Author Archives: JNUrbanski

Spring Planting at Lazy Crazy Acres Farm

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If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that good health is everything, and here on the farm I have been focusing (in between cocktails) on immune-boosting foods. I was raised in London and, growing up, ate a lot of curry. It was this dish that I continually cooked throughout this past winter – developing sauce recipes from scratch – that helped stop us from getting sick. My recipe will be in the upcoming print version of Upstate Dispatch. My people, whenever they felt a cold coming would cook up a strong curry: the hot peppers, coriander, ginger, cumin, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and turmeric, all of which I am now growing on the farm, so that we will have an endless supply this year. I’m calling it pandemic PTSD because I don’t usually do themes. Corny alliteration, yes, but not themes. Last fall, I planted 200 cloves of garlic and they are just now sprouting.

Ginger, a miracle root, grows wild in the Catskills, but I have never foraged it. Grated, raw ginger can also be soaked overnight in juice for a morning pick-me-up, and put into cocktails. You can harvest the root while it’s still growing in pots in your house. If you’re feeling run down, peel and chop one cup of ginger; boil it in a large saucepan full of water until the water goes brown; strain out the ginger and let the water cool to a drinkable temperature; drink the water. In previous years, I’ve bought ginger from Straight Out Of The Ground in Roxbury, and now there is a company here that cultivates the wild plants of the Catskills called Barkaboom Native Plants. You will also find them at the Pakatan Farmers’ Market that begins its season on May 14th, 2022.

Black cumin seed, like turmeric root, is used in Ayurvedic cooking and considered a medicinal herb, but this plant likes warm weather. It is grown in the Mediterranean and beyond. It may not make it here on the farm where winter is six months long, and if so, it will be going in pots on the radiator by a window along with the turmeric. Alan White of Two Stones Farm told me to plant whatever grows well on your land and swap with your neighbors, so we’ll also be planting roots, tubers and all manner of greens.

Growing mushrooms is more complicated. I will be inoculating a tree with mushroom plugs after the last frost. And once the ramps come up, I’ll be transplanting some of them in wetlands closer to the forest. More on that later.

Daily Catskills: 03/22/22

Dry with gusty winds, 43F at noon and a special weather alert for high winds. A burn ban is in effect until May 14th. Mostly clear skies with gauzy cloud turning thicker by sunset, and a high of 55F in the Dry Brook Valley. Garlic sprouting on the farm.

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Maple Weekend 2022

This weekend Saturday and Sunday, March 26th and 27th will be the second and final “Maple Weekend” across New York State, sponsored by New York State Maple Producers’ Association. Sap houses across New York State will open their doors to visitors, who will be able to watch the sap boiling into sugar and learn about New York’s maple sugar making processes. Here in Rider Hollow we have Tree Juice Maple Syrup who will be participating from 10am to 4pm on both days (251 Rider Hollow Road, Arkville, NY). It’s up to the weather as to whether the sap will be flowing and boiling, but there will be syrup to taste and buy.

It’s been a learning process since Upstate Dispatch moved to Rider Hollow in July 2021 and I learnt how to tap maple trees in one of the worst winters ever (2020/2021): read my account here. Syrup production is such an involved process and reliant on the optimum temperatures.

More facts about maple syrup:

– no artificial colouring, flavouring, preservatives or additives
– same calcium concentration as milk
– contains folic acid, biotin and niacin, which convert proteins and sugars to energy
– virtually sodium-free
– encourages growth and production of red blood cells
– has no fat and no proteins and is a good source of calcium, iron and thiamin

Buy local sugar.

Daily Catskills: 03/21/22

Brilliant sunshine with clouds getting lost in the vast expanse of light blue like chunks of cotton wool. A high of 46F and a low of 30F, with high winds of 30 mph making it even chillier. A first spring dip into the stream this year for the Alfie, the Black Lab.

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Daily Catskills: 03/20/22 Spring Equinox

The first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, with equal duration of day and night, begins on a gloomy note in the Dry Brook Valley. A 47F high at 10am, humid and overcast. Rivers cascade loudly with the rain of the last few days, and a rare pussy willow produces fuzzy grey catkins on the banks of Rider Hollow Creek, a symbol of hope in an uncertain world. Nature will continue when she feels like it. It feels safe in the wild forest.

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Catskills Cafes: Delaware County

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Many thanks to the owners of the Catskills cafes here in Delco that stayed open, even with limited hours or takeout service, during the rough times of this past year or so, when we needed them the most. Just to call them merely coffee shops would not have done these essential venues justice. Cafe life is a scene, with the kind of meeting places we know we can’t live without now, and it has taken nerves of steel for their owners just to have kept the lights on.

Cafes like Village East in Fleischmanns have fostered local community and been comfort in hard times. Places like the Stamford Coffee Shop have provided entertainment like game nights in addition to a solid, well-made latte.

Here are five of the best Catskills cafes noteworthy for coffee that packs a punch, dedicated service, excellent food or commitment to the community of our towns and villages of Delaware County.

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Zen and the Art of Hay Making

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I took some time off to finish my memoir last month and part of it was published in Farmer-ish. Please find the link to my essay here.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a former city girl: a Londoner, then a New Yorker, who is now living on a 100-acre farm in the middle of the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York, tapping maple trees, planting vegetables and driving tractors. I write about my hilarious first tractor lesson, which was the culmination of a turbulent two years: a painful divorce, a long stint alone in quarantine on a mountain top, and then falling in love with a local farmer who lived six miles away over the mountain, but I had to pay 100 bucks to meet him online. I now live with him and (part-time) with his young children and, thus far life has been as wild as that first day on a tractor.

Farmer-ish is a beautiful, literary farming journal and I’m proud to have my 1500-word essay included in their Winter Solstice edition. I hope you enjoy it.

Jenny Neal

Book Stores of the Catskills

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I’ve been in the Catskills for 18 months, leaving once or twice on occasion, but only for a few hours. For a frequent, avid traveller this is something of a record. I’m used to getting on planes and escaping whenever I feel like it, but as a writer, I also know we can travel through books. Wherever I have travelled, I have always bought a couple of books from the local used bookstore, and I always leave a book in my hotel room or rental.

Last week, I joked with a friend that one day books might be obsolete because they provide only words, not video: your imagination must provide the rest. I hope this isn’t true. I know at least one person who credits his imagination to a love of books in his early life. It’s my goal to read all the books and one day have a book barn and reading room, but until then I would recommend a book tour of the Catskills.

Although there are book sellers, there are very few book stores within the boundary of Catskill Park, in the midst of the mountains where Upstate Dispatch is based (the so-called “blue line”), our side of the Hudson River. Technically, there may be only two: The Golden Notebook in Woodstock (open all week). Woodstock is the quintessential Catskills town through which every local should take an early evening stroll at least once a year for the sheer romance alone. If you’re in love with a book nerd, spend all afternoon in the Golden Notebook, then treat yourself to dinner (the fabulous Cucina is open all week) or ice-cream at Sweet Dreams, which is open all week.

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Upstate Dispatch Retrolinks

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Daily Catskills is closing on October 31, 2021, possibly for the rest of the year as these hills go into hibernation. Go back years on Daily Catskills here.

If you would like to see daily content continue, please consider donating. Find our Donation Page here.

There will still be some weekly content leading into winter – with local news, links and interviews – and Instagram, where content will focus on food, drink and cozy places to visit during winter here in the Catskills. Meanwhile, here are some retro-links to past articles here on the website.

There is a wealth of content here on Upstate Dispatch. Please peruse the blog while we regroup and, of course, we welcome your feedback.

From the Upstate Dispatch archive:

Some past Catskills Conversations: The Burnetts, Jeannette Bronée, and Joyce St George. We have some badass women living up here in the Catskills. Joyce St George is a powerhouse with an intimidating resume. She began her career in the 1970s, when she became the first female investigator to serve in the New York State Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Anti-Corruption. Following the dramatic testimony of Frank Serpico, Joyce and her colleagues rooted out corruption within the criminal justice system in NYC, investigating police officers, judges and district attorneys. Find other Catskills Conversations here.

Find food, drink, hiking, and memoir here on Upstate Dispatch.

Catskills Conversations: Christine Panas of The Village East Cafe, Fleischmanns

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“In New York City, when I decided to abandon my PHd and my years of academic training, I had to rethink: what am I going to do? I’ve spent all these years studying to be a professor, but it just wasn’t for me”. Christine Panas, co-owner of the recently-opened Village East Café in Fleischmanns has always loved food. “My thesis was on the Romanization of Southern Spain in the pre-imperial period. Very esoteric – but my thesis still included food. When I was working abroad as an archeologist in places like Turkey, I was only ever thinking about food. I was more interested in the local food and the local people”.

And Panas certainly digs in to her responsibility to the grateful people of Fleischmanns who have longed for a year-round café like this for years. “I’ve done a lot of openings in the restaurant business in New York and other parts of the country and I never felt that kind of love where people came in and hugged me. Usually the feedback is about the mistakes that you’ve made”, says Panas. Here, in Fleischmanns, residents appreciate the fact that she cares enough to have set up shop here where during the week, off-season especially, life was excruciatingly quiet for many years. 

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