Category Archives: Cooking

Soup!

A gratuitous photo of the sandwich I wrote about the other day, because I really hope you’ll try it!
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It is eye-wateringly cold here. When I checked the temperature at about 8 a.m. today, it was at -9. Despite the cold, it was a good day to be outside because of the brilliantly blue sky. We took the dogs for a quick romp in the woods, and then made the rounds of a few farms in the area. (It had warmed up to about 13 degrees.)

One of my new favorite things is raw milk. I don’t ordinarily drink milk by the glass, saving it for cooking and baking, and for my coffee, but raw milk is absolutely delicious. It’s kind of cool to drive by the cows in the fields that you know are the ones that provided what you’re drinking. And in the case of the yogurt and cheese we can buy, what you’re eating. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to live near some amazing farms.

Taking new roads–today’s was Rte. 9 South from Rte. 22–always brings astonishing scenery, like sheer walls of rock covered in ice falls. It also gives me new chances to practice driving on country roads that haven’t been cleared as well as the main roads, which is good. I’d rather practice at 30 mph when no one is around than at 65 mph on a highway.

For lunch today, I made this soup that Luisa at The Wednesday Chef blogged about:
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http://www.thewednesdaychef.com/the_wednesday_chef/2015/02/amelia-morris-corn-chile-and-potato-soup.html
Larry and I don’t mind spicy, so we added the second chipotle in adobo, and the soup was just right for us. I didn’t have any shredded cheddar but I did have a Mexican string cheese, so I diced that up and sprinkled it over our bowls. Usually, when I read things like, “You won’t even miss the meat!” I have to admit to scoffing a little bit. But, um, you won’t even miss the meat. This is one of the most savory, delicious soups I’ve ever eaten, and it is simple to make. Even better, I was able to use my onions and potatoes, and corn that I’d frozen from what we bought from the local farms this summer. Eating what I’ve grown always seems to make things taste better, and it’s a satisfying feeling.

Ahem. Especially after two full bowls…

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A** in Chair

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Ass in chair.

I don’t completely remember who gave this writing advice to whom; I think it was either Donald Murray or Donald Graves who gave it to Nancie Atwell. But it doesn’t really matter, because from the time I heard the story the phrase has stuck with me. It doesn’t just apply to writing, does it? It applies to anything we don’t feel like doing in a given moment. Ass on riding mower, ass down to weed the rows, ass in front of canning pot… Well, the last one could be someone passing judgement on me while I’m canning, but you get the point.

I have, in fact, been mowing, weeding (though not so much…) and canning in order to avoid writing. I have an idea for a story, and have self-doubted myself into staying away from the computer. Because who am I to think I have a story anyone will want to read? For that matter, who am I to think that anyone will want to buy my vegetables/eat my cooking/support whatever business I decide to engage in? The self-doubt is strong in this one.
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But today, after I canned pickled eggplant and hot pepper rings, froze a pound of Romano beans and a pound and half of green beans, and started blanching corn–after taking the dogs for an hour drive in the Jeep–I asked myself what I was avoiding. The first answer is, “Thinking about the fact that if I were still teaching, I would have gone back to work today.” Just not touching that one. The second answer is, “Writing.” So, ass in chair, indeed. I thought I’d warm up with a blog post, since there hasn’t been one since the last third of July, and then I’ll move to that story.

Grow:
Tomatoes. Please ripen. I need you so I can continue avoiding writing can lots of tomato sauce and salsa and jam.

On a happier front, I got beautiful, juicy peaches from our older tree. Not a ton–about twelve–but they’re delicious. Fingers crossed that the peach tree borers don’t kill it; they’ve moved in pretty good, which is disappointing.

I also have beautiful peppers growing, which is a first for me. I’ve always bought seedlings and watched them fizzle out, but this year I started them from seed, and most of them are producing well. The trick is to be patient enough, and to get the weather, to wait for them to turn red. More fingers crossed.

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Cook:
There’s been a lot of that going on. Peach Jam. Peach Chutney. Dilly beans. Pickled Zucchini. The aforementioned pickled eggplant and hot pepper rings. Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika.
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Dear Universe: Thank you for Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika. And for author Marissa McClellan, whose book I found the recipe in.

If you like canning, I highly recommend Food in Jars (the blog and the book) and Preserving by the Pint, both by Marissa. She’s keeping me happily busy. The recipes I’ve made have been delicious (and the eggplant will clear your sinuses while it cooks) and I haven’t at all minded the odd amount that didn’t fit in a jar for processing. Especially that Tomato Jam. It took everything I had not to open one of the cans I’d just processed, so I could keep eating the stuff. Her recipes are easy enough to keep newbies calm, and interesting enough to keep non-newbies coming back. I fall somewhere in between.

Read:
I’m late to this party, I’m sure, but I recently finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and I adored it. The Grimke sisters are fascinating, and I’ll be looking up some of the recommended reading Kidd provides.

I also read The Town that Food Saved, by Ben Hewitt. It’s about Hardwick, Vermont, which is the location of High Mowing Seeds (love, love, love their seed varieties), Pete’s Greens, and Vermont Soy, to name a few of the food-related companies that have taken off there in the last decade. I enjoyed it a great deal, and thought Hewitt did a good job of naming his biases and writing through them.

Right now, I’m reading Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos. It’s pretty hilarious.

Write:
Yeah. I’m working on it.

Carrots! And teen pregnancy and Sarah McLachlan.

Grow:
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After a strong spring-planting showing, life got a little crazy around here, and I didn’t plant a lot of other things until late(r) in the season. Carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes…they all got a later-than-I would-have-liked start. But the hot weather is here, and the plants are psyched. The winter squash are starting to run, the summer squash are producing a million little baby squash, the tomatoes are taking over their area, and the eggplant has doubled in height and width the last week and a half. It’s a beautiful thing.

I’m pulling carrots for the first time this week, and they’re uh-maze-ing. I’ve never grown them before, so this is very exciting for me! The only carrots I’d eaten for the last seven years were from our CSA shares, and when I had to buy grocery store carrots to bridge the gap between our last CSA stragglers in the veggie bin and the ones from the garden, I was very sad. If you have only ever had a grocery store carrot, even an organic one from Whole Foods, I beg you, PLEASE find your nearest farmer’s market and buy some of their carrots. You will be astonished. And if they’re pretty freshly pulled, all you have to do is scrub them really well; no peeling required.

Cook:
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The spring lettuces are bolting in the recent heat spike, so I pulled a head of Romaine yesterday, along with radishes, some four to six inch zucchini, green onions, basil, mint, and parsley. I–well, my niece, Maddie, who is staying with me right now and a huge help in the kitchen–diced the zucchini and the radishes, slivered up the herbs and green onions, and then we tossed them with a can of drained tuna, some olive oil, cannellini beans, salt and pepper. Maddie pronounced, “More pepper,” so we made it happen and then served it over a bed of Romaine. It was the perfect light lunch for a hot day. (Today, we had ice cream.)

Read:
I read two books last week: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva and Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles. I picked up One Man Guy because I so, so, so loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sanchez. Lately, I’ve enjoyed reading about romance written from the guy’s perspective, by guys. One Man Guy was funny, and Alek’s best friend Becky was an hilarious character. All of the characters were enjoyable, actually, even when they were doing things you didn’t want them to do. It isn’t as beautifully written as Sanchez’s book, but it isn’t by Sanchez, so…

Living with Jackie Chan is a sequel to Jumping Off Swings, though I’d say you don’t have to read the first one to enjoy the second. It’s another one from the guy’s perspective, and is about Josh, who has moved to a new school district for his Senior year of high school, to get away from the daily reminder that he casually impregnated a girl in a one-night stand. Josh is having a hard time dealing with what happened, and the book is a look at his story the year after the baby is born and given up for adoption. I enjoyed it, and think both genders probably would. If students were doing a genre study, they could use this with Hanging onto Max by Bechard, and The First Part Last by Johnson to look at the male perspective of teen pregnancy.

Write:
Larry and I saw Sarah McLachlan in concert this past weekend! She was amazing! I never wanted the show to end!

I experienced a first at the concert. This past year, I and the students chose song lyrics that were meaningful to us, and we annotated them with an explanation of why. I chose “Fear” by McLachlan. Though it’s primarily about a relationship, the chorus of, “And I fear, I have nothing to give, I have so much to lose here in this lonely place…” hit me hard each time I heard it. Leaving teaching had me wondering all year, “What else do I have to give?” She performed the song on Saturday, and in the middle of it I just started sobbing. I still don’t know the answer, and it is frustrating. I’m trying to be patient with myself, but…well…not always my strong suit!

I still don’t know the answer, but McLachlan’s music is again helping me think. Her latest album, “Shine On,” has a number of songs about being strong(er) and positive, and the song, “In Your Shoes,” is where I want to be right now. Here’s a link: http://www.sarahmclachlan.com/lyric-lounge/in-your-shoes/

Meanwhile, the weeds grew as fast (faster?) than the eggplant, there’s kale, spinach, and other greens and root veggies to be sown, and there’s a lot of summer left to enjoy. Tomorrow: more ice cream. And some carrots.
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Mid-summer

Grow:
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Cortland Onion
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Rhubarb Swiss Chard
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Garlic Scapes
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“Black Cap” Raspberries (do these count as “grow” if they’re growing wild taking over the property?)
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Sparkle Strawberries

Cook:
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Chinese Cabbage, Black Bean, and Bacon Saute
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Swiss Chard with Freekah and Pomegranate Molasses (adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s recipe in Jerusalem)
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Strawberry Muffins
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Strawberry and Black Raspberry Cobbler adapted from The Seasonal Baker by John Barricelli<a
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Chicken Salad with Romaine lettuce, Watermelon Radishes, Basil, and Mint

Read:
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Write:
The garden continues to do its thing, while I try to keep all the plates spinning. Unpacking boxes is a fits-and-starts ordeal, and trying to decide whether to grow, cook, read or write is a constant tug of war. There has been a bit of all of it the last week and a half. Balance is over-rated, right? An eight hour day in the garden, followed by a ten hour day reading, followed by a five-hour round of cooking/baking/preserving is fine. As long as it all gets done, right?

Right.

The black cap raspberries are coming in strong right now, and I’ve picked three and a half quarts in the last week. One quart went into a cobbler, and the rest went into today’s jam. I sweetened it with honey and brightened it with lemon juice, and again followed the instructions on the Pomona’s Pectin box. After licking the spoon, I couldn’t figure out why the dogs were looking at me so strangely. Then, on a walk past a mirror, I saw the huge blob of it on my chin. I’m glad I didn’t leave the house that way! It looked like a dried but particularly nasty wound.
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Jam!

The raspberries are the very devil to pick. I have yet to collect any without new scratches. They’re worth it, though. I could wear long clothing, but it’s hot. I’d rather be scratched, honestly. I’m sure there’s some fun psychology there.
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The kale, collards, Swiss Chard, Chinese Cabbage, onions, scallions, and lettuce are doing well, and providing lots of green to eat. Watermelon radishes are adding some crunch, and garlic scapes add some zing. Alpine strawberries continue to grow like mad, and I stand in the garden and reward work with mouthfuls of the tiny berries. They’re too fragile to survive the trip to the house, which suits me just fine.

Grow, cook, read, write. And on we go.

From bush to jelly in 82 easy steps

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I woke up yesterday determined to pick some of the Nanking cherries that were ripe and glowing on the bushes. It turns out that picking these beautiful red fruits on a beautiful summer morning requires no determination. Simply being out there with the dogs, eating a few cherries for every few I picked, was a peaceful and enjoyable way to start the day.
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I was so inspired that from there, I went and picked some of the black-cap raspberries that are growing wild (read: taking over) by the pool house (read: rustic shed). That was a little less peaceful, but the scratches all over my arms and legs are worth it. I’m combining them with strawberries and making a cobbler. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it.

The raspberries yielded a quart and a half, and the Nanking cherries yielded 2 and a half quarts, by the time I decided there were other things I might need to do besides picking fruit. The cherries are incredibly tiny, so other than eating them fresh and pulping or juicing them, the eating options are limited–there’s no way I’m going to pit them, ever. I found a recipe online for jelly, and figured, “Why not?”

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I then proceeded to dirty every dish in the kitchen, along with dish towels, counter tops, and cabinets.

At least it’s a beautiful color.

This was not the recipe’s fault, but mine, as I kept waffling about what exactly I was going to do with the four and a half cups of juice the cherries yielded. I finally landed on a jelly recipe on the Pomona’s Pectin box (see the box for instructions for jelly from juice). My jelly is clouded, because I couldn’t be bothered to strain the juice through cheesecloth, but it tastes wonderful. I used a half cup of honey with four cups of the juice, and the final jelly is tart-sweet. We’ll look forward to saving some for the winter, when its brightness will be wanted.

Picking fruit. Making jelly. Roasting chickens. Making chicken stock. Life is slow right now, which feels right after a momentous change. I’m enjoying the steps in making and preserving things, and the opportunity to focus on minutiae, after the grand scope of uprooting my life, is good.
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Saucy carrots and ordinary evenings

We have 13 days of school left. I’m trying not to think about it too much, particularly since I’m split down the middle as to how I’m feeling. One minute I’m so excited I could weep, and the next minute, I’m so sad, I could weep. My classroom is mostly ready for my exit, except for the disaster area space behind my desk, and a week ago, two students helped me box and neatly label the books that I’m keeping. (Our dining room is a bit crowded these days.)

While at work I’m still so busy I can’t see straight, (final Isearch papers turned in today!)I seem to be just drifting through my afternoons and evenings. If I had to account for my time, I’d be in trouble, because I can’t tell you what I’ve been doing.

Let’s see: I read a really good book the other night, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews (I was snorting uncontrollably with laughter by page 150). I made some lemon blueberry cornmeal muffins last weekend, and I’m going to tinker with the recipe; more honey, I think. We went out to dinner at a restaurant new to us, M.C. Spiedo (good, though everyone was dressed like they were going to Walmart–Target, at best–and on their damned cell phones…neither being the restaurant’s fault, of course). We went to the SoWa Open Market on Sunday. I went to a student’s house, because they have chickens and were lovely enough to invite me to tea, and to see their set-up. Actually, I had a great afternoon there, and it’s probably the most memorable of my recent activities.

I won’t be winning any thrill-seeking awards, will I?

That’s okay.

Tonight, dinner was a happy somewhat-orchestrated-accident. Remember those lamb ribs, and the sauce I said I was going to de-fat and do something with? Tonight, I added some more dried fruit, about a cup of chicken broth, and some oil-cured Moroccan olives and simmered it until it was a loose sauce. I served it over bulgur wheat, with small cubes of lightly smoked goat cheese (that we got at SoWa) and slivered almonds (next time, I’d add thinly sliced scallions, and on mine, some cilantro). On the side, we had sliced carrots that I sauteed with some onions. Then I added a half cup of water, a heaping teaspoon of honey, and a heaping teaspoon of harissa, and cooked the water away until the carrots were tender and the harissa and honey glazed the carrots. When the water was almost gone, I added a tsp of butter, to make them glossy.

The contrast of the sweet and occasionally smoky and/or briny sauced bulgur with the spicy-sweet carrots was a good one, and we were glad we ate at home.

Sometimes, being a homebody is delicious.

The Roller Coaster is Making Me Tired

The past five days have been a serious lesson in regaining balance. On Thursday, I didn’t like myself very much after a comment I made to a student. It had been a long day, and this student just so happened to ask one of my least favorite questions. It wasn’t his fault that he was Asker #85. It’s a normal question for an eighth grader. But I snarked in response, and felt like an ass. “No, We’re Not Watching a Movie” was my response, and I’ve read it to my classes by way of apology, so hopefully things are mended.

Friday, I got the bittersweet, but mostly sweet, news that one of my closest friends will be taking the English position I’m vacating. This is brilliant news; she will be amazing, and the room will continue to be filled with books, which makes me irrationally happy. But, whew, I’m really leaving, aren’t I? (Mrs. P, I could not be happier that you’re taking over!)

On Saturday, we discovered a fair amount of damage done to our fagarden (I know, it sounds like a swear word in Italian…which might be why it has so grown on me) by the two-legged variety of animal. It took about three or so hours to put back what had been torn asunder, and I lost about a fourth of the plants I had already put in. We kept hoping that we’d find out the damage had been accidentally caused, but some hopes are simply that, so it looks like it was just vandalism.

Then we went out and bought a new tractor. This is really good news. Though it is surprising that it’s good news, because if you had asked me about tractors five years ago, I would have given you a blank stare. The younger, less cool me didn’t know how awesome tractors are. Let’s forgive her.

On Sunday, two of our neighbors who had heard about the garden came by with a “We’re so sorry!” gift of a dozen eggs, asparagus, and a roasting chicken from the Essex Farm. Faith in humanity: restored. Melissa and Rebecca, you are wonderful human beings. I’m so glad we’re getting to know you. You add to the reasons we can’t wait to move.

On Monday, I worked so hard in the fagarden, it hurt to drive the car the four hours back to Massachusetts.

And now we’re up to today. I love my students. I’m really tired. I made an amazing dinner (if I may be permitted to say so) and I’m downloading a Journey’s Greatest Hits c.d. Steadily getting back on track.

So, dinner. We bought a lamb from a Vermont meat company that we first came in contact with at Boston’s SoWa Market, Westminster Meats. We love them–Desna is awesome to work with, and their product is delicious. You probably already knew this, but add it to the list of things I’ve never thought about: when you buy a whole lamb, it comes with lamb ribs. I’ve never seen such things, let alone cooked and eaten them. I did some web-searching, and found a super-simple recipe over at Serious Eats. If you’d like to try the original, head here.

After reading the comments, I decided to cut back on the water. I used a cup and a half, which, when combined with the amount of dried fruit, gave me a just-right amount of sauce. I adore sauce, though, since I like to pour it over rice or potatoes, swipe it up with bread, and just plain marry it with carbs/starches. If you don’t have these propensities, you might just need a cup of water. I added a small, peeled, smashed garlic clove to the onions as I softened them, and I used a mix of apricots, dates, and figs, because I didn’t have enough of one to make the called for two cups.

Instead of making the recommended rub, I used a Ras el-Hanout spice blend that I had made for another recipe. I used about a teaspoon on each rack of ribs; we had two, for a total of about 4 pounds.

Which brings me to the thing that might make people balk at lamb ribs. They are quite possibly the fattiest things I’ve ever seen in my life. And I know a lot of people will shudder, but I cut most of the fat cap off of the meaty side of the ribs. I left a very, very thin layer. Because while I know fat is flavor, there is nothing appealing (to me) about a dish swimming in cups and cups of rendered fat. (Well, okay. Duck confit. But that’s different. No, really. It is.) As it was, there was still a hefty amount of fat in the finished dish, which I’m solidifying so that I can peel it off. I’m going to use the remaining fruit and sauce to jazz up rice one night.

And the lamb and the fruit and the onions? Glory be, they were tender and melting and luscious, and the house smelled like a spice bazaar. If you like lamb shanks, you’ll like lamb ribs. Head over to Serious Eats and give this one a try! (You can also see a picture there, since I forgot to take one.)

Here’s to lamb ribs, restored faith, and the return of balance. Please.