Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Collecting the fruits of summer

I confess, I'm a fruit hoarder.
All summer long, my mind is constantly thinking about how I can get more fruit to stock my freezer and fill my canning jars. If you live in the Northeast and you depend on what grows locally, you have to think about winter during the summer.
Thinking ahead applies to vegetables, too, but the sweetness of fruit makes its gathering and preserving much more exciting to me. Tasting summer's berries in January, is not quite like feeling the sun that was shining the day they were picked, but in the dead of winter, it might be all I've got.

Raspberries are especially adventurous and precious.

They come later in the season, and by that time, no matter how many pints of strawberries and blueberries I have stored, I'm still certain I need more berries. Raspberries are my final hope.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to pick from the farm's berry patch this week.
I'm also thankful that the awesome crew maintains the plants in neat rows. But, no matter how well maintained the shrubs are, these berries aren't much fun to pick. You've probably encountered raspberry brambles at some point in your life -- they are full of “prickers.”

The bees don't mind the “prickers” at all as they busily pollinate. They are joined by beetles, flies and other bugs of all sizes and types. My four-year-old helper calls the bugs his friends, but I'm not a huge fan.
Determined to fill my baskets, I put the scratchy brambles and insects out of my mind and pick. It takes time to pick raspberries. Some of the ripest berries fall apart in my fingers, and occasionally drop where they'll never be found. But, I persevere, and after two hours, I have three quarts of berries.
Three quarts of amazingly, delicious raspberries! I will have jam, vinaigrette and smoothies! Every ounce of effort was worth it.
And, despite my hoarding tendencies, I might even give raspberry goodies for gifts, and share a taste of summer in the midst of winter.

Raspberry Vinegar
If you want to make raspberry vinaigrette, you first need raspberry vinegar.
  • 2 cups crushed raspberries
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
Place the berries in a one-quart mason jar, then fill the jar with the vinegar. Let sit for two days to two weeks.
Drain the fruit through muslin or cheesecloth, and let sit for a while – a couple of hours if you have the time. Pour the liquid into a non-reactive sauce pan, and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Skim off any foam. Pour into sterilized bottles and store in a cool dark place. Will store for up to a year.
Serving suggestions: Mix the vinegar with olive oil and black pepper to make a vinaigrette, pour it over ice cream, or pour it over ice and add seltzer.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Grilled pac choi

Yesterday, as I will be many Saturdays this summer, I worked with Kilpatrick Family Farm at the farmers market. It might be the best job I've ever had - selling the most awesome veggies in the world to food-loving marketgoers.

Throughout the morning, CSA coordinator Christina, shared her excitement for grilled pac choi. I was already a pac choi/boc choi fan, but hadn't thought of grilling it. Toss it with any dressing, she said, throw it on the grill, then back in the dish with the dressing.

"It will change your life," Chris said.

We had a steak to grill for dinner last night, and a grilled veggie seemed like the perfect accompaniment. Of course, the pac choi I brought home was to be it. But, I didn't have any dressing made, so I looked for inspiration through a quick Google search for "grilled boc choi." (searched boc choi instead of pac choi figuring it was more common, but would be cooked the same way). Based on what I found, this is what I made:

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger

All these measurements are approximate, as I didn't measure, or plan on blogging about it, when I made it. If I did it again, I might also add honey.

I whisked those things together, broke off the leaves of the pac choi, then tossed the leaves with the dressing.

I wasn't too sure how long to grill the leaves, but I figured it out as I stood at the grill. Basically, I couldn't get all the leaves laid out on the grill before it was time to flip the first ones. It ended up being about 30 to 45 seconds on each side. But, as I went, I gave up on laying them out too neatly and just threw them on in bunches.

As Chris instructed, I tossed them with the dressing again once the leaves were grilled. Then, I sprinkled some sesame seeds on top in the dish before serving.

Definitely a hit!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Food swap: Some yogurt for your jam? Please

Wednesday, I went to my third food swap. I'm not sure why I haven't written about the swaps before. Each one has been great.

If you've never been to a food swap, it's really worth checking out. From Scratch Club hosts two swaps each month. I've been going to the one in Saratoga Springs. They also hold one in Troy, and will be starting a Schenectady location.

In a nutshell, you bring your homemade goods and leave with something else homemade. So, if you are an awesome baker, but can't imagine making yogurt or canning jam, bring your cookies and trade for yogurt or jam. Or, maybe some soup. Or, maybe even a homemade body care product.

For this past swap, I brought one bottle of coffee-vanilla liqueur, three jars of green tomato relish and a jar of yogurt (my process to come in a future post).

I left with a loaf of cranberry-nut bread, which was quickly devoured by hubby and me before bed; a jar of raspberries in light syrup (enjoyed on yogurt with granola - yes!); a jar of sungold tomato jam (with a perfect amount of spiciness - that jar's not lasting long), a jar of healing salve and a body scrub.

Mamatoga's coconut oil and turbinado sugar scrub
Sungold tomato jam from Erika or ourdiylife.com
After past swaps, I've come home with paneer, home-brewed beer, bread, fudge, jam, and several other things. Not one thing has been a disappointment.

So, seriously, check it out. When you come, keep in mind I'm a sucker for healthy muffins and breads, so bring some for me next time, would ya?

To learn more about how the food swap works, check out From Scratch Club's page about Food Swaps.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Coriander? (and a recipe for Quinoa Pine Nut Pilaf)

Last summer, I let me cilantro go to seed. (unintentionally, of course)

Trying to make the best of the situation, I decided to let the seeds dry out on the back porch. Only, they hung there, neglected, from summer into fall, and then all winter long.

Spring came and I finally decided to pluck the seeds from the dried plant.

About two weeks later, those seeds, are still waiting in that tiny clay pot. Waiting to be crushed up and become part of something -- quinoa pilaf perhaps, or maybe a chickpea and spinach dish. The seeds are barely enough to season one dish -- if any at all.

Honestly, I'm a little afraid. What do you think, will they taste good, like I would expect coriander to taste? Or, will they ruin the meal?

Either way, this recipe for the pilaf is worth sharing.

Quinoa Pine Nut Pilaf
from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 bell pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander - if you have seeds, work those muscles with your mortar and pestle, or if you're a whimp (you don't have to tell anyone) use a coffee grinder reserved for spices 
1 cup qunioa, rinsed
1 2/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped, fresh basil (or some dried, if it's the wrong season)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

In a saucepan, saute the onions and garlic in oil for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the bell peppers, cumin and coriander, and continue sauteing for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rinsed quinoa and the water to the saucepan, cover tightly, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Stir in the basil and corn, and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the quinoa is tender.
Stir the pilaf to fluff it, add salt and perpper to taste, and serve topped with the toasted pine nuts.

*For a vegetarian meal, serve with roasted vegetables. Or, since we're omnivores in our house, we have enjoyed the pilaf with a roasted chicken.

This week ...

... we fingerpainted with friends;

we enjoyed the season's first spring vegetables combined with some of the last of the fall's roots;

we took cooking class;

 and finished the week with the sunshine smiling on us for a spring celebration.

photo by Sara Pearsall*

And, I have no idea how I managed all this, while battling the first cold I've had in about a year.

* Thanks to my friend Sara, who forgot her camera, for picking up mine and taking a bunch of awesome pictures.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cooking something new: Salsify!

Doesn't that look gnarly? If I dug that up in my backyard, I definitely wouldn't think to eat it. Lucky for me, I found it through other means.

Salsify! It sounds more like a verb than a vegetable. It sounds to me like the act of dancing the salsa. Salsify! In fact, I can't even seem to write it without an exclamation point.

I was scanning the seed catalog and few weeks ago and saw this root described as tasting a bit like artichoke, but looking nothing like one of my favorite foods. I was very intrigue. But, I haven't expanded my garden enough to grow all the vegetables I know I want, so I wasn't going to try growing something no one has ever heard of. Besides hubby doesn't even like artichokes.

Jump forward a few weeks ... Lo, and behold, KFF has been growing the stuff. So, what was the first vegetable I picked up at the farmers market on Saturday? You guessed it.

Nah, I didn't think it was necessary to tell hubby it's supposed to taste like artichokes. Let him decide that on his own.

I chose a cheesy recipe that I thought might win over both my boys. Here's the recipe I started with: Rich and Creamy Salsify Gratin. But, as I get older, I become less inclined to follow directions. So, here's what I did.

I started off doing what they told me to. I peeled the salsify and kept it in cold water to prevent it from turning brown.

Then, I sliced it with my mandolin into 1/4-inch, or thinner, slices. As I worked, I kept the salsify in the cold water as much as possible.

Do keep it in the water. I noticed that as I was slicing it was turning brown.

(Here's the one slightly unpleasant thing about this vegetable. As I was peeling it, some funky, brown stuff came off onto my hands. It reminded my of pulling certain weeds that leave unpleasant junk on my hands, if I start pulling without gloves. This is not something that would stop me from prepare salsify in the future, but I thought I'd mention it.)

Once everything was peeled and sliced, I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan, then mixed in a tablespoon of flour to make a roux. Then, added about 1 1/2 cups of whole milk, plus salt, black pepper and a bit of freshly ground nutmeg.

As the milk started to thicken, I stirred in my salsify and let it cook until it was tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

That got transferred to a casserole dish with some cheese sprinkled on top. I used a bit less than a 1/2 cup of a mixture of Gruyère and Monterrey Jack. The casserole went in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, then under the broiler for 5 minutes to slightly brown the cheese.

In the excitement to eat dinner, I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish. But, you can imagine it looked very much like cheesy scalloped potatoes would look coming out of the oven. 

The results: YUM! 
Well, those in my house who like artichokes thought it was delicious. Hubby turned up his nose a bit, and then wasn't pleased with me once I shared the description. He wasn't fooled.

It did taste quite like artichokes. 

So, as long as you like artichokes, give SALSIFY! a try. (And, just try to say that word without an exclamation.)

Cheesy salsify! gratin
1 to 1 1/2 pounds salsify, peeled and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup (or less) Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup (or less) Monterrey Jack cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Start by getting a bowl of cold water handy. Peel salsify and place in cold water as you work to prevent browning. Thinly slice roots into about 1/4-inch pieces, continuing to keep any of the root you're not working with in the water.
In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter, then stir in flour. Add milk to make a roux. Once the milk begins to thicken, add salsify, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer until salsify is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer to casserole dish and bake 15 to 20 minutes. Then, move under the broiler for about 5 minutes to lightly brown the cheese. Serves 4.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Join the CSA community

It's all over the web: why you should join a CSA. So, I don't need to write about something everyone else already has. But, I'm just so darn excited about it.

I've had several people ask me about joining a CSA, or they want to know how to eat healthier, and each time, I give an answer much longer than what I'm sure they expected. I just can't hold back!

First, what is CSA? Community-supported agriculture is an agreement between farmer and community. CSA members make an agreement to support their farmer, and the farmer agrees to supply them with a share of the season's bounty.  Of course, farming relies on the whims of Mother Nature, so CSA members understand that if the weather doesn't cooperate, food may not be so plentiful. On the other hand, if there's a bumper crop, members reap the benefits along with the farmer.

How does it work? There are meat CSAs and cheese CSAs, but my experience has been with vegetable CSAs, so that's what I'm focusing on here. Different farms organize their CSAs differently. Here are some examples:

When we lived in Maine, we signed up for our first CSA at Little Ridge Farm. We chose one of two pick-up days per week, and went to the farm to get our veggies. Each week, we were told a certain total weight that all our veggies could add up to. It was up to us to weigh everything. Some things (like early tomatoes) had limits, and sometimes there was an extra item.

Now that we live in a less rural area, picking up at a farm isn't as practical, so we appreciate that farms like Kilpatrick Family Farm organize CSA pick ups at farmers markets. Like our farm in Maine, KFF lets you choose the veggies you want from what is available. The only difference is that theirs is done by item, rather than by total weight. KFF also has a required item each week -- usually a veggie that is plentiful.

Some farms package the food in a box each week or tell their members how much of which vegetables they can take. From what I've read, this is actually the more common way CSAs work. I can see the benefits here. The farmer ensures that the crops he has the most of are distributed, and the member has a quicker, simpler pick up. I believe this is the way Denison Farm, The Alleged Farm and Quincy Farm work.

WHY join a CSA? Really this is the most important question, right?

No matter what type of CSA you sign up for the benefits are huge. If getting a weekly supply of the best food possible at a discount, so you can keep your family healthy isn't enough to convince you, here are a few more reasons.

You and your family will try vegetables you've never eaten before. Your farmer is likely to give you recipes and help you learn how to cook the produce you're not familiar with. You might discover that you like rutabaga, parsnips or arugula. You'll get to enjoy garlic scapes in the spring. And, by eating locally grown food, you might find out what a carrot is supposed to taste like -- compared to what you find in the supermarket, there is a difference!

No matter what vegetables you discover, you will know where and how they were grown and who grew them. You will be closer to your food.

By signing up for a CSA, you join a community. Most farms send out weekly newsletters and invite CSAs members to visit and take tours. Some hold special events for their members. Some open their fields to members for pick-your-own berries or other crops. No matter what, you will see the same friendly faces each week and you will very likely form a one-on-one relationship with your farmer.

I'm pretty sure that all of the farms I mentioned, except for Denison Farm, still have shares left for the 2012 summer season. But, from what I hear they're selling fast. So, don't wait. Pick your farm and sign up for a CSA soon.

And, if I haven't convinced you here are some links from around the web where others will tell you how awesome CSAs are.

The Local Harvest , which is a great resources for finding CSAs, farmers markets and other sources of local food, defines CSA.
The members of From Scratch Club each gave their personal accounts of why they are CSA members, and I discovered, after I started writing this morning, they just posted a podcast on the subject.

(Addition): This piece a Grist talks about why CSAs are historical, and should remain, more than should "veggie subscriptions" and keep members connected to farms.

And, at culinate.com, one blogger talks about a different type of CSA, her householder CSA.

I hope to bump into you while picking up my share.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moments that make my heart happy

A few scenes of this pre-spring that have made me smile.

While he was doing this outside ...

I was doing this inside ...

And, yesterday, while he was doing this ...

his feet looked like this ...

I guess I might have extra laundry.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Oh, kohlrabi

                                                                                                         (stock image)
My boy's new favorite vegetable: Kohlrabi.
About two months ago kohlrabi was my new favorite vegetable.
Before this winter, I really didn't know what to do with it. I'm not sure why I didn't ask someone. I'm rarely shy about these things. Instead, I just looked at the odd looking vegetable on the market table and passed it up.
Then, I heard someone suggest cutting it up to eat in salad, or dip in hummus. Really? I thought it was a veggie for cooking. But, I gave it a try.
It really tastes nothing like a cucumber, but somehow I've made it my winter replacement for the cool summer curcubit. Kohlrabi is actually a member of the brassica family -- cousin to broccoli, cabbage and kale. It is crunchy like a radish, but has a cool, mild taste. It's really just plain wonderful.
So, ever since I made this discovery, I've been buying one just about every week. I cut it up to add to my salad, and I eat sticks of it along with my carrot sticks. I've offered some to the boy about a dozen times, but each time he's refused with his usual "yuck," UNTIL ...
Last week, I cut up veggie sticks for him to eat with hummus. Without saying a thing, I snuck a few kohlrabi sticks in the bowl. Lo and behold, that was the first thing he picked out of the bowl! He even asked for more!
And, it wasn't a fluke, he's eaten it again since.
I feel like this is proof that constantly offering a large variety of foods despite his relunctance to eat them, is worthwhile.
In my never-ending challenge to get my boy to eat new foods and get more veggies in his diet ...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Unexpected pride

There are many moments, probably daily, when I'm proud of my boy. Things like when he says "thank you" without prompting, tries a new food or picks up his toys without argument.

Then, there's those really special moments, when I need to celebrate a milestone. Milestones like when he first walked on his own, the first diaper-free day, and learning to swim without assistance warrant calls to Grandma.

On Leap Day, I got to celebrate a moment of pride I wasn't anticipating. How awesome!

I had been feeling badly that the boy doesn't get to paint very often. We made him a really cool easel for Christmas and he's free to use the chalkboard side any time he wants. But, being ridiculously busy, I've been avoiding the mess involved in painting. I decided Tuesday he deserved to explore his creativity and got out the paints.

The photo at the top shows his typical work - colorful blends, but completely abstract.

Here's what he painted the other day.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who sees the trees.

This is the first time he has painted, or drawn anything other than blobs or circles. He says the one with the purple leaves is in another world. No joke. There was no prompting on that. I couldn't believe how proud I was. I couldn't wait for his father to get home so he could share our excitement -- and, he did. And, we did call Grandma.

I will definitely be saving this painting for many, many years.

And, the easel is just waiting for my little artist's next creation.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kids and a sunny day

One of the things that I've always wanted for my boy is for him understand where his found comes from. I need him to know that the supermarket is not the source of what he eats, and, in most cases, shouldn't even be where we get it.

This is one of the reasons I make sure he joins me on my Saturday morning trips to the farmers market. He doesn't see the ultimate source there, but he does see a lot of healthy, real food in one place, along with the people that grow that food.

It's one of the things that motivates me to garden. You can't get much closer to your food than by growing it yourself. And, it's a big reason why I want to raise chickens.

I also bring him berry and apple picking and would like to take as many opportunities as we can to visit farms of all type.

Thanks to the welcoming generosity of David and Liza Porter, and a little cooperation from smiling Mother Nature, we had an amazing visit to Longview Farm on Wednesday morning.

Aside from a short morning walk around Hovey Pond park last week, we haven't spent much time in the fresh air this month. Cold, gray days without snow to brighten things, combined with a busy work schedule, have left me with little motivation to get outdoors.

Then, Saturday, at the Glens Falls Farmers Market, I noticed the chalkboard at the Homestead Artisan's stand said, "Baby goats, schedule your visit." Of course, Bear's three closest friends, their mamas and their siblings would want to join us, and after a few emails it was set.

Although goats don't provide one of our food staples, there really isn't a better way to get kids excited about a farm visit than babies animals of any sort. Besides we do love the chevre, feta and other cheeses that come from the Longview goats, and we've eaten many chickens that were raised there. So, we were going to one of our food sources.

And, we got to enjoy fresh air and sunshine for the first time in too many weeks.

When we arrived at the farm we were welcomed by David, Liza, their part time employee, David, a cat and many chickens. It look just a minute to convince the kids that the cat and the chickens were not the highlight, so we could head to the barns to see the mama goats and the babies that stayed with them.

Buddy, a neutered male, who was bottle fed after he was born last year, craved human attention, and was a bit of a camera hog.

While at the main barn, we also got to meet one of the new babies, but it didn't take long for her mama to miss her and ask for to come back.

After the adults asked many questions, and the kids were sufficiently excited about the kids, we went down to smaller barn to see the bottle babies.
These little guys are a little confused about who their mother is, but we didn't mind.

Each of our kids got to take a turn in the pen with the babies.

Most of them even had a chance to try to feed the goats, which we learned is a bit challenging for three-year-olds. Apparantly, it is not instinctive for the babies to drink their milk so that it goes into the right stomach. If a goat doesn't have its head tilted correctly, the milk will go into the wrong stomach and they will not be able to digest it.

I'm a bit afraid that those goats did get much milk they could digest during that particular feeding. Fortunate for those babies, the Porter's appear to be doting parents, who will certainly make sure their babies get the nourishment they need.

After we were finished playing with the kids, we finally let our children have a little time chasing chickens. And, some eggs were collected.

A couple of the moms were smart enough to ask to purchase eggs, and my boy and I were sent home with a few. He was so excited about collecting and cleaning egg, and putting them right in the carton, he asked if he could have one on the way home in the car. Thankfully, it wasn't too difficult to convince he that we should wait until we got home and could cook the eggs.

To complete our beautiful morning, we had a lunch of the freshest eggs I've ever eaten, scrambled with feta made on the same farm. Aside from raising it yourself, you really can't get closer to your food than that.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Writing again; Getting out; Goals and accomplishments

My first resolution

It's nearly the end of January and I'm finally getting around to making New Year's resolutions. Well, I prefer to say I'm setting goals for the new year. No one keeps resolutions and I don't want to set myself up for failure.

I actually made a list of goals more than a week ago. But, I'm not doing so well with the first one.

I told myself I would blog more regularly. It's not necessarily on the top of my list as far as importance, but I thought I would use it as a tool to keep me on track.

Obviously, on track I am not.

So, I'm going to pare down the goal just slightly. Instead of committing to a posting every day, I'm going to write something every day, but post just once a week. I can do that. Hold me to it friends.

Getting out

I am not good about getting outside during the winter. It's time I stop kidding myself.

I thought I'd do it for my kid. I thought having a dog would push me a little harder in that direction. But, it hasn't even been a cold winter and we haven't been outside to play or go for a walk in nearly two weeks. 

And, much time this week has been spent in pajamas. More specifically, there's me in pj's with a blanket wrapped around me, while Bear plays in a short-sleeved shirt and undies. How that kid isn't cold is a wonder to me.

But, I digress ...

The matter at hand is that we must get some fresh air. The forecast for this weekend doesn't look particularly cold. There are many things I could use as excuses, but nothing that can't leave the family with an hour of outside time.

And to think, in the summer, that would be a minimum per day. Oh, how I long for spring ...


We finally painted the bathroom. Hubby deserves most of the credit here, but I think it's fair to say it was a team accomplishment.

The bathroom has been on the master to-do list since we moved into the house. While that list has grown, the bathroom has moved up the list of priorities. As you live in a place, some things become more tolerable, others become less so. Our bathroom was clearly in the latter category.

Ugly wallpaper border stripped, fresh paint on ceiling and walls, and new light fixtures make our retro bathroom one of the brightest rooms in the house.

I still have curtains to make and some shelving to take care of, but that will go back on the list. 

Shopping for preschool

One of the next things to tackle is finding a preschool for Bear. I'm sure I'm putting way too much thought into it. But, sending my boy to school seems like a major step. So, let the open houses begin.