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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Date Nights

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With a local and small business influence. Do you do date nights? You know. Dinner and a movie. Or binge watching your favorite TV series. For us, we go out infrequently in the winter. Don’t want to deal with slick roads and deer.

We also find it interesting to put together a special meal. Maybe tapas. Maybe home cooked, but always using some of our favorite local foods.

Besides, we can put together one awesome meal at a fraction of the cost of eating out.

Take this week. Snowed in, for the most part. Many things to do around here. Not particularly the best time to head off across town.

We like to pick a special local wine. Like this one.

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You can build a meal around a very nice local white or red. Your preference. For us, we have four “go-to” wineries. Linden. Big Cork. Black Ankle. Old Westminster. We’ve always found their wines to be excellent. Yes, they are a bit pricey. All of them, but putting it in context, a bargain compared to buying wine in restaurants.

Consider this. A glass of house white may cost $7-$9 for a five ounce pour. Two glasses each over the course of dinner. $30-$40 before tax and tip. I can buy lovely wines like that Linden Hardscrabble for less than $30 after discount. At $30, a restaurant bottle of wine may be in the $10-12 retail range.

I start with a chosen wine. Build a meal around it. Our latest date night used 100% purchased foods. No cooking. No fussing. Just a couple of quick preparations. And I used small local sources for most of the food. I felt like I had created one of those small plate dinners like we enjoy at Pure Wine.

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This was it. Mushroom pate and spring rolls from Roots. I have tried to make my own pate and it’s OK, but not as good as Roots makes. The salmon. From Friends and Farms. Offered on a fresh catch special recently. That lovely watermelon radish. From our Lancaster Farm Fresh winter CSA. The bread, from Harris Teeter (only because we were told our CSA bread shares were victims of the blizzard). The bread was a Limited Edition Russian Black bread, made by their bakery.

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Sipping that big buttery Chardonnay while enjoying small tastes of fresh foods. Not a bad start to date night.

Total cost. Less than $60. Much less than going out.

Challenge yourself some Friday night. Pick a favorite local wine. Head over to Roots or Davids and see what looks good. Or, just pick up a rotisserie chicken. A few local cheeses. Maybe some chocolate for dessert. We love to have a red wine with dinner and finish off with a locally made chocolate like the ones from Salazon, made just north of us in Carroll County.

And rent a really good movie.

Choosing Community One More Time

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I must admit. I feel at times that extreme weather events bring out the best and worst in us. Most of the time it is the best, but when it’s the worst, it’s epic.

I have blogged before about the “civility” thing, here where we live. For me, being civil to one another doesn’t foster a sense of community, caring, compassion and commiseration. We have much better choices for those C words than civility.

My post about cabin fever prompted feedback, positive and negative. For me, I was happy to report that once again, after losing it in my old Columbia neighborhood, I found that sense of friendship, caring, support and teamwork here where we call home. It wasn’t meant to be a slap against my old place. I just missed that sense of pitching in and getting out of bad situations.

In 1983, 23 relatively young (well, 30ish to 60ish) new neighbors dug ourselves out after a blizzard. Not waiting for the county. Not waiting for the private contractor for our private cul de sac. With beer and chili when we finished, and all sorts of help from the big diggers to the more frail helpers, who did their part in clearing off the cars, we got it done.

It was the beginning of a very fun series of neighborhood events. For years we got together on a Saturday night every other month, except for the massive New Year’s Eve event. Crab feasts. Picnics. Progressive dinners. Themed dinners. Rotating the hosting duties.

Then, somehow, in some way, it ended. The majority of the core moved away. New neighbors declined to attend. We lost that sense of community, and regressed into the dreaded bedroom community.

When we left in 2005 we barely knew our neighbors. Not that we didn’t try. They just didn’t respond to invites.

That is why I love it out here. That community spirit is alive and kicking.

I was happy to see so many great stories about neighborhoods digging out in other parts of our state, and in other neighborhoods in Columbia.

As for whether I believe the county did OK in snow removal, it’s not a priority for me to judge. We are lucky. It has nothing to do with politics or favoritism. It has more to do with the people who live here.

We live in an area full of hard working people who may have moved here because it was more affordable to live here, decades ago. People who ran businesses from their homes. People who drove school buses. Or who had small service companies. They have trucks. They have all those things necessary to survive out where power outages can be long. Out where land is plentiful but you have to take care of it yourself.

Yeah, we have trucks with plows. We have tractors. We have snow throwers. We have generators. We have ATVs. Many of our neighbors provide services to other communities in Howard County. With their equipment, they also take care of the elderly, or the families with many little ones, or the newbies who haven’t quite adjusted to living here.

For me, it’s a great place to live. Reminds me of what I found in Columbia in 1975, but that we lost somewhere along the way. I am glad to see so many tell me it is alive and kicking in many places. That spirit needs to spread.

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Besides, I am really, really happy. My mailbox survived.

Cabin Fever

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Still digging out, and not done yet.

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It’s pretty bad when the pickup is almost completely covered. We got about 29″ out here. Thankfully, we live out where there are loads of people who clear snow for a living. In all sorts of vehicles.

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Out on the main road. Early Sunday morning. Right after a few large trucks with plows. The good thing about living here. Many, many people have plows on their trucks. They have ATVs with plows. They have tractors with front loaders. Once you know all your neighbors, it’s fairly simple to get out.

We spent Sunday digging out all around the house and then using the snow thrower to clear out our personal part of the driveway. The common drive had been done by two of our neighbors, while we were trying to troubleshoot the heat pump that died.

Tomorrow we find out if we have to get a replacement, or if it is something simple. Crossing our fingers.

We did get the front walk, plus the path around the side to the heat pump done.

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And just to show that life is still interesting out here, look who showed up at the bird bath.

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My friend flicker. The northern flicker. We haven’t seen him this year before this visit. As usual, the fresh melted water in the bird bath attracts some special birds.

As for all our friends struggling through the historic snowfall here in our little corner of the world. We know how it feels to be snowbound. Our absolute worst was 30+ years ago, before our community figured out how to become independent of others.

We are constantly amazed and thankful to be surrounded by our neighbors here. It does take a village, and we live in a very special one.

Ice Station Zebra

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That’s how our next door neighbor answered his phone when we called earlier this evening.

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It certainly felt that way when we opened our front door this afternoon. Trust me. Four hours later. It’s higher than that. As for the back of the house, facing east (where we usually never get slammed), here is the back wall.

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This is also worse. It is touching the six foot high light fixtures outside our kitchen and family rooms. I suppose I should be happy. The insulation properties are impressive.

It will be days before we get this snow knocked down. Add to that. A heat pump failure. The upstairs one. Thankfully, the main floor is still working. The county estimates that we will be all plowed out by Wednesday. Living on a snow emergency route means they keep trying to plow our road. It just keeps getting covered in drifts.

I may pop down and take more pictures tomorrow morning, while three of the four “heads of households” around here do the snow thrower thing and get us down to the rural route where we live. Me, I will be attempting to slowly shovel out to replenish my feeders. Where those alpha male birds are fighting for supremacy.

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It has been contentious all day. Jays vs Cardinals for domination of the feeders.

The Waiting Game

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And now we wait. All of the snow prep is done with the exception of a couple of last minute items. Over the years I have learned a few more tricks to keep us from having problems when it comes to water and with the perishable foods.

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Keeping a few of the milk bottles around, just for times like this. We have a small refrigerator in our laundry room. For snow events, I completely reconfigure that fridge to be nothing but liquids and the lunch and dinner options, which could be moved to a cooler if the fridge were to get too warm.

I keep one small cooler with an ice bag in it. It becomes the place to put whatever I need to take out of the small fridge. Our large refrigerator/freezer NEVER gets opened while the power is off. The freezer has been reconfigured to have all the meat on the bottom with other odds and ends on top, and covered with ice packs and plastic bottles that were filled with water and frozen yesterday.

After our longest outage ever, the 22 hour one after the derecho years ago, the fridge made it up to 44 degrees and the freezer to 16 degrees. In the summer heat. Yesterday I turned the temps down to minus six in the freezer and 36 in the fridge.

I also splurged on a treat, in case we have to eat by candlelight.

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When I picked up my Friends and Farms basket yesterday, I pre-ordered a couple of packs of smoked salmon. They will go into that small fridge, to be used as a “fancy” meal base. I have that large lovely loaf of sourdough from the CSA, along with the cheeses. I also will be making a full four cup pot of jasmine rice. I am perfectly content to make salads using rice, and salads using beans or chickpeas. Between the smoked salmon and the two cans of sardines in the pantry, we could have some awesome candlelight dinners. Unfortunately, the cold could become an issue at some point, and our wood stove is in our basement.

I have cranked the heat up in our house today. Up to 74 degrees. If we lose power, we never open the west facing doors, using the smallest east facing opening, our mud room back door, to minimize heat loss in the rest of the house. Replacing our doors and windows over the past few years has helped us.

Finally, I learned two new tricks when it comes to having water, the non potable kind. I fill up the top loading washing machine and stop the cycle when it’s full. No clothes in it, just water. In a pinch, it could be used for flushing the toilets. Add that to our “recycling” of sump pump water. The other simple thing I do is fill the larger side of my sink, to put dishes in it. Keeps down the need to use paper plates, and when I get power back, we just pull out the dishes and fill the dishwasher.

Last minute tips. We have at least three pair of gloves for each of us. Usually, when we come in from snow removal and we have power, we throw gloves and hats in the dryer. Can’t do that with no power, so we have those spares while waiting for the others to dry out.

And, I filled all the birdfeeders and watered all my indoor plants.

I think I’m ready. Just hoping we don’t meet this when we open our mudroom door.

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The Snow Run

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Ok, admit it. Aren’t you also one of those people who runs out before a storm to make sure you have enough of those “essentials”?

For days like this.

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Of course, that was 2010. This storm, now that we have taken to naming them, might be just as bad as those 2010 storms were.

This morning I did run up to Harris Teeter to stock up on staples, in case we have a power outage. All those root veggies from my CSA need to be cooked, besides the carrots and the watermelon radishes.

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I looked at yesterday’s first delivery from my CSA and thought, hmmm. I can eat those watermelon radishes raw. And slice up those carrots, even though they really are cooking carrots. I decided I really needed to get the beans and onions that my Tuscan tuna recipe specifies.

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I have good Italian olive oil packed tuna. I needed white beans and white onions. Mix it all together, with a few more glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper it, and boom, one really satisfying meal. Particularly since we have bread and cheese from the CSA.

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A big loaf of sourdough and three cheeses from my cheese share. I could live on that bread and cheese, and that tuna, and of course, what goes best with bread and cheese? Wine!

Besides all this thinking about food, we are doing all those other snow prep things. Positioning the snow thrower. Filling water containers in case of power outages. Finding batteries and flashlights.

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Remembering that I need a little shovel to free the grill in case that’s where we will cook.

Last but not least, tomorrow I will fill up the cars with gasoline, and also make sure the phone is fully charged. Turn up the heat to get it warm inside, and turn down the temperatures for the refrigerator and freezer. Just to be prepared, because that’s usually when nothing happens. It’s when we aren’t ready that we usually get slammed.

And I still don’t get why people buy toilet paper? I get the bread and milk, sort of. But, TP? Really.

Hunkering down and hoping for a foot or less. Still, we are ready for that possibility of two feet of snow.

The Soul of the Night

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OWLS!

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What could be a better greeting to an evening about owls than a visit by Ranger, the resident barred owl at Mt. Pleasant (Howard County Conservancy)?

Maybe it’s the presence of Belle, the resident owl from the Belmont site. Or maybe, it’s the treat of hearing Scott Weidensaul, author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls, as he leads a program Thursday night beginning at 7 PM. It’s the first of many incredibly interesting programs planned for 2016.

You can pre-register here for Thursday’s event. The various nature events at the Conservancy have become extremely popular, and you don’t want to miss a rare appearance in this area by Scott.

While you’re at it, you may also want to download the 2016 bookmark to keep track of what is happening the rest of the year.

For me, being a member of this planning staff, and working behind the scenes to get these programs planned, and then to be there to see how successful they are, well, it’s definitely a “labor of love”. Volunteering in such a beautiful setting, and being around people who love doing what they do, does it get any better?

See you Thursday maybe?

60/40

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So I have a question. What percentage of your dinners are take out, restaurant or delivery? Are you like we were, back in the days when our commute dominated our lives in Howard County? Did you eat out more than half the time, every week? How about changing your percentages, to four days home. A 60/40 mix.

Believe it or not, you can change to eating fresher, more “expensive” food at home. It just takes a little effort to change dining out from majority to minority. Something so simple as one more night in, instead of outsourced.

I really love the protein and dairy bag from Friends and Farms. You can easily do four nights in, and still have three nights “out” with this affordable protein option. My $43 a week basket feeds the two of us, and provides us with the protein on our plates for at least four meals, sometimes five or six.

Take this week.

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There are chicken legs, chorizo, breakfast links and rainbow trout in our basket. Along with the weekly eggs and, in our case we have turnips since we don’t do the milk thing.

I can make two meals from the chorizo. Two from the chicken. We use the breakfast links in weird ways, like in tomato sauce or in soups. Not a big fan of pork for breakfast but these tasty links can be cut up and used in so many savory dishes. Eggs. For Meatless Mondays, they make great omelets or frittatas.

But getting back to the original thought. You can make a very simple meal from the trout. One that would cost major bucks at a restaurant. Less than 30 minutes. How?

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Plop those trout in a baking dish. Cover them in lemon infused olive oil, white wine and lemon pepper seasoning. Bake them at about 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

I made two simple side dishes. Boiled baby potatoes. Microwave steamed Brussels sprouts.

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Looks great, doesn’t it? I put the potatoes on while prepping the trout. I steamed the sprouts two minutes before the fish was done. Open a bottle of white wine and you have an excellent meal. With a little effort, and a little help from Friends and Farms.

Home Delivery

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As we muddle along in one of the first single digit wind chill days this winter, I am reminded at just how much I liked the home delivery options for food that are available here. We had our initiation into home delivery with Zahradka Farm. Back in 2011-2012 when I discovered them. At the time, they were somewhat unique in our area. For many reasons.

Like pick a size. Six, ten or fourteen item produce and fruit. Meat option. Egg option. Some pantry items you could order. I’ll never forget that first delivery a week before Christmas. With half a fresh turkey as the meat item.

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Plus, the romanescu cauliflower, which became a special treat in our Christmas dinner.

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Covered in grated cheese and pepper and spices. That was the beginning of what became a highlight in the dead of winter. Really fresh and varied vegetables through those dark days.

My last post was written about a new option around here. The Hungry Harvest, fruit and/or vegetable deliveries. They are what I believe to be the fourth option that allows you to stay home nice and warm, and receive fresh food delivered right to your door in Howard County.

Pair Hungry Harvest with FarmtoFork, a recently launched venture by Carroll Farm to Table and other local farms. You could order your vegetables and fruit from Hungry Harvest and your meat, eggs and dairy from FarmtoFork. We are lucky. Carroll is not that far from our house, and we have gotten their whole chickens to roast. They have a farm stand open all year. Times of operation are on their web site.

Last but certainly not least, the long standing home delivery service from South Mountain Creamery. They started with dairy products, and slowly expanded to include everything from meat to hummus to vegetable and fruit bags. We used to buy their products at the Glenwood farmer’s market. They stopped attending many of the local markets when they instituted year round deliveries to this area. You can choose weekly, biweekly or monthly recurring deliveries, or just order what you want when you want. Check out where they deliver.

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I still head up to the Creamery to pick up items for parties, like the cheese choices. Besides, nothing tastes better than their fresh milk, unless maybe it’s their ice cream.

Now that I think about it, a recurring delivery from these local companies would be a perfect gift to give elderly family members. You could easily put together something that covers the coldest dreariest months. Not a bad thought to keep in mind for next year.

For us, if our favorite Amish CSA ever stops supplying us locally year round, we would be very interested in using any one of the four.

Ugly Food

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I’m going to step up to the plate, so to speak, and talk about the latest venture in our area. One that rescues “ugly food” and delivers it to those who want to support the reduction in food waste. A very noble cause. One near and dear to those of us who grow and eat ugly food on a regular basis.

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Any gardener will tell you. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It still is good food.

Hungry Harvest, based out of the incubator for entrepreneurial efforts here in Howard County has gotten major press due to their appearance on national TV. Shark Tank. Where they received a substantial investment to assist them in growing their company.

I first heard about them from The Unmanly Chef, a fellow local blogger. I saw his pictures and thought, not bad. Doesn’t look all that ugly to me. The cost is a little high, but they deliver, and they donate to local food banks and food desert areas with every purchase you make.

I commend them for their commitment to providing good food to local charities and food banks. They aren’t the first around here to do that, but I love their level of commitment. We all need to stop judging food by appearance. Ugly food tastes just as good and sometimes better than that blemish free perfect produce sold in stores.

Hungry Harvest delivers produce bags. Organic produce bags. Fruit bags. To your door. Their prices for their regular bags seems reasonable. If you prefer organic, you can do better in price from our local CSAs. As for fruit, since I haven’t seen a sample, and I know what I pay for a fruit share from my CSA, I think they are a bit high here, as well. For example.

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This share costs me $8.50. For the $25 or $35 a share from Hungry Harvest, I don’t think I would be getting 3-4 times the amount of fruit.

I know that delivery drives that price up a bit. I am OK with that. I hope as they mature, that they will use more local farms and less volume produce companies from Jessup. I hope they can work with local farms and orchards to get that less than picture perfect stuff that doesn’t get picked. Like at Larriland.

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Lovely to eat. Not all that photogenic. Ugly tomatoes really are some of the best out there.

I also hope this helps us in our food bank gardening. In the past, we have been asked not to provide split or blemished vegetables. We have given tomatoes to the chickens at the Conservancy, the ones that had split after the rains. Our food bank turned them down. Maybe this partnership will eliminate the bias against blemished fruit and vegetables. I certainly hope so.

I wish Hungry Harvest the best of luck in growing their business. It’s a great concept, and easy for consumers to use. The weekly pricing, unlike the hefty upfront price tag of a CSA, is a great selling point. The more choices we have, the better the products.