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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Winter CSA Week Eight

What was on the front porch today?

The cooler had a great surprise in it. A chicken. From the Zahradka farm. Free range. No hormones or antibiotics. It has been squeezed into the out of control freezer destined for the crockpot sometime next week.

This week I asked for and received:
1 large yellow onion
sweet potatoes

Everything looks good, and has been cleaned for storage. Menu planning is in full swing.


Out of the Ground at 4 …

… on the table by 6.

Micro-greens from Sharp’s at Waterford Farm. A wonderful place in southwest HoCo. Denise Sharp gives talks about farming and takes visitors on a tour with a history lesson. Worth the time to do, if you get the chance. I was there helping a friend set up lunch for the Howard Legacy Leadership Institute of the Environment (HoLLIE).

I buy plants from the farm. My chrysanthemums came from there. In the fall, we go there to get pumpkins. They sell plants commercially and at the greenhouses in the spring and fall. The greens are from their new high tunnel, and since it never stayed cold long enough, they never died back. She encouraged us to take some home since they would be dug up soon to put in the spring seeds. I certainly enjoyed these for dinner that night with honey mustard dressing.

Also at the farm, the Howard Bird Club gets permission to hike there on a Sunday to find waterfowl, eagles, migrating birds, and owls. Last year we found two northern bob whites walking down the dirt road next to the tall grasses. It had been years since anyone saw them wild in this area.

Kevin Heffernan took this picture which is now featured on the Howard Bird Club photo pages. His three bob white pictures featured there are the only recorded pictures the club has published in their photos taken on field trips by members.

This week the group with Denise walked back one of the old dirt roads and learned some of the history of the farm. The lovely old house on the hill, which is one of those farmhouses around here that just kept growing and adapting to the family’s needs is the sort of place that brings back memories to me, memories of my great grandparents farm beyond the Liberty Reservoir, where they farmed from the end of the 19th century until they had to sell and move in with my great aunt and her family.

When the greenhouses open in April I will be there looking for some heirloom tomato plants. For those who live in Howard County, this farm is one of the really interesting places to visit. If not in the spring, the corn maze and pumpkin patches in the fall are worth the trip down Route 97 to Jennings Chapel Road.


Wine and Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. The cynical side of me considers it a Hallmark holiday, where much money is spent on cards. We don’t do cards. Just like the advent of digital cameras impacted film, and the progression to ebooks is affecting book stores, and newspapers and magazines fall one after another, it is only a matter of time until cards in the mail disappear as well.

But the point of this post is “What did we do for Valentine’s Day?”

Wine and chocolate.

More of the first and less of the last. I try to limit the amount of chocolate in the house, so just a taste is what I want. Not a box full of empty calories.

This fit the bill. Just enough to enjoy, and the wine lasted two nights. 15.9% alcohol will make it last more than one sitting. I have to thank Les Amis du Vin, the predecessor of Taster’s Guild, for introducing us to Biale Zins. Big Zins. With interesting names like Black Chicken. For a trip down memory lane, we reminisced about Yogi Barrett and the wine tastings at the old Chez Fernand, where we first tasted Biale wines. A piece of HoCo loco trivia. The names of the restaurants where Fernand worked. Where was Papillon? Chez Fernand? It also had us to trying to remember the name of the restaurant when he was in Baltimore after the fire in Ellicott City. Then returning to Ellicott City with Tersiquels.

This wine is from 2002. It is a Lodi appellation, from Spenker Vineyard. High in alcohol yet not with that burn that high alcohol wines sometimes contain. Perfect with a chili infused dark chocolate.


Eating Locally for Valentine’s Day, in the Dark Days Challenge

Maybe I should title this post, why I can’t wait for the Columbia Wegman’s to open. I will be going out to dinner even less when specialty items are right down the road. (OK, 15 miles but who’s counting?)

Sunday night is the night we relax and have a great meal. And, since my husband teaches on Monday nights, plus we are not crazy enough to try and go out on Valentine’s Day, I decided to do our Valentine’s Dinner on Sunday. For me, as an avid cook of real food using local ingredients, I love to find great inspirations to build a meal around.

Our trip to Wegman’s Friday found us that inspiration, wild caught Chesapeake Bay rockfish. Our rockfish are really striped bass and are a best choice on the Monterey Aquarium Seafood list. It is advised though not to eat large amounts of fish that could contain mercury, so this is one of those “eat occasionally” seafood choices.

The morning after I brought it home, I put together a marinade and placed it all in a plastic bag for 24 hours. The marinade is not local. It is one of the few non-local items on the menu. I used St. Helena Olive Oil and some leftover white wine (Bota box pinot grigio) plus cilantro from Wegman’s, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

This lovely Bibb lettuce, from Mock’s Greenhouse in Berkeley Springs WV and bought at Wegman’s as well, is the basis for the salad.

We usually find Mock’s greens at the Silver Spring Freshfarm Farmer’s Market, and we were happy to see more than one item of theirs located in the produce section at the Frederick Wegman’s.

The salad was made from this lettuce plus baby beets from our Zahradka Farm CSA, and Mountain Top Bleu Cheese from Firefly Farms. Both of these sources are on our local source page. I used Catoctin Mountain Orchard’s peach vinaigrette for the dressing. I stocked up at Catoctin in December since they take a very long break in the winter and don’t return until spring. I know not all the ingredients in their dressings are local, but the peaches are theirs.

I baked two small sweet potatoes from the CSA delivery, and served them with South Mountain Creamery butter. Sauteed a mess of collard greens in TLV Tree Farm bacon with onion and garlic from the CSA, and plated it all with the baked rockfish. The rockfish was baked in olive oil with a couple of pats of South Mountain butter placed on top at the end to melt.

Dinner was served with a Glen Manor 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Jeff White used to work for Jim Law at Linden, and his sauvignon blancs are lovely. They have that citrusy note. This wine was big enough to stand up to that cheese as well. We always eat our salads after our dinner, almost as a palate cleanser and the salad went well with the wine. You had to have the fish before the cheese kicked in. That mountain top cheese from Firefly is intense.

All in all, it was a really nice meal, for a fraction of the cost of going out. $20 for the wine, $20 for the fish, and everything else from the weekly CSA deliveries plus freezer and pantry. I like splurging on good ingredients and good wine and making a celebratory meal like this. Less stress. Easy to cook. Really it is easy to cook these things. They just take time. Sundays for us are the perfect night to enjoy the results of my hobby.


Just Add Water …

… and once it dips below freezing, the parade of birds finds their way to our feeders and heated bird bath.

I looked out this morning in the sub freezing temps and found that my bluebirds were back and papa was on the bird bath. As I grabbed my camera, a new visitor never seen in our yard came along with friends. Papa bluebird wasn’t impressed.

After establishing himself as king of the bird bath, he proceeded to drink and leave. In the meantime, the cedar waxwings hung out in the burning bush next to the bird bath, the local bird hangout off my patio.

Once the coast was clear, they started in.

This was now their spa, with nice warm fresh water right next to an entire row of trees with berries, and coniferous trees for cover. Hopefully, they will hang around like the bluebirds are.

I was told repeatedly that water is the most important thing you can provide birds in the winter, particularly when the temps hit the teens. Today is a busy day off our patio. One more picture — take offs and landings anyone?


Snow and Chili and Other Ramblings

It snowed last night. Not enough to make it difficult to get around, but enough to weigh down the branches and send the birds into overdrive. They descend on the feeders and bird bath in greater numbers when it snows. This is a light snow, which is already melting this afternoon. And, it didn’t even accumulate under the trees.

It is chili weather. I always make chili when it snows. Today was no exception so the crockpot is bubbling along with venison black bean chili in it. It is the last of my neighbor’s ground venison mix that he gave us last fall. I need to catch up with another friend and see if I can split some venison with them. They bow hunt to thin the herds on a few of the large farms around here. I will be serving the chili with one of our favorite local beers, Flying Dog. They are up in Frederick, MD. This chili was made by browning the venison with onion and green and red peppers, then dumping it all in the crockpot with seasonings, black beans, plum tomatoes, and a box of organic black bean soup. I will thicken it up with cornstarch before it is done.

I really need to get a chest freezer since I am now getting offers for sharing a side of beef, and a good friend of my husband is sending us lamb pictures, of all of the babies his ewes are having. He is priming us to make our first purchase this August.

Since their children are in 4H, they will have lamb and pigs at the Howard County Fair for auction this summer. This is the first year we will be bidding for at least lamb, and maybe split a pig with friends. We went last year and watched. Really interesting to see the care put in to raising these animals by the members of the 4H clubs in the county.

If we change how we buy our meats, making lamb, pork and beef as bulk purchases, it will be one more step I am making in the direction of moving from supermarket foods to locally sourced foods for more of what we eat. It still won’t keep me from craving and finding ethnically diverse and exotic foods to make, but it is changing me from using packaged foods, to making real food from scratch.

Seven years after moving, we are more in tune with what is available all around us. We hear the rooster from the coop down the road. He crows off and on all day long. On those quiet weekend mornings, I hear the cows across the hills from us.

Our other neighbor raised goats for a while. They used to get loose and run through our meadow. They have since moved but I still remember trying to chase them away from our garden.

As I sit here watching it flurry while the sun is out, I think how much I love being out here in an area that still has those little things that make me smile. Time to go check on the chili.


Winter CSA Week Seven

We are back to a Friday delivery. I did have the cooler out, thankfully, for the eggs and the beef. This week I got the makings of soups, greens and stews, and some oranges from the Florida partner farms.

The carrots are huge, and like all winter carrots that we have found, they have a sweetness due to the starch to sugar conversion associated with cold weather growing. Something new I learned in my earliest forays into gardening in spring and fall.

This week’s celery is the largest we have received so far, and the best texture. These veggies are getting into their stride, so to speak. Destined for a soup next week with some beef from Boarman’s and the carrots and huge white onions from a Baugher’s visit a few weeks back.

Since the weather turned cold, and it snowed last night, more soups are coming on the menu. The cauliflower will go into soup, same with potatoes. I love soup and bread for dinner when it is cold.


Eating Locally Hasn’t Been All That Difficult

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Here we are, I believe on Week Eleven of the “Dark Days Challenge“, where over 100 of us from across the US, with one or two from Canada and the UK, are trying to see if we can make one meal a week using ingredients sourced from 150 miles or less from where we live. We have exceptions like spices, oils, chocolate and coffee. Plus, whatever we declared before we started. I will use locally produced items that may contain ingredients like flour or baking powder that aren’t local. Atwater’s bread is one of those sources.

So far, every week I have been able to source and use local items to make at least one meal. I finally reached the repetitive stage in this week, the eleventh one. I did an omelet for dinner, not much different than my frittata of a few weeks ago.

Finding a CSA that delivers all winter, and having numerous markets open year round, has made this fairly simple. Silver Spring, Tacoma Park and Dupont Circle all stay open year round. Zahradka farm provides home delivered veggies, fruit, meat, eggs, bread, and specially ordered items using an online weekly form. After picking which options you want for the 18 weeks, and pay in advance, we just sit back and take delivery weekly.

For this meal, the inspiration was a package of bacon from TLV Tree Farm in Glenelg, bought from Jamie this past year at the Fall Fest at the Howard County Conservancy in October and put away in my freezer with other goodies like a brisket and sausages. I defrosted it to use for Tuesday’s omelet and for Southern greens I will be making this weekend when my CSA arrives with collard greens. I admit, belonging to a CSA means you have to plan meals.

The baby Swiss cheese from a recent visit to South Mountain Creamery along with their milk and unsalted butter is going to be used for this 5 egg omelet. I am getting my biweekly delivery of eggs this coming weekend from Zahradka Farm CSA so I needed to use up some of the ones from last month. The spinach is from the CSA as well. The mushrooms I picked up at Boarman’s. They are labeled as from our favorite local source, Kennett Square PA. I get these mushrooms most of the spring and fall from the Sandy Spring CSA that delivers to Columbia and to the Conservancy.

Come this May will mark our second year with the cooperative of 70-80 organic farmers around Lancaster, including Mother Earth mushrooms. Until then, though, I am eating lots of greens, onions, potatoes, leeks, chard, cauliflower and broccoli. Eating seasonally is something many of us stopped doing when year round veggies from all over the world came into our chain supermarkets.

Taking this challenge has brought me back to simple cooking, fresh foods and decreased allergies. I am glad I did it.

On to the omelet, I cut up some bacon, browned it in the pan, added the veggies and mushrooms, then poured in the egg and milk mixture.

The finished product fell in pieces when I was trying to serve it so there are no dinner pictures.

We poured a glass of Linden Chardonnay from VA and buttered some some Atwater’s Bread, making this a completely local meal except for the salt and pepper.

A source that I have relied upon to tell me where to find local foods is the book Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass. I bought mine at Black Ankle vineyards last year, and I have seen it at Baugher’s Market. Besides the great recipes, there are pages of local resources in the back, a great place to find farms, artisans and markets in the state.


It May Be Winter, But There’s Lots Going On!

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I honestly am not sure how I found time to work. I have so many things happening this month, and places I want to go.

The Howard County Conservancy has two events this month, one this Saturday and one on the 26th. The Howard County Bloggers are having a blogtail hour in Columbia on the 13th. The 14th is Valentine’s Day and we are wandering down to Bistro Blanc for an after dinner drink, if we can get in.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is February 17-20.

I am volunteering to set up for an event at Sharp’s Farm for the Howard Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment.

Breaux Vineyards in VA has their annual Samedi Gras event on the 18th. And, we are meeting friends for Fireside Friday at Black Ankle one of these Fridays if we can fit it in.

First up for us, going to the Conservancy on the 11th to see how to worm compost. Squirmy Wormy Worms That Work: Kitchen Garbage to Top Soil – with Barb Schmeckpeper, a retired researcher in human and medical genetics, Howard County Master Gardener and environmental volunteer, who loves to talk to kids of all ages about the wonder of the natural world. Dr Barb Schmeckpeper has been doing this for many years – and she and her grandkids have a lot of fun with it! The Conservancy event page is here.

Then, Monday night I will be meeting some of the long time Howard County Bloggers in Columbia to get to know others who blog locally. It should be an interesting evening, as I have lived here 40 years almost, but spent most of my life commuting to DC.

Doing my thing counting the birds in our yard and meadow for the annual Backyard Bird Count next weekend. The habitat that I so carefully created and have nurtured has given me dozens of visits. My highest count one year was over a hundred birds, thanks to a flock of geese who landed in the adjoining fields behind our house and my neighbor. We routinely get more than twenty different species here. It’s easy to register and send in a count. Click the link above and get started.

On the 26th, we are going to see a truly amazing lady, Twig George, talk about Life with her mom, who wrote over 100 children’s books including the famous My Side of the Mountain. Twig herself is an author, writing children’s books as well. This family event at the Howard County Conservancy promises to be a great one. Learning more about nature and the environment are priorities for me in retirement. I spent too long as a bureaucrat pushing paper and now take every opportunity to get out and experience new things.

Who says retirement is boring? Certainly not us.


Finishing Out a Dark Days Week with Sweets

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This week I attempted to reduce the clutter in my fridge by cooking as many local dinners as possible, and using small business or organic items if I didn’t have local ones. For the most part, I made it.

My first report

Sunday Dinner

Followed by:

Three days including a grilling day

I am happy to say I made it through the rest of the week as well. Thursday night we finished up the leftovers from the Sunday night pasta meal, augmented with an organic roasted red pepper sauce made from Pacific soup, thickened with a touch of local flour and some red wine. Forgot to take pics.

Friday and Saturday the weather changed and I fell back on using the crockpot.

Friday I made greens with chorizo bought at Dupont Circle Market in December from Cedarbrook Farm in WV, and a huge sweet potato from Baugher’s farm stand. The collard greens were from the CSA, and the carrots and chard from the Silver Spring market. My teeny little dried peppers. Onion – CSA

The chorizo was browned on the stove before placing it on top the veggies in the crockpot. It came out really nice, spicy but not overwhelming.

Finally, Dark Days Dinner with Sweet Ending — a mini-challenge to make something sweet for Valentine’s Day, even though we aren’t there yet. Not a huge sweets fan, me, but my husband is. I decided to make a sort of peanut “brittle” using Virginia peanuts bought at the Common Market. I roasted them with a coating of walnut oil and salt, then added them to a pan of local honey with pepper. Poured them out on a plate and put them in the freezer. Enjoyed them last night while watching a movie.

As for the dinner, it was homemade chicken soup in the crockpot. All local except for the egg noodles. They are from the Amish Market in Shrewsbury, bulk, made in PA but not guaranteeing the source of the flour. Chicken from South Mountain Creamery. Turkey stock from my freezer, made with my Thanksgiving turkey. Carrots, onion, celery all from Zahradka Farm CSA.

I forgot to take pics again, but here are the leftovers ready for the fridge.

It was served with Atwater’s rosemary bread and Blue Ridge Dairy butter, and a Linden Chardonnay.

Now, this week I need to work on getting the fridge under control. No buying of anything but milk and bread.

And, I need to get rid of my husband’s water pitcher. Boy, is that puppy in sad shape with dings and marks. Wonder how old it is?

All in all, a good week of eating locally and cooking from scratch. Of course, being retired helps.