March 3, 2013

Better Than the Ithaca Farmers Market

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It’s spring break 2013 in Europe, and where do I find myself? No, not in Barcelona, but on an organic farm somewhere in the countryside of Southern Portugal. I have just finished a week working on a farm in exchange for food, accommodation and the opportunity to learn about organic farming through the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF).

The experience, the people and the food made for my most treasured travels in Europe yet. So amazing, in fact, that the renowned Ithaca Farmers Market doesn’t compare. That’s right townies and hipsters, I have found a place that out charms the infamous weekend wooden stalls of Ithaca. It’s a bold statement, I know, and I’ll do my best to portray how such a feat is possible by describing a typical day on the Monte do Compromisso farm.

Breakfast begins with a glass of just squeezed oranges from one of the trees overflowing with ripe fruit outside the kitchen. Hearty, homemade wheat bread, or the white bread of the region toasted golden brown over a wood burning stove, pairs perfectly with the choice butter, apricot marmalade, cheese or honey taken from the hives outside. This oh-so-simple yet oh-so-satisfying meal is ample fuel for cutting firewood until the 11 a.m. coffee break.

Now, I have never been a coffee drinker. Not even late nights in Uris have been a strong enough impetus to convert me. Yet at Monte do Compromisso, the fresh coffee grounds with a spoonful of honey along with a grapefruit just picked from a tree 100 yards away, it just fits. While looking out over the rolling green hills dotted with sinuous cork trees and wiry olive trees, how can I not enjoy it?

For the remaining morning and early afternoon, it is ritual to return to work for an hour and a half until the largest meal of the day at one. Though there is never a meal when I don’t have seconds (and many times thirds), my favorite is a pfifferling mushroom soup. This type of mushroom is usually found growing around eucalyptus trees in Portugal and lends a smooth, creamy white texture when cooked. With garlic, onion and a little bit of lettuce all taken from the garden, I am counting on Wegmans to carry this kind of mushroom so I can make it back home.

Lunch serves to help with the final push of the afternoon work day. I usually spend the afternoons in the garden helping to plant and tend to the various fruits and vegetables while working to the euphonious calls of baby lambs in the near distance, mumblings of roosters and the gentle flapping of ducks’ wings. A late afternoon run with the dog brings me up to 7 p.m., which is when dinner is served. After a full work day, there is more of a “no fuss” attitude around dinner.

One night, I helped to make a salad with a royally vibrant beet as large as my head, a yellow pear and balsamic dressing. A dinner dish enjoyed by my kindhearted hosts was shaved cheese mixed and cooked with eggs just retrieved from the duck’s nest in a frying pan. In writing, it sounds like an omelette, but in reality appears more noodle-like and was referred to as “fried noodles.”  With more bread, leftovers from lunch and fruit for dessert, perhaps a kiwi or banana this time, dinner is more of a relaxed time.

My amazing hosts and owners of this self-sustaining farm have no set menu. They cook based on whatever is ripe and ready in the garden. It is as if I am continuously at the farmers’ market, except the food is prepared for me, the scenery is perpetually resplendent and I am constantly engaged in fascinating conversation. Ithaca Farmers Market, I love you, but this past week was unparalleled. For the incredible food and company, all I can say is muito obrigado, Monte do Compromisso.

Original Author: Casey Carr