Showing posts from 2013

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The New Year's Resolution

What is Trim the Fat Tuesday, you ask?

It's a new series for the new year, and it springs from my New Year's resolution to make one relatively painless tweak to our finances every week for the whole year. Each change should help us save a tangible amount of money per month — money that we can then either add to our savings or use to pay down our mortgage.
I know this doesn't have much to do at all with our garden or our food or the types of things I usually write about — at first glance, anyway. But a lot of what we do (or strive to do) is to live by our own hands, whether that is growing, preserving, and making our own food, renovating our old house, sewing our own clothes (ok, fine, our own costumes — so far), etc., etc. And if we really had our own way, we'd be living pioneer-style on a farm and not working at a job job at all. Or at least very much.
So it seems high time to start paying as close attention to the retirement cash-flow situation as we do to the seeds…

How to Drink Dandelion Wine, Part 2

Last Saturday we hosted our Iron Bartender contest using dandelion wine as the required (and, I must say, challenging) ingredient. We had a total of eight original drinks, and when the voting was done, we ended up with a tie for third place, a tie for second place, and a clear champion.
Today, we'll take a look at the second place cocktails.
The Drink of the Lion Fairy
Presented by Linda and Eric Getz
1 lemon's worth of juice and zest 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, rough chopped 6 springs of mint 5 1/2 ounces water 1&1/2 cup sugar 1 large spring of fresh mint 3 dots of aromatic bitters 1 oz. absinthe 1/2 oz. Bison Grass Vodka 1/2 oz. dandelion wine 1/3 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice crushed ice
1. First, prepare an herbed simple syrup by combining lemon juice and zest, parsley, 6 sprigs of mint, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat on low until sugar is dissolved and syrup thickens slightly. Strain into a jar after syrup cools and compost the plant material.
2. Place 1 large spri…

How to Drink Dandelion Wine, Part 1

Remember last year when we made an experimental batch of dandelion wine? It wasn't very good at all, probably due to our Appalachian-style fermenting methods (a ceramic crock and a towel). Still, we don't like to see anything go to waste, so we figured our moonshine-esque wine might be good (or at least palatable) mixed with something else in a cocktail.
But what, exactly, makes a fine pairing with a fume-y, medicinal liquor of weeds?
We needed help. 
Enter the Iron Bartender Contest, which we hosted this weekend. We invited all of our most creative friends to concoct a drink using at least one ounce (a shot) of dandelion wine. Mixologists whipped up a drink, named it, and then got to taste all the drinks before voting for their three favorites. 
And, oh my stars, did our friends ever step up to this challenge! People came with all kind of fruits, simple syrup, herbs, liquor, wine, teas, and tools. And they were remarkably undeterred from the challenge after tasting straight-…

Peachy Cranberry Christmas Tart

Remember our tiny cranberry harvest? Back in October, this was the full extent of what we picked:

According to the news, 2013 was an absolute bumper year for the Massachusetts cranberry harvest. While that may be true, our own cranberry plot is only a couple years old, so we don't have much to show for it just yet. Like blueberries, cranberries take several years to get established, so we should be pleased with our small handful (1/3 cup, to be exact) that has come in ahead of schedule.
But what do you do with only 1/3 cup of cranberries? That's definitely a garnish-only amount, but we like to make sure that we celebrate each crop we harvest by making something special out of it (at least with the first picking — 7 zillion tomatoes later doesn't feel quite so special by late September). 
So after some time spent flipping through cookbooks, I happened upon a Martha Stewart recipe for a peach tart with cranberry glaze. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of cranberries and …

Stuffed Butternut Squash, Two Ways

When it's my turn to cook, I often go for a vegetarian dish. Tonight I went down into the root cellar (ok, it's really just the cold, drafty basement) and grabbed a couple of butternut squash to stuff.
First, they need to be pre-baked, so cut off the stem end, slice lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Then place cut-side down on an oiled tray (I used peanut oil, but it doesn't really matter):

Bake for a half hour at 350 degrees. As you can see, I picked a big one for me and Kirk, and a small one for the kids.
While that's cooking, you can make the stuffings. 
For the kids, I went with an Italian filling. The measurements below made extra, but you might need it depending on the type of squash you use).
1/4 cup pine nuts, chopped (I used a food processor) 4 sundried tomatoes, finely diced 6 cloves of garlic, minced 1/3 of a small leek, diced 1/2 cup grated mozzarella 2 Tbs. grated parmesan 1 cube frozen pesto, thawed (it's about a tablespoon) 1 tsp. rosemary 3/4 cu…

Soup, There It Is!

Ok, so the kids weren't all that psyched about tonight's dinner until I reminded them of this:

Justin Timberlake - Cup O Soupby tony0413
Then they got on board.
Anyway, you shouldn't need any convincing to be excited about this dinner:

Kirk made a chicken barley soup and some sage rolls, and it was all delicious — perfect for an icy-cold day between snowstorms.
Chicken Barley Soup
3 chicken breasts 2 stalks of celery 3 leeks 6 small parsnips 1 Tbs. peppercorns 1 lemon dried herbs 1-2 Tbs. olive oil 2 large turnips 3/4 cup barley 8-10 sundried tomatoes  1/2 cup frozen peas salt and pepper to taste
To make the quick stock, fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water, 3 chicken breasts, plus a stalk of celery, 2 leeks (cut into large chunks), 6 small parsnips, 1 Tbs. crushed peppercorns, 1/2 a lemon, and a handful of dried herbs of your choice (we used sage and thyme). 
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. 
Strain the broth and compost the vegetables, but reserve the chic…

Herbal Apothecary: Healing Hand Balm

It's officially Super Cold here. When I had to leave the house this morning, it was 9 degrees out, and this evening we are expecting (perhaps) a foot of snow.

The furnace in this drafty old house is getting a major workout, and that leaves us with the driest air this side of Phoenix. Forced hot air from an oil-burning furnace is about the worst of all possible home-heating combination: it’s expensive and it's uncomfortably dry. And with our largely uninsulated old house (we're working on it, I promise), it's running nonstop on days like this.

And that has led to some seriously dry skin, especially for our hands. And for certain residents of this house who tend to pick at hangnails, it can be a painful time of year.

Herbs to the rescue!

I have been very happy with my homemade lotion, but I realize that it isn't very masculine-smelling with its rosewater and other (slightly) girly essential oils. So I decided to make a good, thick, and unscented hand balm that every…

Recuperation, Feline Edition

Our intrepid barn cat hurt himself!

We don't know how, but last Wednesday morning he was sporting a pretty gimpy limp when he came to the door for breakfast. I think he was actually pretending to be as fine as he could manage when he knew I was watching, but when he was under the dining room table and thought I couldn't see, he looked way worse. He could barely put any weight at all on his right front paw, and he looked very slow and stiff.

That afternoon, Tiegan found him in his bed in the workshop, which is up on a workbench. He couldn't get down by himself — no surprise that he didn't want to leap on his foot if he couldn't even walk on it. So she scooped him up and brought him into the house to eat and sit on her lap for the afternoon.

Kirk and I checked his foot, but it was fine. We figured it was a sprain, and a quick look online (did you know the WebMD has a pets section?) suggested giving it three to four days before calling a vet.

I caved by Friday, and h…

Thanksgiving Roundup: The Desserts

Choose just one favorite pie for Thanksgiving? Impossible! 

We all love pumpkin and apple, so every year we make two pies — even on the years when it's just the four of us. Because really, you can't have too much pie. You just eat the leftovers for breakfast for the rest of the week. And dessert. And maybe lunch.
Anyway, the pumpkin pie is made from fresh pumpkins, and you can find full recipe and pumpkin processing details here. The apple pie was adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. I looked at a few to get a sense of ratios, and decided to season this apple pie (4 Granny Smith and 4 Gala apples) with the zest and juice of one clementine, ground cloves, allspice, and coriander, plus brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.
I purposely went with a less traditionally flavored apple pie, to differentiate it from the pumpkin. I liked it, but I think I should have given a bigger warning that this was different from your regular cinnamon-clove-nutmeg classic apple pie. Kirk said it w…

Thanksgiving Roundup: The Dinner

Ah, Thanksgiving. Have I mentioned how much I love it? We were lucky to be hosting some great friends who also happen to be transplanted Pennsylvanians like ourselves:

Good friends and good eats made for a great holiday! Let's get a closer look at the dinner we enjoyed:

Clockwise from the top, we had turkey (of course), green bean casserole, parsley mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and turkey stuffing.
This is all pretty standard fare for Thanksgiving, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Tiegan made the cranberry sauce by following the time-honored direction on the bag from Ocean Spray (we only had a handful of cranberries of our own this year, which I have other, more garnish-like plans for). Kirk added fresh parsley to the mashed potatoes to use it up, but it was a nice addition.
The green bean casserole, though, is a homemade riff on the old Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup-using invention (which I will admit to loving). It's a pretty tasty upgra…

Thanksgiving Roundup: The Appetizers

I already wrote about our delicious Thanksgiving lunch of chipotle corn chowder, rolls, and Bloody Marys, but here's what else we had for our harvest celebration. Thanksgiving is the culmination of our year's labor, so I'm going to show it off a bit.

Some snacky appetizers: pickled Swiss chard stems, sweet gherkins, and curry sour refrigerator pickles. Also on the scene is a slice of cheese torta to spread on the crackers. That wedge is actually a small portion of what was once a giant jello-mold-esque bomb of buttery, cheesy delight. It's super-rich and freezes well, so we brought a piece out for the holidays.
This is modified from an old recipe from Kirk's mom that we only have a photocopy of. Here's how we make it.
Cheese Torta
2 packages of cream cheese, room temp 4 sticks of unsalted butter, room temp 6 pesto cubes, melted (about 4 oz.) 1 small jar of oil-packed sundried tomatoes cheesecloth
1. Moisten and then wring out cheese cloth, and use a double laye…

Aerial View: December 1, 2013

Ready for winter! Everything left to eat is tucked away under glass or plastic; everything else has been composted or mulched over until the spring. Not too many chores left to do now, other than a daily check on the animals and one last pass to gather up the late-falling leaves. 

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.

Chipotle Corn Chowder

The day before Thanksgiving is Pie Day, but in addition to the traditional baking (pumpkin and apple, which I can share later), I also made a soup for Thanksgiving lunch. I have been ruminating about using our frozen corn for a corn chowder for a few months now, and this seemed the perfect day to give it a go. Corn, after all, is a pretty traditional New England Thanksgiving food. For us, though, it has always been a challenge to grow, so using the last of our hard-won kernels warranted a special occasion. 
My recipe is modified from Pioneer Woman'sCorn Chowder with Chilies [sic]. I liked the idea of spicing this up, but I went with our own dried chipotles instead of the canned ones called for in the recipe. Vinegary, canned peppers seemed weird to me in a creamy soup, but her addition of masa harina is genius. Here's my version:
Chipotle Corn Chowder
4 slices of bacon (ours was from Tendercrop and was corn-cob smoked, which is extra smoky and rich-tasting, and perfect for thi…

Horseradish Preparation

Ah, horseradish. Delicious and so easy to grow you might want to plant it somewhere where it won't bother you if it takes over. It's kind of a bully in a garden bed, but that just means there's more to harvest in the fall.
It's at its best after a frost when the leaves die back, but once it's established you can dig it up whenever you want, really. I went out on Tuesday to quick dig up bunches of roots while the temperatures were (temporarily) mild and the ground unfrozen. Although I was careful to leave behind at least a couple good roots for next year, I still brought in a big bucket of horseradish:

In the midst of Pie Day (the day before Thanksgiving, when all the baking happens), I took some time to prep the horseradish for both eating and long-term storage. First, wash it and pat it dry:

For storage, think about what you would do with any other root vegetable, maybe a carrot or turnip. Crisper drawer on high humidity will do, but only store intact roots that …