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Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Sauce Boss

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That would be me. Trying to perfect my tomato sauce. I would never have thought ten years ago to make my own sauce. Tomato sauce in a jar or can. Testing Bertolli versus Barillo versus Classico. Yep, that was me circa 1990s.

Now, I make it almost from scratch. I may use some pureed tomatoes from a can or the Pomi box. Depends on what I am doing.

Yesterday I was in the mood for spaghetti. I decided to raid the freezer and cook up some sauce.

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Blanched tomatoes from the CSA. I know they will throw off lots of water. These are basic tomatoes. Blanched, peeled, seeded and frozen. To make good sauce from these, you need to thicken it. Yesterday I used some paste and a can of Muir Glen organic tomato puree. I wanted to make a thick rich chunky meat sauce.

I started with two links of Boarman’s Italian sausage. One sweet. One hot. Put in the pot with onions and peppers. Onions from Breezy Willow. Peppers from Roots.

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The sausage is cooked in olive oil. A little garlic powder and Italian herbs.

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The frozen tomatoes are put in another pan with more garlic powder and herbs. You need to do it this way so you can drain off all of the water from the tomatoes. Here is what the tomato pan looks like at the end of the process. I had drained almost two inches of water out of it while I was working.

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Note that if you had tried to make tomato sauce with frozen whole tomatoes, it would have been extremely watery. Here is a shot of the sauce pan, with the tomato puree, the sausage mix, and as I was adding tomatoes from the other pan.

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This is the type of thick meaty tomato sauce that is perfect for lasagna, or as a filling for ravioli or shells.

The finished sauce.

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Meat sauce this thick can be thinned with a little pasta water. I took some of it and thinned it out and served it over spaghetti. The rest will be used with some tiny shells as a lunch later this week.

I didn’t take pics of the dinner plate, but I want to show the killer wine we served with it. A 2002 Barboursville Barbera Reserve.

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After all, I need to uphold my locavore image. Local wine in an Italian style. Ten years old. Lovely. As for making the sauce, much of it was local. It was almost completely organic. The pasta was organic, whole grain. Hitting most of those Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical (SOLE) buttons.


The Competition for Dinner

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In keeping with the bird theme this week, I am noticing that the backyard predators are becoming patio and deck predators. They must be running out of field mice, voles and other rodents down in the meadow.

Friday the young Cooper’s hawk decided to hang out in the maple tree off our patio and watch the happenings. What is interesting about this predator, the birds don’t seem to care about him. He is looking for bigger prey usually. While he was there the juncos just remained in the burning bush.

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Now today, the sharp shinned hawk felt like making the bird bath his perch in case any small birds were inclined to show up. He didn’t even flinch as I took at least a dozen pictures of him through the patio door. He was about 25 feet away from our door.

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He causes the most havoc around here. Swoops in low and at high speed and the birds scatter. Occasionally one hits a window in their panic and he gets an easy meal. It is the trade off here. No cover in the winter on the deciduous trees and bushes, so the birds are more vulnerable.

I do know this year the two of them are doing a very good job at keeping mice out of the house. The population must be smaller due to their constant hunting in the garden and the meadow. I have only trapped one this winter. Usually I have at least half a dozen squeezing up through the openings to the crawl space under the washer and dryer. We have to have traps in the laundry room all winter. This year either the warmer weather, or the presence of two predators is keeping them at bay.

It took me a while to get used to them when we moved here. Being up close and personal to acipitors is just part of the whole experience in this rural setting.

Celebrating the Super Bowl

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I knew somewhere I had pictures of a raven. It took a while to find them. They were taken five years ago on our trip to wine country. Who knew? I had to fly to San Francisco to take pictures of the Baltimore mascot.

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While out there, we took a ride down the coast and found quite a few birds. Seeing a raven up close, and seeing my crows who live in the yard, the difference becomes noticeable. The raven featured in my header through the rest of this week has that shaggy throat, is very large and has the slight difference in beak curvature.

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Compare them to my backyard crows.

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Now, back to deciding where we are going and what we are making for the Super Bowl. I do know there will be venison chili, from my stash of venison in the freezer.


A Perfect Place for a Winter Hike

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We went hiking today. In perfect weather. We were shedding vests and jackets and loving the temperatures that climbed into the 60s this afternoon. All the snow has melted. Except for a few places where the sun doesn’t touch. Out at the Howard County Conservancy, our last winter hike took place this morning.

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The strollers got to find the first skunk cabbage up near the East Branch on the Conservancy grounds. Also found a few last milkweed pods. And listened to the woodpeckers up in the trees.

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The other “fitness hikers” took off behind Ann, their leader to find the champion tulip poplar on the property. There is a geocache located there for those into discovery using the GPS units.

We watched them coming down the hills on their way back to the Conservancy.

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The birds were out in force today, flitting from trees to bushes. I startled half a dozen bluebirds, some Carolina wrens, lots of sparrows, a few woodpeckers and nuthatches. We heard the pileated woodpeckers but couldn’t find them. They were hiding, not coming to visit like they did for me last November.

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After our hike, we went to hear Ned Tillman talk about the geology of Mt. Pleasant, and then enjoyed soup and salad for lunch. Lunch provided by one of the supporters of the Conservancy, REI. The Conservancy knows how to keep their volunteers happy. Let us roam around outdoors, come in for some enriching lectures and feed us well.

Here’s to more time spent enjoying the scenery.


Decisions, Decisions

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Summer CSA decisions. The Sandy Spring site went live today for summer sign ups. I have been considering a switch as I am doing the early bird spring Breezy Willow CSA, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the summer.

Sandy Spring has changed what they offer. They now offer a 60% share for those who don’t want all the veggies we get in a full share. No having to split a box anymore. For me, the drawback of that share is this simple fact stated on the web site. No exotic veggies in the 60% share.

If you aren’t into things like salsify, horned melon, black radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, tatsoi, and a myriad of other items, you now can get what I call plain Jane veggies and fruit. No strange herbs either.

We signed up today. Mainly because we like the challenge of strange veggies. I did a boatload of research before deciding. Looked at blog pictures, and read what was offered elsewhere in Howard County. In the end, the challenge won out.

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It does mean I have two overlapping weeks between Breezy Willow and Sandy Spring. I may be taking things to the food bank. Or, doing a fair amount of freezing items.

I still will be buying Breezy Willow eggs, meat and ice cream at the farm or the market. I decided against fruit, egg and cheese shares from Sandy Spring, and will buy those items at the Howard County farmers markets, and at the farms themselves.

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Besides, it looks like we won’t have the big garden this year. I need to build a new one that will get sunshine. Our current garden is now almost completely shaded. That means, buying tomatoes to freeze.

It is time to start planning for summer. Many of the local CSAs fill up quickly. Check out what is offered, and think about bringing locally sourced foods into your home.

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Eating Locally: Foraging in the Freezer

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It is Sunday night. Time to post about our winter challenge. Cook a meal using mostly local foods, in the middle of winter. My cyber community linked on my food challenge page is doing OK. Not as much posting as we used to do, but people are still into sourcing their food from near their homes.

I went shopping in my freezer this weekend.

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Oven dried tomatoes from my CSA this summer. Beef broth made earlier this month. Lovely beef short ribs from a trip to Breezy Willow a week ago. Add to it some celery from Olney market, carrots (not pictured) from Zahradka, an onion from England Acres and a can of organic black beans. Put it all in a baking dish. Add seasoning and olive oil.

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Put it all in the oven on the slow cook setting for five hours. Somewhere near the end, put a loaf of Stone House Rustic Italian bread, out of the freezer, into the other oven to defrost and crisp up.

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Serve it all with local wine and local butter. It looks wonderful, doesn’t it?

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Mission accomplished. Another almost totally local meal in the dead of winter. The beans weren’t local. Neither were the seasonings. Other than that, it is a tribute to what you can do around here with farm stands, markets and the contents of your freezer.


The Chesapeake Watershed

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Two things this week reminded me of this amazing book by Ned Tillman.

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The first is the wellness hike and lecture series for volunteers at the Howard County Conservancy. Ned is the speaker, speaking on the geology of Mt. Pleasant this Tuesday the 29th at 11 am. For all volunteers, or someone really interested in becoming a volunteer, this is the final walk and lecture. Next month volunteer naturalist training begins for the spring field trips.

This lecture, by Ned, will be followed by lunch. Each of us volunteers is bringing some sort of dessert. The Conservancy staff is making us lunch. Truly, this type of volunteering is good for me, and bad for my diet.

The second reminder with respect to the health of the Chesapeake was seeing the story about the proposed stormwater management fee, a bill to be introduced at the February county council session. I have mixed feelings about this approach. If the money collected is actually used to clean up problems created. Those caused by over development by residential and commercial developers with minimal requirements to be responsible stewards of the land. If so, it would be a good thing.

But, with all the reimbursements, credits, bureaucracy involved, it probably won’t have much of an impact. Yee haw, plant a tree. Get a reimbursement. Buy a rain barrel, get a reimbursement. Really?

Bandaids aren’t going to solve this problem. I lived thirty years in Columbia. Face it. They used the streams as the run off collectors. Our old development was built in the 80s. The storm ponds overflowed every hard rain, into an overflow system that went right down into the streams below Rock Coast Road. The ponds weren’t large enough. Trade offs. Large enough storm water collection, or more houses. Guess what won?

Some unintentional issues I saw while reading this bill. Issues from a west county (don’t live in a development) perspective. The GIS data they will be using to assess us for our impervious surfaces doesn’t appear to be very accurate out here. For example, this is a “driveway” on my property. The data base shows about a hundred feet of driveway behind our home.

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Now, maybe twenty years ago it was a gravel drive back to the meadow but it has been reclaimed. And, the data doesn’t show my shed. Nor does it show most of the out buildings all over this part of the county. From a management standpoint, not having the data there means more labor to create it all, and to verify it. None of the homes in the new development up the road from us are even in the database. I know there are at least a dozen homes occupied up there. The database shows forest. It seems this could become a logistical nightmare.

Add to that the fact that all the runoff from my house and our driveway stays on our property. I use downspout extenders to water my flower gardens from roof runoff. The driveway drains into our back yard and is collected in a depressed area just past my vegetable garden surrounded by mature trees. The river runs there every time it rains or snow melts.

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This is the “river” passing the herb garden on its way to my vegetable garden. All the water from our driveway heads back to that depressed area in the meadow. It is a natural bowl. We have another one in the front corner of the property. Everything from the shared driveway ends up down there. More than half the time you can’t run the tractor there as the water collects under the 100 year old trees. Sixty feet tall. Permanent shade down there. Sometimes a real wetland.

There are no curbs. There are no drains. We live on a well. The nearest stream is over a half mile down the road, with eight homes, meadows and pine forests between us and the stream. But, if it makes a difference, I won’t squawk about paying $69.20 a year. That amount is based on our impervious footprint, with no credits or reimbursements, because our mitigation efforts to keep precious water on our land were already done.

We need to change lots of things we do to keep the Bay healthy. Stop pretending we live on the 18th green at Pebble Beach, and keep the chemicals off the grass. Take care of our cars and trucks so they don’t leak oil and fluids all over the streets where rain washes the debris right into the storm drains. Ultimately into the Bay.

Read Ned’s book sometime. It is really enlightening. But, can we do better when it comes to solving the stormwater management problem?


Wheat Berries

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In my 60@60 challenge, one of my categories was new proteins. I decided to buy some wheat berries at Wegmans. In the bulk food aisle. They are high in protein and fiber. And, they are chewy.

After buying them, we had wheat berry “risotto” at Bistro Blanc at the cellar dinner. Marc, the chef at Bistro Blanc, told us be sure to toast the wheat berries first.

I searched around on the internet to find a recipe. Then, never really followed it. I pretty much winged it based on my interpretation of risotto. I did remember to toast them, after they had been soaked overnight.

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Into the oven they went, and since there was more than a cup, the rest went into the refrigerator, destined to become a salad later this weekend.

For the risotto, I started with scallions and mushrooms in olive oil. Added the wheat berries to the pan. After they got all happy with the olive oil and veggies, added a cup of white wine. There were also six cups of low sodium chicken broth on the stove to use in this recipe.

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It took 45 minutes of adding broth and stirring occasionally to get to the final product. At the end, I grated a little pecorino into it. All finished it looked like this, with salmon and roasted veggies. Brussels sprouts and romanesco bought from Zahradka at the farmers event last Sunday.

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Did I mention they are chewy? Not what you expect from risotto, but really tasty. A meal this hearty required a big white wine, or a light red. We chose to go with a big white. Linden 2009 Hardscrabble Vineyard Chardonnay. A huge white wine. Almost as “chewy” as the wheat berry risotto.

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Cross another item off my list for becoming sixty years old. This meal was a definite winner. Oh, by the way, the Linden can last a decade. It is that big of a white wine.


My Love-Hate Relationship with Snow

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It is considerably colder outside today than it has been in quite a while. And, on top of all else, it has snowed about an inch. It’s about the same as it was the day after Christmas.

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Just a dusting. Enough to delay the schools so the buses can safely navigate after they treat the roadways. I hate the dustings of snow in really cold weather, when the sun comes out. It doesn’t go away and it becomes black ice, treacherous to walk and drive on.

Since I don’t have to get up at oh dark thirty anymore (the proper military shorthand, and not that stupid movie title), it doesn’t bother me much when it snows. Usually it melts before you have to deal with it. Today, though, it is bitter cold. I can look at this as a good thing, as finally some of these nasty flu and cold germs will hopefully die. When it doesn’t get cold enough, the colds and flu bugs linger on.

Additionally, the nasty little bugs that thrive in our bushes and trees will vanish as well. Good things for my plants, and our friends’ vineyards.

I just wish I didn’t have to clean off the car to go out later. Yes, we have a garage. It is the home of the snow thrower, and the tractor. The shed has the materials for the radio tower in it. Bolts, masts, coax cable. Tower base. All those things in the place the tractor belongs.

As for the snow thrower, it has to occupy one space for the winter. You don’t want to be digging your way to the shed when this happens.

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our welcome in winter

As I said, the snow is just a nuisance for a little while around here. Today it is sunny and lovely to see it sparkling. I do hope we don’t get more tomorrow though. I have things I want to get done.

Tonight we will make a cozy dinner, and try out a new grain for risotto. I will see how it goes and post about another notch in that 60@60 challenge.

Highlights from the Meet the Farmers Event

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Sometimes the more you worry, the better the result. I couldn’t have expected the large turnout and the enthusiasm from last Sunday’s Conservancy program. Everywhere you looked there were people enjoying the day, talking and buying and signing up for more information.

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The doors weren’t open long before many people started arriving. A steady stream for almost an hour. Over 130 people arrived and many stayed for the panel discussion. In the picture above, Denise Sharp of Sharp’s at Waterford Farm had many people buying her out of the fresh kale and cilantro she brought, and checking out the gourds, the sauces and the fresh rosemary bushes.

There were six farms there Sunday. About 50% of those I contacted. With the success of this event, we may be talking in the program committee to do other similar things in the future. I started out with a small group just to gauge the interest. Close to 150 in the room including the dozen farm representatives, some volunteers, board members, and some of the farmer’s families. I think we can call this a good day.

The people were lining up to get Bowling Green Farm Cheese.

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Breezy Willow and Love Dove were getting lots of interest in their CSAs, and I saw quite a few people going out with Breezy Willow fresh eggs. Also, as I said in my post about Game Day, we got some gorgeous fresh veggies from Zahradka. Martha Clark and Nora over in their area also had lots of interest in their programs, and in buying their beef. I couldn’t get a clear shot of them due to the number of people all around the room.

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The panel discussion was lively. Lots of these farms here Sunday are being run by the younger generation. They were all enthusiastic about what they are doing. Two of them are leaders in the Howard County farmers market planning for 2013. Lots of really good ideas of things to make the markets bigger and better. We can’t wait.

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The panel above. Mitzi Jones, Bowling Green Farm; Casey Caulder Todd, Breezy Willow Farm; John Dove, Love Dove Farm; George Zahradka, The Zahradka Farm; Nora Crist, Clarks Elioak Farm; and Denise Sharp, Sharp’s at Waterford Farm.

A wonderful way to spend a day.