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Archive for December, 2011

Everywhere you turn, these days, we are bombarded by cupcakes. My god there are a lot of cupcake shops. I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a Michigan thing, either. Cupcake station, Cupcake shoppe, Just Baked, etc. etc. etc. They’re everywhere!

While I admit readily (and loudly) to my soft spot for cupcakes, I absolutely cannot stand the crap they sell in most of the shops around here. They’re full of corn products (high fructose and otherwise), vegetable oil, preservatives I can’t pronounce, soy products, and more. Cupcakes are simple, though. They’re cake and icing, and somewhere along the line we decided it was more important to have long lasting baked goods than baked goods containing whole ingredients. The biggest problem with cupcakes, or any cakes, is that they’re difficult to transport.

I would love to gift my family a series of gourmet cupcakes from my personal recipes, but honestly it’s just not going to happen without loads of unnecessary packaging.

There is but one solution…

Whoopie Pies!

The recipe I desperately needed to try today was for a close friend whose birthday is tomorrow. Things she loves? Peanut butter, Sugar and Chocolate… Things that don’t grow in Michigan? Peanuts, Sugar and Cocoa. *sigh* I’m trying to stick to the Dark Days Food Challenge this winter, eating S(ustainable) O(rganic) L(ocal) E(thical) foods. You know, actually, I tried to grow peanuts last year and managed to grow seven of them! It was pretty exciting…

So I managed to find fair trade organic cocoa at our local grocery store, Plum Market, and the cane sugar I used was also organic. The peanut butter is USA grown and organic… Ah well. I tried, right? At least the flour fit the profile, as did most of the other major ingredients.

The recipe I used for the cakes was actually borrowed from the Martha Stewart web site. It was the only recipe I could find online that didn’t include shortening (ew ew ew!) The buttercream filling came from my own brain, but it’s pretty darned basic since it’s an American buttercream. Anyway, I’ll share the recipes below the following amazing delicious inspiring num-num photo…

Whoopie Pie Chocolate Cake Base
Makes 2 dozen sandwiches

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Peanut butter buttercream frosting

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

2. Using a 1-ounce ice-cream scoop, (I used a piping bag for mine – they were much more uniform) place cookies onto lined baking pans, twelve per pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

3/4 c peanut butter
1 c butter (room temperature)
1 c powdered sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt

Whip together peanut butter and butter until smooth and light. Once thoroughly combined, begin to add the powdered sugar in a few additions, whipping between each addition and checking the texture. It’s pretty easy to get the texture/taste you want. Want more peanut butter flavor? Add more peanut butter.

Spread or pipe 2 tablespoons of frosting onto each of half of the cookies. Sandwich together with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days… if they last that long. Mwahaha.

Once you’ve assembled your whoopie pies, you can serve them how you see fit. I packaged mine in tiny plastic bags (oh geez… feeling guilty there. ick.) for presenting to my friend Katie (and our other mutual friends) for her birthday.

Have you ever made whoopie pies? There are so many options! What are your favorites?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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When Xan mentioned salt yesterday and how she couldn’t find it locally, I kind of chuckled to myself. You see, I spent part of my childhood living in Rittman, OH, which happens to be the home of Morton Salt. Rittman is only about 40 miles away from Chiot’s Run and I am in town several times a month because my parents still live there. You will not, however, find any Morton Salt in my pantry. Why? Because it’s a refined product that had extra additives. Many table salts contain anti-caking agents and even dextrose along with added iodine and other things. Others have been processed with heat and their natural trace minerals have been removed. Commercial salts can contain over 30 synthetic chemicals, such as sodium solo-co-aluminate, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium iodide, which are all chemical additives that make the salt flow easily from the box. “When it rains it pours” right! When you switch to an unrefined salt for a while you can taste all of the chemicals in the regular chemical salt. A good sea salt with taste minerally not chemically salty like table salt.

I choose to purchase natural salts instead and I have a few different kinds in my pantry. I most often use  Real Salt  or  Celtic Sea Salt in my cooking. We have coarse Himalayan Pink Salt in our salt mill and this is the kind of salt I use in my neti pot as well. I also have black salt and a few other interesting salts that add different flavors and additional minerals to our diet.

I happen to believe that real salt, in moderation, is good for you.  Depending on the variety, it can contain over 60 trace minerals (that is if you’re buying a good quality product). The interesting thing is, that once you start eating real salt, you’ll start to notice that you don’t crave thing to be as salty as you used to when eating chemical salt. I’m even crazy enough to carry a small shaker of Real Salt in my purse just in case I happen to need some at a restaurant (they sent me a few with my last 25lb salt purchase). My goals for eating locally are to help build a vibrant local economy and food web, but more important to me is making sure I’m providing the safest and healthiest food for my family. In the case of salt, it happens to be a non-local product above one that is available locally that I keep in my pantry!

Are there any products that you purchase from far away to get a better product rather than settling for an inferior local one?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Your Day Magazine, and you can follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Joel Salation of Polyface Farm has a useful, practical definition of “local”– you can drive there and back in a day. This gives you about a 4-hour radius, or just under 300 miles. If you adjust for local conditions, this is a way to define your own local “food shed,” which About.com describes as

…everything between where a food is produced and where a food is consumed. It includes the land it grows on, the routes it travels, the markets it goes through, and the tables it ends up gracing.

Most areas of the country can find local vegetables, and even local meat. Really committed locavores produce their own to the extent they can. And for these food types it’s easy. You seldom find blogs wondering where to source local meat and veggies.

Prepared foods are another story. Some foods are easy to make yourself, even if you’re a busy, urban worker bee like me. Things like pickles, tomato sauce are reasonably easy to make in your own kitchen.

But other foods are harder–mustard, ketchup, salt.

And then there’s flour.

It is murderously hard to find locally grown and milled flour and flour products. Sure there are bakeries, but where do they get their flour? I buy my bread from a local bakery, but they get their flour “from all over” and had no idea if it was organic. It hadn’t occurred to them to ask (yes, I’m looking for a different baker). And pasta? Forget it. Everyone tells me to just make my own, but I need to draw the line somewhere, and say that, finally I don’t have time. And the local mills never ever ever have white flour, which I’m sorry, sometimes you need. I’ve tried pastry crust and tollhouse cookies with whole wheat. It’s not the same.

So what can you do? It’s frustrating to have your ethics defined by external limitations over which you have no control.

For the Dark Days Challenge, I would say, since the challenge is “one day a week” and not “every meal”–don’t sweat it. Do what you can, but on your Dark Days meal, no pasta if the flour and the manufacture isn’t local. Dark Days is an intellectual, not a practical, challenge. One day a week, no salt, no cinnamon, no rice (for us northerners), and so on.

For the rest of the time, think about history. Yes, history. Evidence of trading for exotic, and even for staple, food goods dates far back into prehistory, with truly ancient evidence of trade for things like salt and seafood, and more recent (just a couple thousand years) trade for spices (think Silk Road).

Eating local is mostly about supporting a local economy and creating connection and community across socio-economic strata (office worker to farmer, for instance). It’s NOT about denying the existence of the rest of world. In the modern world, I can eat a banana, or an orange, or a lemon in Chicago, and I’m going to. I can have cinnamon, and I have to have salt. They don’t mine it in Illinois anymore, and trust me no one knows where salt comes from, I’ve tried to find out.

The only thing that you can do is keep asking. Demand local. If enough of us start selecting the local products over the imports, and stop buying imported things that can be made locally, but aren’t, the world will change.

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peppermint 2

The holidays used to be rush, rush, rush for me. It wasn’t unusual to find me shopping during the last few days before Christmas for last minute gifts. While I wasn’t a devoted enough planner to shop on Black Friday or a good enough procrastinator to wait until Christmas Eve, I was still great at getting a lot of shopping completed. Since my daughter came into my life I came to view the holidays completely different.

She was born 3 days after Christmas, and I have to tell you that the Christmas she was born was the best ever that we celebrated. We didn’t do any of the traditional stuff. We didn’t go visit family or plan a big meal as I was hesitant to travel an hour away from our hospital just days before our due date. And so, the Christmas day was spent with my lovely husband, and only him. Presents were opened leisurely and dinner was served when we were hungry. Phone calls were made and well wishes were given. I don’t recall exactly now, but we probably napped or played video games. One thing I do remember is taking photos of my pregnant belly and being full of bliss.

That day put it all into perspective. The season leading up to the holidays aren’t for procrastinating or shopping for the perfect gift. And while family will always be dear to me, having to rush to three different households in one day is just no fun. Regardless of religion, the holidays are about quality time with loved ones. Not this rushing about stuff that we’ve all come so accustomed to.

The next 8 years have only reinforced my opinion. Thanks to my daughter’s birth I became unwilling to travel to each and every in-law and distant relative’s home between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It was too much stress for the three of us. Sleep schedules would get out of whack as well as my own sanity. We learned to spread out the well-wishing of the holidays over the month. The Kid’s birthday would have a small celebration on the day of, between the three of us, and a bigger party after the first of the year.

The month leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve has become a slow-down time for us. I focus more on her needs as well as making memories for her. She and I make crafts together to celebrate winter and the holidays. We cook, watch old holiday specials, look at holiday decorations, and school less. We also spend long dinners talking to friends and family, but not out of obligation – because we want to. I’ve limited my budget as well as the number of people I buy for. Fortunately the people near and dear to me seem to enjoy the things I make for them. They understand our point of view of the holidays, in part because I refused to try to keep up with the status quo. Making a month–long holiday makes for a lot less stress and for a lot more appreciation.

For now I’ll be holding my baby girl’s hand, looking at the marvels of the season, and enjoying our time together instead of rushing around trying to buy the best presents for all those that I love. And later on when those long, cold, pensive days come knocking on all of our doors we’ll be wishing for the sparkle that the holiday season brings to winter, and recalling them with our own little twinkle in our hearts.

Jennifer can also be found blarging at Unearthing this Life.

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Welcome Week One of the Dark Days Challenge, and to the recapping team for the “West” Group! (Pretty much everyone from Indiana to the Pacific). Don’t forget to check out the companion post from the Easterners!

Starting next Sunday we will start recapping and sharing what some of the DDC participants are up to. If you just can’t wait that long or you want to read what others are chatting about, then head over to Twitter (#darkdaysfood) or Facebook. You will find the link on the tool bar to the right. We encourage everyone to join in the conversations that are flying around out there. If you are interested in joining the challenge, you still have until the end of the day today, December 4th,  to sign up. Head over to (not so) Urban Hennery to join. If you don’t have a blog and want to join in, that is fine, be sure to leave a comment and tell us all what you are up to and how you are doing when we start our recap next Sunday.

***

Since I, the Other Emily (ooh, that has a Coraline feel to it – spooky!) from Tanglewood, do tons of baking, I figured I’ll focus many of my Dark Days posts on how I’ve been adapting my recipes to use local ingredients. It’s impossible to find local GMO-free sugar here in Michigan, though we are a huge producer of beet sugar. Unfortunately not long ago, farmers received the O-K to introduce genetically modified (Monsanto-bred) sugar beets and I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy local sugar since. There was some push to farm organic sugar beets locally, but it seems to have died out and without the land or equipment needed, it’s pretty impossible to do on my own.

Lucky for me, there is lots of Michigan Honey! We have several hives just down the road on some fruit orchards, and this time of year we buy our honey from the local feed mill (where they have an amazing little selection of locally produced foods and supplies) or our local winter market..


So earlier this week I used local, cold processed honey; sustainable, organic and local flour; local, grass-fed butter; and a smidgen of locally grown culinary lavender to make some spectacular short bread. Unfortunately I was unable to find locally grown substitute for rice flour or potato starch for this batch, so I admit I settled simply for organic rice and ground it myself in the food processor (verrrry noisy!)

Unfortunately I have no photos of the finished batch. They went into the welcome arms (and mouths) of various friends.. very quickly, too!

***

After a family and friend filled Thanksgiving last week, I (Miranda from An Austin Homestead) really felt the need to have some down sized dinners for a change. I cooked up a huge vat of purple cabbage soup which is lasting for several weeks as every or every other dinner for me (and sometimes the husband when he submits to soup for dinner). Cabbage soup is surprisingly filling, and all the onions and hot peppers add a lot of vitamin C, metabolism boosters and of course, flavor to this soup.

The cabbage, leeks, carrots and garlic were grown by a local organic farm (where my hubs worked this Summer), and an onion or two came from our Austin garden, along with all the herbs. Not local anymore, but homegrown nonetheless! I will admit, those floaty peas and corns: frozen. Woops. Product of the USA at least……   keep trying, Miranda.

***

Since Unearthing this Life has moved from Tennessee to Michigan, my world has been turned upside down. I left behind a 2000 sq ft garden (which did not last the drought anyway), gave away all my chickens, turkeys, and guinea fowl, and lost the opportunity to forage a lot of goodies from our property. Living in a rental with about 20 square feet of lawn is quite the change. Fortunately I was able to jump right into the wonderful local scene here to stock up on items I left behind in Tennessee.

While a majority of our meals contain at least one local ingredient, I went out of my way yesterday to make a completely local brunch. It was embarrassingly simple, actually. Local, eggy fried eggs with luscious yellow yolks cooked in butter. The butter came from our raw milk share – and extra was smothered on our toast with raspberry jam I put up this summer. Brunch was finished off with some of the last of the sausage brought up from Tennessee when we were members of a local meat CSA. I’ll be sad to see the last pound go, but I am excited to sample some of the newly local wares available here in town.

***

My challenge with this Challenge is to really zero in on local–how I feel about the terms Seasonal, Local, Organic, Sustainable, Ethical and Whole will be the focus of my next two posts. As you know by now, I tend to wax philosophical here on NDiN; you’ll find my recipes at Mahlzeit and Sconeday.

I think of myself as a late-comer to sustainable living, until people point out to me I’ve been growing food for more than 2 decades, and I recall things like the fact that I didn’t know about frozen French fries until I was in college. My roommates pulled a bag out of the freezer and I was amazed! What is this marvelous convenience! At home, we had always made fries by boiling sliced potatoes in oil. Even at McDonald’s they boiled the fries in oil. My roommates wanted to know, rather disdainfully, how else you were supposed to make French fries. Gee, I dunno. Um, fry them?

Frozen, baked French “fries.” Who knew!?

However, I still prefer to actually fry my French fries.

***

Don’t forget to stop by to see what the Eastern “Dabblers” are up to today!

PARTICIPANTS
“WEST CONTRIBUTORS”

Northwest
leader: Miranda from An Austin Homestead
Luscious Domestic
round here at chez hates
Farming Mom
four four ten
Wisegoat Acres
The World In My Eyes
The Improbable Farmer
Nico’s Tiny Kitchen
Save the Rind
Knit & Nosh
Kitsap Farm to Fork
The Reluctant Blogger
Sustainable Eats
(not so) Urban Hennery
bee creative
Christin will be maintaining progress via email and comments

Upper Midwest
leader: Xan from Malzheit
If Not Here…
a girl named gus
OfBaking
Aagaard Farms
Rubus raspberry
Minnesota Locavore
Nordic Walking Queen
Loving Our Guts
Kittycafe
Backyard Farms
Randomly Ruthless
Keeping Local with the Joneses
Woo-hoo Tofu
Squash Blossom Farm
Toteleeding

Midwest
Leader: Jennifer Pack from Unearthing this Life
Small Wonder Farm
20 Something Allergies
Happy Home
The Local Cook
Detroit Cooks
Dog Hill Kitchen
The Frugal Homestead
Mother’s Kitchen
Dee Dee managing via comments and email

West
leader: Sage from The Flowerweaver
Cortina Creek Farm
The Devine Kitchen
Canning with Kids
Not From a Box
Rosemary and Roux
Kitchen Solo
Handcrafted With Altitude
d.i. wine and dine
itsjusttoni’s blog
Eat Drink Better
Throwback Road
Stoney Acres

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Since we have so many participants in the Dark Days Challenge this year we’re breaking it down into two different groups (East and West) for the participant recaps and for the writers here at Not Dabbling.  No doubt you’ve already received an e-mail from your host, but if you haven’t comment on one of these two Sunday Posts please!  If you haven’t signed up today is the deadline.  Head on over the (not so) Urban Hennery and do it! If you’d like to know which group you are in, head on over to the Dark Days Challenge page and find out.

***

Here at Chiot’s Run we’re seasoned Dark Days eaters. Over the past couple years I’ve been working hard to shift our diet to more local seasonal food and thus about 90% of our meals during the winter are Dark Days appropriate. As I try to be more mindful I notice the subtle changes in what my body tells me it wants. In the winter it craves bitter greens, starchy potatoes, roasted rood vegetables, long simmered soups and much richer food. For my first Dark Days Meal I used the bones and leftovers from our Thanksgiving smoked turkey and made a rich smokey stock, it smelled much more like ham stock and turkey stock. This stock was divided up into 3 batches, one went in the freezer, one was made into a lentil soup with lots of homegrown carrots and spinach and the last of it was simmered with homegrown potatoes and onions into a wonderfully simple potato soup (recipe over at Chiot’s Run today).  I put the plate outside to grab a few quick shots with decent light as the sun was starting to set in the West.

While I was at Local Roots in Wooster, OH I found these beautiful little mini butter head lettuces. Instead of my usual balsamic dressing I whipped up a buttermilk herb dressing with fresh buttermilk from the farm along with fresh herbs and garlic from the garden. It was simply delightful! As you can see after finishing my dressing it was dark, so this was a true Dark Days meals enjoyed by the warm glow of the dining rooms light after the sun had already gone down.

***

On Wednesday I (Sincerely, Emily) made a very simple, yet wonderful local pork roast. I rubbed it down with local olive oil and threw in some onions, sage and thyme. It would be so easy to reach in the cupboard to grab a bag of organic noodles or make some noodles, or even toast up some homemade bread – STOP – those are not local. Instead, I am lucky to live in South Texas where I can have a wonderful winter garden. I walked out back and picked some fresh chard and sauteed that up. Perfect. A great local meal. You can read more of the details and find links to TX olive oil at Sincerely, Emily.

Ready to go into the oven

***

While we were in the Smokey Mountains for Fall Break, I (DeeDee) bought a beautiful cheese pumpkin from an orchard we visited.  Being much more inexperienced in real food than the other contributors here, I’ve (gasp) NEVER used a pumpkin for anything other than a jack o lantern!  A few days ago, I baked the pumpkin and ran it through the Victorio Strainer I have “indefinitely borrowed” from my mom.  Thursday evening I made it into soup!  I’ve always wanted to try pumpkin soup… I loved it, but unfortunately the 5 others in my family weren’t fans.

This challenge is truly a new experience for me.  I’m using it to prove to myself and my family that we can eat good, real, local food without spending a lot of money.  I paid $2.50 for the pumpkin… although it wasn’t actually local from where I live, it was local from where I bought it on vacation so I’m going to say that counts!

Last Saturday I took our two younger boys down to the Winter Farmer’s Market at  Trader’s Point Creamery  to buy some vegetables  and some of their creamline milk (ingredients I needed for the soup).  I must admit the one non local ingredient in my soup was store bought maple syrup.  I’m still going to consider this a big success for my first week… it’s progress!

My oldest son loves pumpkin seeds, so we also soaked the seeds in saltwater over night and baked them.  He is responsible for packing his lunch for school, and each day this week he took the pumpkin seeds until they were gone!  They were a much bigger hit than the soup, but we’ll keep trying…  Here’s to better luck next week!  In the mean time, I have a lot of soup to eat!

***

If you’re in the EAST group for the Dark Days Challenge please post a link to your meal in the comments below, we’d LOVE to see what you’ve been cooking up!

PARTICIPANTS

“EAST CONTRIBUTORS”

Ohio Valley
leader: Susy Morris from Chiot’s Run
life, from the ground up.
The Life of a Novice
Put Em’ Up: A Chronicle of Making Stuff
Life On Fire After 40
Our Rural Home
SOLE for the Soul
Thrift at Home
Delicious Potager
Martha who’ll be adding her meals in the comments

Mid-Atlantic
leader: Emily Jenkins-Bastian from Tanglewood Farm
Late Bloomers Farm
Bumble Lush Kitchen Garden
Fessenden Farmstead
Monica Tries to Cook
Prospect the Pantry
A Lighter Footprint
Listen, Foodie!
NOFA-NY Locavore Challenge
NY Locavore Challenge
Knit and Be Happy
the suburban road less traveled
Belle Jar Canning
Gardening to Preserve
Kitchen Jam
Barefoot City Girl
Sunny Hill Farm Blog
Cross Creek Farm Family
From Scratch Club
Snowflake Kitchen
Living my Dreamlife on the Farm

New England
leader: Ryan from Phoenix Hill Farm
EatLocal365
The Finicky Farmer
31 and holding
You Got Me Cookin’
Vegetarian Paradise
Grown Away – Adventures in Food
Nine Lines n More
Whittled Down
The Luddite’s Apiary
Green(ish) Monkeys
100 Mile Locavores
Great Faith in a Seed
The Onion Flower
This Little Monkey Went to Market
Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja
Nicole Carey’s Blog
the crowing hen
Prosperous Pantry

South
leader: Emily Sauls from Sincerely, Emily
Post-Industrial Eating
The Soffritto
AnnieRie Unplugged
Southern Fried Goodness
Flight of the Seabirds
Windy City Vegan
Lizard’s Hollow
Eat. Drink. Nourish.
Keeping Up With K
40 shades of green
Eating Appalachia
Backyard Grocery
Family Foodie Survival Guide
Eating Floyd
Nancy – maintaining progress via emails and comments

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Here in the Southwest, winter mostly comes at night due to our diurnal climate. It isn’t unusual to be wearing a t-shirt during the day and a coat and thermals when the sun goes down. We’ve had a couple of light freezes but the trees (well, the ones that didn’t expire from lack of rain) are still clasping their leaves. Some years it takes the new leaves of spring to push them off, thus bypassing the meaning of ‘fall’. We’re still having an Indian Summer.

 
Bee on aster

One of my few winterizing tasks is to put an entrance reducer on my beehives. This effectively cuts the bees’ front door down to a couple of bee-widths, helping to keep out the draughts and ensuring mice will not be able to make themselves a cozy home when the bees are less active.

With the recent rains we are suddenly seeing the flowers of spring, summer, and fall blooming at once. This has confounded our honeybees, some of which recently decided to swarm. Farmer Rick, my husband, was on hand outside to hear the loud drone of ten thousand bees flying overhead. Having searched for several hours, sadly I could not locate them.

 
Honeybee on Boneset 120311

You see, bees typically swarm in the spring when foodstuff is plentiful. Swarming is a natural process by which a large hive divides itself. Swarming at the wrong time is another example of how climate change is affecting the bee populations–and ultimately our food supply, since bees provide much of pollination.

In ‘packing their bags’ for the journey, bees are only able to take a little honey in their stomachs, so to swarm this late they set themselves up to fatal exposure to the cold nights and starvation because they have left their pantry behind. Their best hope is for a beekeeper to capture them. There is a saying:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.

A swarm in November is, well, just crazy!—not only from the standpoint of the bees survival, but also in terms of cost to the beekeeper that captures them. Last November I captured my first swarm, mainly for the challenge but also because it was terrifying students by its proximity to the local school. Once I had them re-homed in a hive I had the expense of feeding them sugar syrup for five months to keep them alive. I’ve also had the expense (and extra work) of feeding all my hives sugar syrup through the year-long drought.

 
Hummingbird vs bees sm

We’ve all been reading the news about the tainted honey from China being foisted on American markets from lack of oversight–and when you come right down to it–a lack of ethics, putting profit before people. But there are other unethical beekeeping practices of which you might not be aware.

There are beekeepers–those that put profit before bees—that would not have picked up a November swarm, and will even let their bees starve to death because it is cheaper to buy a new package of bees come spring than to outlay the expense of feeding through a drought. In areas not experiencing drought, there are those beekeepers who will rob all the honey rather than leave the obligatory 60 lbs per hive to see their bees safely through the winter. Instead they will feed them sugar syrup because ultimately sugar is 25 cents a pound and honey sells for $5 a pound, maybe more if you can tout it as local.

People have been calling wanting to buy my honey. The problem, of course, is there isn’t any–my bees have put up sugar syrup. Yet there are certainly beekeepers that will gladly extract the honey-flavored sugar syrup and sell it as honey or cut what they have with something from who knows where.

In 1900 more honey was exported from my area than any place on Earth. In fact, it was our local honey that won first place at the 1900 World Fair in Paris which gave the world the first talking picture, escalator, diesel engine, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. Today, there is little evidence of my area being the Honey Capitol of the World. I’ve noticed the one remaining commercial apiary has recently taken ‘locally produced’ off their label. I can only surmise what this means.

So when I do have honey to sell, it won’t be cheap (and I’ll still be selling it at a loss), but it will be SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local and ETHICAL)

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Firstly, apologies to my regular readers at An Austin Homestead for recycling this post. I got exciting news this week: i got a job! While this is great news, it has rather bothered my previously scheduled routine for the week. I happen to know that this recipe is pretty rad, though so i don’t mind re-posting it here for a new audience. In fact, one of my readers, and in fact the very beef grower who locally supplied us with the meat, tried this recipe with resounding success! If that isn’t a reason to try it yourself, i don’t know what is. Thanks for understanding ;)

When you have a whole mess of wild mushrooms on your hands, you have to use them in as delicious a recipe as possible! Salisbury steak is “the” recipe i request when i go home to visit my mom. She doesn’t cook a ton these days, leaving the delicious fish preparation to Bud, my daddy #2 – but when i can convince her to cook up salisbury steaks I am never disappointed!

One problem i’ve had with enjoying this favorite recipe of hers, is that i really can’t digest beef well. I should say, i can’t digest ‘conventionally grown’ beef at all. I’ve recently begun dabbling in the eating of grass fed beef with pretty positive results (though i still get a tummy ache the next morning if i over do it) and definitely did not decline the several pounds of naturally grown beef mom got from our neighbor. Can i just say that the beef we got from the DuVal family is hands down the most delicious beef i’ve ever tasted, and i’ve only had the hamburger! Lean, bright red, flavorful. Yum.  Anyway, back to the recipe:

Mom bakes her salisbury steaks and generally uses golden mushroom soup plus a heap of fresh veggies. I made the mushroom soup from scratch, but followed her technique. It wasn’t as gooey amazing as hers, since i failed to thicken my sauce until it was a bit late, but the flavor was divine and we had to try very hard not to lick the entire cookie sheet while it was still hot. This is NOT a greasy, pan fried beef dish, nor is this the salisbury steak found in frozen TV dinners. Shove in as many fresh veggies as you like, use bread, breadcrumbs or oats and enjoy this meal with some veggies and maybe a potato. You will not be disappointed.

Salisbury Steak

  • 1 pound grass fed beef hamburger
  • 1-2 onions, finely diced
  • 1-5 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • Optional green pepper, hot pepper, roasted pepper etc
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 egg
  • salt, pepper, seasonings to taste 

for the sauce:

  • A whole mess of mushrooms, chopped (i used wild porcinis)
  • diced garlic
  • pinch mustard powder
  • pinch dried rosemary
  • pinch dried sage
  • salt and pepper
  • rich chicken, turkey, veggie or beef stock- enough to fill the pan
  • splash cornstarch/cold water slurry

In a large bowl combine the chopped veggies, oats, egg and beef etc and squish around with your hands until well combined. You may wish to add a sprinkling of flour to help it stick together. Form mixture into little patties and arrange on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add all the chopped mushrooms and some butter into a pan with the herbs and spices. Add a pinch of flour and mix well. Cover with stock and bring to a rigorous boil. Boil for a smidge then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until sauce has reduced by at least a third. Add the cornstarch slurry, stir and reduce heat to low. Pour some of the sauce over the patties and return to the oven for 5-10 more minutes. Serve topped with more sauce along side with maybe some peas and a potato. Be sure you make enough sauce to slather on everything, including a spoon in your mouth. It’s so good!

My salisbury steaks were a definite success, but i think i’ll still clamor at mom to make her version.

Do you have a special ‘mommy made’ recipe you beg for when you see her?

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