Each Leaf Singing: Poems from the Life of an Oregon Farm

Carol Boutard and her husband Anthony have been dear friends of mine since we first met fourteen years ago at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, where I'd sought them out after tasting their incredible blackcap jam. (I knew we were fated to be fast friends when she and I subsequently plotted to start a catalog of sexual aids featuring foods like that jam that were so good you wanted to lick it off.) Their Ayers Creek Farm is legendary in the region for the quality of the organic products they have grown on its 144 acres for more than 20 years.

Carol has published her first book of poetry titled "Each Leaf Singing," a paen to the life of that farm and an elegy to both Anthony, who is living with a terminal illness, and the farm itself, which she celebrates at the same time as grieving its eventual loss.

But what a life they've had there. I wrote in my very first post about this incredible couple, "When they started talking about their 144 acres near Gaston and their eyes lit up when they told about the arrowhead lilies that grow there and how they changed to a drip irrigation system because the overhead sprinklers were washing out the birds' nests, I knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary evening.

"These two are as committed to the stewardship of their land as they are to the quality of the berries and grains they've become known for. It's evident in the way Anthony (known as the Bard of Ayers Creek) describes how the lake on their property is returning and that the least bitterns, herons and eagles are coming back. And, too, when Carol said that they stop picking the berries when the fruit loses its brilliance after the first few pickings, even though there's fruit left on the vines."

As Rosemary Catacalos, Texas State Poet Laureate Emerita, writes of Boutard's poems, "After decades of intimacy with the turning of the earth and its seasons, Caroline Boutard has given us a book brimming with an ancient wisdom. In these poems our harried modern lives can slow down and remember the blessed comings and goings of all things. We can learn again what it means to grieve and celebrate in the same breath. Because we must. Trust this voice, 'dumb on sun and sugar,' to sing you into now and whatever comes next."

A poem titled "Old Oak" is emblematic of that singular voice.

Old Oak

I leave the work and rush out
to early spring
with no more plan than a good walk
as robins and juncos,
flashing like jackknives,
cleave low angles of afternoon light.
No route than stepping round the mud,
I pass through a veil of smoky air,
its note of orange blossom
from old oak dried slow,
then burned in a clean hearth,
to breathe in
this sweet musk and find
every grassy thing along the way roused
by the warm day, their stems extended
like antennae tuned to the fresh season.
I stop to harvest
from the ruddy mix of plants
galloping through the field—
sow thistle and poppy,
wild radish, dandelion, cress,
so full of healing
you have to eat them standing up,
everything around me
pushing toward renewal.
The plan here is more life,
then more.

Carol is launching this stunning collection with a virtual reading on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7pm (PST) via Zoom (click on this link to attend).

Read Anthony Boutard's essays on Ayers Creek Farm that have been a vital part of Good Stuff NW here and here.

Rerun: A Good Woman Makes A Good Soup

I made this soup the other night, and if you looked up "comfort" in the dictionary, it wouldn't show your mom or your teddy bear or your pillow or your fuzzy slippers. It would be a picture of this soup along with the recipe. (BTW, I puréed it this time…what can I say but OMG.) Warm, terrifically flavorful and fill-your-belly delicious, it's easy and perfect for the season. And, though I don't do this often, I'm rerunning the original post I wrote two years ago. Enjoy.

Just before the holidays I was out at Ayers Creek Farm helping Carol and Anthony get ready for the big holiday market at Hillsdale. Well, I say "helping" but it's more like "trying to not seriously f*** things up" while packing boxes of preserves, weighing and measuring beans, polenta and wheat into little bags with a big scoop.

One of the great things about these days at the farm, aside from getting to wear my boots if outside work is required, is sitting down at the table for a big lunch of soup or stew, a hefty loaf of bread and a nice chunk of cheese. On this day, a bit before lunchtime, Carol asked me to pull a big pot out of the fridge that contained braised leeks and potatoes in a white-ish liquid.

While that warmed on the stove, Carol and I went just outside to the kitchen garden to gather a few leaves of sorrel that hadn't yet gone dormant. (Note to self: plant this next year!) It was chopped and thrown into the pot, a cup or so of sour cream was stirred in with some salt and we had a classic "Potage Bonne Femme," a potato leek soup rather like vichysoisse only with more leeks than potatoes.

Carol prefers to use water to cook her vegetables rather than chicken stock, feeling that the flavor of the leeks is more pronounced. In my attempts to recreate this at home, I used half chicken stock and half water and it didn't seem to overwhelm the leeks, and also added a little richness. I've made it with both real sour cream and (purists don't choke) Tofutti sour cream—Dave's lactose intolerant, remember—and both were amazing, even according to my very choosy son who's not crazy about substituting tofu products for the real thing.

It's a comforting, rich and company-worthy meal that is super simple to make in an hour or so. Add a crusty loaf of bread and some cheese with an ice-cold glass of French chardonnay alongside and you're going to get raves from your crew.

Potage Bonne Femme (Potato Leek Soup)

3 Tbsp. butter
4 leeks, halved and cut into 1/2" slices, about 4 c.
3 Tbsp. flour
2 c. water
2 c. chicken stock
4 med. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" or so cubes
2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream
1 c. coarsely chopped sorrel (optional)
3 Tbsp. chives, minced (optional)

Melt butter in soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped leeks and cook slowly for 5 min. Remove from heat, add flour and stir. Put back on heat and cook, stirring constantly and without browning for a minute. Add water and stock, stirring well. Add potatoes and salt. Bring to boil and lower heat to simmer for 50 minutes. Add sour cream and chives and stir to heat. Adjust salt to taste. Serve, garnished with chopped chives.

Option: Purée with immersion blender before adding the sour cream or cool and purée in a food processor (or blender) in batches. For a vegetarian or vegan version, substitute margarine for the butter and use water or a vegetable stock and Tofutti sour cream. Really, it'll be fantastic.