Wild Tea: Goldenrod

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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.

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Bee Wild & Free

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

The Upstate Dispatch Podcast

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As we enter month two of New York State’s Corona Virus Shelter-in-Place order, the two most important subjects here at the magazine have been the focus of the national consciousness: our food supply and the natural world.

Upstate Dispatch highlights the local farmers, producers and makers of these mountains who do back-breaking work to bring us our food, the farmers who drive every week into the city to sell in places like Union Square Farmers’ Market. Here in the Catskills we enjoy some of the most healthful food in the country. Never has it been so apparent that farming is one of the world’s most meaningful professions. Second, we are watching – some of us from afar – the gradual healing of parts of our environment as man stays home across the globe. It’s fascinating time in this fascinating part of the world: New York State.

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Bee Update: Covid Honey

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Bee update: the bees left. They must have swarmed last winter because they left a honey super with seven frames of capped honey that had to be processed by hand this week. This took two days with one muslin bag and a sieve. It took four hours to clean up the kitchen. Sticky. We’re all in a sticky situation, so no change here. In fact, the empty frames are still outside in a big plastic tub waiting to be scrubbed.

This is Covid honey, not having been processed in a commercial kitchen and because of the all the finger-licking, probably will have to be eaten by me alone because I’ve no idea if I’m Corona-free or not.

I’ve produced about six mason jars of honey and about five pounds of wax and thinking of ways to eat all this sweet stuff. Breakfast every day is toast with honey using Bread Alone’s health bread – I have few loaves of this in the freezer. What else? Tea with honey, plus if you put a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and stir, this makes a healthful and tasty beverage. Well, maybe not tasty, but definitely makes you feel fantastic. Hold your nose and chug it down.

Recipe ideas welcome in the comments section. Please! Meanwhile, here’s what I did with some carrots. And then I ate the whole lot with a pint of Ommegang Rare Vos. Drink local!

Honey-Glazed Julienne Carrots

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This recipe is really easy. Put two cups of julienned carrots in a skillet with a knob of butter and salt/pepper to taste. Personally, I don’t use either. I just don’t find it necessary because I use local vegetables and they taste great on their own. Stir over a medium-to-high heat for about seven minutes. If the carrots dry out, add a splash of cold water and then put the lid on so they steam for a minute. This adds water. If you do this twice in the first seven minutes, you’ll get a half-inch of buttery glaze that the carrots can steam in. After seven minutes, stir in a quarter-cup of honey over the carrots, wait a few seconds for the honey to liquify, and then stir well over the heat for the remaining three minutes. The carrots will be crunchy and sweet.

The Kelly Hollow Trail

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Hiking our forest is a way to be 3ft, 6ft, 600ft, or even 6 miles away from the nearest person and possibly the best way to soothe body, mind and spirit during these testing times. New York State is waiving all park fees in state, local and county parks according to the latest news on the NY State website, which will no doubt encourage everyone to get outdoors. Enjoy one of the Catskills’ easiest hikes, the Kelly Hollow Loop, in the northeastern slopes of Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest that has an elevation gain of about 500ft making is suitable for all ages, including seniors who are probably self-isolating and need to get outside the most.

The trailhead and parking area for the Kelly Hollow Trail is on Mill Brook Road about five miles or so further west from the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest trailhead and parking area on Mill Brook Road, which is where you pick up the blue-blazed Dry Brook Ridge trail that runs south towards Balsam Lake Mountain with its fire tower. So if you’re much fitter and need something more strenuous, you could do both the Kelly Hollow Loop and the hike down Dry Brook Ridge to the Balsam Lake Fire tower in one day. So there’s something for the whole family on this short stretch of Mill Brook Road, due south of Arkville, NY.

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Upstate Dispatches

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Here in the Catskills a high percentage of the population are seniors and retirees, so the community is taking social distancing and self-quarantine very seriously. Gatherings, even of small groups like book clubs and language classes, have been cancelled, but we still need to support local businesses to keep them up and running. There has been much laughing over why there is no toilet paper. Why is toilet paper a rarity but fine Belgian beer and fabulous chocolate freely available in bulk? Strange. Perhaps because there are no leaves on the trees yet?

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Make Your Own Thieves Oil: Organic Hand Sanitizer

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The natural world recently got a break when it was deemed that terms like fire cider” are generic terms and can be used by everyone who makes the product. Companies had previously trademarked the product to stop small businesses and makers like local herbalists from using it. Now they’re able to continue marketing their fire cider products. Go here to learn about making your own fire cider.

Thieves Oil is also an ancient medicinal potion that dates back to the Middle Ages when Europe was devastated by the Great Plague that was so contagious that it killed one hundred thousand of people in London alone, which was a quarter of the population. It was only stopped in London by the Great Fire of 1666 that swept through the city. Before that however, there was a band of thieves that went through London robbing the wealthy people who had succumbed to the plague. The thieves were caught and the judge demanded to ask how they had not contracted the disease and died. They gave the recipe for this natural sanitizer that they had doused over themselves and covered handkerchieves and face masks. It was so potent that it stopped the thieves from contracting the plague.

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Liza Belle’s Kitchen

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It’s not often you find yourself, all windswept by the frigid mountain air, sitting cross-legged in your rubber boots in the cozy window nook of a homestyle restaurant listening to the soothing sounds of a sitar. The only thing to do when you unexpectedly find yourself in that situation, after having only gone out to buy soap, is to lean in, kick back and order the curry lovingly handmade by Liza Belle, that is robust enough to keep your warm until dinner.

Last time we met, Liza baked a mass of rich, sweet sticky toffee pudding in her kitchen at home, narrating the recipe as she cooked. This time, it was a delicious Thai green coconut curry with jackfruit: perfect to stave off the winter blues. Jackfruit, packed with nutrients and protein, is often used in stews as a meat replacement due to its fibrous texture – it makes a great vegan pulled pork – but it’s sweet and fruity, blending well in this curry with potatoes and string beans. The fragrant jasmine rice was perfectly cooked. A nice bonus was the lightening, cooling effect of the starfruit garnish. This was a proper curry, not for those with weak taste buds. Brace yourself for the full flavors and strong spices.

Also on offer was a dal, a thick lentil soup with braised kale.

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On Going to Seed

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Back in the day, something described as “going to seed”, was something – usually a woman – that was old, neglected or useless, on the turn, dried out or past its sell-by date, but we can take that idiom back and revise it. We can transform it into a farming analogy to assist people preparing for another round of winter blues, cabin fever or those suffering the bleakness of depression or raw pain of heartache .

From Kristi Burnett of Burnett Farms, a local farmer, comes a tip that she received from a past mentor. If you’re in the depths of depression, imagine yourself as a seed frozen and buried in the earth. It’s dark and cold down there, but come spring, you’ll transform, emerging from the soil with enormous potential, growing into a towering oak or majestic hemlock, a being much larger than you were before. Now is the time to hunker down, meditate, study, and prepare to break ground and blossom in the spring. You may never be the same again, but you will be robust enough to scatter your knowledge like more, hardier wild seeds in a strong wind.

On Hibernation

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Winter is here. We’re uncertain as to how long she is staying this month, but it you’re stuck in your garret mourning lost love like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, living on a frame of home-produced honey and foraged mushrooms, its arrival comes way too early. If you have nobody to snuggle in your hibernation, now is the time to find someone.

Fortunately, up here we have some fine influencers keeping hope alive: gentlewomen of modern lore. Laura Silverman of The Outside Institute kindly reminds us that there still sparks of life in an apparently barren landscape. Laura will be leading a winter foraging walk on December 7th. Leigh Melander of Spillian shares an article in Fast Company on how Norwegians enjoy winter. Norwegians celebrate the things one can only do in winter and make sure they get outside every day: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Norwegians also have a word, koselig, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress.”

Winter in the Catskills is undoubtedly a spectacularly beautiful season, with the former vibrant landscape frozen in time, with seeds hovering atop dry stalks, ready to fly into the wind. If you have south facing windows, remove your curtains or blinds and let the low light flood in first thing in the morning and remain there all day. To watch the deer stalking methodically in single-file through a snow storm in single-digit temperatures is to be reminded exactly how weak a species we are without our creature comforts.

The Magnificent Opus 40 Sculpture Park

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In the shadow of Overlook Mountain in Upstate New York, you’ll find one of the most apt monuments of the Catskills, The Opus 40 Sculpture Park. It’s apt because it was built by hand using Catskills bluestone, and in the Catskills it’s no exaggeration to say we have vast quantities of rock and stone, which is emblematic of the strength of character necessary to create the life of a resilient, full-time mountain-dweller. Living in the Catskills year-round is to be like Sisyphus, to roll the proverbial rock up the hill and attempt to keep it there. Opus 40 is the quintessential symbol of the challenging task of making a living in these ancient hills. Here, as the saying goes, there are “two stones for every dirt” – more loose stone than soil – and one local transplant even spent four years removing all the stones from his land so that he could start a farm fit to be planted.

Assembled by hand over 37 years by local sculptor Harvey Fite, the park rises out of the pit of an abandoned quarry like it’s a relic that’s been delicately unearthed by the brush of a giant archeologist. What’s extraordinary is that there were no plans or drawings made before the work began. Fite literally just began and continued until his death 37 years later, and all his tools, winches and pulleys remain to this day in the Quarryman’s Museum in a red barn on the property. It’s named Opus 40 because he predicted that it would take 40 years to complete, but he met an untimely demise three years shy of his goal in an accidental fall in the park.

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The Farmer’s Market

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We’re in maker country here in the Catskills and the food is delicious. Around here, if you’d like (truly) free-range eggs with bright orange, sweet and creamy yolks, you don’t have to go far to find a neighbor with chickens. If you want award-winning cheese, milk, or hearty homemade bread, there are small-batch bakers and cheese-mongers within a short drive. It’s not unusual to find squash on your porch during harvest season, because up here it’s so abundant that you can’t give it away and this year’s wild apples could have fed everyone in NYC.

For visitors, there are farmers’ markets like the Pakatakan that has extended this year’s season to November 30th. Sign up for the newsletter here.

For a full list of Catskills farmers go to Pure Catskills.

In New York City, there’s the Union Square Market, Fort Greene and Grand Army Plaza markets where you could find East Branch Farms and Kimchee Harvest this past Saturday. Also at Union Square was Lucky Dog, Locust Grove and Roxbury Mountain Maple, among many others.

Since about 2014, you can now use food stamps at farmers’ markets. Go to Grow NYC for more details on the SNAP program. 

Eat real food. Eat Local. Support your local farmer.

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Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch!

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Tomorrow will mark the five year anniversary of Upstate Dispatch. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s been a wild ride. I can honestly say that this city girl has learned so much more about life, work and herself these past few years than could have been imagined.

To commemorate, I will be a guest on the radio tonight of Steve Burnett in his show The Evening Tickler at 6pm. Listen in on WIOX here.

You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much on the website these past few months and there’s a reason for that. I’m taking my life in an entirely new direction. I’ve no idea where it will lead, but there will be a new website devoted to more of my writing life than just this neck of the woods, and new media-based work in the arts and further afield. But there’s so much content here, you could peruse this site for the next year on the old posts alone. Below find links to the most popular posts of the past five years. Coming up for UD in the future, we’ll be more food-focused with new contributors to write on recipes, farming and the local economy. We’re looking for sponsors to underwrite our fall content and invite pitches to info@upstatedispatch.com.

Meanwhile, over the summer, it has been nice to relax into the scenery, just exist in the woods, forage, harvest and meditate, without having to document every leaf, stream and view of it.

Upstate Dispatch Links

We never finished the Catskills 35! I have just six bushwhacks left and will do those over the winter because the summit is easier to find without the leaves on the trees. However, our hiking section is the most popular.

See our Instagram feed here.

An interview with Bill Birns got us about 13,000 new views and Rob Handel is one of the most accomplished young chefs in the region.

An interview with Steve and Kristie Burnett.

Catskills drinking!

Thanks so much for reading.

Summer in the Catskills

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Summer in the Catskills is coming to a close. The bees swarmed a couple of times – more on those later – and the farm is growing over with thistles and blackberry bushes. Goldenrod has taken hold like the rays of some sort of eternal sunrise; hazelnuts and apples are being harvested; garlic has finished curing; horseradish root is being turned into sauce. Have you ever peeled the outer coating of a hazelnut? I’ll be here for days, but it’s worth it for what looks to be about 20 pounds of hazelnuts, possibly more.

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Chilled Cucumber Gazpacho

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This is an update of our recipe from a few years ago, because now you can buy almond milk. There’s no need to soak almonds overnight and strain them to get their milk. Cucumbers are in season from July through October and this refreshing, sweet chilled soup is the perfect antidote to our scorching recent Catskills weather.

Cucumber Gazpacho

Three medium sized English cucumbers
Three cups of almond milk, unsweetened
Half cup of water
An apple, peeled, chopped and cored or 10 grapes
Three teaspoons of olive oil
Half teaspoon of salt
Half teaspoon of pepper

Puree the grapes in a blender, sieve them and save the liquid. Peel, chop and puree the cucumbers in a food processor until they are liquid and while the cucumbers are blending add the olive oil, salt and pepper, grape juice and almond milk. You might also like to add a little of the almond or grape pulp to garnish with a splash of olive oil. Chill before serving. Delicious.

This is the sort of recipe that you can amend without too much fuss. If you want a sweeter gazpacho, you just throw all the fruit – an apple and the grapes – in the blender with the cucumber. (If the result is too thick, add more almond milk.) This also makes a perfect pre-workout smoothie where, if you haven’t had a chance to eat all day yet you still want to work out, you can drink this an hour or two before exercising.

Pea & Mint Soup

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The wild mint is out in force with the wild flowers, but we must wait longer for the peas or find them in the freezer. There’s something about pea and mint soup that screams summer. This is a family recipe, but there’s really nothing to it. Fry up some onions, garlic and thyme in oil or butter, add stock, boil until warm then add peas and mint. Simmer for only a minute, then blend with a hand blender. If you love the taste and texture of fresh peas, use frozen peas and put them in the stock straight from the freezer. They will thaw, but not cook all the way. Only blend half the soup and add a knob of butter in each bowl of soup when you serve it to get the taste of buttered peas with a little crunch of sweet pea. You can also garnish with a dash of balsamic vinegar if you’re not into the butter and want to add a tangy element. If you’re going to go with the balsamic option for the first time, put the balsamic vinegar on the side, dip toasted or warm bread in the vinegar, and dip the vinegar toast in the soup.

Pea & Mint Soup

  • Half an onion
  • Two tablespoons of oil
  • One tablespoon of minced garlic
  • One tablespoon of dried thyme
  • One liter of chicken broth, or non-chicken vegetarian broth
  • One pound of frozen peas
  • Ten leaves of fresh mint, or more depending on how minty you want it
  • Butter to garnish

Finely chop the onion and fry it with the garlic and thyme in the oil until lightly brown. Add stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas and simmer for a minute only. Add the mint. Blend with the hand blender, but only blend half the soup. Stir the soup with a spoon. Garnish with butter or a dash of balsamic vinegar. You can make the soup as minty as you like it. Start with less mint first, because you can add it, but can’t take it away once you’ve blended it in. If you want to add more mint after you’ve served it, just pop in a few more leaves into the saucepan, stir the soup and then remove the leaves. Fresh mint will always leave a lot of mint oil behind, so you don’t necessarily need the leaves in there. You’ll notice that there’s no salt in this recipe because there’s enough salt in the broth and, if you over-salt, it clashes with the mint.

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