The Dirty Life has been by far the favorite for our food book club rEATers. Kristin Kimball’s story carries you away, making farm life seem equally endearing and exotic. Kimball doesn’t leave out any of the hardship of farm life—the book is an honest portrait of the dedication it takes to work the land—but it is also filled with sweeping scenes of life, neighbors, and love, along with the tastes of fresh Jersey milk, sweet sap straight from the trees, and pungent garlic, earthy pigeon, and bright tomatoes. It’s enough to make you want to start your own farm.
Kimball begins the book as a journalist living in New York, meeting her future farmer husband on assignment. A bit lost, she joins in on the farm work, and quickly falls in love, with her husband and the life. The book spans their experience of finding and taming land of their own—from raising a dairy cow and finding a team of horses to planning a farm that can provide a full diet, complete with sugar, grains, meats, and vegetables, for their customers. Their end product, Essex Farm, in northeastern New York, is one of the only farms that provides this kind of holistic approach. Along the way they each struggle through the demands of the farm, of each other, and of their own attitudes in life, Kimball’s city mentality and her husband’s frugality. But together they grow, and create a place they love. Kimball’s writing is gracious, detailed, and warm—you are included in every moment of the first year of their farm life.
After reading Four Fish a few months ago, I was inspired to look into what CSA options—or Community Supported Agriculture—Brooklyn offered. Although both fish CSA pick-ups were too far for us, we joined Partners Trace, for vegetables and flowers, and High Point, a meat CSA. So we’ve had meat, vegetables, and flowers straight from a farm all summer. (And Partners Trace recently started working with a fish partner!)
Although having these have been a joy—our little present of vegetables, flowers, and meat—reading through The Dirty Life, the fact that we finally made this commitment couldn’t have made me happier. Knowing that we were supporting farmers similar to Kimball and her husband, and reaping some serious rewards from it, made me feel really great. But even more than support farmers, reading The Dirty Life made me want to grow something! Inspired, I went out and bought some seeds and two windowsill planters and put some late summer plants in—lettuces, herbs, and such—a few weeks ago. I can’t wait to make pesto with the basil!
Until then, I’ve been purchasing basil from Marlow & Daughters, right across the street. This past Monday, our Partners Trace pick-up included two pretty, long eggplants, and all I could think was Asian-style spicy eggplant. It’s an easy preparation; the eggplant is simply roasted, tossed in spicy soy, and topped in Thai basil. But like many of Kimball’s recipes, farmer’s produce is often simply prepared; the fresh flavors don’t need much. And it’s a delicious dinner, spicy, sweet, and tangy. Enjoy!
Roast Eggplant, Spicy Soy, and Thai Basil
Servings: 2 people
2 long eggplant, cut in half and scored
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 red chile pepper, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1 handful Thai basil, chiffonade
Preheat oven to 325°F. Place eggplant on a sheet tray and drizzle with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until soft to touch.
While eggplant is cooking, place soy, chile pepper, garlic, sesame oil, sugar, and ginger in a bowl and whisk together. Adjust seasoning to taste.
When eggplant is ready, top with spicy soy and basil.