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Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Year’s Resolutions

I always seem to make them, but never really keep them. Except for a few.

I did keep on track to lose weight and improve my health by eating better and paying attention to foods that triggered allergies. I did get some of the projects done around here, but not as much as I wanted to do.

So, what do I do about 2012, the year where I will turn 60! What should I finish? Do I volunteer more, or take time to travel. Do we expand the garden and grow more year round vegetables? Do I stay in the CSAs or freelance around the markets?

What projects NEED to be done this year? All good questions.

I do resolve to be more creative and expand my culinary boundaries to include more baking, and more ethnic foods outside our European heritage. I do intend to continue being more and more of a locavore, and use up as much processed stuff in the pantry, and not replace it.

I intend to can more things, pick more veggies and fruits, and process them. I need to get a freezer and buy something at the fair, from the 4H’ers. Maybe lamb, or goat, or part of one of the steers or hogs. Our friends’ children raise animals to bring to the auction. We want to support them more by making it worth their efforts.

Is this the year we get the chicken coop? Haven’t made that decision yet, but we are working on it.

I want to build a cold frame. Will I find the time?

We still need to clean out the stuff we accumulated at our jobs, which sits in boxes in the attic and garage. That is a priority.

Who knows what 2012 will bring weather wise, and health wise, that might get in the way of our plans?

But I am optimistic and anxious to do new things including expanding what I do in my volunteering, like geocaching and giving presentations. Another priority. Looks like I have enough to do, and I’ll see how it turns out in my second year of retirement.

Here’s to a Happy New Year!

Dark Days Challenge Week Five Christmas Dinner

I suppose I subscribe to the philosophy when I accept a challenge to go big or go home. Being somewhat crazy, I decided to make Christmas dinner be our dark days meal for the fifth week of the challenge. I am leaving the easier dinners for when I am really running out of vegetables. Besides, I can’t believe the lovely romanesco cauliflower that was in our first Zahradka Farm CSA delivery last week. All ready to roast, it looks just like a Christmas tree, doesn’t it?

Dinner ended up being:
Roasted Cauliflower
Hydroponic tomatoes with goat cheese and basil and balsamic
Stuffed butternut squash
Virginia country ham on sweet potato biscuits
Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay

The biscuits and ham came home with us from my brother’s house, so I do know that the biscuits were made using regular flour, one of the few non-local items in the meal. I just warmed them up in the oven.

The squash were stuffed with a honeycrisp apple, squash I roasted earlier in the week, local black walnuts, local honey, and local butter. The squash were from the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA that just finished before Christmas.

The tomatoes came from the nearest grocery store, but Hummingbird Farms on the Eastern shore of Maryland grows lovely flavorful tomatoes year round in their greenhouses, hydroponically. The cheese was the end of the Firefly Farms chevre log. The basil from Mock’s Greenhouses in Berkeley Springs, WV.

The balsamic is not local, but bought from St. Helena Olive Oil Co., when we went there in 2006, I brought back three bottles of their aged balsamic. This is the last bottle. I need to order their oil and vinegar again, while it is cool enough for them to be shipped without damage. I buy their Napa Valley olive oils by the half gallon.

The wine is one of my absolute favorites from Virginia, Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay. This was the 2008 vintage, the second year of our hot dry summers, and this wine is big and beautiful. It is made in the Burgundian style. Jim Law is a master of terroir, and his wines show his love of the land. If you meet him, he will tell you he is first and foremost a farmer, who happens to grow some of the most amazing grapes on his land that borders the Appalachian Trail near Shenandoah National Park.

Dinner doesn’t need to be fancy. Just flavorful. The wine, the salad, the roasted veggies, and the salty tang of country ham, all came together to make a lovely Christmas dinner for me and my husband. We do cherish the quiet times, far from the rat race we lived through in our journey to retirement. Our first Christmas since he retired, and it was a special one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas at Home

For years, we traveled at Christmas. Not so local relatives, and the trips on snowy highways made us more frantic and less relaxed that we often didn’t enjoy the season totally.

Now, we have slowed down the pace and stay home more. This year I chose to replace the traditional tree with lots of greens, and some special older items not usually displayed. It made it much more relaxed and I had time to bake, and to make gifts for the family. I baked three kinds of cookies this year. Cocoa flavored butter cookies. Coconut butter cookies. Chocolate peanut butter oatmeal bars.

I also deliberately chose local items as much as possible, or failing that, small business produced gifts for the children at my brother’s house. We do a traditional Christmas Eve dinner there with family and friends. He lives about 40 miles away so it is easy to drive down and back the same day.

I really do need to learn how to make my mom’s sugar cookies. They are so thin and crisp. I don’t know how she gets them that way. I never try to make and give these to family as they don’t look or taste as good as hers. Here are her cookies. I didn’t even try this year to do sugar cookies.

I also took the time to find my better half’s favorite holiday treat. Homemade ice cream from Baugher’s. Holiday flavors like candy cane and pumpkin roll. It doesn’t get any better than local foods, friends, family, traditions and Christmas at Home.

Accidental Crockpot Dinner

In my haste to make room in the freezer yesterday, I accidentally left the frozen turkey carcass left over from Thanksgiving out on the side counter opposite the work area in the kitchen. Two hours later I found it, happily defrosting itself and making a puddle on the counter.

So, after dinner, a crockpot soup, I had to adjust my plans for the evening and begin an overnight slow cooking turkey stock. Into the just emptied and cleaned crockpot, I dumped the carcass, partially defrosted. I rummaged around and cut up a few onions, leeks and carrots. Into the pot with assorted dried and fresh herbs from the garden and cupboard. Copious amounts of water, some salt and pepper, and a ten hour low temp setting.

Off to read, then all night long the turkey cooked down to an aromatic rich stock ready for use this morning.

I strained off enough to fill three of my one pint freezer containers for later this winter, put a quart in the little fridge where wine and beer usually co-mingle with whatever doesn’t fit in the kitchen fridge, and added all sorts of veggies to the rich thick soup left in the crockpot. This afternoon I will throw some egg noodles in for the last hour of cooking, and dinner tonight will be turkey noodle soup.

Almost but not quite a Dark Days Dinner for the second time this week. The turkey was local, from Maple Lawn Farm. The carrots, leeks and onions were from the CSA. Herbs from my garden. The egg noodles are from the Shrewsbury Amish market, but aren’t made from local ingredients, so I ended up with a 90% locally sourced meal. If I open a Breaux semillon/chardonnay blend, from Virginia, and defrost some Atwater’s bread, I am pretty much eating a locally produced meal again.

Drowning in CSA’s


Two in the same day. Our fall CSA ended today, and the winter one I found was supposed to start Friday but moved up deliveries to today due to the holiday.

Thankfully, the next delivery is January 6th.

I love Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. The large number of farmers means lots of choices. Today finished the eight week fall offerings. DH carried home almost 30 pounds of veggies.

We got:
Baby bull’s blood beets
Buttercup squash
bag of kale
red cabbage
sweet potatoes
Yukon gold potatoes

Then, our winter CSA with a meat and egg option was delivered to the porch this afternoon. We picked a small share, of six items, and go on line to choose from the ten available.

One dozen eggs
One half free range turkey
cranberry chutney
red potatoes
Spanish onion
Romanescu cauliflower
Tangelos (from a small farm in the south, we will have options to buy citrus during the winter)

I can’t believe how much the CSAs have changed what we eat and how we think about where our food originates. Eating better than we did when we worked and loving the variety of it.

Freezer Foraging

I have been meaning to clean out the freezer for some time. With my delivery this week of my first winter CSA, plus the last pick up of the fall CSA, I will be needing the space.

I love crockpot soups and stews so today I took the opportunity to clean out some items. I found tomato basil sausage from the Amish market in Lancaster, plus some chicken stock, and rosemary olive bread slices left from Atwater’s.

I added the last of the mustard greens and bok Choy from the fridge. And, the last of the frozen plum tomatoes from the summer CSA, when I was drowning in tomatoes. I added a can of diced tomatoes, some canned butter beans, some leftover bacon bits from the freezer, some honey, sage from the garden, salt, pepper, onions, garlic, cinnamon, and a dried chile.

Voila! Beans and greens and sausage soup! It smells heavenly in here, not quite as good as yesterday when I finished the Christmas cookies, but still really fragrant aromas are wafting into the family room as I type.


Dark Days Challenge Week Four

It’s Sunday night. The night I usually cook my local meal for the Dark Days Challenge

I went way out there this week. Making gnocchi with local spelt. My local sources are on my page linked above on the blog.

Heirloom tomatoes with goat cheese, basil, olive oil and balsamic.
Sweet potato gnocchi with maple syrup and sage brown butter.
Maple pork sausage with onions and peppers.
Boordy Reserve Chardonnay.

Besides the salt, pepper, cinnamon, olive oil and balsamic, everything else was local.

Tomatoes and basil from Mock’s Greenhouse. 70 miles
Sausage and butter from South Mountain Creamery. 35 miles
Maple syrup from Patterson’s Farm, PA. 200 miles (yes, outside my 150, but one of the nearest sources of maple syrup to MD)
Sweet potatoes, onions and peppers from LFFC CSA. 100 miles
Goat cheese from Firefly Farms. 140 miles.
Spelt from The Common Market, Frederick MD 20 miles.
Ricotta from Natural by Nature. 100 miles.
Sage from my garden, 10 feet

Spelt was difficult to source, but The Common Market sells it in bulk, as well as in bags from Shiloh Farms. I bought bulk. I can also get it from Atwater’s by buying bags of Daisy, or by mail from Rodale or Small Valley. I saved the postage and bought bulk, even though they don’t know whether each batch is from PA, OH or maybe NY. In my rules, if I can source it locally, I will sometimes substitute if I can’t easily pick up the item. Having it shipped adds greatly to the cost. Same for maple syrup. There is a place in MD that makes it and sells it. Buying it when I am out costs less than ordering and paying for shipping.

The wine is from Boordy and went very well with the gnocchi. I have to admit, the white spelt which is a pastry flour is way finer than wheat flour, and the potatoes were also very fresh and almost melted when baked. I had to greatly increase the amount of flour to make the gnocchi, but they came out beautifully.

The recipe was from Food Network, with my changes to use spelt.
1 1/2 pounds sweet potato, baked in the oven, then peeled and smashed
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Mix together. Add 2 cups of spelt, 1/2 cup at a time. You may need even more spelt as you are rolling out the gnocchi. Form a large ball. Divide into 4 pieces. Put more flour on the board. Get the right consistency by feel. If they are too wet, add more spelt. Keep on the side on a baking sheet. Heat salted water to boiling. Drop in enough at a time not to crowd them. Fish out after 5-6 minutes, and put under a foil tent to stay warm.

In the meantime, make the maple cinnamon sage brown butter. I used 3/4 stick equivalent of my dairy’s butter, 12 sage leaves, 2 TBSP maple syrup, 1 tsp cinnamon.

Bring the butter to a boil in a large pan, add sage and stand back. Stir and continue browning butter, then remove from heat and add cinnamon and maple syrup. Caution: it does foam up quite a bit, so be prepared to stir vigorously. Pour over the gnocchi and the sausages, which were baked in the oven with a little butter, two small onions chopped, and a few of my last CSA peppers.


Lazy Saturday Mornings

Today started out nicely, and then only got better at the Silver Spring Farmer’s Market.

This week will be interesting, and it was nice to have a lazy sleep in day, with a local breakfast, and a trip to the market for apples and greens.

Turns out we got way more than that. But first, breakfast. We have eggs to use, as this week starts my new CSA on Friday that includes eggs. The egg bin needs attention. These are South Mountain Creamery eggs.

Their butter, their eggs, Atwater’s spelt bread and the only non-local items were the salt and pepper.

Then off to the market, where I discovered the wonders of Mock’s Greenhouse fresh produce grown year round in fourteen greenhouses. The heirloom tomatoes just jumped up and called to us so we had to buy some. And, their basil as well. With Firefly Farms goat cheese, these will be tomorrow’s appetizer for my weekly Dark Days Meal.

I know there will be many more visits to the markets where they sell these lovely tomatoes.

Simple Pleasures

Since I started cooking from scratch, I have been amazed at how much better I feel.

I am allergic to some preservatives. They make me sneeze. Finding out that I can make my own salad dressings and toppings for food has made my life so much better.

Two recent new recipes.

Horseradish Cream
Balsamic Vinaigrette

Both made with Greek style honey yoghurt

Horseradish and yoghurt. Great on beef.

Balsamic. Dijon Mustard. Soy sauce. Olive Oil. Yoghurt. All mixed up in a jam jar. Instant dressing. Picking out how much of each is based on my tastes. Balsamic and yoghurt are the dominant ingredients.

It’s Not Just Dirt

One of my favorite lessons we teach on our field trips. Showing children where their food comes from. Watching the wonder when they smell oregano in the herb garden, or telling them pizza isn’t possible without soil.

Dough? Needs wheat. Tomatoes? Grow in soil. Cheese? Comes from milk from cows, who eat grass grown in soil.

For us, the work necessary to keep our soil rich and productive starts with composting and rotating crops. I have been working the soil in our backyard. I am in the midst of planning next year’s gardens. What do I put where? I really need to move the fenced garden because my trees are too tall now, and shade two plots.

I need expansive areas to put in melons and squashes, but I also need fenced areas for tomatoes. And potatoes. Winter is planning time.