One of the things I adore about this part of the world (Northern Michigan) is the growing consciousness and support for environmentally intelligent activities: houses off the grid, solar panels, individual windmills, organic farms supported by a whole array of clients willing to pledge a seasons' commitment to a crate a week, and so much more.
One of the magical places that I've been introduced to by my dear friend Nancy Allen -- a fantastic cook and cooking teacher of many years -- is the Meadowlark Farm outside of Cedar. It is a small family-run farm firmly anchored by Jenny and her husband. Their children, Ella and Elijah, help out and welcome visitors as graciously as their parents. Nancy has an arrangement with them to cook every Friday for the entire crew of helpers and workers and family and visitors (in this occasion myself, my mother and my two boys) with their array of organic vegetables and herbs freshly picked that morning.
She has also taught cooking to the kids (who are both home-schooled) and written quite a bit about her experiences on her own blog. It seems a fruitful exchange for all participants.
When I called Nancy the other day to see her during my very short vacation up here, she suggested I come over to the farm and join her in the kitchen -- something I always adore doing! When I arrived she put me immediately to work on rolling out the dough for the special Mediterranean pastries, Za'atar, that she was making from Paula Wolfert's superb book, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. I rolled them out quite thin, and spread a marvelous mixture of herbs and sesame seeds and olive oil atop them. She assures me that as this is a Moroccan specialty, I should be able to find some mixtures in my local stores in France to recreate this wonderful flat bread.
Then I helped her with the beet falafals (sweet, delicately spiced, and crispy fried!) - also from Paula Wolfert- while her friend Maureen and my mother worked on a Greek zucchini and celery dish with raisins, cinnamon, vinegar and onions.
I brought along some of my fresh bread (a bit heavy as the starter has yet to truly bubble away like mine back in Provence. However, it was received as a good, nourishing, whole grain loaf with a nice acidic bite. Little in resemblance to my bread back home, but nonetheless a crowd pleaser.
My boys happily went off to play with Elijah and the farm dogs. I cooked away, and then we all sat down to a delectable and somewhat exotic feast. Yum! After a lovely chat with Jenny, a tour of the barn and the flowers she adds to her vegetable crates (a creative outlet for her), I suggested we bring Elijah back to the lake with us where he spent a fun afternoon with my boys playing Monopoly, swimming out to the raft and exploring our little corner of the woods.