One long table winding through the trees on Gita and Cas van Woerden’s Animal Farm was the setting for last Saturday’s Outstanding in the Field dinner. Founded by Jim Denevan, OITF’s mission is “to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” With that in mind, and anticipating another sizzling afternoon in Texas, we donned our casual shoes, linens and hats and headed west to Cat Spring, Texas.
With the help of a creative chef like Randy Evans (the executive chef of Brennan’s before Ike) and several other remarkable artisans who are mentioned below, close to 200 eager participants feasted on delicious local, organic and seasonal produce from Animal Farm and the surrounding area. A flight of tasty wines from Flat Creek Estate near Marble Falls accompanied every course. With a glass of their 2008 Pinot Grigio in hand and being surrounded by calming woods, it was easy to forget the bustling city only sixty miles away.
Here are chef Randy and sous chef Kevin finishing the wild boar terrine and free-range deviled eggs, and answering our many questions at the same time. They were charming and highly personable throughout the evening, even when the power went out and the water pump took a while to replenish the supply. When you’re trying to feed 200 people, that’s stressful! Look for the opening of Randy’s restaurant Haven, which will feature its own raised-bed and sustainable vegetable garden behind the restaurant, green building solutions and a specially designed water filtration system. There has never been a restaurant opening so highly anticipated in Houston in many years.
Gita van Woerden has a soft spot in my heart. Aside from being a very gracious hostess, she also lived and studied art in South Africa, where I spent 16 years of my youth. She explained permaculture and it’s importance to our land, resources and general well-being of all that occupy it. Read about the history of the farm and her family’s quest to live in harmony with nature. It’s fascinating. As it turns out, you will have the opportunity to experience the farm during an Open House (click for more info) this coming Saturday, October 3.
Gita is a pioneer in many ways. The farm is “off the grid” and gets all of its electric energy from solar power. Designing their home without air-conditioning and central heating was the main challenge for their architect. I wonder if the parameters were met considering our temperatures during August? Transportation on the 78-acre farm takes the form of golf carts which are battery operated. The batteries are re-charged every evening. Independent of outside water supplies, the farm relies on an 180’ deep well which supplies the intricate water system.
Of several varieties of eggplant harvested on the farm, Gita’s favorite is the Cambodian Green Giant. It is green when ripe. With a sandy soil rich in minerals (composting puts nutrients back into the soil), it’s not surprising that the gardens produce superior tasting and nutritionally balanced vegetables. The vegetables are sold to several restaurants in Houston and Austin and at many markets, including the Bayou City Farmer’s Market.
The Yoga Retreat below is elegant and functional. Open on one end (remember, no air-conditioning) and with large windows and pleasing stained-glass and furniture, who wouldn’t be ready to don yoga pants and begin the ‘Salute to the Sun’?
Here’s the outstanding top half of the menu. All delicious; thank goodness I didn’t have to pick a favorite! Purple hull peas were transformed into a hummus and then spread on flatbread that was baked in Gita’s wood-burning oven. The wild boar terrine was hearty with an additional flavor punch from the mustard and relish. And the free-range devilled eggs from Gita’s roaming chickens – heavenly!
Here’s Lisa Seger, a goat cheese making wonder. You know she must turn heads everywhere she goes with her fiery mane, especially in rural Waller, Texas! She and husband Christian, tend to many amusing Nubian goats on their Blue Heron Farm. Chosen for their high protein, high fat and mild flavored milk, Nubian goats’ cheese is not gamey or dry. Don’t walk… run to the Bayou City Farmer’s Market to try her chèvre.
We enjoyed Lisa’s mild and creamy goat feta on the spicy arugula photographed below. She also provided a phenomenal cajeta we drizzled on the pound cake biscotti. Yes, I brought some cajeta home and have been snacking on it since……what diet? Swede Farm (also in Waller) provided the goat buttermilk for the lovely pecan pie I slathered with cajeta…
The bottom half of the menu featured tender grilled shrimp with Animal Farm’s grilled baby vegetables. Head-on Gulf shrimp were provided by Texas Wild, owned by Jennifer and Dimitri Georgantas (Greek accent included!) This charming couple moved from table to table, explaining their ‘shrimping’ techniques and journeys deep into the Gulf.
Unfortunately darkness set in and the rest of my pictures are not acceptable. Chef Randy’s fried chicken balantine (purse) included a delicious crust that surrounded the rolled chicken. It was paired with a respectable Flat Creek Estate 2008 Super Texan. The 2007 Muscato Blanco was perfect with the various dessert elements in that it was not overly sweet. And did I mention the cajeta…?
And you never know who you will bump into! From a city with over 4 million people, I reconnected with a friend I had met in the early 80’s, when I first moved to Houston. This is Diane in her cool I.M.Pei glasses.
Reluctantly, we walked to the car down the sandy path following the softly lit paper lanterns; the cool light of the half moon peeking through the trees. My friend, Barbara and I, joked about what we would do if we got lost. We decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just bed down on the thick, lush pad of leaves and enjoy Mother Nature’s generosity! The pioneers did it, so why shouldn’t we?