The “Gospel Garden” and a recipe for Salsa Con Queso

Early winter of 2016 myself and enlisted help including Cody Simar of Central Valley Sustainability and my dear husband met with the director at the Modesto Gospel Mission to discuss a future community garden at their existing 1 acre plot surrounded by employee housing, and located a block behind the mission itself.

Approaching the site I knew this was the spot. Since this time we have been blessed to have many hands volunteer and come together to donate, plant, care for and harvest from this garden. We have affectionately named our garden the “Gospel Garden.”

Some crops have not worked out, we have had weeds overtake some of our lettuce and tomatoes. We have put in a lot of work to keep up with our first year at this new site. Yet, every time I visit the garden, when I feel overwhelmed at the work, at the weeds, at what needs to be done and when I can barely keep up with the kids, animal, and yard at home, I come away with a sense of calm. Chris, a resident at the mission, will usually stroll out and remind me of just how much the garden is giving. He tells me he places tomatoes in neighbors mailboxes up and down the street; that families in the community come to garden and pick lettuce, peppers or tomatoes. Rita a volunteer informs me that the salad bar at the mission has never looked so good. (I owe a huge thank you to Westurf Nursery, Rick Grey of Plant a Seed Foundation and Waterford Irrigation Supply Inc as well as many others!!)

We had the opportunity to have a local Girl Scout troop visit our garden and we took along children from the mission as well. It was a day of discovery for many kids, including one young girl who informed me this was he first trip off the mission without her parents. As we took the five minute walk from the Children’s Center holding hands I couldn’t help but feel prideful as people peered from their windows in a neighborhood that is constantly on the look out for what is wrong, and instead catching a glimpse of what is right.

On one field trip morning, I remember feeling particularly overwhelmed and disappointed; that the corn had all died, that weeds were overtaking our garden, and that there was a huge leak in our drip causing mud and more weeds to grow among the melons. As I took the kids to the garden that same day I was again reminded of of useless our doubts are.  The kids could have cared less about the weeds, or the dried up corn, instead they exclaimed over tomatoes, melons, and bravely tasted jalapenos. One boy asked with hope, “Can we come next week again, and bring cheese this time for the tomatoes!” The joy this boy had found here replaced any feelings of failure I had had just an hour ago. What a reminder that God requires of us not to be perfect, but to simply give what we can and look for the blessings in each small thing; and that all our anxieties need to be reexamined, surrendered to and handed over to something much greater than ourselves. Something that says its ok, and that is satisfied with the smile and thank you of a child.

In looking for a delicious and versatile way to use our tomatoes and jalapenos harvested on our last field trip with the Children’s Center, I thought of Salsa Con Queso. This one is dedicated to Angela who gives her heart and soul to her kids at the mission, who made an amazing salsa to share with the Children’s Center, (made from vegetables from the Gospel Garden), and and who loves cheese. I give you the best of both worlds. img_1652

img_1653

Salsa Con Queso

  • 6-10 Ripe Tomatoes (of any variety)
  • 5 Jalapenos (more or less depending on desire for heat) Cored
  • 3 Large Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Large White Onion
  • 3 Large Squash (yellow or zuchinni)
  • 1/2 Head Roasted Cauliflower (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp Butter
  • 3 Tbsp Flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Cups shredded cheddar cheese or blend.
  • 1/2 C Greek Yogurt (see recipe for homemade)

Directions: Coarsely chop all vegetables. In heavy bottomed pot heat vegetables with salt until softened. Add butter, melt and then add flour. Simmer until easily pierced with fork. Use immersion blender to puree vegetables.

May use blender for smoother consistency, cool to room temp before blending. Add Cheese and yogurt. Stir until melted and incorporated. Serve and enjoy! Use as a dip for bread, crackers, or chips. Best served warm. Try on your favorite sandwiches, tacos or as pasta sauce tossed with olive oil.

Our dairy farm’s future, the strawberry patch and a recipe for Molasses Ginger Strawberry Muffins.

img_1099

 

Is this a time that everyone is uncertain? I know my husband and I are. My husband, Jon, his brother Jack and his father are dairy farmers. Their grandfather came from Holland to start this dairy in the central valley region of California. Since their grandfather’s time much has changed and the dairy seems to be on its own little island while all around it things are changing. Clinging to ideals and a passion for dairy farming has kept this dairy alive. Sad to say making a profit in the dairy industry has become increasingly harder. This is due to many factors, cost of production, regulations, cost of labor and a lack of a skilled consistent labor force. Jon and partners have chosen to try robotic milking. After visiting many robotic milking houses in the mid west, Jon and Jack were excited and sure that robotics are the future of dairy farming.

My husband will be the first to tell you that we really don’t know if it is. But what we do know is that if we want to continue milking cows something needs to change. We have to at least try, and what are farmers if not pioneers. Every year farmers take risks and bear the elements, battle the ever changing social climate and push forward in hopes to continue a way of life that nourishes our communities and families.

We have a small garden that the kids and I planted at the dairy last year. It did alright, and supplied some employees with fresh lettuce and other veggies. The strawberries we had planted did horrible. At the end of the season I tore out the wilting lettuce, fried zucchini plants and tired peppers, but the strawberries seemed to be greener. I left them and forgot all about the plants during fall and winter. Spring of this year my husband called saying I had better get to the dairy and pick the strawberries. “What Strawberries?” I replied wearily, having just got in from yard work. He informed me that plump, red strawberries littered the  old dairy garden spot. As the kids and I returned to the dairy garden I was amazed to see amidst all the weeds were the same strawberry plants, but with fresh glittering red strawberries ready to be picked. we cleaned up the weeds and began caring for and harvesting the strawberries we had given up on. We  have picked many times this spring continuing now into summer. Our prayers for our dairy are patient hopeful ones. Prayers that through doing things for the right reasons, not giving up when all seems impossible, nourishing our business then watching and waiting, we will see a sustainable, joyful future for an industry so deserving of a fruitful fate.

To learn more about robotic milking visit https://www.lely.com/us/the-barn/milking/

img_1232Using our strawberries we made these delicious muffins to share with the dairy employees. I wanted to try something different, a little spice and warmth from the cinnamon, ginger and molasses to contrast the sweet strawberry sauce that tops these buttery muffins. Enjoy!

Molasses and Ginger Strawberry Muffins      

Ingredients:                                                                                         Yield: Approx 20           Sauce:

  • 2 Pints Fresh Strawberries
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 Tbs Lemon juice

Muffins:

  • 1 1/2 C Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 1/2 C All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Ginger
  • 2 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Sticks Butter
  • 1/2 C Yogurt (Try my Homemade Yogurt Recipe)
  • 1/3 C Molasses
  • 1/2 C Sugar
  • 2 Eggs

Directions: 

Pre heat oven to 350 F. Use Pam Baking Spray to prepare your muffins tins. Make the strawberry sauce first. Clean and cut strawberries in half place in large saucepan over medium heat.

Add sugar and lemon juice. Simmer stirring occasionally and until cooked through (approx. 15 minutes). Using immersion blender puree until smooth in pan. let cool slightly and pour into jars leaving about 1/4 of the mixture in pan.

Use the jarred strawberry sauce for other desserts, on top of pancakes or ice cream. May be preserved or frozen for future use.

Using same large pan without cleaning, melt butter slowly on low heat. Stir the melted butter into the strawberry sauce. Add yogurt, molasses and sugar and stir to combine with whisk.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Make a well in flour and add the eggs. Stir yokes to break and slowly fold the wet, dry ingredients and eggs to combine. img_1109Drop 1 Tbsp of sauce in bottom of muffins tins. Add 2 large spoonfuls of batter on top. Top with another 1 Tbsp of sauce.img_1111 Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown. Remove when slightly cool and transfer to cooling rack. May use right away or freeze for up to 6 months. Enjoy!

 

A Garden

The Dairy is my husbands workplace. Not mine. He works day in and day out, on nothing much more than faith and a love for what he does. My boys enjoy going there and working with dad too. Where does that leave mom and Lilly May? I am the support at home to a farmer and I know my role is crucial to the farms success, but I feel left out. I am a doer.  I like to get dirty, put on my boots and get to work. Sometimes you can’t wait for an invitation. Sometimes you have to make your own opportunity. I needed a reason to be at the dairy. To get to know employees and serve the dairy in more than just the role of wife at home.

A few mornings ago I told my boys; “Get your gardening gloves! We are headed to the dairy and planting a garden by our old house.” The boys were excited and so was I. I called to let the men know. The answers I got where; “nothing will grow there”, and “take care of the garden you have at img_7189home, and, “you have enough going on.” Silly men, don’t they know that will only make me try harder! Kids loaded up, we got what was left of any vegetables at the nursery (for a 50% discount as most of it was wilted away) and headed to our spot; shovels, gloves, hoes and vegetables in back.  We got to work. I have never been so proud of my children’s little hands. Lilly had a blast getting dirty and petting the cows. Our little garden may not survive. It may not be enough to share with all the employees, it may not bring people together, and it may not work out. In more ways than one. But our job is to have faith, to take care and create where there is none, and to give of ourselves. To love who we are now and where we are at. To not depend on others to create an  opportunity or place blame on them when there is not. It is within each of us and we can do this through the smallest things. A garden, a painting, a word, a meal.  Rather than staying at home being unhappy at my husband for not creating an opportunity for me, I decided to do this myself. It may be silly but I felt pretty damn good doing it.

Citrus Yogurt Chicken with Thyme

img_6815-2Yogurt is the ultimate marinade for meat. The cultures and acidic nature of yogurt help break down the protein structure in meats, making them tender and flavorful. It serves as a perfect medium to deliver other flavors of your liking to the meat of choice. Our garden is booming, and my favorite herb right now is Thyme. Thyme has a citrus- woodsy taste that I love to use while grilling. My Raw Yogurt Recipe is used in this  marinade; a little lime, paprika, mustard, salt,  fresh ground black pepper and I round it out with a little maple syrup to bring a touch of that sweet sickness that we all love in our BBQ!

 

Ingredients: img_6819

  1. 4 Chicken Breasts (With Ribs or Without)
  2. 1 1/2  C  Raw or Store Bought Yogurt
  3. 1/2 C Maple Syrup
  4. 1/4 C Mustard (Dijon, Whole Grain Or Plain old French’s)
  5. 2 tbsp Salt
  6. 2 tbsp Fresh Ground
    Pepper
  7. 2 tbsp Paprika
  8. 3 tbsp Fresh Thyme
  9. 2 limes (or Lemon if in season)

Directions:

Heat BBQ Grill on Medium High. Place Chicken Breasts in Ziploc bag. Place all ingredients in bag and shake, pound, mix away! Kids will like this job, just be careful with using chicken with ribs in as the img_6811-1pointy bones can poke holes through bag! BBQ on Medium for 25- 35 minutes depending on size, until juices run clear, and internal temperature reads 160 F. Serve with fresh salad or your side of choice!

Together

IMG_5175

So we have this vision- a garden that we work in on the dairy. My self, my sisters, husbands the employees at farm and their wives. Kids running around in the afternoon sunshine. Plants being planted, plants being watered, cared for. A way to bring everyone together sharing in the value of hard work and care of what we’ve been given. Making the most of what we have. A harvest party as we reap our rewards and invite neighboring farms to feast with us. Only a dream? there is so much more a garden can be as well- therapy for children that have never known love. Hope for those who have never made something with their own hands.Fresh food for those who don’t have access to it…(and what a crime that is in our fertile valley). There is enough to share with every person here and that should be our priority as providers, farmers. Our farms will survive when we start becoming an understood asset to our communities. Create understanding open your doors, invite those in who have never seen a farm, make them understand the importance of farmers.  When we have been given so much how can it take anything away.