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Archive for November, 2011

Baby Steps

After spending many months hopelessly addicted to this amazing blog, I’m thrilled to introduce myself as (I think!) the last of the new contributors.  You’ll be able to catch me here every other Wednesday.  Not only am I new to Not Dabbling, I’m also new to blogging!  Yep, this is my first ever blog post.

I’m DeeDee, and I hail from the flat cornfields of central Indiana.  The husband and I have 4 boys, ages 2,3,4, & 7.  Our 4 dogs (Gus, Roxy, JoJo, and Velma) are our other babies!  We have owned and operated a dog grooming business in our small town for almost 10 years.  While I’m a complete work in progress in the real food area of not dabbling in normal, much of our married lives we’ve taken the road less traveled in comparison to a lot of our peers.  We have always tried to keep faith first, family and friends second, and work last.  In doing that, we definitely don’t live an extravagant life (at least according to our culture’s standards), but we make it work!

I’ve grown up on real food, but as we’ve tried to maintain the aforementioned priorities, it began to seem like it was much easier to hit the old drive through after work so I could spend time with the family instead of cooking dinner, cleaning up the kitchen, etc.  As each year has passed, the scale has crept up on me big time.  I knew we were in a major rut when the 2 year old began throwing fits if we would drive by the golden arches without stopping!  I was also getting extremely frustrated as the money we earned each week seemed to disappear little by little as we sometimes ate out 2-3 times each day.

Lucky for me, the husband is really good at taking initiative & getting things done little by little.  He has always been frustrated with my “all or nothing” ways.  I would spend so much time on blogs (such as this one!) dreaming about what kind of life I wanted, but feeling completely overwhelmed on where to begin.

In the meantime, due to my weight and being on my feet a lot for work (and life in general!), I developed plantar fasciitis.  I opted to seek treatment from a chiropractor as I hadn’t seen good results from acquaintances who’d sought out conventional medicine.  Getting everything back to where it should be has really helped.  He also encouraged me to take small steps to better health instead of my all or nothing approach that obviously hadn’t been working for me!

While I still have a REALLY long way to go, I’ve made some progress.  I’ve made it a priority to plan ahead, which has taken our drive through visits down considerably, which has caused some money to reappear!  I’ve also tried to make growing/cooking real food a bigger part of our lives, and guess what?  The boys LOVE to help me both in the garden and the kitchen!  Making these small changes has saved us a ton of money, has helped me lose a few pounds (many more to go!), and has given us more time together as a family.  I’ve also learned a lot of things that I feel have been lost to my generation of women.  For example, this past weekend the boys and I made our own pumpkin puree for the pumpkin soup we’ll be feasting on for the Dark Days Challenge! Of course, some of my friends think I’m crazy, but I know from past posts I’ve read here that many of you have experienced that as well!

So, a big thank you to all of you awesome contributors and those who comment here… you have inspired me (and many others I’m sure!) to make these small changes that will lead to big results.  Though I’m not nearly as far down this path as many of you are, I’ve started my journey, and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!

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Wendell Berry is that rarest of intellectuals–a man of the ivory tower who got his hands in the dirt. An academic, author of both fiction and essay, and, most importantly, a farmer, he has written extensively since the 60s on the problems with our industrial food system, predicting many of the worst excesses that we are still fighting now. Anyone who has read Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan should go back and read Dr. Berry, whose philosophy and politics presaged their thoughts. You’ll have seen him most recently engaged in civil disobedience against mountaintop sheering in Kentucky.

His 1989 essay “The Pleasures of Eating” starts with the famous quote, “eating is an agricultural act” and ends with a list about eating responsibly. Dr. Berry describes eating–that simple daily act– as “a relationship that is inexpressibly complex.” He strives to reduce the complexity, and asks only that you be mindful of what you eat, who you eat with, and where it came from.

Berry was writing manifestos about mindful eating when Michael Pollan was just a twinkle in his father’s eye. He demands connection to your food supply, through participation in food production–“Be fully responsible for any food that you grow yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.”

Here at Not Dabbling, we follow his precept to revive ” in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household.”

Like all populist scientists, he wants people to learn and learn and learn. To know through conversation and through experience, through an open mind and heart. He saw it coming, long before the modern scourge of pathogen-laced, nutrient-starved industrial foods we are asked to eat. He says,

“The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and influence.”

Carl Sagan famously said that we are the stuff of stars. His “we” is inclusive, really inclusive, because if we–you and I–are the stuff of stars, then so is an ear of corn, or a steer, or a mountain. They are our sisters.  Says Dr. Sagan, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

And John Donne? He says that “every man’s death diminishes me” in a poem that was probably the very first thing I ever read that made me think about what it means to have a personal philosophy, in the 6th grade.

I extend it now–I have learned from Wendell Berry and Carl Sagan, and the philosopher gardeners whom I personally know, that I am connected not just to “every man” but to every blade of grass.

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Cottage Cheese

Our family likes cheese. A lot. I don’t know if that’s a regional thing because my husband isn’t so crazy about it. As for my daughter, I have to cut her off from cheese or she’ll eat it with every meal. Now, when I say I like cheese, I don’t mean I like gobs and gobs of it. I don’t like macaroni and cheese, I don’t like extra cheese on my pizza, and I definitely don’t like fake “cheese” flavored foods (read: Cheetos, Velveeta, and the like). What I really like are different flavors of cheeses: camembert, blue-veined, swiss, munster, cheddar, gorgonzola… ah! The list goes on. Creamy goodness – all of it!

About two years ago I started making my own cheeses and dairy products. I’ve ventured a little into some of the simple hard cheeses like manchego, and hope to have Hubby make me a cheese press over the long winter (hint, hint!). I also aim to get into some of the mold strains and waxes soon. In the meantime, what I make most of is mozzarella, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese, labneh, clotted cream, and sometimes cottage cheese.

Yes, I do keep raw milk, but did you know that YOU can make cottage cheese at home with plain store-bought milk?

cottage cheese

COTTAGE CHEESE

  • 1 gallon milk (preferably not ULTRA-pasteurized as it doesn’t always listen to directions)
  • ¼ tsp liquid rennet OR ¼ junket tablet mixed into ¼ cup non-chlorinated water (you will only need 1 Tbsp of this solution)
  • ½ cup (4 oz) cultured buttermilk
  • ¼ to ½ cup cream

If you have one large enough, use a double boiler to make this cheese as it helps to prevent scalding.

  1. Heat milk to 70-72 degrees. Remove milk from heat.
  2. Add buttermilk and stir thoroughly. Then add 1 Tbsp rennet solution and stir thoroughly once more.
  3. Cover milk and allow to rest at room temperature for about 4-5 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when it breaks clean from the side like custard.
  4. Use a long handled knife or spatula to cut the cheese into ½ inch-ish cubes, then cut those cubes diagonally in either direction (so you make an “X” in each cube).
  5. Allow the cheese to rest while you heat your double boiler (if you’re using one) up to 115 degrees. Insert the pan full of milk. Ideally the milk will heat slowly – about 2-4 degrees every 5 minutes. You may need to remove the liner pan of milk occasionally if it’s heating too quickly. Warm the milk up to 110-115 degrees. Then allow it to rest for 20 minutes, holding at that temperature.
  6. The curds will start to form nicely now. Test a few by squeezing them – if they’re not firm enough, cook them longer. But be careful – you can cook them too long leaving you with what I call “squeaky” cheese curds.
  7. Line a colander with cheesecloth or use a fine mesh strainer. Scoop the curds out into the cloth or strainer, and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Bring the corners of the cheesecloth together, if you’re using it, and dip the cheese in ice-cold water several times. Gently squeeze any extra water and whey out of the curds then allow to drain for another 5 minutes.
  8. Transfer your curds into a bowl, breaking apart any large pieces.
  9. Add cream to your liking and eat!
  10. You can keep this up to 5-7 days in the refrigerator. Makes approximately one pound of cheese.

Growing up I always added a sprinkle of sugar to my cottage cheese, but some people use salt and pepper, add fruit, or eat it plain. How do you eat your cottage cheese?

Jennifer can also be found blarging at Unearthing this Life and other sundry places across the interwebs.

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Our Dark Days Challenge starts this week. To remind everyone, sign up here to share your SOLE (Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical) meal once a week through March. Here on Not Dabbling, and over on (not so) Urban Hennery, we’ll do biweekly highlights from the participating blogs, focusing on each region:  Sage for the West, Jen for the Southeast, Miranda for the Northwest, Emily J. and Ryan for the Northeast, me and Susy for the Midwest, Emily S. for the South. Make sure to check our individual blogs as well for our own Dark Days efforts. If you’re signed up for the Challenge, you’ll be getting an email with an address to let us know what you’re up to!

***

I (Xan) focused more on frozen than canned goods this year. My biggest deficit is greens; I’m hoping my local year-round CSA will have local frozen peas!

***

Here at Chiot’s Run the larder is more filled with things I don’t have to actively preserve: carrots, potatoes, beets, celery, etc. Each year I focus more on growing things for a longer harvest season so I don’t have to spend as much time canning/preserving during the season. I grow greens for harvest in the cold winter months, usually spinach, mache and kale. I’m lucky that there are also a lot of local farmers now focusing on cold weather crops. We have a great farmer’s market that should make my Dark Days Challenge Meals a little easier!

We do focus on filling our freezer with local meat. I just purchased a half a hog from a local farmer that I’ll pick up next week. Mr Chiots is also a hunter, so each year we end up with a few deer in the freezer thus venison is our primary source of red meat.

***

Up here in the Northwest, without a personal garden and within a temporary apartment, I will be heavily utilizing the local Winter Indoor market to supply us with fresh produce this year. I luckily have friends with chickens to supply us with eggs, and i’ll most likely do a lot of bartering for fresh veggies with my handcrafted soap. I love being able to barter for local goodies instead of paying with cash – it is so rewarding to trade quality commodities without having to visit the bank! One thing you will always find in my cupboards, though is homemade and canned chicken or turkey stock. My pressure canner may take up an entire closet, but it’s worth it to me to have it around to supply us with nourishing stock all through the year. I also added something fun to my preserved foods this year: dried local apples. Yum!

***

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stack of cards to give

The holiday season is upon us. One of the gifts I decided to give my nieces this year is cards. At first I thought I would make them each a stack of personalized “monogrammed” cards. Then I realized that they are at a point (8 and 10 years old) where they like projects and new things, so why not let them make the cards (or at least partially make the cards.) They live in Wisconsin and so it isn’t easy to just stop by and do craft projects with them (although I wish it was) so I thought I would do some of the work and let them finish the cards by putting them together.

Trying color combinations out

I had already made several “monogrammed” cards for them, so I will send those along as examples. With my new plan,  I set out by picking out plain card stock and designer paper combinations that I thought they would  like.

working on a layout

I am lucky enough to have a huge room upstairs where all my arts and craft supplies are. I found a HUGE long table at Salvation Army that makes a wonderful work space. Most of the time I never pick up the mess from my previous project, so that is the first thing I have to do – clean up the table. Lucky for me, the last thing I worked on was cards, so it didn’t take long for me to straightening things up.

Applying adhesive

Picking out papers. I am very frugal with buying my supplies. I check out the Sunday advertisements for both of the craft stores in my area to see who has what on sale. If one of them has a sale on paper and I am in need of more paper, I make a point to head that direction. Also, I make sure that I am armed with any coupons they have and always check the clearance sections because you never know what you will find there. I have found a lot of deeply discounted papers in that area. Craig’s List can also be an good place to find things like stamps and punches and even papers. You can also make contact with a stamp demonstrator from your area. When we first moved to Texas, I visited my friend in Austin I learned about Stampin’ Up. They have demonstrators all over the world and most likely there is one in your area. Those demonstrators can have all sorts of activities from stamping cards to scrapbooking. Several demonstrators will have a “stamp-a-stack” class where you pay a fee (usually around $10-$15) to go stamp a stack of cards (usually 12 cards). They do all the planning and paper cutting and you just go and stamp the selected stamps they have chosen to “demonstrate” and put it all together (I notice they are usually themes depending on the time of year – Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring.) You walk away with finished handmade cards and you didn’t had to buy any supplies. What a deal. With the “stamp-a-stack” in mind, that is what I did for my nieces. I think they will enjoy this gift. It is creative, handmade and they get to have some fun with it too. I hope it will bring a big smile to their faces when they each open their gift.

using foam to raise an area

I have a hard time figuring out what to give my mom for gifts. She is at a point where she has everything and doesn’t want more “things.” I have found making cards for her to be one of the gifts I can make and give her that she will use (she also enjoys the homemade soap.) Right now I am making her Christmas cards and throughout the year I give her other cards as gifts. She can use them herself or use them as gifts for other people. I want to make sure I am making cards that she will like, so she is involved in the process. I know that takes some of the surprise factor away, but in the long run I know she is happier to get a gift she likes and can use.

2 card projects done

You may have some stamping and scrapebooking stores in your area that offer classes or projects. Local craft stores in your area may have some projects going on with the holidays coming up.

I am also quite happy to report that some of the papers I cam able to buy are made in the USA. I look at that as a win-win situation. I get to make a handmade card and support a business in the USA. While that business is not local to my area, at least I feel better knowing the paper didn’t have to travel across the ocean to get here.

Papers made in the USA

Sincerely, Emily

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And then we feast!

As I sat down at the table yesterday, I realized how fortunate I am to be so connected to my food, to those that grow it and that we now have the ability to host family and friends at our house to share the bounty.

The act of preparing the meal was the result of months and months of work of many people in my community. The butternut squash was gifted to me from my intern, whom was sad to discover that the squash I grew this year were infected with disease (our soil needs a lot of love). She came in the next day with armloads of squash for us that she had picked up at a local farm in her town. The potatoes were gifted to us by our neighbor who runs a small farm, she knew we loved potatoes and dropped off about 30 lbs of potatoes on Monday afternoon and said to stop by soon, she had plenty more for us. The stuffing, was made by Mike and I, first we baked some gluten free bread with eggs from our friends pastured chickens and with raw milk from another friends farm. The turkey came from yet another friends farm, raised on pasture since July. They processed them on Sunday using the same equipment we had borrowed from them to process our pastured chickens the week before. We grew the garlic and the onions and apples came from another local farm, where we visit regularly to stock up on fresh raw milk ice cream. The only distant food was the organic canned cranberry sauce. I know that this is one of those weird foodstuffs that have made it to the table that is bizarre but I grew up eating it and it was always the favorite of my sister and I. I think it was because it was like candy served as a dish in a main meal, and as a child that has great appeal. I was beyond excited when I found an organic version!

It was the first Thanksgiving that Mike and I prepared and hosted, and it was the first Thanksgiving that it dawned on me that this was the one truly seasonal meal that people all around the country were enjoying as well. It shocked me that it took this long in my life to realize the seasonality of this particular feast, because I’ve never hosted and had the ability to bring a Thanksgiving meal to the table with such intention and connection. It dawned on me that the symbol of tradition has triumphed meaning and connection to what the dishes even represented all these years.  It is not much different than how we eat every day because we eat in season and each meal, three times a day, is just as connected and filled with stories as this one. But what makes this meal different, is that it is the one time, you can bring a bunch of folks together, that aren’t necessarily thinking about food and connection as much as I might be, but we all sit down and share the same amount of gratitude. And then we feast.

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To be Thankful

I am Thankful (this is my thankful face^).

In the past, I’ve felt like writing the whole “I am thankful for…” thing was ridiculously primary-school. It always felt forced and stuffy. I am thankful for my dog and my house and my Polly Pocket.

It really wasn’t until this year that I realized that listing what we’re thankful for isn’t just listing; It’s committing. It makes the writer bear a part of them self in a concrete way and it makes the writer really ponder the things in their life.

If you still feel like its primary-school-like, well… too bad.

I’m thankful for the bountiful harvests that occur around me each year, both naturally and cultivated.

I’m thankful for the beauty in the world, and my ability to pause and take it in.

I’m thankful for the silly in the world and my husband’s neverending ability to make me laugh harder and longer.
I’m thankful to have been born into a supportive, albeit strange family, and to have married into a family just as supportive, albeit a little more “normal”.


I’m thankful for my life, my passions and my endless daydreams.

I am also thankful to be part of a blossoming digital community that comes together, via blogs and social networking to discuss, learn, challenge and inspire one another.

Thank you readers and fellow NDiN contributors.

With love, Emily from Tanglewood

 

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Needless to say, I love the cooking part, especially as my sister-in-law and mother-in-law are also fantastic cooks. Since one is Hungarian and the other Chinese, and I’m Greek, we have some very very interesting family dinners under our belts. But apparently, you don’t mess with Thanksgiving traditions, especially among the converted (i.e. non native-born).

Still, several years ago, I decided to make a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

In typical Xan fashion, I was going to single-handedly bring the family into creative holiday meal making, and instead of a turkey, I made pastitio.

The thing about Greek meals is, you can pack a lot of calories into a single dish. I made two huge pans of lovely, fluffy, custard-, meat-, and noodle-filled pastitio, with a Greek salad of tomatoes, parsley and onions dribbled with olive oil, and rice dolmades. Trust me, it was a LOT of food.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner has what– a main dish, turkey, that’s 1. With stuffing, 2. Mashed potatoes for 3. Maybe carrots, and peas. 4 and 5. Cranberry sauce or apple sauce 6.

Six dishes.

My thinking was that pastitio covers three of those– meat and two starches. The salad and dolma stood in for the veggies.  The only thing missing was a cranberry sauce analog, and no one actually eats the cranberry sauce, am I right?

My mother-in-law was beside her self. “Not enough food,” she kept insisting. “You should have told me, I would have brought something.”

For the next several years, no matter what was on the menu, she never showed up for a family dinner without a pot roast in hand, “just in case.”

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

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A Thanksgiving Dinner

We have so many sisters here now, that the table is too crowded for just one person to make a meal. So we’re making our own Thanksgiving dinner, and sharing it with you.

***

For some reason, about 5 years ago my family (it’s Xan by the way) decided that they are completely in love with canned cranberry jelly/sauce, dumped onto a plate in the shape of the can and eaten with slices. This. Makes. Me. Insane. The stuff is tasteless, watery and full of preservatives, not to mention being utterly contrary to everything I believe about food. Personally I think they do it just to make me crazy.  I’m actually going to attempt my own cranberry jelly this year (which will go in the Adventures in Jelly Making post) but here’s the wonderful cranberry chutney that my sister in law taught me years ago.

World’s Best Cranberry Chutney
1 lb cranberries (these used to come in 16 oz bags, now they’ve reduced bag size to 12 oz, so just deal)
1 cup sugar or 1/2 cup honey
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup water
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped apple (Granny Smiths)
1/2 c. chopped celery

Simmer cranberries, sugar, raisins and spices in 1 cup water, uncovered, in a saucepan over medium heat, just until the cranberries release their juice (about 15 minutes). Keep heat low, and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. I think it’s best when made the day before and stored in the fridge, then served at room temperature for the actual meal.

***

Here at Chiot’s Run Thanksgiving dinner features all local homegrown fare. My sister bring mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn from her garden. I buy a turkey from a local farm and roast it with homegrown sage and local cider. I also make homemade rolls, roasted sweet potatoes tossed with a little of our homemade maple syrup, pies from homegrown pumpkins. My favorite dish of all has to be the stuffing. Not the dry stuff from a box, or the stuff from inside a turkey. Mine is more like a savory bread pudding, crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside. It’s made with dry bit and ends of homemade bread I’ve saved for a few months and has lots of homegrown sage, celery and onions.

RICH SAVORY STUFFING

1 loaf of stale bread (I prefer using sourdough)*
2 3/4 cups of chicken or turkey stock (or 2 cups of stock and 3/4 cup of cream)
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup real butter (use more if you like, I’ll use up to 1/2 cup)
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic diced
1 cup of chopped celery
2 teaspoons of dried rubbed sage
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt (if your chicken stock is salted cut back on this)
Additional items to add for flavor if desired: cranberries, diced apples, cooked sausage, apple cider, chestnuts, raisins, pecans, etc.

Cut bread into slices or tear into large chunks. Layer in buttered tall casserole dish.

In saucepan melt butter and add onions and celery, cover with lid and cook on low for 5 minutes. Add garlic, return lid and cook until onions are translucent. Mix in pepper, salt and sage and cook for one minute, remove from heat. Mix in stock and eggs and stir until combined.

Pour the stock mixture slowly over the bread moving around the dish, work slowly so it is absorbed. Let dish rest for 30 minutes while preheating oven to 350.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until the top is golden brown and the custard is just set but still slightly wobbly (you can test with knife to see if it’s done). Serve while warm, preferable smothered in giblet gravy!

*Should equal 6-8 cups of bread chunks depending on size of pieces.  If you don’t have stale bread you can tear in chunks and dry in a low oven or leave on cookie sheet on counter for a day or two.   If you think about it start planning ahead and adding odd pieces & ends of bread to a bag in the freezer a month or two before Thanksgiving.  Then you’ll have a good mix of different kinds of bread for the best stuffing!

***

I giggled when I read Xan’s story about the canned cranberry – My husband does the same thing “What’s that? (he knows what it is – it is just a show) Where is the canned cranberries with the rings on it?” I cringe, because I have great memories of picking fresh wild cranberries in a bog near our cabin. He loves cranberries, so we do eat them often, but never canned. He is just poking fun at me (Sincerely, Emily).

It has been many many years since I have spent Thanksgiving with my family, so we just make sure that we are surrounded with our local family during the holidays. Those get-togethers revolve around a meal. One dish that I make over and over, year after year is a Corn Casserole recipe that came from my Great Uncle Bob. If we are invited somewhere around the holidays, I will bring that dish. It is just a little different from the usual holiday dishes, and usually no one has ever had it before, so I also make sure I bring a few copies of the recipe with me because someone is bound to ask how to make it. The original recipe uses canned cream corn, but over the past few years I have been modifying it to use more fresh and local ingredients so that I feel better about the dish. Here is my version.

Uncle Bob's Baked Corn

Uncle Bob’s Baked Corn Casserole

  • 5 1/2 cups of corn (about 42 ounces)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs (plus a bit extra for the top if you want)
  • 1 small-medium onion – chopped
  • 4 T flour
  • 2 cups milk or cream
  • 1/2 T Thyme
  • 1/2 T Sage
  • 1/2 T Oregano
  • 1/2 T garlic powder

I normally cream about half of the corn. It is up to you if you want to cream all the corn or just half of it. The original recipe used all creamed corn. If you want to cream all your corn, just increase your milk/cream by 1 more cup and add an additional 2-3T of flour.

  • Combine flour and milk/cream in a sauce pan. Heat over medium heat and add about 3  1/2 cups of corn.
  • Heat over medium heat. As the corn cooks the sauce will start to thick and “cream.”
  • In a separate bowl whisk your eggs, then add the rest of your ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Put in a buttered casserole dish
  • I like to sprinkle more bread crumbs on top to get a nice crusty top as it cooks, but that is up to you
  • Cook uncovered at 375F/180C for 1 1/2 hours.

***

One of the things i’m generally the most thankful for this time of year is my father in law’s delicious mashed potatoes! I’ll be missing out this year, as i’ve moved from my Austin Homestead back to the Pacific northwest. This year, i’m lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with my dad, mama #2 and a bevvy of their closest friends. I won’t be missing out on the mashed potatoes, though: i’m bringing them myself! I’ve added my usual “miranda twist” to Ross’s recipe though, adding some cauliflower (farmer’s market) and a touch of yogurt (homemade) to reduce the starch and up the nutrition. I’ll also be using some purple potatoes from Gathering Together Farm to make my dish extra special. The only thing i worry about is not having enough!

MASHED “POTATOES” with CAULIFLOWER

Minute Fried Steak with Purple Mash- Potatoes, chopped into quarters or whatever fraction makes them evenly sized – use as many as will fill about 1/2+ your stockpot
– 1 head cauliflower, also chopped in evenish chunks
– 5 or more cloves garlic, minced or put through a crusher: the more garlic the better in my opinion!
– several pats butter
– 1/4 cup plain yogurt (can sub a splash of milk)
– salt, pepper and optional herbs to taste (rosemary, sage, thyme, etc)

Put the potatoes and cauliflower in a stock put filled either full or with several inches of water, you can choose to steam or boil the veggies. With either method, cook until all the veggies are soft, they should be easily stabbed with a fork. The potatoes generally soften first: i leave the skin on and the skin falling off is a good indicator they’re done. Make sure the cauliflower is soft enough or the mash will be gritty, you may want to cut the cauliflower chunks smaller than the potatoes to ensure they get well cooked. Drain off the liquid (reserve for baking bread or to feed the pigs if you’ve got ‘em) and put back over low heat. Add the butter, garlic and optional herbs and begin to mash! You can use an old fashioned masher, a hand mixer or an immersion blender. When veggies are crushed, add the yogurt and whip to your desired consistency. Add more salt or butter to taste and get ready to slather on that gravy!

***

Jennifer here! Every Christmas Eve my family celebrates my step-father’s Polish heritage with a traditional dinner. This week I started experimenting with making our own pierogies in hopes of finding one good enough to share next month. In the meantime, I have so many pierogi that we’ll be starting our celebration this Thursday.

Here’s the recipe for the cheese version I made this week:

FARMER’S CHEESE PIEROGI

Filling:

  • 1 pound farmer’s cheese (you can substitute ricotta, but it is slightly different)
  • 1 tsp cane sugar
  • 1 egg

Mix all ingredients together and keep in refrigerator until dough is ready to be filled.

Dough:

recipe from Jeff Smith’s Our Immigrant Ancestors

  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 2 eggs plus 1 yolk, whisked
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp light tasting vegetable oil

Mix all dough ingredients together and knead several minutes until it’s soft and pliable. Divide into two workable pieces and allow it to rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Keep your surfaces lightly floured so that your dough doesn’t stick.

Roll dough out to about ¼ inch thickness with a rolling pin.

Use a glass, bowl, or a large mug to cut out circles 4-6 inches in diameter.

Add a small amount of filling to the center of each pierogi. If you put too much filling in, it will ooze out when you fold the pierogi, so adjust your measurement as needed.

Wet your fingers with water and brush around the edge of the circle. Fold the pierogi in half and crimp the edges closed.

To serve:

Boil pierogi – gently so they don’t fall apart – for about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider then sauté for several minutes with butter and onion. It’s nice if they brown just a bit, but don’t let them get tough! My mom bakes hers on a cookie sheet in the oven for our holiday gatherings simply because there are so many!

Top with sour cream and a good sprinkle of salt and enjoy!

For a dessert-style cheese pierogi, add 2 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla to the cheese mixture and omit the onions when sautéing. Top with powdered sugar or a berry sauce instead.

(Here’s a family secret: A Polish monk recently told my great uncle that they sprinkle a bit of sugar in their butter before sautéing their pierogi – I’m definitely going to attempt it with these cheese dumplings!)

Pierogies freeze nicely, allowing you to make lots in advance or to keep some for the rest of the year! Just be sure that you freeze them individually on a cookie sheet to keep them from sticking to each other.

***

From “newbie” DeeDee….  I’m trying something new this year, and hoping it turns out well!  We are blessed enough to live near most of our family, so we celebrate Thanksgiving with both my family and my in-laws.  This year our day will begin at my husband’s grandmother’s house, and I’ve been asked to bring a green bean dish of some sort.  Rather than doing the traditional “dumping the cans of mushroom soup & onions” on my already tasty green beans from the garden, I’m going to attempt an enhanced version (using a dutch oven)  of my mom’s green beans with bacon (combined with some of Emeril’s ideas!).  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

GREEN BEANS WITH BACON

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4-6 slices crumbled bacon (more or less depending on your preference)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (again, more or less depending on your preference, I tend to go for the more!)
  • 3 quarts canned green beans (from the garden)
  • about a cup of chicken stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Put the Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil.  Add the bacon and cook until well browned.  Add the onion and garlic, cook while stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes.  (*I will probably throw in some mushrooms as well, just because I LOVE them!) Drain some of the fat (to prevent a greasy mess later).  Add the chicken stock/water, and increase the heat until it starts to boil.  Place the lid on, and cook 5 minutes or so (I like very tender green beans, so I might actually cook them a few minutes more).  Season with salt and pepper, cook a few minutes more, then transfer to a serving dish.

And so begins the time of year when I truly begin to appreciate (among many other things!) the late nights spent after work canning all of those green beans!

***

What would thanksgiving be without a fine dessert! Now I know everybody has their own personal favorites, but I wanted to share one that’s a little less common than the typical pumpkin, pecan or apple pies. I’ve been making this dessert since I was in college and each year it’s a little different but it’s an easy recipe to riff on. I honestly don’t remember where I got the recipe!

It’s become a commonly demanded dish at family and friendly functions for me, and it’s fun to alter the ingredients a bit just to see what improves it. It’s hard to go wrong with sweetened cheese, fruit and cinnamon!

It’s a little extra special this year since we have some of our own pears from the orchard that we live on. I had hoped to use goat cheese this year but my last batch of goat’s milk went into the simmering pot for cajeta, so I’ve used neufchatel in this recipe. I’ve also used mascarpone and ricotta cheeses in the past as other options for the cheese base. These keep well for a few days, so you can make them in advance. I love this recipe so much, I made six of them, as well as at least 50 mini tortes, for my wedding!

Almond-Pear Torte

Ingredients:
4 oz butter
7 oz sugar, divided
5 oz flour (I use whole wheat. Sometimes I add a bit of almond meal to my flour.)
8 oz soft cheese – cream, neufchatel, mascarpone, goat… I wonder if boursin would work here too.
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 pears
1/2 cup sliced almonds (blanched if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 425ºF

Cream butter and 3 oz sugar until light and fluffy, then add flour. Press onto bottom, and up sides of 9″ springform pan

Beat cheese, 2 oz sugar (in the same bowl if you prefer) and add the egg and vanilla. Pour or spread onto the bottom of your crust.

Slice your pears thinly and toss pear slices and almonds with cinnamon and remaining sugar. Arrange pear slices in a fan on top of the cheese and sprinkle the almonds, cinnamon and sugar over the top.

Bake 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 325ºF. Continue baking 25 minutes, or until center is set.

Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Unfortunately I seem to have lost the pictures of my tortes! You’ll have to take my word for it. They’re delicious. They’re something like a cross between an apple pie (but with pears, obviously) and a cheesecake. You can also use various other fruits with this torte base. I’ve done cherries, raspberries, apples and blueberries, with great success!

***

Do you have a ‘must have’ dish to make Thanksgiving dinner “Thanksgiving” ?

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Yes, i spin yarn. No, my wheel is not an antique and neither are the robust group of friends i’ve made here in Oregon who are part of the even more robust fiber community. My wheel i picked up used at a great price and my friends i picked up from fiber stores and a local farmer’s market, and all of them already priceless to me. Isn’t “Clementine” spiffy? She’s a Clemes & Clemes Modern Wheel. (Please forgive the repulsive state of my kitchen. It’s a tiny apartment and it’s never clean.)

I am often asked “why would you spin yarn when you could just buy it in the store?” or “why would you want to knit a hat when you could just buy one in the store?” I believe those people are missing the point. I do still buy cotton yarn and lust after other folks’ gorgeous handspun occasionally. I don’t think everyone in the world needs to make everything from scratch, but in case you too are wondering why i’m crazy enough to spend hours holding balls of fluff in my hands and treadling my foot up and down, this is why i do it:

Some of my very first handspun, totally uneven, but super soft!

Spinning is an ancient art that is so simple yet so complex. By carefully holding the fiber of animals or plants in one hand, rotating it using a spindle or spinning wheel, and gently tugging it forward and back, you can create yarn: something beautiful and strong that can be used to make functional and long lasting garments. What’s better than that? I am also a sailer, or was in my younger days, and spinning is a bit like sailing in that you’re grasping just a few simple elements and harnessing them to do what you want. Wind and water make you go, fluff and twist make beautiful yarn.

Ultimately, I will be raising many of the animals who will contribute the fiber that i spin. I’m thinking of raising Icelandic sheep for their fiber and their meat, pygora goats for their cashmere-like fiber and friendship, and a few fluffy rabbits from which the softest of fiber comes. To raise an animal, sheer it, wash and prepare its fiber, spin it into yarn and create a sweater to be worn for the rest of your life: now THAT’S the reason that i spin. Spinning is relaxing, rewarding, and reconnects me to a time before the hussle and bussle of this century – and i get to wear or clothe my loved ones with the fruits of my labors!

What do you think of my very first knit hat? I’m an absolute beginner knitter, and it’s kind of atrocious. At least the yarn i spun for it is warm, if a bit uneven! I think the hubs likes it, even if it is “The hat of many mistakes.”  Read more about my spinning and knitting attempts and see how much nicer they’re both starting to look at An Austin Homestead. -Miranda

Are you a spinner? I know there are more of us out there than some may think… Why do YOU spin?

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