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The Accidental Vegan

That would be me. By whatever means, I have become the cook that brings the vegetarian/vegan contribution to the parties. Whether it is the amateur radio Field Day, or the contribution to my brother’s dinners (for my vegetarian in-law’s in-laws), or the potluck volunteer luncheon, I bring the veggie-centric dish that is satisfying and different.

We feed the volunteers, the garden clubs and the vendors at our Holiday Craft Fair every December at the Conservancy.

I share cooking with my friend who also coordinates and cooks for our Amateur Radio Field Day. We have become quite skilled at meeting the needs of those who partake. We have all sort of dietary restrictions and preferences. I get large amounts of vegetables in my farm share (aka Community Supported Agriculture)

Add to that, my lactose intolerance, which has me modifying recipes to take out the dairy.

Last week I made two dishes for the holiday event. They were vegan. Easy for those with restrictions. One was a vegan cole slaw. The other? One awesome butternut squash and black bean chili. Recipes were requested. Here is the response.

I began cooking many dishes using squash once we started seeing behemoths like this in our box. I do hummus, I do lasagna, and now I do chili using them.

This chili was easy. Two large cans of black beans. One diced, roasted butternut squash – large. Two large onions. One can of roasted red peppers, sliced. One can of Rotel tomatoes and chilis. One can crushed tomatoes. Those pumpkin spices. Choose those you like. I am partial to cinnamon, cumin, and coriander. Some garlic powder. Salt and pepper. Crock pot all of it. Kick it up with more heat, or more garlic.

As for my cole slaw. I used Savoy cabbage, carrots and Granny Smith apples. All chopped. I made a vegan dressing for it. It was mustard, vegan sour cream, white wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. That vegan sour cream makes this dressing a great alternative for those who are avoiding dairy.

You don’t miss the meat when you add tons of flavor using herbs and spices. We certainly didn’t.

 

Home for the Holidays

The holiday weekend is over. Now to get ready for Christmas.

I realized this was our 40th Thanksgiving together. Our first, we headed to PA so I could meet my future in-laws. After that, we regularly spent the day with one of our families.

Usually we went to PA. Then, for the past 12 years we headed to Annapolis to visit my mom and my brother’s family. All of that changed this year. With mom’s passing, and my brother in the midst of a move to eastern VA, we found ourselves without plans for the weekend.

It was weird but also quite peaceful. No last minute crises. No traffic woes. We spent the last five days doing what we wanted when we wanted.

It was heavy with local influences, in a series of meals. We spread it out. I did oyster stew one night with oysters from Boarman’s. We had our Maple Lawn turkey on Thanksgiving.

I made sides and seasonings that we like. My dressing used chorizo and fresh bread cubes made from my CSA ancient grain bread. My homemade cranberry sauce was tangy from the lemon and orange in it. I made creamed spinach instead of green beans.

My husband went up to Dandelion Bistro Wednesday night to pick out a dessert for Thursday. Smith Island cake. Not traditional at all. So, so good though.

Tonight we used more of that leftover turkey along with some of the stock I made from the turkey bones. Pappardelle’s orzo bought from Secolari at Mary’s Land Farm.

We have enough turkey left for sandwiches, and enough soup for another dinner.

As for other things we did, we had a wonderful meal to celebrate my husband’s birthday at Hudson Coastal. We went Saturday night during our latest deluge. The restaurant was busy but not overwhelmed, and the food was excellent.

Today I watched the traffic backups and was thankful our days of nail-biting drives are over. But, we miss our parents. We are thankful we had so many years to share holidays. We just need to adjust to new routines and make new memories.

Tomorrow? Baking for the Conservancy holiday sale, where we make a potluck lunch for volunteers and vendors. The sale is Saturday and is a highlight of the start of many activities leading up to Christmas.

Lucky Seven?

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Yeah, this site is seven years old. In 2011, I registered the domain and started writing. I obviously don’t write as much as I did when I began.

It was fall. Lovely weather. I wrote mostly about my farm share, and my hobbies which included my volunteer work at the Howard County Conservancy.

I have to admit it was really about documenting the farm share to assist people (like me) who wanted to see what you got when you signed up for Community Supported Agriculture.

Pictures of vegetables.

Like those from my Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. Which I also joined in 2011. And which is still a weekly part of my life. Those Tuesday pickups at Candace’s house, year round. 48 weeks of the year, with just a few weeks off over the holidays.

I haven’t documented them these days. I decided it was far too repetitive. But they still inspire my cooking, like this week when we got freshly grown ginger roots. Not dried. Young and fragrant. Making me want to make stir fry.

As for the Conservancy connection, I have changed what I do. Not as much volunteer naturalist, but still on the program committee, and still the community garden co-manager. I use my love of cooking to support our programs. Scones for the Mother’s Day tea. Vegetarian options to feed the volunteers at our Holiday crafts fair. Soups for pot luck meals.

I tell stories on paper. Why do I mention this? To advertise the upcoming storytelling event on November 9th.  At the Mt. Pleasant site of the Conservancy. Co-sponsored by CA and Rec and Parks.

Some good friends will be telling their stories. It reminds me that I should pay more attention to this site and keep my stories alive.

After all, sharing our stories keeps us connected.

And The Winner Is …

… black cherry tomatoes.

Not only did they win me two ribbons at the county fair, they also are the highest producer in my rain soaked garden. I have harvested close to 25 pounds of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes from two plants. Plants purchased last spring from TLV Tree Farm at the Clarksville Farmers’ Market.

This is the second year they have taken second place in the heirloom tomato category. It’s the closest I have gotten to that elusive blue ribbon, and the $35 special premium attached to winning it.  I just can’t get my other heirlooms to ripen early enough to enter them in the fair. Next year will be even harder as the fair is a day earlier for entries, and I barely had adequate numbers of my other vegetables.

I did put in seven entries and came away with seven ribbons. Two firsts, three seconds, and two fourth place ribbons. My first place winners were my okra, and I had the largest tomato. Not very large, a green heirloom variety called Aunt Ruby’s Green German. It was a pound and a half. It’s crazy. I only got a half dozen of them from that plant, so it will not be bought again next year.

As for other notables from my garden, this is the year that the Italian cucurbita moschata, aka tromboncino took over my garden. It’s crawling everywhere and giving me 1-3 pound squash every time I go there.

This is the latest one. 2 Pounds, 14 ounces. There are seeds only in the bulb, so they are sweeter than other summer squash if you get them before they become too large. In past years, friends have found hiding ones that have weighed as much as 10 pounds. Those with darker green skins are treated like winter squash, peeled and used in soups or in muffins and breads.

I have been making and freezing trays of fritters. By themselves or paired with corn, or with sweet red peppers, we make a batch, have a few with dinner and then freeze them stacked on parchment. All winter long I can pull out a sheet or two and have fritters as a side dish with dinner.

Here is one of my earlier harvests of the squash.

And these are the other major producer this year. My okra. Drowning in okra. I had a market pack with ten plants in it. They looked quite pathetic when I planted them and I expected many of them to die. Nope, they didn’t. Out of ten tiny plants, seven survived and are now six feet tall and producing like mad. I have made many fries, have sautéed them, made a hash, and am running out of ideas. I do donate quite a bit of these to the food bank every Tuesday as we get dozen of them weekly.

Last but not least, the heirlooms.

Not a great year. Many cracked from the excessive rain. I did get quite a few of Rutgers tomatoes. Those are the red ones with the cracked tops. The green ones were those green German variety. The two on the bottom right were from my Amish CSA and not from the garden.

But these were still my favorite. At the height of summer, they were large and sweet.

I roasted these. Spread out on a tray. Rolled in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano. Low temperature for a few hours. Like candy.

The garden is winding down. Just okra, cherry tomatoes and lettuces. A big basil plant and sage. Almost time to do my winter pesto and maybe spread some Tuscan kale plants in the corner to see how they do.

This summer was awful for the gardeners. Far too much rain, excessive heat when it wasn’t raining, and bugs galore. Still, I love the challenge and I enjoy my harvests.

“Ramp” ing It Up

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It’s that spring ritual for me. If it isn’t asparagus, it’s ramps. If it isn’t ramps, it’s morel mushrooms. And, when they are done, it becomes garlic scapes. Etc. Etc.

I post every year about those fleeting specialties that grace our table in all their glory.

Ramps, last year, for example. That post also mentions the fresh morels from Jenny’s Market. Yesterday when I saw the signs on route 32 for the market, they highlighted the seasonal goodies like the mushrooms.

I have also written many posts on asparagus, and on garlic scapes, but today I want to show another simple preparation with the ramps that were still available at the Silver Spring farmer’s market.

Ramp pesto.

I found a recipe in Laurie Lundy’s amazing book on Appalachia. The book is called Victuals, pronounced viddles, according to the introduction. I also grew up hearing it pronounced at vittles. No matter, it is a very complete collection of recipes and their history in the Appalachian communities.

I ended up using her guidelines for ratios, but using what I had in the pantry.

4-5 ounces of ramp leaves. Three large bulbs. I blanched the leaves. Wrung them out after their ice water bath. Put them and the bulbs in the food processor with about 1/2 cup of pistachios. Added 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Poured in the olive oil while watching it emulsify. A little salt and pepper to taste. I used this pesto on pasta, and on flatbreads. Added it to an omelet with sautéed potatoes. Put a little on a freshly baked potato. I made it twice already in the past two weeks.

Ramp season is fleeting. They are wild, and not agreeable to cultivating.

An interesting fact I recently heard on the newest Parts Unknown. The West Virginia episode that premiered last week. The farmers in West Virginia are paid $2 a pound for ramps that are taken to New York City where they fetch up to $32 a pound. Talk about a markup!

We pay about $4 a bunch to the West Virginia farmers who frequent the Silver Spring market. Those bunches weigh about 5-6 ounces so they are getting around $12 a pound by selling direct to customers here. A big difference in price.

If you get the opportunity to buy from the local communities, they do far better than selling through distributors.

Now, I just need to head up to Jenny’s and get some locally sourced morels.

 

The 2018 Spargel Season

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The first asparagus in my garden this year were recorded 26 days later than a year ago. This cold wet spring is doing a number on the growth and readiness of our favorite spring “heralders”. I picked a half dozen spears on the morning of the 26th, and saw about a dozen that I should be able to harvest tomorrow morning. Contrast 2018 to 2016, where we also had a late spring.  The numbers were closer to what we are seeing now.

But, I still had 27 spears by the 26th then. I had a whopping 54 in 2017 by this date. I keep records of my garden, just like most farmers do for their crops. Bud break, first harvest, length of harvest, total numbers, total weight, etc.

I still only have a few annuals in the ground. My perennials, like the rhubarb and the herbs, are slowly awakening.

Spargel season is fleeting. White asparagus is a special treat in the spring, and we had our first ones at Lupa last week. Lupa is a new restaurant in downtown Columbia. Owned by the same people, Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf, that gave us restaurants in Baltimore, and replacing Petit Louis Bistro on the lakefront.

We shall see if Italian fare does better in that location than the former French bistro. We were impressed with the freshly made pastas, including the fettucine with spargel and mushrooms that I had for my dinner. They also featured a white asparagus salad that I had been tempted to try, but I ended up enjoying perfectly executed calamari as a first course. For pizza lovers, there is also a white asparagus pizza on the spring menu.

I like Lupa, with its reasonably priced courses. My husband’s gnocchi were delicious, as we brought home a small amount of leftover pastas which graced our dinner table on Wednesday. We will try and visit the gelateria when the warm weather finally arrives. Having that little area off the dining room become a place to enjoy homemade gelato and sorbet in the summer is another nice addition to the dining options on the lake.

Where else have you seen asparagus featured? Do you like to cook with asparagus? Are you waiting for them to arrive in our local farmer’s markets, and at Jenny’s Market? Jenny’s is supposed to open later this week, and I can’t wait. My go-to right up the road food stand. Where I run to when I need one extra ingredient missing, as I am cooking. I always seem to run out of scallions, or onions, or citrus, and I love that they aren’t 7 miles away. For six months of the year, Jenny’s helps us stay sane with her great selection. She has promised that there will be asparagus when she opens, for those who love cooking seasonally.

Some of my favorites with spargel?

A simple mixed grill. Whatever looks freshest, brushed with oil, seasoned lightly, and served with something easy like kebabs, fish, or steak.

Maybe a frittata. Chopped asparagus, added to the egg mix, with herbs and greens.

Pasta primavera. My favorite pairing is peas and asparagus, with flavors enhanced with sautéed spring onions.

I have to admit, I have been really looking forward to retiring all those root vegetables from my diet, and getting into spring cooking.

 

Shopping Small

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Small towns. Small businesses. Small eateries.

Do you just do that American Express thing the day after Black Friday? Or, do you support your local businesses all year round?

It drives me nuts when people come looking for suggestions on social media, and they are directed to chain restaurants and big box stores. When Home Depot is the recommended site for Christmas trees, for example.  Really????

OK, everyone who reads this blog knows I frequent locally owned businesses as much as I can.

Take this weekend. Friday we made the trip to pick up my meat CSA share in Westminster and combined it with stops for food and supplies at three different small businesses.

I like to find new places to have lunch. Places off the beaten track. Like PORK and BEANS. A store attached to a factory that processes pork. With artisanal coffee beans. And, one very good ham sandwich.

Yes, I know, the view isn’t spectacular, but the ham is awesome. They also have bacon and that local favorite, scrapple. We brought home some ham for lunches, but I need to go back when we need a ham for a dinner.

After lunch, we headed down to Evermore Farm to get my meat share, then a detour to New Windsor. To Homestead Farm, just southeast of town and not far from Rte 27. They are building greenhouses and expanding their business to include hydroponically grown produce. Grand opening in May.

I discovered Homestead a few years back, on one of our day trips. They offer dairy from Trickling Springs and Pequea Valley, and very good bakery items from local bakers. This trip? Plants and bakery items were our purchases.

Red cabbage and rainbow chard for my garden. Along with a bag of gladiola bulbs.

My husband snuck these in the basket. Killer macaroon and scone from a Westminster small business. Rare Opportunity.

We then headed home but stopped in Sykesville for onion sets at the local Southern States. How many places can you go where a lovely gray cat snoozes on the counter where you check out? Sykesville is my favorite local small town. Full of small places to shop.

Do you have those special family owned places near you? Do you give them the business they need to survive? I hope so. They are so much better than those crowded crazy chain places.