Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summer Returns to the Kitchen

There hasn't been much to blog about around these parts for a good long time. After a while, eating local just becomes part of the landscape of things. (Although once in a while, something reminds you that the way you eat isn't the norm. Like picking up eggs in a convenience store - where items are typically priced higher than a grocery store - and being floored by how cheap they are.)

And then the holidays come around.

For me, Christmas is always a big deal. I love giving things, and even in years when I've planned well ahead (note: not this year!), I can't help but add more and more as the day grows nearer.

This can get hairy in the years when I didn't plan.

But that doesn't stop me.

I'm always a little bit funny about giving away cookies. (Fawn: Sorry for passing my issues on to you! LOL.) But as it happens, I'm spending another Christmas broke. What to do? Bake, of course. I still haven't got a local source for flour and other baking items (indeed, many you probably can't get locally no matter how hard you try - like sugar, or chocolate), so I won't share much about that here.

But for those people who are really special, I can't stop myself at baking. And that's how I came to get out the candy thermometer for some yogurt again. To go with it, I'm breaking out some of the summer's blueberries, which I froze back in August. I'm making two quarts of yogurt and I'm guesstimating I'll need about a cup of blueberry stuff per quart, so I put together the following:

Blueberries for Yogurt

2 cups of blueberries
3/8 cup sugar
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
a pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Place together in a medium saucepan. Cook until thickened.

The yogurt and the blueberries will be big hits with fans of whole-milk yogurt, and they're nice local gifts, too. The best part is that, as you're cooking up the fruit stuff, all the smells of the summer come wafting up at you and you take a little trip down memory lane. I'm far removed from the blueberry picking I did this past summer now, but it's getting me thinking about spring. Maybe it's time to really give that seed catalog a look...

Another great local gift is applesauce. It's simple, it's super-easy, and few people ever make it anymore, so it's still special. And it's inexpensive! If you're lucky enough to live where there's a winter farmer's market, you can easily get your hands on some good local apples. Where we are we're very spoiled - smack in between the Greenmarket in downtown Schenectady, and the Saratoga Farmer's Market.

This is what I'm doing for my father, the non-homemade-yogurt-eater. All that's required to make applesauce is cored, peeled apples and a little bit of water. Let them cook in a saucepan till they get squooshy, and then add whatever sweeteners or spices you like. This is big with kids, too, who are every bit as wild about it as the jarred stuff. (Meanwhile they won't touch the homemade yogurt, in my experience. Maybe when they're grown!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

What I've learned about tomatoes.

Well, one area of local eating has become a real adventure this year - tomatoes.

Like many people, I eat a lot of tomato-based foods throughout the year. Spaghetti sauce and chili are my two biggest menu items in that respect. And just try finding canned tomato products locally! Even the locally-manufactured sauce is made from California tomatoes, and none of them have quite the taste I'm looking for.

Thus the Great Tomato Sauce debacle. I made one batch of sauce from scratch to go with some meatballs not too long ago, and it tasted pretty good. I based it off of this recipe here, minus the meat and with fresh basil and tomatoes. (When using fresh herbs, just multiply by three - one teaspoon dry is the equivalent to one tablespoon fresh.) I added extra sugar to make up for the corn syrup that's in all the canned tomatoes, and guess what I learned? They must add that either because they use lesser-quality tomatoes (likely) or they develop a funny taste once canned (thoroughly possible). Fresh tomatoes do not need it.

So I bought some canning tomatoes with an eye towards freezing some of this sauce. I ran them through the food processor and cooked them up on the stove for a few hours. I learned from my friend Maria that I got that backwards - she cooks them in the crockpot for a bit and then chops them, which I later found allowed for draining the excess liquid off of them first. Why is that important? Well, when the sauce was fresh and accompanied by meatballs, it was delicious in its natural state. When it'd been frozen, thawed, and served over pasta? It was extremely watery. Sigh. I bought cans of tomato paste to help fix that the next time I thaw some.

The other problem was one of proportion. I tried to get by with estimates of the quantity of crushed tomatoes I was starting with. I based it on the 6-quart size of the pots and the fact that they were filled to the brim. No dice! I actually had quite a bit less than I thought. I ended the process (after ages of chopping garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers, immensely smelly hands and kitchen equipment, and tomato splatter everywhere) with concentrated sauce that needs dilution with more crushed tomatoes. Next time, I'll be sure to remember that measuring, while a huge pain in the butt, is worth the effort.

So with these lessons learned, I couldn't help stopping today for some more canners. They were more expensive than what I get at the farmer's market, but they were available now. So I bought them anyway. Right now, I've got two crockpots going with them plus the dehydrator. (I squeezed the juice and seeds out before slicing them thickly and putting them in the dehydrator trays.) I read in the manual for the dehydrator that you can crush up the dried tomatoes in a food processor and use them like tomato paste. Which of course I'll need desperately sometime in the future. It'll be nice to have a local source.

Friday, August 28, 2009

For all you berry lovers out there.

Here's a strange little article found by Matt about heat-treating berries. Apparently, it prevents that rapid spoiling that's the hallmark of truly ripe strawberries and raspberries. Who knew?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Raw Milk Adventure!

For Matt and I, a week that we've skipped the farmer's market is a week that we feel vaguely off-kilter. It's really become a major part of the pattern of our lives, and the location of the bulk of our food shopping.

It's been a crazy time since our move, though, and we've slipped into a more sort of "normal" life, buying a lot of food and produce at the regular grocery store (and WalMart!) and not cooking nearly as much. Wondering what we'll have for dinner because there's nothing in the house we feel like eating, rather than wondering what to eat because there's so damned much that looks delicious and we can't choose.

Last week we went out to visit Matt's family (and drop his daughter off for a week with Grandma), and missed the farmer's market. This means no local meat and no local milk, though we did at least stop at a farmstand and get some produce. But it still left this week pretty blah, food-wise, until tonight.

That's when Matt remembered that Ballston Spa has a farmer's market. He hadn't remembered it being particularly good, but we thought it'd be better than no market at all (he has to make a return trip to his mom's this weekend, so no market then, either). And what a surprise! It was bigger than he'd remembered, but better than that, there were some folks up from Willow Marsh Farm.

You might recall me blogging about raw milk a while back. When I searched on the Campaign for Real Milk website, Willow Marsh was the closest farm it pulled up that sells raw milk. I kept it in mind for something to check out "sometime," and hadn't gotten to it yet.

What hadn't occurred to me, for some reason, was that they might have something other than milk to sell. At their table at the farmer's market, they had the only tomatoes I saw there today ("late blight" has come early this year, ruining tomato crops all over the region), plus corn, squash, beef, and veal. I asked the woman running the stand whether she had any of their raw milk there, but due to regulations, she can only sell at the site of the farm. She did say, though, to go over to the farm store, that it was open right now. "It's open all the time," she kept telling people.

I had no idea what she meant until we actually got there. It probably really is open all the time - the whole place is unmanned. Everything is labelled with its cost and there's a giant calculator sitting there for anyone that needs help with the math. A notebook sits waiting for you to mark down what you bought; sort of a receipt in reverse.

Inside they have all the produce that they carry to the market, but also two chest freezers and a standing refrigerator of meats and dairy products. Eggs in three sizes (and two colors!), varying cuts of beef and veal, and also pork from Locust Grove Farm. There were cheeses alongside the raw milk, and then other items like hand made goat's milk soap and Avon products.

Matt and I picked up some pork chops ($5 for two hefty ones), some ground beef ($4/lb., a bargain for grass-fed), and a half-gallon of milk (at $2.50, it's the same price we pay for a half-gallon from Battenkill).

Unfortunately, we promptly dropped the milk right onto the floor. It was a plastic container, but it sprung a leak. Matt was drafted to carry it upside down on the car ride home. There we poured it into an iced tea pitcher for safekeeping, and I sipped the last few drops to get a taste. Matt laughed at me as I shook the thing around trying to get more out. That's when I remembered that, as a human being, I had the technology of the drinking glass to come to my aid here. I'll tell you what, that stuff is even more delicious out of the glass.

Even better, our lives feel a little more on-kilter now. And, when we miss the farmer's market, we'll always know where we can go to get some great local meat and milk. It's not too far away, and after all, "it's open all the time."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Do You Use It Up? Zucchini Edition

So even at this late date, I'm seeing zucchini out the ears at every farmstand. This is one of the big ones that people struggle to use up because it seems that if zucchini grow at all, they grow in great big piles of plant matter. They can be frozen (great instructions on general freezing of vegetables here), but for some reason this isn't commonly done. Perhaps people are so tired of them by summer's end that they just don't care to eat it in the wintertime; or maybe, the fact that it's available fresh at a fairly reasonable price year-round is the culprit. The latter won't work for you if you're a locavore, though.

At any rate, as a result of zucchini's abundance, there are a vast, vast array of recipes to use it up. From Allrecipes, in terms of sweets, we have:

Zucchini Bread
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Cake (good heavens, that looks wonderful)
Zucchini Spice Cake
Lemon Zucchini Drops
Streuseled Zucchini Bundt Cake
Zucchini Lemon Sorbet (!)
Zucchini Brownies (many vegetables can be hidden in brownies or other chocolate desserts; I heard of someone making chocolate cake with beets when their CSA share grew overabundant in them)
Zucchini Cobbler
Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (see?)
Zucchini Chocolate Orange Cake
Zucchini Pie

...and many, many more. In short, there doesn't seem to be a dessert you can name that you can't squeeze a zucch into somehow.

But that only partially solves the problem. You can't eat that much dessert! Zucchini season also happens to be bikini season, after all. And you can only pawn so many desserts off on other people.

So it's good to be armed with a large number of main and side dish ideas for your zucchs, as well; personally, I use them this way far more often than in sweets (I haven't made a single zucchini bread this year!).

Zucchini are great as main dishes for a vegetarian meal. As a flexitarian, I've gotten more and more comfortable with the idea over time. Some great possibilities include stuffing them, which you can do with any variety of other vegetables, breading, meats, or cheeses; baking them into a frittata or quiche; or baking them into a casserole. One of my favorites is to bury them with onions and peppers in a spaghetti sauce and then topping them with mozzarella and other Italian cheeses. This is also good with pieces of chicken breast in it.

Under main dishes (not all vegetarian) on Allrecipes:

Farmer's Market Vegetarian Quesadillas Zucchini Dutch Cheese Casserole
Connie's Zucchini 'Crab' Cakes (I have made these, and really enjoyed them)
Ratatouille (how could I have left that off the list?)
Pasta Primavera with Italian Turkey Sausage
Zucchini Alfredo (I like this idea, but would prefer to make my own alfredo sauce - I'll post the recipe below)
Cheesy Sausage-Zucchini Casserole
Marrakesh Vegetable Curry (ooooh!)
Lemon Orzo Primavera
Zucchini Parmesan (look! That's what I make!)
Italian Sausage and Zucchini
Vegetarian Moussaka
No-Cream Pasta Primavera
Summer Zucchini Casserole

Many of these recipes call for processed foods - cream soups, processed cheese, stuffing mix. But a cook who wants to avoid these things can find their ways, with homemade cream sauces, actual cheese, and bread crumbs they add seasoning to (just peek at stuffing recipes to get an idea, or add a mess of poultry seasoning to it).

There are about a half a ton of ways to make it as a side dish, too. My favorites are roasting them with olive oil, a little salt, and Parmesan or Romano cheese (this works for baby squash, too - if you harvest them when they're small, you get less!), or breading and frying them. My mother used to bread yellow squash when I was a little girl and, if I remember correctly, it's the first way I found zucchini edible.

In terms of side dishes, Allrecipes offers:

Crispy Zucchini or Pumpkin Blossoms (if you eat the flowers, you get way less, too!)
Cheddar Zucchini Wedges
Cheesy Zucchini Medley
Corn and Zucchini Melody
Japanese Zucchini and Onions
Grilled Zucchini
Sesame Parmesan Zucchini
Tomato Zucchini Casserole
Zucchini and Potato Bake
Summerly Squash
Zucchini Saute
Easy Cajun Grilled Veggies
Zucchini Casserole
Moroccan Couscous
Zucchini Pancakes
Zucchini in Sour Cream Sauce
Cheesy Zucchini Casserole

To try something a little bit more adventurous, check out these:

Tabakh Rohoo ("an Arabic vegetable stew")
South Indian Lentil Kootu
Mexican Zucchini Cheese Soup

And now I'll post my alfredo recipe. I originally found it in Woman's Day, and found it had exactly the flavor I crave for that sort of thing. I used to buy it in the jar every time I wanted alfredo, but now I just make it from scratch. You can even use whole wheat flour in it without making the texture gross.

Alfredo from Scratch

1 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. flour (I find that this makes the sauce two thick - but try it out for yourself; you can always add extra milk)
2 cups fat free half-and-half (I just use regular milk; FF 1/2 & 1/2 is a processed food)
1/4 tsp. each salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg (the nutmeg is the secret to just the right flavor)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add garlic; cook over low heat 1 minute, or until fragrant. Whisk in flour, then slowly whisk in half and half until well combined. Whisk in salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.

Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.

ETA: Upon posting this link to Facebook, my mother replied: "You can freeze zucchini but it doesn't hold up well. There is so much water in the veggie that the water crystals make the veggie break down into a mushy mess when defrosted. Same thing happens with summer squash. You can freeze zucchini bread or other things with zucchini in it, like soup, but as far as the veggie itself, the results aren't worth the work. This is the old farm wife speaking from experience."

So I asked then, how do they get seemingly decent zucchini into those frozen stir fry mixes and whatnot? And she replied, "Veggie processors have equipment that can flash freeze veggies that otherwise can't be done at home. Even so, the zucchini , if you taste it separated from the rest of the stuff and sauce and frying, tastes pretty bland. Bon appetit.;-D"

I'm not claiming complete accuracy, but I'm too lazy to look it up. So that's my answer for why not to freeze zucchini.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Do You Use Them Up?: Blueberries

So it's time to start talking about ways to use up the stuff that's overflowing at the farmer's markets right now. First step, blueberries, for two reasons: that's what GeeWhizMcGee specifically mentioned and she's the only one that commented (for shame!), and that's what J and Fawn have taking over in their kitchens right now due to J's small blueberry farm out back.

Now, as already mentioned, my primary way pf using up blueberries is dessert. I know, I know. Believe me, I know - I probably gained at least five pounds in the process! So any suggestions for a more healthy way are more than welcome.

So, desserts. We begin:

Pancakes - a classic use for blueberries. My two favorite recipes are Clark Gable Pancakes and Good Old Fashioned Pancakes. Whole grains tend to make these too heavy for my taste, so instead I add wheat bran if I want more fiber. It delivers the fiber of whole grain without weighing it down; I replace ¼ or less of the flour with it. Also key when making pancakes from scratch: get non-aluminum baking powder. Argo makes a version that you can find in most grocery stores, or you can make your own at home - add two parts cream of tartar to one part each baking soda and cornstarch.

Matt also likes to add blueberries directly to his cereal or oatmeal. Since I don't personally like them raw, and don't like oatmeal either, this is lost on me.

Of course if you make your own yogurt - I haven't done in a while, but I'm about to start back up - you can add them there, too. Either cook them with a bit of sugar for something closer to the store yogurt, or just pop them in raw with some honey.

Now for some recipes that I haven't personally tested. But again, these are from Allrecipes.com, and each have four stars or more. For more recipes over there, just search the word "blueberry." A ridiculous quantity of them will pull up.

My preferred method for using up a ton of berries at the moment, though, is freezing them for later. Blueberries are really simple to freeze - clean them up and freeze them, done! But I found more elaborate instructions for the process here for those who are annoyed by, say, the blueberries getting frozen together in a lump. I'm kind of laid back about that sort of thing in my kitchen. But I also enjoyed the instructor's "voice" here, especially when talking about how he/she likes to use glass containers but they have their pitfalls: "If you use glass, do not attempt to thaw contents by placing the container in hot or boiling water. Glass does not appreciate such treatment, and may break and harm you in retribution." (emphasis mine). LOL.

Last of all, I'm going to try drying them. I really want to incorporate these berries into this year's Christmas giving, but I don't want to just hand out baked goods. I usually try to avoid that because people receive so much of that kind of thing during the holiday season that it can become a burden. So it seemed to me that dehydrating would be the way to go. Then I could whip up some homemade pancake mix to give away.

Of course there's always canning - but blueberries aren't nearly acidic enough for straight canning, so they need to be either made into preserves or pressure-canned. Either of these are beyond the scope of this blog at the moment.

ETA: Fawn pointed out the New England Blueberry Coffee Cake as an option, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cream Soup Substitute, Take One

So for my birthday, Matt's daughter and ex-wife were kind enough to pick me up a copy of Simply in Season at the farmer's market. I'm not often very excited by birthday presents - I'm afraid I'm terribly finicky and difficult to shop for - but this was a very good gift.

Among the recipes in it - which so far I haven't had a moment to try, but it's bound to come up eventually - was what they called a "Cream Soup Substitute." Which is a fantastic idea! How many times have I wanted to make a childhood comfort food but run up against the canned cream soup as an ingredient? (Countless!) I hate them. God knows where the original ingredients come from, and they are loaded with additives and enough sodium to choke a horse.

Simply in Season's version, though, called for dry milk and bouillon powder. There was a time when I used a great deal of both those items in my kitchen, but I'm trying to move away from them now; they're both just too processed for my taste.

So today, I whipped up my own version, and to tell you the truth - it wasn't bad. I used onion powder to give the flavor a little body, and whole wheat flour as a thickener because that's my preference. If you'd prefer to avoid the added fat of the butter, though, you can always thicken with cornstarch instead. Just skip the butter-melting, flour-adding stage and heat cornstarch - half as much as the flour - directly into the milk until it thickens.

Cream Soup Substitute

¼ cup butter
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
1½ cups milk

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour and spices until blended together. Add milk and heat until thickened.

This came out slightly thinner than my target. In the future, I might add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. But otherwise, it came out just about right for my tastes. Certainly not as salty as the commercial stuff, but it definitely tasted more like actual food. Since the recipe for today called for cream of mushroom soup, I actually added in about ¼ cup of sliced mushrooms while it thickened, too.

Not local today: Every danged thing except the mushrooms. Sigh. Sometimes you've just got to use things up.

Eat Local Challenge

Surprisingly, much of the information I'd expected to pull together related to Honest Weight's Eat Local Challenge turned out to be a bit of a bust. They have disappointingly little on their own website, the Times Union blog is interesting but has the dates for the challenge stated incorrectly in the linked post, and they've listed the national website wrong on the co-op's own Eat Local Challenge pamphlet! I shouldn't be surprised; when I called the co-op for information (because we don't make it down to Albany very often), the person who answered knew remarkably little about it.

So okay. Organization may not be their strongest suit. I don't care; I still love them, they still have the best natural food store I've seen to date, and the Eat Local Challenge is still a great thing to join. You can sign up in their store, those of you who are local, and receive periodic emails with recipes and ideas.

At any rate, Google is my friend, I always say, and I found the Eat Local America site fairly easily, for those who are intrigued but not geographically close to me.

The guidelines to Honest Weight's challenge are intentionally vague, however, and you're encouraged to set your own goals. There's good reason for this - eating is a very personal thing, and even in the height of summer, eating local is quite an adjustment. When you're just starting out, sometimes small steps and a relaxed attitude are the order of the day. Perfectionism will kill your motivation before you even get started.

Some suggested goals, recommended by Honest Weight's pamphlet:

- Spend at least 10% of my weekly food budget on local foods.

- Make 5 meals each week from locally grown and produced foods.

- Buy directly from a local farm or farmer's market as often as possible.

- Choose local foods whenever possible and request local where I shop and dine.

- Patronize local grocers, retailers, and restaurants that feature local food.

- Preserve fresh seasonal foods to enjoy later in the year (freeze, can, dehydrate).

Matt and I are both signed up at the co-op, so hopefully we'll start receiving their emails soon. If anything interesting comes up in them, I'll be sure to share.

...Aaaaaaand we're back!!!

All right now. We are entirely moved into our new place and have it almost set up to our specifications! Now I should be able to blog more regularly, and good thing, too! There's so much to talk about:

- It's really time to follow up on my "How Do You Use It Up?" thought. I didn't get the response I'd hoped for, so I'm going to break it down item by item with my own ideas. Jump in anytime!

- The co-op is holding an Eat Local Challenge from August 6th through September 27th. Matt and I found out about it reading the Metroland at a restaurant for my birthday. Needless to say, this led to a ton of other information; a nation-wide local eating challenge, a local eating blog at the Times Union. It may be several blogs unto itself.

- I've started putting up food for the winter. I haven't had time to learn how to can this summer, so for me, this means freezing. Soon I'll be getting a chest freezer off of Craigslist - the new place has plenty of room for one right in the kitchen. I can't wait! Meanwhile, I've been filling the freezer I do have with tomatoes and blueberries.

- Matt and I went to see Food, Inc. yesterday. It was very good, though there were both parts I liked and parts I didn't. Lots of material for discussion there.

- I bought a food dehydrator today! I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with some way to use this overabundance of blueberries at J's house come Christmastime, and I think dried blueberries are it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find dehydrator in any stores nearby and had to order online - it may not come till after the blueberries are gone. There will certainly be plenty of other things to dry, though, so I ordered it anyway.

So, stick around and catch up with me! And throw your thoughts out there any ol' time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How do you use it up?

A big "problem" that locavores, farmers, gardeners, and lovers of fresh food face every year about this time is: how can you possibly use all this stuff that's ripe right now?

I thought this was a great post to bring out reader participation. Everyone has a favorite way to use up corn, tomatoes, green peppers, blueberries. Later, I'll make a new post with everyone's suggestions, sorted out by food. Be sure to link to recipes, if you have a favorite one handy!

And... go!!!

Fresh Corn Pudding

Another item that we had an overabundance of was corn. Matt had bought some at the farm stand with the peaches; then his ex-mother-in-law passed him some more. Finally, I got some at the farmer’s market for Fawn’s sleepover, and we hadn’t used all of it.

I think a lot of people just eat corn on the cob when it comes to fresh corn, and use frozen the rest of the time. I grew up on a farm though, where we grew our own and had to do something with it, something more than just the occasional ear with your barbecue. Let me tell you – there are a lot of delicious ways to enjoy good, fresh corn off the cob.

The other day I suddenly remembered that corn pudding (the eggy sort, not the corn meal type) is best made with fresh or canned corn, because frozen floats on the surface and leaves a lot of empty eggy stuff at the base of the casserole. And here I was with a surplus of fresh corn. Joy!

I was able to find a great fresh corn recipe over at allrecipes. As I’ve mentioned before, the best thing about that site is the rating system; everything can be sorted according to the average “star” rating it receives, and the ratings generally come with brief reviews describing the user’s experience with the recipe, what they did differently, and what they’d change in the future.

This was very helpful in this case, since there were complaints of greasiness from too much butter, a shortage of corn in the recipe, and too much salt. I adjusted my attempt accordingly and got a great result – we had it as an entrée, and the casserole dish was cleaned out. I had been sure the children (and Matt, also a picky eater) would fight me on it. You learn something new every day.

I didn’t use whole wheat flour in this attempt; I’ll try it out at a later date, but I doubt I’ll ever use all whole wheat; this needs a fairly light texture.

Fresh Corn Pudding

2 Tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup milk
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh corn

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Place butter in a 9 inch square baking pan and set in oven to melt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, sugar, pepper, milk and flour. When mixture is smooth, stir in corn. Remove pan from oven when butter is melted. Pour butter into corn mixture and stir well. Pour corn mixture into baking pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until set in center and golden brown on top.

Not local today: butter, salt and pepper, sugar, flour.

Whole Wheat Cobbler

So, apart from being a pie-making fool at Fawn’s, I’ve been a cobbler-making one, too. I’ve tried a few different recipes, but the latest is probably the one I’ll stick with. It’s absurdly easy, tasty, and is delicious even if you make it with completely whole wheat flour.

The first time, I made it with blueberries, but one day Matt came home with a bunch of New York peaches, I think perhaps forgetting that we had a big bowl of peaches, plums, and bananas on the counter. (Yes, bananas. None of the fruit was local. Le sigh.) Fawn was hosting a sleepover to mark Emma’s departure from her home, and it seemed like a good time to use up some of those peaches.

I essentially made this recipe with somewhat less sugar and all whole wheat flour. The wheat flavor definitely comes through, but it tastes really delicious against the tart and sweet fruit, and makes a not-overpoweringly-sweet accompaniment to some ice cream.

Whole Wheat Cobbler

4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk

2 cups of fruit
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put butter in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan; set in oven to melt. When butter has melted, remove pan from oven.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Add milk; whisk to form a smooth batter. Pour batter into pan, then scatter fruit over batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tb. of sugar. (Depending on the fruit, I might sprinkle some spices at this point, too; I skipped that with blueberries, but sprinkled some nutmeg and cinnamon on the peach one.)

Bake until batter browns and fruit bubbles, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Not local today: everything but the fruit.

Friday, July 24, 2009

75th Post!!! Celebratory Pie

So I heard on Tuesday that Matt and I can sign a lease on a duplex next Thursday! There aren’t enough words to explain what a relief this is to me. I know what school district my daughter will be going to in the fall. I know how much space I have, how it’s laid out, and how much my rent will be. I know I have landlords who struck me as really nice and fairly dedicated to the property – it’s been in the family for decades.

Best of all, they have a garden out back, and it’s perfectly okay for us to have one, too. Next summer is going to be grand.

I’ve been a pie-baking fool since I landed on Fawn’s doorstep. It’s just happened that I've been there while all kinds of berries and things have come into season, and the biggest method I’m familiar with for using them up is dessert. Personally, I’m very, very partial to pie.

On Monday night of this week I made a mixed-fruit pie that was based on this blueberry pie recipe; I just took out two cups of blueberries and added a half-cup of gooseberries and a cup and a half of pitted sour cherries. Instead of a lattice crust, I put on a streusel-type topping which was left over from making these muffins.

I hadn’t been able to decide whether blueberries or apples were the best base for such a pie, so I’d fully expected to bake an apple-based crumbly pie later in the week. But when I got the news about the duplex, I couldn’t resist baking it up right that minute.

Well, I nearly resisted. There were obstacles. We had to clean the pie plate from the other pie. That doesn't sound like much, but I can be a slacker of the highest order. Fawn said she’d wash it and I pointed out, “You know we shouldn’t be eating this much pie.” She was equal to that. She said, “But now there are only two weeks of pie left!” So we did it.

Bowman Orchards has early apples out – something called “July Reds” that taste similar to a MacIntosh or an Empire. I’d picked them up at the farmer’s market, but between snacking and the fact that one wasn’t good, we only had one apple left. And it was small. We wound up with basically a blueberry-based pie, after all. But it was yummy!

I improvised my attempt on this blueberry pie, this apple pie, and the topping from these muffins. At a later date I think it would be really great to get some granulated maple sugar – you can get it at the co-op – to use for the topping. At the very least, I’d rather use brown sugar in the future.

Celebration Pie

One pie shell
¼ cup gooseberries, stems removed and cut into quarters
½ cup apples, diced
1 ½ cups sour cherries, pitted
2 cups blueberries
¾ cup of white sugar
3 Tablespoons whole wheat flour

½ cup white sugar
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup butter
¼ chopped pecans

Mix fruit, sugar, and flour together; pour into pie shell.

Blend sugar, flour, and cinnamon and cut into butter with a fork or pastry blender; mix in pecans. Sprinkle over top of pie.

Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes; uncover and bake for 25 more minutes, or until crust appears done. Enjoy!

Not local today: pecans, butter, spices, flour, sugar, pie crust (I am a supreme slacker)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


So, the cauliflower thing so did not turn out well. Not at all. So I'll just skip posting what I did here, since no one would care to repeat it I'm sure!

Roast Chicken with Fresh Herbs, Roast Baby Squash, and Scalloped Cauliflower

That's dinner tonight; yum.

Now that Matt's got an oven that works, we may as well use it; and I'll go back to my usual practice of filling it up (or at least cooking several items at once) to conserve energy.

Tonight I'm roasting a chicken from Brookside with a bunch of Bowman rosemary, a sprig of Kilpatrick basil, and a big fistful of Kilpatrick garlic scapes in the cavity. I just sprinkled salt, a small amount of pepper, and poultry seasoning on the outside; Matt's daughter doesn't like things too spicy, and she'll be here to eat tonight.

On the side, I'm roasting the baby squash, and I thought to make the cauliflower au gratin, but remembered halfway through it that I'm out of any cheese except ricotta and Parmesan. I ended up with a sort of hybrid dish that I hope tastes yummy. (Will update!)

Meanwhile, I'll post the makings of the roasted baby squash, which I'm more confident will turn out, here:

Roasted Baby Squash

Baby squash, in any quantity (I had about 6)
Parmesan cheese
Cooking oil

Grease a baking pan; slice the baby squash in half lengthwise so they lay flat in the pan. Spray or drizzle oil over the top and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste; generously sprinkle with Parmesan, too.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes; enjoy.

Romano cheese is also really excellent over roasted vegetables. It's also tasty to dice an onion or shallot, or mince some garlic to toss with them, or sprinkle with some bouillion powder if you have some and don't mind processed foods. They are good without any cheese at all, too, though I prefer the extra flavor myself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Up to muffins now...

I really need to learn to like raw blueberries. I can't explain why, but I just don't; and they're coming in in such large numbers now at J's that I really wish I liked them that way. Because now, I've started baking them into everything. Everything that is full of fat and sugar and other things that are no good for you.

I'd already made a peach buckle, a black-cap buckle, and two blueberry pies. In almost all cases I ate more of them than just about everyone else. So not good for the arteries or the waistline.

Last night I was watching Fawn's kids with Matt and I asked him to go out and pick berries at J's. I don't think she has any specific deal set up to sell them yet or anything, but I can't stand the idea of them sitting back there, uneaten by anyone but the birds. They could be frozen! Or canned! Or dried! Or something. Anything. So I get back there (or send Matt) when I have the chance.

I felt like some muffins, so I turned to my old standby, allrecipes. I really prefer plain, cakey muffins, but there was a crumb-topped recipe that got four and a half stars based on over 3,000 reviews, so I knew I had to try it.

They're-Actually-Ripe-Now Blueberry Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Place oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.

To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.

I actually found that this made twice as much crumb topping as we needed; I refrigerated the other half for a future batch. Reviews said that this recipe is good with all kinds of fruit, and I think it'll be a great one come apple season. (Which is starting already - Bowman had some early apples out this past weekend!)

Not local today: pretty much everything but the blueberries. So worth it, though.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fresh Broccoli Frittata

So, we came home with an overabundance of produce this weekend. Maybe not overabundance - there's a good chance we'll actually use it all - but it certainly feels like it at the beginning of the week.

On Saturday, corn was the obvious choice, since it goes starchy so quickly. But the broccoli has started to come out now, too, and that means something other than spinach for a frittata, for the first time in a long time. (We started making an asparagus frittata once, but that still seems like such a special, rare vegetable to me that I couldn't stand burying it in eggs. We ate them right after the sautee stage.)

This frittata came out super-yummy. It had a little more moisture than I'd like, though, so I think I'll cut back the milk the next time.

Broccoli Frittata

Olive oil
4 cups of chopped fresh broccoli (about two small heads)
5 or 6 baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 small bunch of basil, chopped (this was around 10 or so leaves)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup of milk
3/4 cup of ricotta
¼ cup of shredded mozzarella
2 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
5 eggs, beaten

Sauté broccoli, carrot, basil, and garlic in a good drizzle of oil until dark and somewhat tender. Add milk to cool it somewhat; blend in cheeses and then eggs.

Pour into a greased pan (you need a big one for this one – no pie plates!); sprinkle with some extra cheese for pretties.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Not local today: oil, mushrooms, carrot, garlic, Parmesan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sheldon Corn Chowder

Matt had himself a new stove delivered this afternoon while he was out at a carnival with our girls. As you might remember from our ricotta adventure, his oven had a heating element broken. Seems as how it'd cost "more than the old stove is worth" to replace the heating element, so a whole new one was purchased. Isn't that just the way these days? I hope the old one gets recycled.

Anyway, I'm not testing the oven out right yet, but I am using the stove top. For the first time ever, I find myself actually feeling bad about making a mess on the stove. I'm such a messy cook, but I'm usually pretty comfortable with that.

I spent some time this afternoon turning this morning's corn on the cob into this evening's chowder. Here's how I made it.

Sheldon Corn Chowder

2 Tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, diced (mine came to about 3/8 cup)
2 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups diced new potatoes (no scale in my kitchen anymore)
2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 quart milk
2 cups corn off the cob (took me about 5 ears)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, melt the butter; sautee shallots in it until soft and translucent. Stir in flour and then milk, and keep on low heat until the milk begins to heat up and thicken.

In a medium saucepan, while the milk heats, boil the carrots and potatoes till tender. Drain.

Once the milk has gotten fairly hot, add the corn to cook while the milk finishes thickening. When it seems done, add in the potatoes, carrots, salt and pepper. Enjoy!

July is Bustin' Out All Over!

So much new stuff at the farmer's market today, we didn't even know where to turn. Broccoli is out, new potatoes and carrots, corn. Alongside the still-fairly-new cherries, blueberries, summer squash, cucumbers, and so forth, it's hard to know where to begin.

We definitely got some broccoli, which we can throw in a tasty tasty frittata, and some corn. It's chowder for dinner tonight. The Kilpatrick share came with a bag of basil and a head of lettuce today, and we got some peas (though not as many as last week!) as well. We got baby squash, fully-grown yellow squash, new potatoes, cucumbers, and green beans.

I make a fairly light corn chowder without a lot of thickening. It'll have lots of good Battenkill milk, Sheldon corn, and shallots from Kilpatrick.

We had a similar if less diverse haul from the market last week, and we've spent all week at Fawn's eating a giant load of peas and squash. We've steamed it, sauteed it, and the other night, Fawn sauteed it with baby portabello mushrooms and shallots. Awesome.

Black-caps have still been coming in, and I've just been letting the kids snack on them. Baking them into desserts makes more interesting blogging, but less nutritional sense. We tried blueberry picking with all of the kids, but found that a) the blueberries aren't quite ready on any large scale yet, and b) some of the children liked it much better than others. My two-year-old tried to insist on being carried, and wound up sitting on the ground wailing most of the time.

My daughter Emma and J's eight-year-old son, though, were practically unstoppable. We actually had a hard time getting them back out of there. So, next time, we'll bring some and leave others behind. I think it's gonna be a pretty good time.

Battenkill Rice Pudding

When I heated up some prefab stir fry at Fawn's (F's actual name) the other night, I made extra rice and vegetables to stretch it out. We ended up with just enough leftover rice to make my favorite rice pudding from allrecipes.com. I like it because you make it on a stove top, so it comes out more like the kheer rice pudding you get at the Indian buffets.

I use allrecipes a lot, by the way, and most of what I post here are altered recipes from the site. Users rate all the recipes, so you can get an idea of what you're working with before you even start. People post reviews with their ratings, where you can find a lot of suggestions for making it better than the original recipe; I often use them to yield the best results.

At Fawn's we had a houseful of Battenkill cream top milk, and Matt brought over the heavy cream left over from the previous weekend. I don't think anything apart from the milk and cream were local, but it's still a yummy recipe and a great way to use your dairy products, so I decided to post it here.

Creamy Rice Pudding from Allrecipes

1 1/2 cups cooked rice
2 cups milk, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine rice, 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until thick and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Blend egg with remaining 1/2 cup milk; stir into rice mixture. Cook 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm.

I whipped plain cream for the top; it didn't need any more sugar. The recipe on the original site mentions sprinkling it with nutmeg or cinnamon for a little extra "oomph." That sounds fantastic, but I had such a craving that I forgot to do it. I was in too much of a hurry to get the stuff out of the pan and into my mouth. It didn't even last till dinner the next day.

Not local today: Everything but the milk and cream.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm cooking again!

It's nice to put the move behind me for a little while and get back to the things I like doing, like cooking. F is a working mom and sure likes not having to cook when she comes home. (Note: she likes cooking. She doesn't like having to cook when she's already overtired.)

Tonight we had macaroni and cheese (not at all local), peas from my Kilpatrick share, cauliflower that I bought at the market but suspect isn't local, and home-grown salad from my old front yard.

Speaking of things I suspect aren't local, apparently Buhrmaster has a history of being less-than-honest about where the produce they sell comes from. I think that in my case, the salesperson simply didn't know where the fruit was from, and didn't realize how important that might be - but nonetheless, I know that whatever I get there has a risk of not being local. I'm hunting around for another farmstand in case of other missed farmer's markets.

But for this week, I've been able to stock up at the farmer's market as I've become accustomed. It felt strange to've been gone so long - we missed two weeks - and worse, some vendors had been shifted around, adding to the effect. But I got milk from Battenkill!!! Yellow squash from the Sheldons! Almost more peas than I could carry! And Bowman Orchards had cherries out! Good times.

Meanwhile, early summer is in full bloom. The roadsides and fields are full of blue vetch, clover, and daisies; the black-caps are coming out by the ton; and now, J's blueberries are just starting to come in.

It's so hard to wait for them to be ripe. More to the point, as kind of a n00b in the blueberry picking department, it's hard for me to tell when they're ripe before they're actually in my hand - and then it's too late. Sunday's berrying left Matt and I with a bucket of slightly reddish blueberries that were very, very tart. Whoops. They were just enough to make a super-tart pie, which we had for dessert tonight.

Fresh-Picked Under-Ripe Blueberry Pie

3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups fresh blueberries
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon, and sprinkle over blueberries.

Line pie dish with one pie crust. Pour berry mixture into the crust, and dot with butter. Cut remaining pastry into 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide strips, and make lattice top. Crimp and flute edges.

Bake pie on lower shelf of oven for about 50 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

I am a slacker, and therefore I didn't bother with a lattice crust. I just slapped a whole crust on top of that bad boy. I also used store-bought crust. I know, I know. I'm juggling a lot of things over here, though; the time for homemade pie crusts has passed. Once I'm settled into a permanent abode or perhaps just feeling more ambitious, I'll make some crusts from scratch. Until then, Pillsbury all the way!

I have some more cooking adventures coming up soon. We have enough black-caps that we could make another pie, or who knows what? We did just eat pie. I bought some gooseberries at the farmer's market, and I think I'm likely to make a crumble out of them. Not enough for a pie, don't feel like pureeing it into a fool.

I also have lots of squash I've bought, and while most everything in our garden has gone the way of the bunny, the tomatoes survived and the flowers are forming fruit on some of the plants. Oh, I hope some of them live!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Did I say I'd have *more* time to blog soon?

Oh, my, what a fool I can be sometimes.

It's funny, because I'm having quite a few local food adventures - mulberry pancakes and mulberry/peach buckle, nasturtiums and day lilies, and now the black-caps are out - but not enough clear-headed time to write. Well, it'll come eventually.

Anyway, I am all moved in at F's house. It's pretty wild over here. J has three children across the street, 8, 5, and 3, I think. F has two, 6 and 3. Now there are also my two, 6 and 2, and sometimes Matt's daughter, who's 8. That's a possibility of up to eight kids around at any given time - and believe me, it's happened once or twice.

So far in local eating together, we've had the peach/mulberry buckle one night, and the next day the kids snacked on blueberries, black-caps, and (not local) strawberries. The big challenge here is the sheer quantity of food we go through, with all the kids home for the summer and anywhere from four to eight of 'em around at any given time. We've been eating a lot of non-local stuff, and given the scale of eating over here, I'm pretty much expecting that to continue for as long as we're here. That's okay - you can only do what you can do, right?

Today I told myself that, rain or not, I was going out for some black-caps. There were a huge mess of them where we walk the kids through to send the oldest three to their summer rec program every day, and the kids all got to pickin' 'em. Even with all we ate on the spot, after a few minutes we had a good cup and a half or so, and they made up part of the afternoon's snack. I knew they were out there, getting overripe, and I couldn't stand it.

So today, while my daughter was at the rec program, I took my son out foraging. None of the black-caps in the woods were ripe yet; J and I think it's because they're more shaded than the other, super-ripe bushes we've spotted around. I went ahead and broke the don't-forage-at-the-roadside rule on this one; berries are too damned tasty not to.

I managed to get enough to make another buckle - black-cap this time. I also threw in some blueberries; one, exactly one of J's blueberry bushes is putting out ripe fruit. I probably didn't get any more than a half-cup off the thing, but I couldn't just leave them there. Into the dessert they go!

Double-Berry Buckle

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

2 1/2 cups black-caps (black raspberries)
1/2 cup blueberries
3/8 cup white sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C.) Grease a 9 inch square pan.

Blend batter ingredients in a large bowl. Spread into the prepared pan.

In a large bowl, combine filling ingredients. Pour over the batter in the pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Almost ready to move.

Soon, my pretties, soon I will have time to blog again - and things to blog about. This Saturday I'm moving to F's house, after which I'll (hopefully - got to check with his landlord) be joining Matt at his abode.

On Monday, Matt had the day off, during which I rented a storage unit, but we also went foraging at J's. Got about a pound of asparagus, but the wild strawberries are basically gone, and the blueberries are still green.

We did manage to get a fairly sizable haul off of Matt's mulberry tree, though. It's just a shame we don't have some tart berries to balance them out in a cobbler or something - they're fairly sweet, fibery, and bland by themselves. I may purchase some blueberries to make them into a cobbler with, just to give it a tad more oomph. It might be just the thing to treat my helpers with on the day of the move, if I can manage it.

More than almost anything, I'm looking forward to having the time to cook again. My move takes up so much head space and time that tonight's dinner of breakfast sausages and frozen waffles has become completely typical. At least it was less expensive than last week's pizzas and Chinese take-out.

Oh, also, the garden's been a bit of a disaster. We have bunnies. Very ballsy bunnies, who won't even necessarily run if they see people coming. They ate my Amish paste tomato plants, and most of the Cupids (grape tomatoes), too. I found one pea plant they'd bitten off at the bottom and didn't even have the decency to eat the rest of. Just left the plant laying there. Cauliflower - gone. But the beans and peppers, so far, live on, plus some of the tomatoes, so there's still hope.

Meanwhile, I've found that I keep buying things - even things I've planted - at the farmer's market because I simply can't wait the time that it takes for things to appear in my own garden. Maybe I needn't worry about gardening after all.

The front garden here at my apartment is doing pretty well, if weedy. The dandelions finally came up, and the purslane is big enough to harvest if I just had the gumption. Nasturtioms are blooming left and right, and a mysterious plant the identity of which was previously unknown turned out to be daylilies - also edible! The spinach got leggy too fast to use, but the lettuce looks fantastic, providing the basis of a super-gorgeous salad I'll probably harvest and serve this Saturday to feed to my movers.

So hang in there, just a couple more days and I can turn back into my usual, foragin' self.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back from the mountains!

So among the many things I've had going on this week, there was a weekend at Indian Lake that we'd planned months ago, back when I had no idea I'd be moving at this time. Come to think of it, back before I realized it was Father's Day this weekend - the 21st honestly seemed like too late a date, so I didn't check with the calendar.

Anyway, Indian Lake is a pretty sizable body of water up in the Adirondacks. It's a great place to go because all the campsites are on water (the sites are boat access only), they're generally very well-spread-out and therefore private, and there are a wide range of habitat types around. In the same weekend you can explore swamp, ponds, streams, the lake, mountains, and of course woods.

It turned out that we arrived too late to canoe to the campsite we'd reserved. We'd gotten it based on the fact that it was one mile from the marina - but it was the boat launch that we should've paid attention to. It was eight miles from the boat launch, meaning a probable two and a half to three hour canoe; and it was already 7:30.

Thankfully the staff there are either really quick-thinking, or accustomed to n00b campers coming along that don't know what they're doing, because they were able to switch us to a closer site in pretty short order. It took us at least an hour and a half to get there anyway, and it was pretty danged dark by then, but we made it.

Our site was on one of the islands there, loaded with interesting wild stuff despite its small size. Cattails, yarrow, interesting grasses that root on the rocks. The best part, though, was that on one entire end, almost all of the underbrush were wild blueberries. They're still green, this time of year - the Adirondacks run a bit behind us down here - and I probably wouldn't have done more than eat one or two for the sake of tasting them anyway, but I never find wild blueberries down here, so it was pretty exciting for me. At any rate, next month the birds will be excited to have them there. I didn't forage for anything else, either; I didn't find anything much to forage in any case, but I'm not at all sure that you're allowed to, or that it's a good idea, in this location.

Most of our food was chosen for convenience, and a lot of it was decidedly non-local. Newman-O's and le Petite Ecolier cookies come to mind. But we did make a stew before leaving - who wants to be tied down to cooking when you're in the woods? - out of some Lewis Waite stew beef, some Sheldon potatoes, some carrots from Kilpatrick, and some leftover rosemary from Bowman Orchards. We also used shallots and green garlic from Kilpatrick.

We ate it Saturday night, out on the rocks in front of our site. Good stuff. I'd offer the recipe here, but to be frank, we cheated and used one of those seasoning packets from the spice aisle. Yeah, we're some of those people. I've never been able to get a beef stew to come out right without it. At least I can make a proper chicken stew with dumplings from scratch! That'll be coming up this fall, since apparently Matt's never cooked his own. Time to try it out!

When we got home - after a long shower which I was ever so grateful for (there are no showers on site at Indian Lake, and no running water or flush toilets at the campsites, either; I also landed face first in some wetlands in a hike, leaving mud on my face and grit in my teeth) - we discovered that just outside Matt's window is a mulberry tree! I don't care for them much by themselves, since they're kind of fibery and bland, but I bet mixed with some blueberries and/or raspberries and black caps, they'd be pretty tasty in a pie or a cobbler. Can't wait till they get ripe!

Until then, the squirrels and birds are having a field day with it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three Bath Day.

That's what it was in our house yesterday. My kids had a bath before we left the house (Emma had a dance at school the night before and everyone was all sweaty, yuck); then we went to the farmer's market with Matt and his daughter, where the kids ate so many strawberries that their faces and hands were covered in red juice. In the case of Matt's daughter, her legs, too - she was our most enthusiastic berry eater of the day. So into the tub they went, as soon as we got home.

Then we went to F's house - time to check on J's asparagus patch. I knew she'd just gotten a couple of pounds out of it the other day, so I figured she wouldn't mind me mooching some more. Plus, it was time to check on the wild strawberries.

Turns out J was having a party for her son, and she let us all hang out. Got a good bunch of asparagus from the patch, which I split with J's sister, and there were loads of wild strawberries, everywhere. I got a pretty good amount of them - probably a cup and a half or so (keep in mind the biggest ones are the size of the tip of your pinkie) - and headed back to the party. The kids were all in a big waterfight, muddy and wet.

Matt and our daughters and I all tried some. Pretty good stuff, although I didn't have any of the berries from the farmer's market handy to compare them to. Towards the end of the get-together, I found F's son practically eating them hand-over-hand, so I ended up leaving them with him. Full of vitamins and stuff, you know. Besides, we still had three quarts at home to eat.

Back home, tick check - I think we found five between me and Matt's daughter - bath again. Due to mud and dirt and already having them all naked anyway.

Three bath day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's hard to feel stressed out in strawberry season.

So as aforementioned, I'm in the middle of getting ready to move on top of my usual full-time school semester right now. It's been a tad hectic, getting the old place cleaned up and cleared out of six years' worth of accumulated stuff. I'm doing well, though; just got the attic to finish going through, and I've got to find a home for some furniture yet.

It seems likely that I'll be living up at F's for a little while. It'll be nice because the garden will be literally in my back yard at that point, but it's been a long time since I've lived as a roommate. Still in all, I think it will be a good situation as long as we keep communication super-open, as she says. It'll be a good time for locavore blogging for certain, since it's out in a much more rural place and great for foraging.

My front garden is doing pretty well, albeit growing quite weedy. The spinach has all gone straight into bloom, which I think probably doesn't bode well. The lettuce looks gorgeous, though, and the carrots are growing steadily. I doubt there'll be anything to eat from them by the time I move in two weeks, but it was still interesting to grow them.

But elsewhere, it's strawberry season, which means that no matter how stressful life can be, you've got something delicious and good for you to eat if you just go get some. Last week Emma and I tore through two quarts of strawberries by Monday morning. Today we had all our kids, so we bought about six quarts.

The kids tore into the first quart - technically two pints from Kilpatrick - as soon as we'd bagged them as part of our CSA share. We picked up four quarts from another farm (because the price was lower than Kilpatrick's and because strawberries and asparagus were all he had to sell; his farming income is probably highly seasonal) and headed off to the car.

Most of the produce went in the back, but we made sure to keep the Kilpatrick berries and one quart of the other ones in the cab of the car, which is how we noticed the difference in taste. Kilpatrick's were $5 a pint to the other man's $6 a quart, but they were noticeably much sweeter. Of course the other guy's were still very very good, naturally much better than the California ones in the grocery store, and the difference in taste didn't stop us from polishing off the entire two quarts on the car ride home.

So this is how I came up with the idea of a starberry taste test. In AVM Barbara Kingsolver talks about her girls having taste tests of the different colors of Swiss chard. Now I can't see my kids doing that with chard, but strawberries they would do. I'm not at all sure we'll be able to do it - we're camping next week and will miss the market, and the week after is moving day for me - but if we can figure out how, I'm so in.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blessed are the Cheesemakers, Part Deux

I just ordered myself a Starter Special over at New England Cheesemaking. So. Exciting.

Soon I'll be making my own mozzarella and ricotta.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Local London Broil

Still hard at work in school and getting ready to move; sorry for the sparse posts. But over the weekend, I had the chance to make a delicious top round London Broil I'd bought from the Lewis Waite Farm; I'm officially hooked on their meat.

I asked the person manning the table this Saturday why he thought their meat doesn't taste gamey, like grass-finished beef sometimes does. (I confessed that I had bought beef from a farm at this very market that had that problem, in fact.) He didn't think it was the dry-aging that they do, which was my guess; he says that, at their farm, they graze intensively. The cows are moved to new pasture daily - Lewis Waite is on a lot of acreage. He thinks that a lot of farms are pasturing their cows on over-grazed land, leading to the gamey flavor.

Whatever it is that they do differently, the meat is spectacular and I'd imagine the cows are happier than most anywhere else. New grass every day!

They also sell pork, but I've never seen it listed among the meats they bring with them. I was told that I could call the farm directly and order some ahead, which I could pick up at the market, if I wanted any; I took the price list for a later date. This week, I bought some ground beef for another batch of chili (still have some non-local canned tomatoes to use up); I still had the London Broil from the week before, thawed and marinating in Matt's fridge.

The recipe is one I found on Allrecipes a couple of years ago. It uses a lot of processed items, but I haven't yet found a marinade I like better. I suppose I could continue experimenting, for the sake of keeping it more natural and local, but I have a hard time believing that a small amount of ketchup and soy sauce will do much harm, in the big scheme of things.

Local London Broil

3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (2 pound) London broil

In a small bowl, mix together garlic, soy sauce, oil, ketchup, oregano, and black pepper. Pierce meat with a fork on both sides. Place meat and marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.

Place steak under broiler, and discard marinade. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Do not overcook, as it is better on the rare side. (This is especially true of grass-fed beef, I'm told, because it's leaner.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Busy busy busy.

Hey, you may continue to experience sparse posting for a while into the future... Those who know me in person or from other sites will know that I'm in the middle of a divorce right now. I'm preparing to move next month, while juggling a full-time school schedule and, of course, my two children.

So until things are settled in at the new place, I may not be on nearly as frequently as I'd like. I'm continually thinking of things to blog about but can't find the time to sit down and write. As soon as I can, I'll be writing much more regularly.

Thanks for your patience!

Local Eating in Northampton

For Memorial Day weekend, Matt and I took off for Northampton, Mass. Those who know me from elsewhere or read my Moroccan Mint Tea blog know my love of Northampton. I stumbled across the place by accident last summer on a trip with my mom and kids, and have been in love with it ever since. Matt agreed to make a trip with me, and has friends to visit there besides.

This wasn't at all like meeting the rail-thin, impeccably-groomed Manhattanite (who by the way was very very nice, nothing at all against her); these were my kind of people. (I'm hoping they're not insulted by my thinking so.) Conversation ran the geek gamut, from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Star Trek to who-knows-what, including my personal favorite, Fandom Wank. We also talked a fair amount about local eating, because one of them, Rob, has adopted a raw diet, which also tends to be local. He's had a hard time finding meat in his current location, so if I can ever get him out here to visit, I'll be sure to drag him to the farmer's market with us; he'll absolutely love it.

At any rate, I was hoping that, in a town like Northampton, a locavore might find something of interest to write about. We passed a sign that read "your locally grown food co-op," and swung in. It was the River Valley Market. I wondered whether they'd only carry local items (you could find enough to fill a store in Saratoga, after all), or just emphasize local producers.

It was the latter. It wasn't a bad place, but I'm still more partial to Honest Weight. (Good thing, since it's much closer.) They did have some local items, with local asparagus and fiddleheads front and center, but not as much as I'd hoped. We bought some definitely-not-local strawberries and truffles (the chocolate kind, not the fungus) and hit the town.

It was a good evening. Kicked around Thornes' for a bit, which I always love. Hit the brewpub for a drink or two. Teased Matt about how long it took him to pick a beer. That sort of thing.

The second day was truly my favorite, though. I love socializing, but sometimes need a little quietude afterwards to clear my head. Nothing much was open when we were done eating our bagels in town, so we headed for the Smith campus. The place was full of families from the graduations that weekend, and older ladies who were there for an alumni gathering. Old friends happy to meet up again, and newer friends getting ready to say good-bye. Matt and I just walked through on our own agenda.

Off the athletic fields, we found a trail and started following it. What I had thought was a pond on the campus turned out to link to Mill River, with trails on either side. I had no idea where we were going, but I'd just eaten and had a cup of tea in hand, so I was good to go for a while. It was beautiful scenery, and some well-meaning soul had been walking the trail ahead of us pulling garlic mustard; wilting plants littered the path for most of the walk. That made me chuckle.

Eventually we asked someone on the other side where the path led to, and it sounded kind of far, so we came to the conclusion that eventually we'd just want to turn around and go back. So when we were ready, we crossed and went back on the opposite side. (Much of the river is shallow and rocky; all we had to do was take off shoes and roll up pants.)

Hit a few shops on the way back into town, and as we were headed towards a used book store I'd noticed the day before, Matt said, "Local Burger & Fries."

I said, "What? Where?!?" He pointed across the street. We made a note of it for after the book store.

I worried that Local Burger & Fries might be named thusly because it was the local burger joint, not because you could get actual local food there; it just seemed too good to be true. But no, they do! Even the potatoes came from a local farm, and any one of the family members there will start listing off the farms that different foods come from if you ask. The fries are hand-cut and fried in peanut oil, and absolutely fantastic. You can get your burger in black angus or grass-fed, and they'll ask you if you want "pink or no pink?" They have turkey burgers, potobellos, and their own version of a veggie burger (no doubt to keep it local).

The only complaint I have is the lack of healthy stuff. It's true that you don't go to a burger joint for health food, but it would be nice to be able to order a salad. The menu is a bit limited - but their simplicity could be part of their success, focusing all their energy on making a few items really, really well. And they certainly do.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


So the other night, I was over at my brother's and sister-in-law's, dropping off some tomato plants (Sweet 100's - a breed of cherry tomatoes we used to grow on the farm back in the day, NOM NOM NOM) and homemade yogurt, and mooching some of her homemade strawberry jam to give F with her yogurt. My sister-in-law started regaling me with tales of her childhood, eating mass quantities of wild, foraged salads (she even knew a bit about the nutritional values).

I'd been getting so many pigweed seedlings in my garden, along with the purslane, that I started to wonder if it's edible. Well, lo and behold, that's what she used to eat so much of. I believe she said pigweed, dandelion, and milkweed tops (which you have to get young or they're bitter, she says). She also used to forage fiddleheads.

Well, you know what this means. Next time I'm at F's, I'll be scanning the lawn for something new.

Then I remembered that I'd saved a link in my favorites for wild edibles; Foraging with the "Wildman." It's full of great information, and contains photographs as well as drawings of varying stages of the plants so you can identify them easily. Not everything on there is edible - some things are remedies, and some are plants that you'll want to identify in order to avoid. For some reason it doesn't cover pigweed (although Garden Mosaics does here), but there's a wealth of info on lamb's quarters, sow thistle, curly dock, and nettles (harvest with gloves!), as well as the favorites here at Budding Locavore, garlic mustard, purslane, wood sorrel, and violets. That first group are all plants that I've seen around and wondered about, and now know I can forage.

He also discusses daylilies and clovers (good for tea), and he's made me very curious to try and find sassafras and black birch.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mostly-Local Chicken Croquettes

So I had this almost-entirely-uneaten roast chicken leftover. Whoops. Sometimes I find that I get a little over-enthusiastic at the buying end of things, given how little my family eats at the dining end of things. Today I set it in a pot to make some stock (this week, with a piece of green garlic - apparently just immature regular garlic - a carrot, a hunk of yellow onion, a fistful of fresh sage, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and a handful of Christmas spinach), but wondered what on earth I'd do with that much boiled chicken meat? Usually, I end up with more meat than I can use with the broth from a well-used carcass.

And I thought, whatever happened to that chicken croquette recipe I used to like so much? And went and found it, and made some alterations for my own version. I used two cups of the broth, two tablespoons of cornstarch, and a sprinkling each of chicken boullion powder (I have it, time to use it up so I can learn to do without), poultry seasoning, and salt, to make gravy to go over them, like my gramma used to serve when I was a little girl.

I served up brown rice, one of those frozen stir fry vegetable medleys I hate so much, and some Christmas spinach sauteed with another green garlic shoot on the side.

Mostly-Local Chicken Croquettes

3 cups cooked chicken meat
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
1 shoot of green garlic, chopped and sautéed
1 teaspoon dry parsley (fresh ain't in yet)
1 teaspoon chicken bouillion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
3 eggs

Put chicken meat, bread crumbs, green garlic, spices, water, and eggs into food processor with a chopping blade; pulse until finely chopped and well-blended.

Form into patties; sauté until cooked through. Serve with gravy.

What I learned is, first of all, cut the recipe in half for my household. Second of all, whole wheat bread crumbs are DENSE. I added the water to keep it from being too dry, but that didn't help the density any. I'm wondering if, in future, the addition of some romano cheese or something like that would help; I think that's part of what makes my meatballs so soft in comparison to straight whole wheat breadcrumbs. (Those meatballs are a post for another day, when the tomatoes have come into season.)

Something else to experiment with as I go along.

Not local today: all dry spices, chicken bouillion, cornstarch, brown rice, stir fry vegetables, cooking oil, whole wheat bread, eggs

In Defense of Food, Boiled Down.

That last blog moved me to google a little bit and see what else I could find on Michael Pollan, and I turned up this essay that he wrote in 2007, before he published In Defense of Food. It's twelve pages long, but it covers the gist of much of his book, including some of the guidelines he discusses for eating. In fact, some of it is repeated in the book verbatim.

It's a long essay, but absolutely worth a read if you are interested in your health. Enjoy!

Cancer-Fighting Herbs for Your Garden

I get a newsletter today from Care2.com, an interesting little site I found while learning about homemade beauty treatments. I started off on that little tangent when Emma was a toddler, because a friend and coworker sent around an informational email about microdermabrasion that included the little gem that one of the crystals used in the process is bicarbonate of soda: baking soda. I started exfoliating at home with the stuff (I don't want them shot at and sucked off my face, thanks - sounds too harsh for me!), got great results, and started trying to find other things I could make myself for my face.

At Care2, I found article after article on making your own lotions, cleansers, masks, and steam treatments. Now I never graduated to lotions or anything else fancy, but if something had a simple set of ingredients, I'd try it out, and I went through a long period of Sunday-night spa treatments. Good times.

Nowadays I'm busy with other interests, but when I got a link to an article on garden herbs in today's newsletter, I thought I'd share. It's important to remember that every plant comes with a host of phytochemicals, generally good for you, most of them undiscovered and unstudied because there are just so many. This is why Michael Pollan encourages us to eat more plants.

But this article does cover some interesting phytochemicals that have been researched and are linked to fighting cancer, which is interesting in and of itself, at least to my mind. Be sure to peek around over there; it's an interesting website full of tons of great information.

5 Cancer-Fighting Garden Herbs

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Many hands make light work.

I remember, a dog's age ago, when I worked at Albany Medical Center; my manager there used to say that all the time. The fact is, the reason that old cliché rings true is that many hands generally make work more of a party, and therefore not really work at all. Well Hell, why do you think people used to throw sewing bees and corn shucking parties? That stuff can be deadly dull by itself.

Well in my opinion, a garden is just the same. It's a dreadful lot of work for one person to do on their own. That's why my friend's idea of a communal garden in her yard turned out to be not just a good idea, but a brilliant one. She's a single mom, with a three-year-old daughter, a six-year-old son, and her very first rural abode (I think). Across the street lives her friend, divorcing, with her three children. Then there's me, a frequent visitor, divorcing, two children.

My friend, I'll call her F here until she tells me otherwise, had a vision of a big garden out back... melons and pumpkins and peas and beans and spinach, and for some reason, tomatoes, even though she doesn't like them. ("It doesn't seem like it's a garden without tomatoes!") Fresh stuff that she could feed her kids. A garden can be powerfully entertaining and educational for a kid, on top of giving them just about the best food you can get.

But, you know. Two kids. A job. A cat. A house to keep track of. That's a lot by itself, without the garden.

So she made it a group effort.

We've all been doing our small parts here and there for weeks now, but this past weekend it just all came together at once. Even squeezing in as much work as we could when we had the opportunity, we'd only had half the original (somewhat small) garden patch tilled and planted at all. My brother's tiller provided the motivation, because he needs it back by next weekend for his garden; so I told Matt my biggest priority would be working at F's that weekend, and we all just dove in.

Matt got most of the preliminary tilling done on the other half of the garden patch. I filled in blank spots with more seeds where the bunnies had munched the pea and cauliflower plants. Planted another two rows of spinach. Got teased by F's mom about how crooked my rows were.

F's friend across the street, J, mowed the bejeebers out of the side lawn. Part of the problem with getting us started is that none of us seem to know how to use lawn equipment, or at least how to maintain it. Now we're finally getting underway, but we have a lot of catching up to do - that grass had been L-O-N-G.

Then J brought us up to her asparagus patch to have a look. It hasn't been tilled yet - what can I say, we're all newly-divorced women trying to learn new skills - so it was more like foraging than harvesting. Definitely the most fun I have ever had cutting asparagus. The girls were better at finding them than we were. Matt's daughter swears the overgrown asparagus she refused to put down helped her detect them. On the walk back to the house she carried a whole bag of overly-tall asparagus like some kind of weird asparagus beauty queen holding her bouquet.

On the way over to look at J's blueberry bushes, we found a huge patch of wild strawberries in bloom. Duly noted for next month! The asparagus field is flanked by two patches of what may be blackberry brambles, too.

The blueberry bushes are still awaiting their trimming. After this weekend the garden is in fairly good shape - I want to leave F room to plant some stuff too, after all - and maybe we can get to that soon, plus cleaning out the Virginia creepers that've grown in there. Nasty stuff. But also, the whole ground is carpeted in violets (including a patch of bizarrely tiny ones), just waiting for my salad bowl.

But when we came back for dinner, all kinds of thing had taken place in our absence. F's parents had come over with a mower and their own tiller, and tilled out an entire space for an herb garden as well as mowing the remainder of the lawn. After we ate, F was like a kid with a new toy at Christmas; even the rain couldn't keep her inside, and before you knew it we were all out there. I planted the parsley and chamomile while the kids her two kids and my daughter raked the chewed-up weeds out of it; F tilled the crap out of the main garden; Matt and his daughter chased my two-year-old son everywhere (they ended up playing T-ball with him, and he went home covered in mud).

Got home, ran tick checks, stuck the kids in the tub. Ran our own tick checks, which I don't mind saying is a fairly sexy enterprise until HOLY COW THERE'S A TICK GETITOFF GETITOFF GETITOFF!!!!!

So, that's another thing I'm learning in my new life. There were three ticks found on me this weekend, and I'm finally starting to take it with a little calm rather than descending into a giant case of the heebie-jeebies.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My brother is made of win and topped with awesomesauce.

It turns out that my brother has a tiller. He tried to tell me as much here on the blog, but it's not accepting his comments. (Here's hoping it will now!) It's electrical in nature, which is a bit odd, but it's small enough to fit in the car, which is extremely helpful.

So we'll be expanding our gardening at my friend's house quite a bit this weekend. We've been operating purely with hand tools, and I don't know if you've actually every tried to garden with only hand tools, but you don't get very far. It's actually pretty disheartening. We did manage to get in two rows of peas, some broccoli, and some spinach, but I think that was mostly because we were able to get in so early that the weeds weren't very big yet. By the time we got to clearing the other half of the garden patch, it was nearly impossible.

Next weekend is when my brother will be doing his gardening, so we'll be squeezing in what we can this weekend and that may be it. Wish us luck!