Author Archives: JNUrbanski

Catskills Air Network – New Catskills TV Station

© Jessica Vecchione – Usage prohibited without consent

Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch! It’s been six years since the website begun and the birthday was spent filming the pilot of our local Catskills news broadcast. I’m one of the news anchors with Kent Garrett (pictured right), under my maiden name, Jenny Neal. The project is being developed for MTC Corporation, who are opening up their News Channel 10 for our weekly newscast; The MARK Project and apparently tireless producer Jessica Vecchione.

Kent Garrett and I were formerly colleagues at WIOX Radio and now we’re going to be colleagues on television.

Daily Catskills: 09/03/20

A dew-soaked morning full of mist, turning sunny for a brief while and then, in moved the clouds, light blue and creamy, like blueberry milkshake until they went all gray like dirty dishwater. Humid with a high of 75F. Dismally dull until late afternoon when the clouds dispersed into wisps until dusk.

© J.N. Urbanski 1.30pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 08/30/20

A cool, breezy morning with scattered showers and piles of chunky, grey clouds looking like your comforter on a Sunday morning. The clouds clear to allow some afternoon sun and a high of 72F. The summer of 2020 winds to a close with some show-stopping weather.

© J.N. Urbanski 11.30am – Usage prohibited without consent

Northern Catskills Essentials

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You can now order one of the Catskills’ best beauty products by phone or email from Northern Catskills Essentials and it’s worth it for the $4 delivery charge anywhere in New York State. This $7 soap is made by hand in Stamford, Upstate New York – just north of the Catskills State Park and it’s a gorgeous product. Reasonably priced in stylish packaging, the soap makes a superb gift in addition to the company’s creams and lotions. It’s beautifully light with a smooth creamy lather that doesn’t dry out the skin, which is a miracle as far as soap is concerned. The scents made with natural essential oils are robust, but not overwhelming. Finally, the packaging is sustainable paper and with each bar, you’ll be throwing out one less plastic bottle of shower gel. Treat yourself and you’ll never use another soap again.

Wild Tea: Goldenrod

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

The wild goldenrod is in bloom and makes a tasty and healthful tea. It grows by rhizome and you’ll usually find whole fields of it. They are tall rods, about three to six feet high with hand-sized draping clusters of many tiny vivid yellow blossoms at the top of the rods. Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.

Put fresh blossoms into a mason jar of hot water (not boiling) to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes like a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of honey.

Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.

The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.

© J.N. Urbanski 2pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Bee Wild & Free

© J.N. Urbanski 6.40pm – Usage prohibited without consent

The last year has been quite an extraordinary one, maybe even the most extraordinary year of my life and quite an incredible experience. The upshot is that I quarantined alone on this hill for over three months without any human contact. I had split up with my husband last August and our farm lay abandoned as I considered my options: go back home to England? Move back to New York City? I tried both, then along came Covid-19.

We had made a mess of beekeeping too. Someone suggested that we smear honey on the outside of the hive, for some reason that I can’t remember, and the bees just kept getting robbed until they absconded for good.

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Blueberry Fruit Cake

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We had an extraordinary year for apples in 2017 and one of the guests on my radio show at the time gave me a fabulous recipe for a Heritage Apple Fruit Cake that is my one go-to cake. This is turning out to be a poor year for apples on our farm, so I’m using blueberries because I have so many of them. I’ve also modified this recipe even further because I like my cake really moist, chewy and fruity, so I bake it in a flatter pan, for less time and I’m using an extra half-cup of fruit. The special thing about this cake is that all the fruit sinks to the bottom and you get half-fruit, half-cake pudding with a slightly crispy topping that is really delicious. Needless to say, if you need to have your cake thoroughly cooked all the way through extend your cooking time to 40 minutes.

Fruit Cake

1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar, plus one tablespoon for sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
2.5 cups blueberries

Soften the butter and whip it together with the sugar, vanilla, almond extract. Add the two eggs and beat them in. Mix the whole mixture well. Sift the flour and baking powder and add it into the butter/sugar mix gradually. Mix until you have a batter. The batter will be very stiff. Once you have a smooth batter, gently fold the blueberries into the batter but do so very gently – trying not to smash the fruit. You will end up smashing the fruit, but just try not to. Put the mixture into a square, flat, greased cake tin (9x9x2 inches). Flatten it into the pan gently and sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of sugar. Bake on 350 degrees for 30 minutes. (Or if you need your batter thoroughly cooked all the way through, do 40 minutes).

Daily Catskills: 08/04/20

Torrential rain all day until 5pm, (3.7 inches by 4.30pm), tornado watch and a high of 69F. Stormy. Two hours before dusk, the clouds roll away across the sky like curtains opening on stage to reveal a sunny sky like nothing happened, but we’re still all soaking wet and cursing.

© J.N. Urbanski Noon – Usage prohibited without consent

Farming: Potatoes

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I’m writing a book, so the farm has gone “holistic” for the last week or two and I’m producing a great deal of seeds. Even some of the purslane has blossomed yellow flowers. I’m allowing the asparagus to grow wild, so that the roots will benefit for next year’s season. I also let the Adirondack Red spuds linger too long in the kitchen and they wrinkled up, went moldy and sprouted. The good news is that they smell weird, so the chipmunks won’t go near them. I received a farming pro-tip: throw them in the bed and cover them with straw. Keep the straw wet. I’ve no idea why. It took five minutes in the scorching 90F weather today, so I felt a small accomplishment. We’ll see what happens.

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Catskills Conversations: Jake Fairbairn, Lazy Crazy Acres Farm

Photo: © Rebecca Andre, Mountain Girl Photography and Design

We’re living in extraordinary times, wherein a global pandemic is the new normal and locals here in the Catskills are choosing, or have chosen by default, families and colleagues with whom to quarantine for the foreseeable future. Covid-19 has been rare in our pocket of the mountains with roughly 100 cases in Delaware County, but a region that was already isolated, once again, has become more insulated. Pandemic pods or social bubbles are common, one such bubble being the Tree Juice Maple Syrup bubble.

Covid-19 emerged right during sap season and the Tree Juice team couldn’t afford to halt production, so they quarantined while still working at the sap house on Lazy Crazy Acres Farm in Arkville, Upstate New York, owned by Jake Fairbairn. You probably couldn’t imagine a cuter or nicer team than the four members of TJ hunkered down over the frigid months of February and March, shoving wood around the clock (every 8 minutes) into the sap boiler after having tapped 7500 trees, and together producing over 2400 gallons of maple syrup.

Jake, co-founder of Tree juice Maple Syrup lives on Lazy Crazy Acres, the Fairbairn family farm, which was established in 1841.

JN: How does it feel to be part of history?

JF: Old? I also feel like there’s a sense of responsibility that comes with it.

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Ramp Butter

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Using the last of the ramp (wild leeks) as the season comes to a close: ramps can be mixed into butter. There are many anecdotal recipes across the Catskills. You can blanche the leeks first in hot water or heat the butter, but the best way to get the taste of the plant and all its raw nutrients is to just finely chop the ramps and mix them well into the butter. You’ll get the sweet onion taste, but not overwhelm the dish to which you add it. A knob of raw ramp butter on a steak or steamed fish, for example, will complement it well. You can add a couple of tablespoons of this butter to a stew before you serve it. The butter above will be going over roasted asparagus and into a Guinness stew.

Chop the ramps on a plastic surface, so you don’t lose any of the juice into a wooden chopping board. Soften the butter slightly – I tuck it in my armpit for a few minutes – and then fold the ramps into the butter and whip it for a few minutes. Ensure that every part of the chopped ramps are either fully submerged in the butter or, if the ramps stick out of the butter slightly, that they are thickly coated in it. You don’t have to worry about this too much if you freeze the final product, which makes it easier to handle. If you do freeze it, roll it in to a log, or similar shape to a stick of butter and wrap it in the discarded butter wrappers, so you can cut it into knobs when you use it.

Ramp (or Wild Leek) Salt

© J.N. Urbanski Noon

It’s wild leek (ramp) season and this year we’ve had more than the usual amount of rain needed to nourish these delicate, wild beauties. Every local in the Catskills has their secret ramp spot and few years ago, I transplanted a handful of wild leeks to a shady, wet spot by our house that they love. They love a water source and our house at the top of a ridge has brilliant underground drainage, so when it rains, all the water flows downhill through the ramp patch. Our patch is now several patches. Just before they die off, they send up stalks with dark, perfectly spherical seeds that look like tiny balls of onyx.

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A Walk in the Woods

Is it Spring or not? I’m afraid not. Up here in the Catskill mountains in the last weekend in April, winter has still not left us. Listen to our first podcast, a spring walk recorded over the weekend of April 25th and 26th, 2020. Saturday was filled with birdsong. However, Sunday we had snow, hail, and freezing rain, but your editor, narrator J.N. Urbanski still walked through the forest and waded through a stream to a waterfall to capture some ambient sounds of the countryside for those listeners stuck in quarantine in the city.

Click on the Sound Cloud link here to listen to the 21-minute podcast. Kick back and pretend your walking with Jenny and Alfie, the black lab mix.