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Archive for the ‘Dark Days’ Category

I confess. I didn’t clean my floors.

I spent the weekend shoveling. Which is underfoot, so that sort of counts?

It’s strange being housebound by yourself. The last time this happened I was 21 years old, it was 1977, and even though I had a roommate, she was never there. Eventually in that epic winter storm (60 inches of snow over the course of about a week, air temps lower than -20 (that’s Fahrenheit folks), I had to dig my way out and spent the week squatting in a university art studio.

I got to the end of the internet. I watched Netflix. I watched the season premier of Downton Abbey, reminding myself of the fact that I stopped watching it because of the telegraphed plot and sluggish writing and direction, despite the absurd number of simultaneous storylines. (Downton hate mail in 3…2…1…)

I made rugelach.

But a large part of the day I pulled a chair up to my back window and just watched the storm. Here in Chicago we got twelve inches on top of the twelve already on the ground. It snowed last year, too,  but this “was not the same snow. This snow came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss….”

I felt like I was living inside the story, which I know by heart, because I have read it aloud to someone every year for decades, and when I didn’t have someone to read it to, I read it aloud to myself.

I left the house dark except for the last of the holiday lights, draped with greenery in the bow window. Snow like this muffles the sound of the city, with just the occasional rattle of the wind chimes next door– they rattle instead of ringing because they are filled with snow.

I sat because I was sad; it’s no fun being housebound alone when you’re used to having someone with you, to share the thoughts, and the boredom and the rugelach. But after a few minutes, the view becomes hypnotic and your mind empties. It’s not so much that you’re not sad, or not thinking, but that you’re just a vessel, filling up like the garden with the beautiful, blowing, soft and drifting snow.

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This is the second in our repostings of Jen’s wonderful posts on monthly planning. Originally posted in 2011, here’s what to do in the traditional dead of winter.

February can be one of the last chances to get indoor projects completed before the spring thaw arrives. Gardeners are getting excited and it won’t be long before the first of this year’s farm babies are here! Spring is really just around the corner, so start wrapping things up inside and get ready to head back outdoors.

Indoors:

  • Check basement or crawl space for leakage during thaws.
  • Check bathroom caulking for re-sealing needs. While you’re in there, check your pipes for leaks.
  • Freshen your kitchen sinks by pouring a mixture of 3 cups hot water and 1/4 cup vinegar (or the juice of one lemon) down each drain.
  • Keep an eye out for cracks in your drywall caused by settling during thaws and freezes. There are expandable putties and spackles available for problem areas. While you’re at it, you may want to mark outdoor masonry to be repaired. Plan to complete this project after the last hard freeze and once your biggest worries of the house settling are past.
  • If you don’t have a cold frame or greenhouse, set up an area to start seeds for your garden. Few seeds need light to germinate (be sure to read the directions) so you may be able to get by without any lights other than a window for the first few weeks. (Check out chiotsrun seedstarting 101 guide).
  • Research and prepare for any animal purchases for the year.
  • Keep a tray of water and spray bottle near indoor plants to adjust humidity levels, especially if you have central air. Running the heater can dry them out quickly and cover leaves with dust.

Outdoors/Garden/Wildlife:

  • Keep fresh water available and free of ice for birds and wildlife.
  • It’s National Bird Feeding Month. Keep feeding those birdies! Seed, dried berries, and suet are great meals for our feathered pals.
  • If you live in a climate with mild winters, this month may be a good time to dig new beds. You may also want to repair or build new composting bins to be prepared for this year’s cleanup.
  • Southerners could get away with planting bare root trees on warm days.
  • Keep driveways and walks free of snow and ice. Have shovels, plows, and salt/brine accessible and stocked.
  • Watch gutters and roofs for ice dams.
  • XAN EDIT: if you’re in a short-season zone (5 and up) start long season seeds like onions and leeks indoors
  • If you didn’t get to it during fall, now would be a great time to oil and sharpen garden tools.

Animal Husbandry

  • Be prepared for early birthing. Have any equipment you’ll need ready and accessible.
  • Nights are still very cold in most parts of the country. Keep your critters warm with fresh hay, heat lamps, or blankets, but be sure to avoid fire hazards.
  • If you’ve been leaving a light on for your chickens you can begin weaning them off of it. The sun is setting noticeably later and your gals should begin laying more regularly soon.

You can also find Jennifer in archive at Unearthing This Life where she used to blog (or as she called it “blarg”) a bit about good food, home schooling, raising chickens, and being a suburban Yankee transplant in a rural southern town. She’s not writing right now, but her wonderful posts are well worth scrolling through.

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Pizza night

In my next life, when I get to be Barbara Kingsolver, pizza night will be family togetherness night, when we make pizza from scratch using our own hand-milled flour and homemade sausage (from our own pigs) and then put on plays that our 9 year old wrote herself, using the great old clothes we found in Grandpa’s trunk in the attic. Probably homemade sarsparilla too, cuz, y’know pizza night is fun night!

Or maybe not.

For me pizza night is I do not have to lift a finger night. I don’t understand easy (fun?) food night that involves waiting for dough to rise. This does not meet my criteria for “easy meal.” On pizza night around here, I won’t even make the phone call. Pizza night is Mom’s Night Off. Someone else make the call, pull out the credit card and answer the door cuz mom’s watchin’ old “Road” movies on Netflix and nothin’ gonna pry her off that couch.

Incredibly, since I’m a pretty courageous cook, I had never made pizza from scratch. Until this week. I had a jar of tomato/eggplant sauce that I made for some noodles, and just decided, what the hell. Let’s try pizza. I had some mozzarella, and a nice big portobello, and that sauce.

So, scary baking stuff, first place I look is Martha. Forgetting that Martha only cooks for 40. Her pizza dough recipe yielded “eight 12 inch or fourteen 10 inch pizzas.” So, maybe not. Found a simple one on SimplyRecipes.com. They’re a content mill, but have pretty good basic recipes. Except it gave you the ingredients, instructions, descriptions, and then said “bake according to recipe instructions.” Um, I thought this WAS the recipe.

Back to the internets! SimplyRecipes did in fact have a decent complete recipe, too, which I then forgot to read, and just, as usual, made it up.

Bit of an eyeroll over the “prep time 2 hours 30 minutes.” Yup– that’s a great fun night right there.

Made two lovely 10″ pizzas. (Forgot to take a picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) Barbara Kingsolver would be proud.

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South Region

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A few favorites from the participants in the Ohio Vally Region:

What was your favorite Dark Days meal?

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West Region

http://itsjusttoni.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/potatoes-and-cheese/http://di-wineanddine.blogspot.com/2012/03/beet-and-carrot-cake-for-breakfast.html***

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Last week we had had a chance to see what the WEST cooked up for the Dark Days Challenge. This week, the final week for the Dark Days Challenge, we get to see what the EAST brought to the table. Breakfast…

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South Region (MD, VA, NC, SC, GA) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Annie (MD) from AnnieRie Unplugged is turning into her father, but she’s blaming it on Mark Bitman (you’re going to have to read her post) She made a local version of scrapple for her breakfast challenge. Using cornmeal, local sausage and fresh sage from her garden her scrapple took shape. She made it the day/night before and then cut it into slices and fried it along with her local eggs the next morning. She has some advice about the recipe, so head over to her blog to read more and see her local resources.

Annie (MD) from AnnieRie Unplugged has also put together a post summarizing her Dark Days Challenge experience. It is really fun to read about what she learned and about the new resources she found in their area. She also touched on her highlights throughout the challenge and about learning to work with some vegetables in a different way and being more creative. Hear over to her post to read more! It is worth your time.

Victoria (MD) from The Soffritto has spring fever and decided to bring as many fresh herbs into her Breakfast Challenge as she could! She snipped the dill, chervil, and chives, and her husband prepped and cooked the beautiful herbed omelets. It wasn’t complete without the toast with homemade tomato and basil jam. Victoria said it tastes like spring. Stop by her blog to read more and see her local ingredients. She also talks about her experience throughout the DDC and how it has changed their approach to eating and cooking with local foods

Susan (VA) from Backyard Grocery made some fantastic baked eggs. But not just any baked eggs, she made cups out of bacon and filled them with sautéed radish greens and mushrooms and then topped them with eggs and baked! Her baked eggs look wonderful; love that little twist with the bacon cup. Susan also talks a bit about how the DDC affected her. Going in, thinking this would be a hard challenge and coming out realizing that she is fortunate to live in an area that produces a variety of whole foods – year round. She has learned a lot about what grows seasonally in VA. Visit her blog to read more!

Rebecca (VA) from Eating Floyd is cooking breakfast Appalachian Mountina-style and biscuits are a must! To go along with the biscuits she made a milk gravy loaded with local flavors. She used wild garlic paste, serrano peppers from the garden last year and  a bit of bacon fat. On top of her biscuits she put some salty country ham and poached eggs, topping it all off with the flavorful gravy. Stop by her blog to read about it all and see her local resources.

Even though Liz (VA) from Family Foodie Survival Guide cooked up a nice breakfast last week she still cooked up breakfast for this weeks challenge. She had some blueberries in the freezer and used those to create a luscious blueberry pudding cake.  She adapted the recipe to use more local ingredients – she used local honey and flour. The beautiful breakfast  was served with some local bacon and apple cider. Head over to her blog to read more.

Jessica (SC) from Eat.Drink.Nourish. is not much of a breakfast person, so this “breakfast” was more of a brunch that really turned into dinner. She is excited her local spring CSA is starting up again and many small farm stands are starting to open up in her area. She made roasted egg stuffed tomatoes garnished with fresh dill, spring onions and served with strawberry, pecan and blue cheese salad. That sounds good from Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner to me! Head over to her blog and read more about her meal and local resources.

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Eat Local 365 made a fabulous looking Dark Days breakfast for the challenge, who doesn’t love poached eggs over greens?

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As the Dark Days Challenge comes to a close, it is incredible to look back to the beginning in November and think about all the “dark days” ahead of us all. To think about the nourishing winter foods that store well and get us through the winters. Many participants had access to year-round farmers markets; buying seasonal vegetables that were grown in their area. Other participants relied on what they produced in their gardens and canned and froze to use throughout the winter. Other participants had beautiful winter gardens of their own.

Did you cook a local breakfast this week? Tell us about it and share a link.

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This week the Dark Days Challenge participants to a Breakfast Challenge. It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Let’s see what the WEST is making for breakfast this week. Join us next week to see what the EAST participants brings to the table for the Breakfast Challenge!

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West Region (CA, CO, TX, UT) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Julie and Eric (CO) from d.i.wine and dine prefer savory breakfast treats, but decided to go the sweet route for this weeks breakfast challenge meal. They made a beet and carrot cake (heavy on the local beets) and used egg replacer and soy yogurt to make the recipe vegan.  The recipe went together well using 100% local whole wheat flour too. Stop by their blog to read more about the breakfast challenge cake and see the recipe.

Teresa (CA) from Not from a Box made up two breakfast options for this weeks challenge.  She prefers a savory breakfast over a sweet one any day. First up is a “wallet egg.”  What the heck is a “wallet egg?” Well, it looks wonderful, sounds wonderful and is easy to make. I won’t give away all the secrets, but basically take eggs, rice and some green onions….now head over to her blog to read more.

For Teresa’s second breakfast option she has made mushrooms on toast. I am a big fan of things “on toast” so this one is right up my alley. She starts by sauteing up some local shitake, oyster and cremini mushrooms (in local olive oil). You can use a splash of local beer or wine if you have it. Sprinkle in some fresh chopped parsley – don’t forget the toast. Stop by her blog to read about her local resources and more.

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Northwest Region with Miranda from Pocket Pause

wow! The breakfast challenge for the PacNW was tackled by only one: Methylgrace. Frankly, I (the recapper) have been remiss in reminding my blogging neighbors about our challenges, and have been experiencing some major challenges of my own – including being kicked out of WordPress with no explanation or chance to query or appeal to the ‘staff.’ Methylgrace captures so much of what myself and several other bloggers have been feeling during this challenge in her breakfast post. This post was just so great. I wish everyone would go and read it. Right now! I can’t really blurblet it, as it deserves complete reading.

So please head over to her blog, drool over her breakfast crepes and share with her and with us your feelings on choosing foods in your grocery store, providing meals and money for your family, grappling life as a homesteader, housewife or working mom, and help us answer the questions we’ve been grappling during this challenge.

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Upper(ish) Midwest with Xan from House of the Blue Lights

We got a treat and and a breakfast from the errant MNLocavore, and Woohoo got turned around by the calendar, partly because we’re all completely thrown by this strange warm weather, and partly because she was trying to time a St. Patrick’s Day meal with the Challenge. And it’s a good one–a traditional Irish Colcannon, and a homemade, local Shamrock Shake. And I totally don’t see why you couldn’t have that for breakfast. MN Locavore made a shortbread with strawberries (which also sounds like breakfast to me), and wraps up the Challenge with breakfast–whole grain pancakes served as a breakfast sandwich with eggs and sausage. She also includes a wonderful wrap-up list of all her challenge posts.

What did you make for breakfast this week? Tell us about it!

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Earlier today,  in our companion post, you can see what the WEST cooked up for the Breakfast Challenge.  To add to that, here are what the EAST recappers cooked this week for the Dark Days Challenge.

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I (Emily from Sincerely, Emily) kept my breakfast Challenge meal pretty simple this week.   Eggs are what I usually eat for breakfast, so this is a true glimpse at a normal breakfast, for me, in our house.

I have a new local egg source that is a lot closer to me. The other eggs I was getting were also good (and local) but I am happy to find an individual a lot closer to me. That puts a big smile on my face.

I also used some chard from the garden and some caramelized onions from the freezer that came from the garden last spring.  Using some left over pork and some local cheese,  this omelet was a perfect breakfast.  I am methodically trying to use things out of the freezer to make space for things that we will be harvesting in the next few months. I want to make sure there is adequate space and I always have a tendency to “save” things when I really need to be defrosting and eating them.

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What is your “normal” breakfast?

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We are on the home stretch for the Dark Days Challenge with just a few weeks to go. March seems to signify Spring with longer days and the weather warming. Be sure to take a look at the meals from the WEST in our companion post today.

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I (Emily from Sincerely, Emily) decided to dig into the freezer and pull out some the Southern-type peas (zipper peas, cow peas, crowder peas) that I have from the garden last summer. Those peas grew really well considering how dry and hot it was last summer. I will plant more this spring!

This is the first time I have eaten these Southern peas as a side dish. Up until now, I have always thrown them in a soup or a stew and they have been great that way. Even though I froze them fresh, raw and uncooked, they were still quite firm after I sauteed them. Next time I will cook them in some water or steam them to see if they will soften up prior to sauteing them. The sausage came from a local heritage pork ranch and they called it a Mexican-style sausage. It have lots of flavor and I will buy it again. My neighbor has so many bunching onions growing right now. They are lush and full and beautiful this year and a great addition to almost any meal we have. Many of his bunching onions will be kept to dry and plant next year.

We are eating a lot of salads this time of year. I planted more lettuce than we needed, but it is nice to be able to give some to neighbors and friends as well as enjoy it too. My carrots aren’t ready yet, so I used some carrots from another local farm that I got at the farmers market. They are so sweet and incredible and added so much flavor to the salad.

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Here at Chiot’s Run things are a bit busy with planning for a possible move, fixing up the house to put in on the market, trying to find a nice little farm 4-5 states away, getting the spring/summer garden going. Add to that two weeks on the road traveling for work and you’ve got a recipe for not much time and needing quick & easy meals. When I get busy like I am I have a tendency to make up a big batch of something which we eat on for a few nights, then another big pot of something gets made up. This past week we enjoyed nachos in the evenings made with venison that Mr Chiot’s got for the freezer, topped with local cabbage braised in butter, home canned tomatoes and jalapeños mixed up into a salsa, local raw milk cheese melted on top, and enjoyed with some local tortilla chip (which are even fried in local sunflower oil).

I’m really happy that there are farmer’s around here that have been getting into winter harvesting. I was able to score a few bags of sweet overwintered carrots (since mine are long gone from the pantry). There were cooked up with a venison roast, homegrown potatoes, onions, and garlic. We invited some friends over to enjoy this meal with us, which always makes a meal taste even better!

How are your homestretch Dark Days meals coming along?

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Spring fever is spreading fast across much of the country. Many places have been teased by some warm spring temperatures. New vegetables, like asparagus, are starting to show up in some of the farmers markets. A sure sign of spring. Many participants are itching to get outside and start planting their spring gardens, but there is snow in some parts of the country. The days aren’t as dark as they used to be.

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West Region (CA, CO, UT, TX) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Teresa (CA) from Not from a Box made beautiful French “peasant” beets with bucherondin cheese and a big hunk of ciabatta. This meal was both delicious and filling. Beets are winding down for the season in her area, but they still have greens and root veggies available. New things are starting to pop up at the farmers markets, like asparagus and plenty of citrus (she’s in CA after all!) Stop by her blog to learn about her local resources.

Teresa (CA) from Not from a Box also made what she called “dinner in a flash.” It is a challenge getting home late in the evening and coming up with a quick and good dinner. Teresa found a quick and easy meal when she made Welsh rarebit with spinach, creamy butternut squash soup and a side of roasted asparagus using mostly local ingredients around her area. She is right, rarebit is insanely easy. Head over to her blog to learn about her local resources and more.

Julie (CO) from d.i.wine and dine made a nice dilly bean potato salad with garlic miso aioli this week. Not being a big fan of mayo, (that’s putting it mildy) she decided to tweak a recipe she found and make a miso aioli and use it in place of mayo helping to rank this the best potato salad she has ever had. She also used their own canned dilly beans and some locally grown potatoes. Visit her blog to see the receipt and more.

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I think the Upper Midwesterners are all outside enjoying this strange summer weather I think! Hard to take “Dark Days’ at face value with all this bright warm sunshine around! If you pop in here, put your recipe links in the comments!

Did you cook a Dark Days meal this week?

We would love to hear about what you made.

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