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Monthly Archives: December 2015

They Say It’s My Birthday

Or at least it was, yesterday.

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My better half even remembered to get the card, the flowers and a tiny box (just the right size, 6 truffles) of chocolates. He is pretty good about remembering dates, and almost as good at getting the little things that make it special.

Sixty three years old. I have to admit, I think there is some truth to how quickly the years seem to pass as you get older. I am amazed at how fast I feel that 2015 went by.

We have lived in this house almost 11 years. I realized it is the second longest time I spent at one address, in my entire life. The 23 years in our Columbia townhouse is significant. I wonder if I will spend 12 more years here, until I am 75. Who knows? It certainly is peaceful and lovely out here.

I grew up a city girl. Twenty two years. Then, 30 years in suburban Columbia. Commuting elsewhere after the first year of living there. Eleven years now a rural route resident.  Almost half that time as a retiree.

Reflections of why we did what we did in life. And speculation about what we want to do in the future. Those things always seem to come up on birthdays and anniversaries.

A few highlights of our dinner and evening.

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A very simple appetizer. Homemade bagel crisps (easy, just thinly slice a Wegmans plain bagel, then toast it). Served with Firefly Farms chevre and housemade smoked salmon from Bardines Smokehouse in western PA. The smoked salmon was picked up on one of our day trips. To Petrolia PA to buy some tower accessories for my husband. He gets to go look for radio stuff. I get to stop at someplace to indulge my locavore and small business habit.

We were actually there looking for fresh kielbasa. Theirs is award winning and we have to compare it to the homegrown style in my husband’s PA birthplace. It’s good. It’s close, but not as garlicky as what his hometown favorite is. For us, we have to have that homemade kielbo for New Year’s.

I can’t let the opportunity pass to say something about this wine. It is a six year old Chardonnay from my favorite VA winery, Linden. If you closed your eyes, or covered the bottle, you would not know it to be a VA wine. It tastes just like a good white Burgundy. Not premier cru, but up there. A perfect mate for the tartness of the chevre and the richness of the smoked salmon.

Dinner, too, was fairly simple, yet elegant. I put beef short ribs over a bed of white beans, onions, Brussels sprouts and mushroom gravy. Slow cooked it for six hours in the oven.

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Not the best light for pictures. I served lightly glazed carrots with the beef. A yellow one, a white one and an orange one. CSA carrots come in all the colors of the rainbow around here. I am working my way through that full root vegetable drawer since the end of the fall CSA. Good thing carrots last a long time.

The splurge for my birthday dinner. The 2012 RdV Rendezvous. Just released in October. Quite an austere wine. In the manner of a Bordeaux, it does best when paired with food. The beef short ribs did OK as a match. This wine needs a few more years to mellow. Still, it’s a lovely balanced wine. Who would guess it’s from Delaplane Virginia.

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We finished this wine later in the evening with one of those truffles, while watching the Kennedy Center Honors. As for the Linden, here’s hoping the half we didn’t drink survived a night in the fridge. That’s the thing about older wines. They don’t tend to hang in there for the next day.

This birthday, like many of ours, was spent here at home. Leisurely. Relaxed. Full of great food and wine. Easy to make dishes. I really enjoy putting together a make ahead meal, and spending time just having uninterrupted conversations with my better half. While also enjoying locally produced beef, vegetables and wine. Not a bad way to turn 63.

 

The New Kids in Town

AKA the new local bloggers. I have been updating my page with the blogs I read, most of which I find on hocoblogs.

We have all sorts of new writers joining our small focused community. Like a really good friend and neighbor who has started a blog about her birding passion, while juggling her life as a mom and wife. Mom’s Big Year.

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I can really relate to the thrill of making sightings of rare or special birds. Which we enjoy from our vantage point in the woods.

Or another favorite. Threw Mike’s Eyez. Mike is a very talented photographer who posts his take on the local “stuff” here in Howard County. And his wonderful pictures.

I still follow most of the locals using hocoblogs, and I still have a blog that I keep open for reading, to use as inspiration, to get ideas. I am still wading through David Lebovitz . Definitely my inspiration to bake, and to find new places to explore. To write more about the journey and what I see. I do enjoy chronologically following a blog to see how the author adapts, how they mature their writing, how they tackle new subjects, new ideas and new techniques.

Sometimes I think the bloggers are replacing the contributors to magazines. There was a time that I loved to read stories in Gourmet by their best writers. Now, I can find good writing in a few select blogs. Ah, technology and what it has done to us. I’m not complaining. Just adapting.

Check out a few of the blogs on my page that I am reading. Like the Slow Cook. Or Dinner: A Love Story.

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Because, you know, I think it may all begin at the family table.

Indulgences

Eggnog. Local eggnog. A once a year indulgence.

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From Trickling Springs. Located in Chambersburg PA.

We get our eggnog at Friends and Farms, when we pick up our protein and dairy basket. Their products are available in quite a few stores in the area, too. Roots, David’s, Whole Foods, and more.

I use many more of their products, like their butter and milk.

For Christmas dessert, I made a couple of glasses of nog.

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It wouldn’t be finished without grating fresh nutmeg over it. Then, off to enjoy dessert.

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A couple of the homemade cookies and a glass of eggnog.

 

A Very Merry

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No, that isn’t our view this Christmas morning. I had to look back to 2012 to find a white Christmas around here. It was more like this out there.

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And, right now it is pouring rain. I should be thankful it isn’t snow, as all the moisture the last few days would have created large amounts of the white stuff.

It’s been a quiet day here. We do our big thing on Christmas Eve, and then we spend today recovering before another week of visits and celebrations. We still have my birthday, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to enjoy the excesses of the season.

I would be remiss to not mention again just how awesome our local shops and farms are. With great examples. Like Boarman’s market staying open to help someone who went to our big chain grocery only to find out they were out of parchment paper. Those last minute cookie baking sessions always seem to find us missing one thing we need. Boarman’s employees stayed after normal closing time to come to her rescue.

Breezy Willow opened on Christmas Eve with more cookie tins and plates, since they sold out of everything they had made for their normal Saturday farm stand times. I was there because I forgot a few little hostess gifts for my family.

Kendall’s came to the rescue again for us, as we had another run in with someone who doesn’t like mailboxes, and who smashed ours overnight before Christmas Eve. We do have a spare mailbox just for these occasions but I didn’t have numbers for it.

So, after all that last minute running around we spent a lovely afternoon and evening with my family and friends.

We are always asked, what are you getting for Christmas and usually our answers are a bit strange. This year, I got my dining room chairs redone, with The Cover Uph getting them finished in less than a week.

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Decking out that dining room for dinners is one of my little pleasures. Replacing the 30 year old wool covers was a splurge and a gift to me.

Tonight we will have a simple crock pot dinner. The house smells like cinnamon from the red cabbage and apple dish that has been slow simmering for the last few hours. We are making a smoked kielbasa and opening a bottle of Virginia wine.

We’ll have some eggnog as dessert while watching Andy Griffith. I mean, seriously. Talk about wild and crazy holidays. With all sorts of partying. We gave that up long ago, and on a wet and dreary evening, we are having “A Very Merry” holiday just chilling out at home.

Hope you all are having a great time too, and are making your own memories.

Spring Has Sprung

Yes, I know it’s the first day of winter. But here in Howard County, some of the cherry trees have buds on them. The temperature on Christmas Eve is predicted to be 73 degrees F.

And then there’s this.

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That would be the garlic greens aka spring garlic that was in last week’s CSA box. Obviously the fall plantings are taking off in all this warm weather. Besides the garlic we have been getting lots of greens. Usually they are done by this time of year.

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There was a bag of spinach. A bag of “spring mix”. A couple heads of romaine. Plus, those watermelon radishes, which I love.

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Sliced thin. Sprinkled with a little kosher salt. Perfect appetizer.

As for those garlic greens. A great addition to colcannon.

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This week’s base for colcannon was a combination of items from two weeks of CSA deliveries. Parsnips, turnips and potatoes, cooked. A mix of garlic greens, Napa cabbage and spinach. Not a traditional colcannon. But a very tasty one.

Here’s another rendition of my colcannon. With the post that tells how I made it.

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A simple dish to make, in any season. Some white stuff. Some green stuff. Some milk and butter. What’s not to love about colcannon?

Be It Resolved

Do you do New Year’s resolutions? Do you keep them?

I have been putting together a simple list of things that I resolve to continue. I don’t need to add to it. In basic English. Just Do It.

Like “EAT HEALTHY”. Not that hard to do with a CSA and Friends and Farms. When someone gives you vegetables and other basic staple items, it is easy to make healthy meals. Like this one.

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Rainbow trout with vegetables. Compliments of Friends and Farms. Some quick frozen corn and green beans. A baked potato. If you wanted to eat better, this is a simple way to begin. Buy a sample basket. Pick a size. If you like it, order a monthly basket. Customize it. Right now, we buy a Protein and Dairy basket. We get meat, fish, eggs, cheese and in place of milk, I chose to get a random vegetable. It can be anything. Like the acorn squash a few weeks back.

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Stuffed and ready for dinner.

Another resolution. EXERCISE. We tend to do that by working outside. Tower work.

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And gardening.

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Crawling around in the dirt planting vegetables.

My last big resolution. BUY and EAT LOCALLY.

More and more of what comes into this house takes a short trip from the source. Whether it is food, or wine, or beer, or plants, or just services, we use local farms and stores for most of our purchases.

So this year I will be eating locally, buying locally and traveling locally. Not hard to do. For lists of sources to buy locally, I have numerous pages on my blog. Just check the header above.

 

 

Unintended Consequences

“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra

I think about this Yogi-ism often when confronted by what I consider to be strange logic. Like recently where a fellow CSA member mentioned that they might not sign up for CSA again, because they got too much food from it. To me, I understand that they may have signed up for a wrong size basket, but still, I find it interesting to hear. I am happy that we get more than we expected, because that means it was a good harvest year for the farmers.

I know of years where we didn’t get much. I know that often in the early spring months the baskets are a little light. Which brings up questions from the members that they aren’t getting their money’s worth.

Compare. The first spring share this year.

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A half dozen potatoes. A few beets. A small bundle of asparagus.

By the end of the summer season.

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Bags of peppers. Greens galore. Huge carrots. Brussels Sprouts. Not only more items, but more of each item as the year progressed.

It isn’t just the quantity of items in a CSA that prompts comments. Other observations over the last year or two perplex me as well. Comments about the early bird CSA at Breezy Willow. Because they bring in citrus from Florida. I think it’s a great thing to give us fresh foods in that final part of winter, when we are all ready for something fresh.

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In March, when most of what you get is from cold storage, it was wonderful to see pink grapefruit and oranges from Florida. I think that’s a good thing. One to celebrate.

As for the other local or regional offerings available here in Howard County. We are so lucky that we have choices. Year round choices. Almost every CSA in the area has experienced growth. Sometimes those growing pains have consequences. Like when Friends and Farms has to change chicken suppliers to find one that could continue to cover the size of the program.

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I really liked those Free Bird chickens. But Locust Point in Elkton is just as good.

Then there were the bread suppliers to Lancaster Farm Fresh. In fall of 2014, they used this small artisanal baker from Lancaster.

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Loved those boules. The following year, they had to give it up, as the demand was too great for their capabilities. Now, we are lucky to have She Wolf Bakery in Brooklyn making the vegan loaves that can be used for all the members.

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Change is inevitable. Success in our local vendors often requires adjustments. I for one am happy to see them succeed. I look forward to starting anew in January. With a winter CSA and my Friends and Farms protein and dairy bag. Just happy that we have such great choices so close to where we live.

Cookie Central

I miss Gourmet.

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For twenty five years, I subscribed. Not just for the cooking, but for the writing.

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The seasonal articles. The travelogues. I can’t just get recipes from Epicurious. I have kept my back issues, preserved in a bookcase. Archived by month. Every December I pick a few years to read and relish.

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This year’s trip went back twenty years.

I am baking most of my cookies this year from past issues.

A few new ones.

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Like the lemon butter cookies, which taste just like those you can buy from the local Otterbein bakery. Which I sometimes pick up in Boarman’s while standing in line to check out.

A simple recipe. Cream together 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of sugar. Add an egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Meanwhile whisk together 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly add to butter mixture in a stand mixer. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Make a log of the dough. Refrigerate. The longer the better. Mine was put in two days before baking. These cookies will get soft quickly, so I cut the log in half before slicing and kept the rest refrigerated until ready to do two more sheets. I got six dozen small cookies from this recipe.

In a preheated oven, I use convection bake at 350 degrees F, but the recipe  calls for 375. I have learned that my convection bake setting cooks faster and you can lower the heat making it easier to get good cookies without burning the bottoms.

I baked these for 14 minutes. The recipe calls for regular baking of about 15 minutes on that higher temperature.

I also made the chocolate version of these butter cookies.

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These were more difficult to work. They tended to crumble. They were drier in handling. The difference. Add 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa, 10 1/2 ounces bittersweet melted chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the mixer after adding the flour mixture. Don’t add the lemon like I did to make the cookies above. This mixture was very stiff and much drier. They taste intensely chocolate. Not that sweet. I sprinkled demerara and sparkly sugar on them before baking.

I am still doing cookies today. There will be sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies and maybe gingerbread. This year there will be boxes given to many of the family and friends who celebrate with us.

I love it when the house smells of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Chicken Soup

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The perfect thing to make when it’s cold out. Only it isn’t cold out.

But it is the perfect thing to make if you are in full bore cookie making mode. Which I am.

This is a different soup recipe. Compliments of the Amish Market in Laurel. J.R.’s stand, to be exact.

We picked up some packages of organic bean soup mix there when we visited a while ago. Yesterday I wanted to make a simple soup to use up one of the chickens in the freezer. To make room for Christmas cookie dough.

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The recipe called for a small whole chicken. This local one came in a recent Friends and Farms protein and dairy bag.

As for the rest.

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I had celery, carrots and onions from a CSA delivery at Thanksgiving. I had chopped off the tops of the celery and kept it in the freezer to use for soup.

This is slow cooked, six hour simmering chicken soup. With broth so rich it is amazing. Perfect for dinner with one of the breads from SheWolf bakery.

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I soaked two cups of the mixed beans overnight. Rinsed them and put them in a pot with water, the whole chicken and spices. This recipe called for turmeric, savory, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I added some tarragon. After the chicken was pretty much done, you take it out and strip it off the bone. I put it back, added carrots, celery and onions, and let it simmer on the small burner for three more hours.

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Look at how thick and rich the broth got. This recipe made enough soup for three meals for the two of us.

Tomorrow, while I am a cookie making machine, I can just heat it up and have an easy dinner.

I need to get back to the market and buy some more of these beans. It is the organic “harmony” mix.

 

Ho Ho HoCo!

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Today I spent most of the day shopping. The difference? Everywhere I went, I saw the owner of the business there. I didn’t set foot in one chain or big box place, but I had a great day.

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Then tonight, I finally finished updating all the links on my HoCoBiz page, but no, I’m not finished there yet. I do need to get to Old Town EC and add a few more once I finish Christmas shopping.

What did I do today? First, we hit The Cover Uph in Columbia to drop off our 31 year old dining room chairs, to get them redone. Tom Vaughn has been in business there since 1977. My dining room chairs will be my present to myself for this Christmas.

Then, off to Iron Bridge to pick up wine, and for me to have lunch. It is one of the two restaurants that get the majority of our business. If you are looking for a great gift, get a gift certificate from them. For us, we just picked up our third “red envelope” with this visit. You never know if you might have gotten one of those big prizes to be revealed at a visit in January.

I did say we, but today I meant me, as my husband headed off to Lisbon to the Town Grill to have his monthly Glenwood Amateur Radio group meeting.

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For me, I headed off to Greenway to pick up my poinsettias. I will be getting my tree closer to Christmas but with all the publicity about Greenways’ poinsettias, I didn’t want to miss getting my favorite colors. They also had large rosemary bushes, so I got two of those.

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My old ones died last winter. These two will stay inside in pots this winter. Next year, I will remember to wrap them in burlap once they are permanently planted. Healthy looking, aren’t they?

On the way home, I stopped in Casual Gourmet to pick up some pasta and some pepper jelly for gifts. Suzanne’s pepper jelly is another locally owned product.

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I got mild this time. Also called heaven. They have purgatory and hell. And, one called ghost, which I will not be trying. I am too much of a wimp for that heat.

All in all, a very productive day. Thanks to people like Tom, Steve, Mike, Kristen, and Alexandra, I can shop with people I know. Isn’t that a great way to get into the Christmas spirit?

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