Hi, I’m Dave Lenweaver. Thank you for visiting Clean Slate Farm. Obviously you’ve visited the “About” page to find out more about me so here goes. I’m fortunate to realize I’m the product of my upbringing so some background is in order. It may be long but you’ll better understand what I do and why I do it.
I grew up in a fairly rural part of central New York with two wonderful parents and a close-knit extended family of aunts and uncles who helped shape my life.
My dad was the ultimate tinkerer or “maker” long before the word became popular. When the feeling struck him he would clear out some floor space and start a new project. He built a tractor from parts scavenged in a junk yard, a dingy (because he had the notion it couldn’t be all that difficult, and for him it wasn’t), a pavilion next to the fire pit, small barns, and a life full of other things that interested him at the moment. And read? How that man could read. Ian Fleming was his go to for fiction but his love was the encyclopedia collection and dictionary. If dad caught me watching the “idiot box” he would go to his library and pull out an encyclopedia and give it to me. I was expected to speak intelligently on a topic for dinner conversation. You couldn’t fool dad, he had read them all several times. From dad I gained my interest in all things mechanical and my curiosity for how things work.
Contrary to what dad thought, mom was the rock of the family. She sewed, made dolls and stuffed animals, fished, hunted, and best of all, cooked. Some of my most memorable moments are at the kitchen table with mom baking cookies or helping make dinner. She was a remarkable woman who was not afraid to gut and filet a perch for dinner or drop an 8 point buck and help drag it from the woods. In deer season it was often mom who would wake at 3:30 AM to load the car for the hunting trip. I remember complaining once about the lunch she made me for school. She told me of how as a child during the depression her lunch consisted of home-made bread with lard and sugar. It was all they could afford so I should be thankful. I believe that was the best bologna sandwich I ever ate. Both taught me respect and fairness, and mom demonstrated both in a memorable way.
Mom’s sisters and brothers all lived not one-quarter mile from our house, and if mom couldn’t see what I was up to they could. Help or chastisement was never far if I strayed.
Two other people figured large in my upbringing as well. The first was my uncle, Bob Jasinski, at times a seemingly gruff man who’s children consisted of four girls. I was his surrogate boy. Uncle Bob taught me about foraging, pickling, and things I can’t even remember. Every once in a while I’ll be doing something and think, “This is an uncle Bob moment.” I’m still trying to make a good fermented dill pickle like he did.
The other person was Bernie Owens, a hunting pal of dads. Bernie and his wife Millie would visit Friday nights. Mom and Millie would chat while dad and Bernie would chew the fat and play cards. Bernie and Millie were florists and I loved when we visited their house so I could wander in the greenhouse and take in all the colors and smells.
Bernie would sometimes bring a magazine to show dad an article that interested him. The magazine was usually Mother Earth News or Rodale’s Organic Gardening. Keep in mind this was back in the mid to late 1960s when such thinking was out of the mainstream. Bernie and dad would discuss the article while I sat and listened. Dad would scoff at some of it while Bernie would defend it. As they were talking I would read the article and scour the ink from the rest of the magazine. It’s only recently I realized how much Bernie shaped my life by bringing his “off-beat” ideas and beliefs to the table.
For the past forty plus years, my life has been enriched by my wonderful wife Joanne. She has taught me independence, gave me a love and appreciation of art, demonstrated kindness beyond what words can convey, and is my best friend for life. She allows me more latitude in what I do and has more patience for my idiosyncrasies than can be imagined. She loves animals of all kinds and will surely sit next to Saint Francis in the next life, loving every minute.
These are the people who shaped my life, what I write about, and what I do.
In 2003 Joanne and I closed our advertising and design business and I, at 48 years old, scurried off to the Culinary Institute of America to learn how to cook professionally. (Our firm redesigned the logo and graphic standards for the CIA, and they still use them 30 years on.) I graduated 21 months later with a 3.5 GPA and moved back to central New York. I cooked for a time in a Four Star/Four Diamond spa and resort.
In 2005 I was hired to be the Subject Matter Expert for a baking instructional text book. All the recipes needed to be tested for accuracy prior to publication and that was my job, as well as food stylist for all photography. My former life in design and my cooking degree made me the perfect fit. I returned home to a job managing restaurants, which is what I still do.
When we moved to Clean Slate Farm we finally had the space to expand the gardens and add more animals to our life. Horses, cats, chickens, and the ever-present honey bees. It’s also allowed me to be more of the tinkerer my dad instilled in me as well as a larger kitchen in which to be more mom-like in cooking.
The gardens have always been organic and will remain so, thanks to Bernie and his influence. What we don’t or can’t grow we forage for. Ramps, blackberries, and more.
If I’m not growing something and cooking it I’m building something or fixing it. While the Clean Slate Farm web site deals with a lot of cooking, the Youtube channel is where you’ll find cooking, tinkering, and repairing side of Clean Slate Farm. I don’t make any claims to know everything but I’m never afraid to tackle something new.
My beliefs in cooking are simple. Good food need not be complicated and, more often than not, less is more. Some of the best recipes I know are what I call peasant food, that which is simply prepared with minimal ingredients. Professionally I’ve cooked food with prep lists of 15 or more ingredients but what I’ve discovered is many of the flavors are lost in the process, so I look for the key ingredients and stick with them.
Uncle Bob’s pickles, fermented in a crock, remind me fermented foods are delicious and good for the body. What is now called the micro biome of bacteria in and on our bodies is actually healthy, not bad. More and more this concept is becoming mainstream and I believe as the medical world explores this it will become an important factor in healthy living. Just brew a batch of probiotic kombucha and drink about eight ounces for the first time and you’ll better understand. One, it will taste much better than the store-bought variety, and two, you’ll get a happy, gurgling tummy as it restores the stomach’s good bacteria. All said I would suggest you start with smaller quantities until your system adjusts to having good bacteria put back in.
Finally, I’m not always correct. I make mistakes and can be misinformed on some topics. If you see this please let me know. Long ago I discovered we learn by our mistakes, and I make my fair share of mistakes. If my conviction is firm I’ll stand my ground, if not I’ll admit to the mistake and correct it. What I write and produce is based on personal knowledge and what I was taught by those with more intelligence than I possess. I will always respect your opinion, advice, and comments. Just keep it civil, real, and kind for I believe difference of opinion is what gives color and wonder to our world.
I’ll end this with a very powerful message I recently read.
“A Sufi holy man was asked what forgiveness is. He said it is the fragrance that flowers give when crushed.”
Live it – and now go explore the wonderful world around us. It’s so exciting you shouldn’t miss a minute!