. So when we have anything come up, we know we can ask Wayne for some help and he will attack it with gusto.  While we are definitely glad to have his helping hands it is even more rewarding to help him gain some farming experience so he can pursue his dream of someday becoming a rancher.

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

When we included this recipe we had an abundance of red peppers in the garden and we decided to roast the peppers so we could use them in sandwiches, wraps, salads, side dishes and sauces.

We scoured the web to try and find an interesting way to use our roasted red peppers and we found a recipe on for a roasted red pepper cream sauce. We tossed some whole-wheat penne in our sauce and served it to a hungry crew on the farm and the smoky, sweet creaminess of the sauce turned out to be a hit!

Below is the recipe for a Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce: 
  • 2 Large Bell Peppers
  • 2 Tbsp Minced Garlic
  • ¼ Cup Fresh Basil
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Cups Half-and-Half
  • ¼ Cup Grated Romano Cheese
  • 4 Tbsp Butter
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Preheat broiler. Lightly coat the red peppers with olive oil. Grill peppers under the broiler until the skin is blackened, and the flesh has softened slightly. Place peppers in a paper bag or resealable plastic bag to cool for approximately 45 minutes.
  2. Remove the seeds and skin from the peppers (the skin should come off the peppers easily now). Cut peppers into small pieces.
  3. In a skillet, cook and stir the garlic, basil, and red peppers in 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes, so that the flavors mix.
  4. Place mixture in blender (careful it is hot), and puree to desired consistency. Return puree to skillet, and reheat to a boil. Stir in the half-and-half and the Romano cheese; cook and stir until the cheese melts. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes. Toss with pasta and garnish with any remaining cheese.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our Visit to the UCSC Farm and Garden

Crops growing in the raised beds at the UCSC Farm and Garden
Recently we took a trip from Clayton to Santa Cruz to visit the UCSC Farm and Garden to learn about their facilities and how they operate. The Farm and Garden at UCSC runs a full-scale organic farm that supports a produce stand and a seasonal CSA for the Santa Cruz community.

I was impressed at the scope of their operation, since I am accustomed to our half-acre of raised beds and their garden seemed to stretch on forever. 

Despite the difference in size, I found the similarities between our two gardens comforting in that Buttercup Farms Garden felt like a more compact version of the university garden. 
Buttercup Farms Garden in the Foothills of Mt Diablo

Thanks to Gary, who manages the Buttercup Farms Garden and was an apprentice at the UCSC Farm and Garden, we operate in very much the same way, using the same techniques, equipment and concepts to run our garden. Visiting the university garden also inspired us to see the ways in which we can grow even as a small-scale garden and even in what we can grow for our community and ourselves. All-in-all the visit to Santa Cruz taught us a few things, inspired us to try some new ideas and left us excited to return home. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Box of Possibilities

I've always seen fresh fruit and vegetables as ingredients, a box of possibilities to try a new recipe or share a meal with family and friends. Now, for the first time I looked at a box of produce and saw my hand in its creation and not just a box of ingredients. I've experienced pride in creating culinary dishes that people enjoyed, but I never truly appreciated how it all comes together until I took part in the growing process.

Our June boxes feature lettuce, onions, strawberries, carrots, radishes and rosemary
One of the joys of working in a garden is watching your hard work yield tangible results. A few short months ago, I started here helping Gary (our head gardener) plant out various types of produce and learned how to care for each different plant depending on it's life cycle, the weather and other factors. I learned how to properly water and feed certain types of plants, how to prepare the beds and how to transplant newly germinated plants into pots and then move seedlings into the beds. Each type of vegetable and fruit requires it's own unique form of care and it is satisfying to see all of the nuances for each item create such beautiful and, more importantly, delicious food.

Our CSA box ready for delivery
Our CSA is in full swing now and each Monday I help harvest the produce that will go into our boxes and deliver them to our members. I can look in each box and have a connection to it that goes beyond simply planting and watering. When I see the heads of lettuce I vividly remember sowing the seeds in trays and watering them at each stage, transplanting them into the beds and spending time making sure the water puddles in the right amount when they are young in the beds. Later inserting hoops and protective cloth over the lettuce beds to protect them from predators and too much sun until they matured and were ready to harvest. I have similar memories of our carrots and radishes, which were sowed directly in the bed and required many hours of thinning to make sure that as they grew, there would be adequate room for each vegetable to reach its optimum size. Each item in the box has a unique story that I was a part of and that gave me a new perspective.

On top of that revelation, I also delivered our first batch of boxes to our Clayton location and got to witness the happiness others had at receiving our boxes, which made me even more satisfied about the work we all put into getting everything ready. I have to say that the best part of process of growing food in our garden is the joy in other people's faces when they get their box; I can see the community in community supported agriculture and I can pass along the box of possibilities to the next person.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Garden as Life

As the manager of the Buttercup Farms Garden I notice that many natural processes serve as metaphors for what’s going on with people and the organization itself.  The garden may have been overused as a metaphor for a lot of concepts, among them stewardship, renewal, potential and resilience. But it’s rare to feel that your metaphors and reality are one-in-the-same. Such is often the case for me at Buttercup.  Here are some examples:

Composting is a great metaphor for turning one’s liabilities (waste) into assets (fertilizer). At Buttercup Farms our motto is “Helping people help themselves”. We take some people who would be difficult to employ at traditional jobs and give them a chance to work in a supportive environment. My main helper at the garden is such a guy. He can only follow the most basic instructions for the most simple tasks. But not only are his liabilities offset by his energy and enthusiasm, his limited cognitive abilities have made him focus on, value and excel in tasks that many others find tedious and exhausting.  He recognizes his situation and how he is lucky to be at Buttercup. His exhilaration at digging a trench or rototilling is instructive if not inspiring for many of us. So what many view as his deficiencies become both his and our assets.
Managing a garden:
As a garden manager I am a steward of growth and production. Organization, timing, attentiveness without obsession and sustenance without excess are each aspects of my job that have direct parallels to the raising of children, animals and societies. 

Potential of a seed:
There is amazing energy and life in a seed. I see it everyday in the greenhouse as the seedlings push their way up through the soil, transforming into complex organisms from nondescript granules. The first time this lesson was expressed in literature may have been when Jesus comments on the potential of the mustard seed in the New Testament. Engrained in any seemingly insignificant seed is the DNA to become all the traits and functions of a plant. If I see the seed as depicting the unformed potential of some people my life, it makes me realize how I may be underestimating what they can truly be.

Renewal every season:
Without the perspective of experience the winter garden can seem to be a depressing landscape of death and inertia. But with the spring comes the sun and the longer days. The detritus of the past year nurtures the soil and the plants begin to emerge. Life begins again. So a new year or a new direction in life can be seen as a new season in the garden- having potential because of the “composted” past failures which “fertilize” or inform the present. The potential for new beginnings is always there. All it needs is the same nurturing that some might unconsciously give the failures of the past. You can decide to water the old weeds of negative self-talk -  or start your garden anew, watering the healthy crops and reaping the bounty of affirmation. It’s your choice.
At least part of each day at the garden is spent in this strange, sometimes frustrating, sometimes wonderful place between where metaphor ends and reality begins.
When I’m at my best and open to the garden’s “teachings”,  working in the garden is living out a poem that I write with nature’s help.

Gary Crandall

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Raised Bed Fundraising Project a Success

We did it! Thanks to the benevolence of so many people Buttercup Farms Garden met its goal for the Kickstarter fundraising project to expand our garden with new raised beds. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it is a “crowd funding” website for creative projects that range from music to food and just about everything in between. 
We would like to extend our deep and heartfelt gratitude to everyone who supported our efforts. Because of your generosity we will be able to expand our garden and make full use of our one-acre space. Construction will begin shortly on several new raised beds, which will enable us to grow more delicious produce. These new beds are a big step towards becoming a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which we hope to start in May of this year. 
While exceeding our goal was thrilling, a wonderful bonus of our fundraising efforts was meeting many new people. We were able to grow our network and meet people with similar interests, thanks in a large part to old friends and many new ones! Once more we say thanks and we will keep you posted on our progress! For more information about the Buttercup Farms Garden Please visit us at