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Sunday, April 26, 2015

ATVing to "Ramp Mountain" to pick ramps- and make pesto and pickles! YUM!

Spring has Finally sprung here in southern West Virginia- after the winter from holy hell!-and with spring comes ramps!
The minute we got home from Vietnam we couldn't wait to get on our ATVs and ride up into the mountains to try to find ramps like we did last spring! Last year- after 12 years!- we Finally found the place we now fondly call "ramp mountain", and spent two muddy, tiring-but-fun-filled spring days digging and filling giant bags with the delectable zingy lily now so beloved of foodies and chefs! Once considered declasse "hillbilly food", thanks to the likes of Mario Batali, Martha Stewart, etc., ramps have now joined fiddlehead ferns and morels (or as they are known here in WV, "land fish", for reasons that escape me...) as gourmet treats selling for $25 for 10 of them delivered by FedEx! Last spring we picked several giant bags of ramps and had a number of yummy ramp breakfasts (eggs, served with sauteed ramps, bacon, and home fried potatoes), but we also made amazing ramp pickles and pesto, and were able to treat Elkhorn Inn guests (and ourselves) to ramps for months!

Because we now know where the ramps grow, we offer "Ramp Hunting Weekends" to Elkhorn Inn guests- but only for the few short weeks in the spring when you can find them! There are probably about 2 weeks left to pick ramps this spring, so if you want to go a-ramp hunting call us NOW! Tel: 304-862-2031 
You have to have your own ATV and a pick and a sack- and we will show you the way to "Ramp Mountain"! A weekend at the Elkhorn Inn, including two nights lodging, Continental Breakfast each morning, and a day of ramp hunting is $340.00 + tax.

A powerful relative of the garlic and the onion, ramps are sometimes called "wild leeks"- and people either love 'em or hate 'em! Our motto is "if your friends don't like ramps... get some new friends"! Although they do grow wild in a number of places, including parts of Italy, ramps are known as a "very West Virginia thing"! Our Inn's house salad dressing is a delicious and unique West Virginia ramp dressing made by Bigg Riggs Farm, and we love the Ramp Wine made by Kirkwood Winery in Summerville, WV, too- Chef Dan uses it to marinate meat, and to make excellent reduction sauces. The rather odd thing about ramps is that they are incredibly persnickety about exactly where they will grow! Ramps will only grow in shady, damp, cool areas under deciduous trees that produce a great deal of leaf mulch- which also means that they are very hard to see! Interestingly, the area we call "ramp mountain", even though it isn't all that far from the Inn, has a totally different set of plants and wild flowers than the area where we live and the places in the mountains where we normally ATV.

And digging ramps is no easy task! First you have to ATV up to the mountain where they grow, which often entails riding through a LOT of mud! It rained the day before we went ramp hunting this year, which meant we encountered some Seriously deep mud puddles! ATVing though the mud is actually one of the funnest parts of all this- unless you get stuck! Once you get to "ramp mountain" you start scouting for ramps- and once you find enough down low to feel it's worthwhile climbing up the mountain you get off your ATV and start climbing! And it is Very steep, and muddy, and you're carrying a big pick and a big sack! And then you start digging with your pick! 
Dan, 68 going on 18, jumping his ATV out of a mud pit!

Elisse in the mud!
Dan in the mud!
Lunch break!
WAY up there, digging ramps!
Sure-footed Dan, who clambers up and down mountains like a billy-goat, uses the Great Big Pick, while Clutz Goldstein (me), crawls up the mountain hand-over-hand with the small pick- and then comes down on her butt!
Elisse digs ramps!

Elisse digs More ramps!
With our bag about 1/2 full, we took a break and enjoyed the wonderful lunch Dan surprised me with: a crusty French baguette, pepper jack cheese, and Italian meats, including my faves, prosciutto, and capicola ham, chocolate cookies, and a thermos of wine!- in the warm sunshine, looking down the mountain at all the beauty around us: the trees just starting to bud out in pale, spring yellow-green leaves, and all the little wild flowers... listening to the birds cheeping and peeping... It was just the two of us out there in the mountains all day- NO ONE ELSE- and it was really, really wonderful!   
These are the days that are deeply precious to me- the days when West Virginia is THE best place in the world... I totally and truly LOVE ATVing in the mountains here with Dan. Whether we're picking ramps in the spring or blackberries in the summer, or having a picnic somewhere, or just riding around looking at the pretty flowers and the waterfalls, it is always wonderful...
Dan digs ramps!

Fiddlehead ferns!

Railfanning on the way home!

A waterfall...

Pasta with Ramp Pesto!
And once your bag is full of ramps, and the sun is starting to get low, you ride home, again through the mud, tired and dirty, with the bag of ramps bunjee-corded to your ATV...
And after you scrub the mud off- and there is mud in places where mud shouldn't be!- you come back down to the kitchen, and fill the sink with ramps, and start washing them and cutting the ends off, and filling the food processor with ramps and Parm and olive oil and toasted walnuts, and you add some fresh ground back pepper and a bit of Kosher salt... and you make ramp pesto...

"Green Eggs & Ham" Ramp Breakfast!

Momofuku Pickled Ramps!

Ramp Pesto!

And then you get out the Mason Jars, and start making the the brine for the pickled ramps... And you pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy it with some crusty bread smeared with ramp pesto, and boil up a big pot of water, and treat yourself to a plate of pasta with more ramp pesto... and in the morning hubs makes himself a ramp breakfast of "Green Eggs & Ham"!

ATV railfanning on the way home!

The recipe for Momofuku Pickled Ramps- THE BEST pickles I have EVER made or eaten! From Jaden's "Steamy Kitchen" Blog:
"Recipe adapted from David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar via Chow. You can find wild leek/ramp bulbs from Hurry – only a few more days left before they run out!
This is a perfect pair-with-beer or pair-with-sake type of little pickle. Just make sure your girlfriend or boyfriend is eating the same thing as you. If you are using whole ramps (bulb and leaves, you can use the entire thing, unless the leaves are old…then in that case just use the bulbs and trim off the leaves)
1 pound ramps bulbs (or whole ramps), trimmed and washed (Note: we use whole ramps, with the leaves)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Japanese "Seven Spice" (Shichimi Togarashi) - see below
1 1/2 teaspoons Korean crushed red pepper (kochukaru) or other mild crushed chili pepper (Note: we usually use a mixture of crushed hot red pepper and smoked mild paprika)
1. Bring a saucepan of water to boil. Briefly blanch the ramp bulbs in salted water. If using entire young ramp (small bulb + leaves) no need to blanch. Drain and set aside. (Note: we do NOT blanch the ramps).
2. Combine all ingredient except the ramp bulbs in the saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the ramp bulbs to the brine mixture in the pan. Let cool to room temperature and then transfer to a smaller nonreactive container (Note: we use glass Mason Jars), cover tightly, and place in the refrigerator overnight. You could also can the pickled ramp bulbs.
 Shichimi Togarashi: Combine 2 tablespoons sansho (or 1 tablespoon black peppercorns), 1 tablespoon dried tangerine peel, 1 tablespoon ground red chile pepper, 2 teaspoons flaked nori, 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons white poppy seeds, and 2 teaspoons minced garlic. Grind together to a chunky consistency. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 month".

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam, Part 3: Wet Rice Farming with Water Buffalo!

The first "tours" we did during out recent, month-long trip through Vietnam (thanks to Vietnam Central Coastal Tourism!) were arranged for us by the wonderful concierges at the Nam Hai Resort where we were fortunate enough to stay- see my first post in the series, which is totally devoted to the 5 delightful nights we spent there! As Dan and I like "active" excursions, where we can actually "do" things and learn stuff, the two we chose to do were with Jack Tran's Ecotours: Wet Rice Farming with Water Buffalo, and Fishing and Palm Paradise!

These both turned out to be excellent, and truly unique excursions, providing not only the opportunity to learn about traditional Vietnamese agriculture, but to actually DO it, which was a LOT of fun!
When we were in Vietnam in 2008 and saw children fording the rivers on the back of water buffalo, I ached to join them- it looked like such fun! And this time I got the chance to do it, and it WAS fun!
The first tour we took was Wet Rice Farming, and as a picture speaks a thousand words, and I have a thousand photos, I'll pretty much let them do the talking!
We started out by bicycling through the beautiful Vietnamese countryside and rice fields outside of Hoi An- a hoot, since neither of us had ridden a bike for Decades!  But it IS true what they say- no matter how old you get, you don't forget how to do it! LOL
Once we got to the farm we had tea, and then took off our shoes and changed into "farming clothes", and began to learn about traditional rice farming by actually DOING it! We first learned how to ride a water buffalo, which was incredibly fun! I found it SO much fun, in fact, that they let me keep riding him, around and around the pond! Then we learned how to till the mud with the buffalo (getting a "mud spa foot treatment" in the process!), taking turns leading the buffalo and plowing. Then we raked the mud smooth, and prepared it for sowing by "water buffalo surfing" on a wooden plank, holding on to the buffalo's tail! . Then we sowed rice, and moved water by swinging baskets in unison- which is a Lot harder than it looks! And finally we learned how to harvest and process rice the traditional way, using a foot-pedal thrasher, a stone grinder, and baskets for tossing and winnowing!

Getting ready to farm!

We snacked on traditional banana-leaf wrapped sticky rice rolls dipped in salt, and made Vietnamese crepes with bean sprouts, and then went inside for a wonderful lunch. Our only disappointment was that we were looking forward to riding the bicycles back to town- and working off that lunch!- but the trip back was by car!

Dan rides a water buffalo!

Dan buffalo surfs!

This was an excellent and truly unique day, and definitely worth doing, especially if you really want to learn something about traditional Vietnamese agriculture AND have a great, fun time doing it! Our guide and the farmers who worked with us were super nice, incredibly patient, and obviously enjoyed the fact that we were having such a good time trying to do everything correctly! Jack and his guides are doing something really excellent, both for tourists and his community, by sharing their knowledge of and love for the traditional and extraordinary things the area offers. We highly recommend Jack’s tours and wish him much success!

Elisse having WAY too much fun!

Dan and Elisse plow the rice field...

...Dan leads the buffalo while Elisse plows...

Then Dan plows...

...while Elisse leads the buffalo!

Elisse, buffalo surfing!

How it is SUPPOSED to be done!

How WE did it!


Sowing rice...

Elisse, harvesting rice...

The harvest!

Rice Farmer Dan!

Thrashing the rice...

Pounding the rice...

Winnowing the rice...
A snack of "sticky rice rolls" & salt...

Grinding the rice...
Dan is VERY good at this!
How it's done...
Making Vietnamese crepes with bean sprouts...

Chef Dan & his crepe!

Sites along the way to the farm...

Yummy blackberries!
"Atheist Cemetery"
On the way to the farm...