Monday, December 19, 2011

dark days of winter, meal 3: Southern Q

this week's post is horrifyingly low on decent pictures, due to distractions in the form of friends showing up to meet the new dawg and staying for dinner. in lieu of a plate shot, i give you ginger, our new puppy:

ginger is growing fast!

now, on to business.

this week's meal is all southern, and very old school, with the exception of the fact that i used my crock pot to make BBQ instead of digging a hole in my back yard to smoke it.

on the menu

  • pulled pork BBQ
  • old school braised greens with indian dumplings
  • honey glazed roasted carrots
  • sweet josie brown ale from lonerider brewery
    (there's a keg of this local brew in my garage--i thought i'd feature it along with the food.)
local ingredients
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • red pepper rib rub made by my friend karen
  • apple cider vinegar
  • liquid hickory smoke (real, not chemical--cause, ew)
semi-local ingredients
  • bone-suckin' sauce - made in north carolina, but i have zero clue from whence the ingredients come. it's as local as i can get BBQ sauce without making my own, which is a challenge in the winter.
  • bacon fat - from holland brothers bacon, not local to us, but local to the grandparents who live in PA. bacon from this place is a yearly gift from our family, and it's awesome.

: as always, meat and produce are the no-brainers.

challenging: the semi-local ingredients here are my compromise. things like apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, and salt i KNOW i can't get locally, but the other things? well--i guess i am just trying to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible on things like that. it doesn't make sense to me to buy bacon that's local to me, when i already have bacon that was a gift from someone for whom that bacon IS local. does that make sense?


dark days meal 3, pulled pork

pulled pork, crock pot style (made up on the fly):
boston butt or pork shoulder roast
your favorite rib rub
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
20 or so drops of real liquid smoke
BBQ sauce

cover pork roast liberally with spice rub, and put into your crock pot. add apple cider vinegar. cook on low for 8 hours. remove pork and pull from bone with 2 forks or tongs. drain off most of liquid (reserve for soup stock or beans--trust me--keep that stuff). (note: if you are going to make the greens below, reserve a couple of ounces of meat at this stage.) return the pork to the crock pot. add a little of the cooking liquid, maybe 1/4 a cup. add the liquid smoke, and about 1/3 a cup of BBQ sauce. mix well, and cook another hour on low to mix flavors and caramelize the meat. serve with more sauce or on buns or you know--however you like to eat BBQ.

dark days meal 3, honey glazed carrots

honey glazed roasted carrots (made up on the fly)
~2 tablespoons butter
~2 tablespoons honey

directions: preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). peel carrots and cut into sticks. put into a baking dish with some butter. roast for 8 minutes, then stir. roast for 8 more minutes. add honey and stir in. roast for 16 more minutes, stirring one more time half way through. carrots should be starting to caramelize when they are done. best use of fresh carrots in the world!

dark days meal 3, greens and dumplings

braised greens with indian dumplings (adapted from bill neal's southern cooking)
2.5 to 3 lbs cooking greens (collards, kale, chard, etc.)
8 cups water
~4 tablespoons bacon fat
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz pork meat or a small ham hock
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup cornmeal
1.5 tablespoons butter or bacon fat or lard

in a large stockpot or braising pot, add water, bacon fat, salt, finely chopped pork, and red pepper flakes. bring to a boil, then boil on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. add the greens, cover tightly. return to a boil, stir down the greens, and then simmer, covered, for about 50 minutes if you are going to add indian dumplings, or an hour if you're not.

for the dumplings, place cornmeal into a small mixing bowl. steal 1/2 cup of boiling liquid from the greens, and slowly work it into the cornmeal with the back of a wooden spoon. work fat in with your fingers while the cornmeal mix is still warm. shape into small biscuit-like disks, about an inch wide and 1/2 an inch thick--it should make 16-18 of these. when the greens have been cooking for about 50 minutes, give them a final stir, then lay the dumplings on top to cook. let them cook for about 10 minutes, and voila, you have delicious little dumplings in your greens.

note: indian dumplings are like a cross between hushpuppies and gnocci. this was the first time i'd made them, but they were surprisingly easy and fast--i will most certainly make them again. i can imagine they would be delightful with soups and stews as well as in greens.

note the second: after you serve the greens, you will have quite a bit of liquid left. if you combine it with the reserved liquid from the pork, you have an EXCELLENT soup base on your hands. i generally throw this in the fridge overnight, so i can skim the fat off easily in the morning. then i put it in the freezer to use whenever. i recommend this as a base for my white bean and kale soup.

dark days meal 3, ready to eat

family ruling
everyone at our house loves all this, and the friends we spontaneously had over for dinner last night agree. the 11-year old had 2 helpings of the greens, so--win.

further thoughts
southern cooking is my kitchen comfort zone, as it turns out. i feel more free with recipes and restrictions in this area than any other, and since i live in the south, it makes sense that these are the ingredients that are easiest for me to get locally. i am guessing you will see more southern food from me before this is challenge is done. meal #3 i am calling a resounding success. yay for BBQ!

Monday, December 12, 2011

dark days of winter, meal 2: dinner with a friend

this week, i ended up cooking a last minute dinner for a good friend who came into town unexpectedly. this means i had less time to think about what to make, and had to rely on what i already had in the house. as a result, this week's meal has more non-local ingredients than last week's, but i am happy with how much of it IS local, with very little effort!

dark days meal 2, plated

on the menu

  • chicken and 40 cloves
  • whipped sweet potatoes with ginger
  • salad
  • rosemary olive oil bread

dark days meal 2, local ingredients

local ingredients
  • whole chicken from fickle creek farm (efland, nc, 44 miles)*
  • thyme from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
  • butter from homeland creamery (julian, nc, 57 miles)
  • honey from our family's bees (20 miles)
  • sweet potatoes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles)*
  • fresh ginger from redbud farm (burlington, nc, 62 miles)*
  • milk from maple view farm (hillsborough, nc, 34 miles)
  • french breakfast radishes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles)*
  • lettuces from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
  • cucumber from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
* purchased at western wake farmers market

dark days meal 2, non-local ingredients

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil (organic)
  • celery (organic)
  • grape tomatoes (organic)
  • garlic
  • red bell pepper (organic)
  • cinnamon
  • rosemary olive oil bread (not pictured) (baked locally, but sourced from ???)
as always, the meat and produce is mostly easy for me to get locally. everything you see here i already had in my house with no planning at all.

this week i was traveling and very busy, so there was not as much time to plan my meal. as a result, this one is mostly local--all the spotlight parts are local. but it still feels a little cheater-y to me. this is especially true for the non-local salad produce, the bread we had with dinner, which was a last minute purchase, and the salad dressing, which was whatever we had in the fridge. i didn't even think about dressing until dinner was made and on the table.


chicken and 40 cloves:
this is a tried and true recipe from alton brown. it's posted on the food network website, so i think posting it again here might be a copyright violation. you guys know how to click a link though, right? go make this right now! it's awesome!

whipped sweet potatoes with ginger (made up on the fly)
9-10 small sweet potatoes
~2 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons honey
~1.5 tablespoons chopped gresh ginger
(note, i used uncured, super-fresh ginger from a local supplier, and NOT the ginger from the grocery store, which is much stronger. if you use that, i'd recommend cutting this amount in half.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
milk to texture (added gradually while whipping)

preheat oven to 450. bake sweet potatoes for ~40 minutes until soft, piercing with a fork after 20 minutes. remove skins and place in a large bowl. add butter, honey, ginger, cinnamon, and about 1/4 cup of milk, and mash with a potato masher until well mixed. then, using a hand mixer, beat until fluffy. add milk if necessary to obtain the right texture/moisture.

um--i can't say i have a recipe for a salad. i just put everything i can find in the fridge that looks like it would be good in a salad. this one contained mixed lettuces, celery, radishes, red pepper, grape tomatoes, and cucumber.

dark days meal 2, ready to eat

family ruling
everything was awesome, especially the sweet potatoes. my friend who was visiting seemed stunned that this is what i ended up with when i just threw something together, so that's a good ruling as well--he ate everything with gusto.

further thoughts
cooking on weeknights is a challenge for me. i work full time and have two small (hungry) children in daycare. i have to leave work, get them, drive home in a boatload of traffic, and THEN address dinner. i get around this most of the time by planning ahead and cooking and prepping as much as i can ahead of time. some weeks it's great--others, it falls apart on me. this past week, i had the added travel stress on the table, and then my friend showed up out of nowhere--this was literally the best i could pull off. i am not as proud of this as i was of my sunday brunch last week, but then i didn't have the time for the same level of planning and thought as i did for that meal. i will say this, however: i am very proud of my pantry and my freezer for getting me this close to an all local meal absolutely on the fly.

Monday, December 05, 2011

dark days of winter - meal 1: sunday brunch

this is the first official week of the dark days of winter local cooking challenge, so i decided to start with the first real meal of the week: sunday brunch.

dark days meal #1: on the plate

on the menu

  • blueberry buckwheat pancakes
  • spinach and cheese frittata
  • sausage patties

dark days meal #1: ingredients

local ingredients
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • baking powder
easy: meat, eggs, and produce are no problem for me to get, given the awesome nature of my farmers market. in addition, the market vets its vendors carefully, and while not every farm and food producer there is certified organic, all of them are local to us and follow extremely ethical farming practices, often going beyond the requirements of organic certification. the animals are all free range, and none are given any unnecessary antibiotics or growth hormones. most of the farms are very small operations and family farms, and we have gotten to know these vendors over the past couple of years. we are extremely fortunate to have this place, which is open all year, available to us.

challenging: what do you do about things like salt, baking powder/soda, vanilla, and other pantry-type things you use in your cooking without thinking about it? i am trying hard to keep these things to a minimum, but i admit, i forgot all about baking powder when i was thinking about making pancakes. i guess i am trying to look at this from the point of view of a pioneer person--in days of old, you would have traded for these items, right? this is stuff that has almost never been available locally, anywhere. some small carbon footprint is, i suppose, not avoidable in everyday cooking.


blueberry buckwheat pancakes (adapted from here):
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
5-6 teaspoons of honey
2.5 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
1 cup blueberries, fresh, or thawed from frozen

in a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. set aside. in a larger bowl, beat the two eggs until frothy, about 2 minutes. add honey, butter, and then buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. gradually stir in flour mixture until smooth. gently stir in blueberries. note: batter will be very thick. let sit for a few minutes. cook on a lightly buttered griddle or in a flat pan over medium-high heat, about 1/3 cup of batter at a time. after 2-4 minutes, when edges are set and blueberries are starting to crack, flip over and cook on other side, about 2-3 more minutes. makes 10-12 pancakes. serve with honey.

spinach and cheese frittata (made up on the fly)
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
2 cups spinach, cleaned, de-stemmed, and roughly chopped (packed tight!)
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 fresh ancho chile pepper, chopped fine
2/3 cup shredded fresh mozzarella
10 eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

directions: preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). grease a 9x9-in pan with 1/2 tablespoon of butter. melt the other tablespoon in a skillet. saute the spinach just until wilted. immediately remove from heat and allow to cool. in pan, layer herbs, chopped peppers, and cheese. evenly distribute cooled spinach over this. in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until very well mixed. i usually add salt and pepper in this step. pour egg mixture over the other ingredients. taking care to distribute evenly. bake for about 25 - 30 minutes until the center is set. let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

sausage patties
no real recipe here. i bought a pound of local sausage, made it into small patties, and fried it up in a pan over medium heat until it was well browned and delicious!

dark days meal #1: ready to go

family ruling
absolutely delicious--i would make every bit of this again, and eat it happily. children and man agree.

further thoughts
i am very grateful that we thought to buy a lot of extra local blueberries this summer and freeze them. our children eat them straight out of the freezer, but they are also mightily awesome to have around for this sort of application and for the random pie craving. if you decide to do this, don't wash them--just throw them straight into freezer bags. wash them when you are ready to use. also, if you use them for pancakes, make sure you thaw them completely first. if you don't you will have nasty, gooey globs of uncooked pancake batter surrounding every blueberry--GROSS!

there's been a lot of discussion in the group about local flours on the east coast and how difficult they are to obtain. i've been discussing this a lot with local millers and bakers to see where people source their wheat. most people are sourcing from the midwest, which is no real surprise. however, i was delighted that sharon funderburke from singing turtle farm in dunn, nc is growing her own wheat. she's growing both hard and soft red winter wheat, and she has just in the last month started grinding her own flour. she sells wheat berries for both varieties as well as bread flour and pastry flour. she also sells chicken feed made from the wheat and from her oats, as well as a small amount of baked goods. her crops are 100% organic, and her practices are beyond sustainable. she is a second of third generation farmer, looking for ways to improve her family's farm. she's been a joy to learn/buy from the past couple of seasons.

first meal of this challenge went well, i think. i'm pretty proud of the fact that everything is local but the stuff i really can't get locally, plus i am happy that it was all delightful--i didn't feel like i was cutting corners anywhere. in fact, the local butter especially felt like an indulgence--talk about GOOD! now onto thinking about my next meal...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

dark days of winter


i talk about food a lot, i know. but get ready, people--i am going to start talking about it even more. as you know, our family has, over the past few years, become more and more interested in healthy eating, local eating, sustainable farming, and reducing our carbon footprint as much as we can. we've been faithful visitors to our local farmers market, which we all adore. we are trying to teach the children by example to love food in the right way, and to be aware of what they put in their bodies. we are working hard to eat well, to cook at home, to get the right nutritional balances to (hopefully) avoid some of the health problems that may be headed our way as we age. anyway--you see my point. good food is good.

i have decided to participate in the dark days of winter local eating challenge from (not so) urban hennery because it represents everything we're trying to accomplish. the goal is simple: cook (at least) one meal a week featuring local, sustainable, organic, ethically grown ingredients and write a post about it. i think i can handle that, and i think it will be a good way to record some of what we eat locally during the winter months. i kind of can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


crib mosaic

pumpkin hat
15-month drs appt
chubby and giggly, finn is an absolute delight. he hugs and kisses us all the time, and he demands attention with stubborn, single-minded, howling ferocity. he laughs at his brother, at the television, at our neighbor who buzzes loudly when finn touches the tip of his finger to the neighbor's nose. he prefers veggies to fruit, though he's getting better about that. he eats and eats and eats, and then when he's done, he hurls everything left away from himself with great force. he loves frozen peas, pasta, scrambled eggs, yogurt, cheerios and BANANAS! he's starting to enjoy books more, and he loves stacking stuff before knocking it back down again. he's a huge fan of both milk jugs and mason jars--he puts the lids on, then takes them off, then hurls them, fetches them, etc. endless fun. his favorite thing to do at the park is swing, even though it makes him sleepy. and man, does the boy want to MOVE. he wants to be down and walking whenever possible. he adores water and anything to do with water--splashing in it, washing his hands, making a mess with it, swimming--sprinklers, sinks, oceans, and pools, he loves it all as much as his brother hates it. he also loves music and shaking his little booty to anything with rhythm. he wiggles and claps his hands and hums right along. he adores being chased, and is learning to hide, although he's still really bad at it. so hilarious. he likes to wear hats, which is a blessing with the changing weather. his favorite people are his daddy, his big brother, and our neighbor angelo. he'll see angelo through the window and cry to get outside to him--so very cute. he's a lover of electronics in a way that kieran never was--push a button--noise comes out. i loves the hippie's iPad. he's going to talk earlier than kieran did, though he walked later. and of course, i wonder if this is all due to him somehow reacting to being in daycare instead of with a nanny like k was at his age. this age with finn, it's the troubleshooting age. he's cutting teeth, coughing, has a runny nose, is recovering from an ear infection--those 4 things are constant and interchangeable. we are ALWAYS looking for trouble, and feeding him ibuprofen like candy. it's a fun age--he's absorbing EVERYTHING. it's a hard age, too, filled with worry. but lord, he's cute. and fun. i am just trying to enjoy every moment with him as much as i can--his babyhood is evaporating before my eyes, so i am grasping onto it with everything i've got while it lasts. i love his biscuit feet, his imperious little pointing finger, his obsession with his belly button, and the way he hugs with his whole self. i love to rock him at night before bed so i get the sweet snuggles, and i love how he almost always wakes up happy and babbling in the morning. he is the only morning person in our family. he is perhaps the smiliest (is that a word?) baby in creation, with what may be the best giggle. when i am stressed and trying to do too many things at once, finn reminds me to slow down and just sit on the floor and play a minute. and oh, how i love him for that.

(and just to seal the awwwww, the last picture below is finn walking down the street with his paw-paw, who he adores. so cute.)

finn and paw-paw 1

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

quiche, revisited

since i posted the recipe for spinach and mushroom quiche and the recipe for whole wheat pie crust separately and without pictures, i thought i'd come back and add some. here are links to the original posts:

spinach and mushroom quiche
whole wheat crust

the process:

quiche mosaic
1. prep, 2. whole wheat crust, 3. saute, 4. cheese, 5. herbs, 6. peppers and onions, 7. spinach and mushrooms, 8. milk and eggs, 9. baked



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

three and a half

fossil hunter
playing with trucks
on the big swings!
i listen to kieran playing, and i am stunned. he's enacting a play of his own devising in the living room floor. trucks are involved. dinosaurs, too. a recycling truck is central to the drama, as is a flatbed truck, many race cars, and a monster truck or two. apparently it's crucial that all the monster trucks be lined up all the way across the living room floor because there is to be a parade later. there are many voices and names that come up in the course of his play. my baby is totally gone, and there is, in his place, a rambunctious and vivacious little boy with many very strong opinions. his name, he tells me, is NOT kieran, but rather, ribbon. he's a nice t-rex. also a firefighter. sometimes. he hugs me with impulsive ferocity. he lashes out with a willfulness that i almost can't believe--i have to remind myself not to be hurt by it as i throw him in into yet another time out. then he turns around and makes me laugh so hard! he pretends to eat the whole town as we drive through, but assures me he's just teasing. he's constantly on the move, and prefers to be either outside running as hard as he can or inside playing with all his stuff. he's not all that into drawing or group participation--he prefers imaginative play and reading books and watching british television and dinosaur train. he knows the names of many dinosaurs along with what they eat and all their physical characteristics. he tells me they lived on the earth many years ago, but that they are now extinct. he has real friends at school, and other kids he likes less. he hates playing in the water, and is grateful that summer is over so no one is trying to make him do it. he is as stubborn as a rock. he loves one-on-one attention from either me or the hippie. he tries to take care of his little brother, while simultaneously keeping finn off his stuff and out of his games. he's learning to share. he has  favorite colors, favorite foods, and favorite toys. he loves his cats. he prefers vanilla to chocolate. where he goes, his hippo goes as well. he likes cuddles at night, no matter how his day has gone. he's a little bit afraid of shadows. in the end, he's a whole little complete person, and i love him so much i can't breathe when i look at him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

rant, general

maybe i am just feeling edgy tonight, but i have a few things to say. things i don't usually say for fear of stirring up the muck too much and causing conversations i don't feel like having about topics often seem pointless to discuss with other people, like banging your head against a brick wall. but here are some things anyway. i just want to get them off my chest.
  1.  i wish i had the balls to go comment on every glaring grammatical error i see on the internet, even my own. i would especially like to ding every your/you're, their/they're/there, to/too, its/it's, effect/affect errors. not one of those words is interchangeable for the others. also, i hate it when people use the word THAT to refer to people, who are WHOs, not THATs. and, while i am on this grammatical tirade, i would like to point out that the words which and that are NOT the same, and that you have to separate a clause led by which from the rest of your sentence with a COMMA, which is, by the way, one of the most under-used pieces of punctuation in existence.
  2. a person's rights should in no way be dependent on religion, gender, race, or sexuality. further, i don't think any group of people has the right to push their belief system on any other group. if everyone would stop worrying about what everyone else believes, and just treat everyone with respect and kindness, then we would be a lot better off as a people and a culture. if you are islamic, hindu, jewish, christian, black, white, mulatto, hispanic, asian, american indian, gay, straight, male, female, hermaphroditic, well--i don't care. i don't care what kind of sex you have or who you have it with as long as no one is getting hurt (who doesn't want to be) and no one is being forced to do anything against their will and no one is a child. this extends to any and all of the aforementioned being allowed to marry whomever they choose, however they choose. i have yet to hear a single non-religious argument against same sex marriage, and last time i checked, we had freedom to practice whatever religion we choose in this country.
  3. speaking of religion...if you are going to embrace the bible and take it at its word and quote it at me, then a) you better know what you are quoting because i have read it a few times, even if you have not, b) you better not come at me with things taken utterly out of context, and c) you will never convince me of your opinion by quoting this or that restriction/behavioral statute from deep within the old testament without first showing me that you are also willing to embrace all the other restrictions around it. for example, if you tell me it is wrong to be gay because of the words you find in leviticus, then you must also be kosher, not eating seafood, willing to marry your sister/brother-in-law in the event of your sibling's death, etc. i do not believe you can cherry pick which parts of this you are going to follow--it's all, or it's not. in fact, that there's a pretty significant restriction later in the bible about taking things out of context to further your personal agenda. so you know, stop it.
  4.  i hate news and politics. and yet, here i am with my opinions. i think my government wastes a shitload of time worrying about things that should be none of its concern and a shitload of money pushing its agenda onto other countries in the name of aid. and i think they don't spend nearly enough time worrying about what matters--taking care of its own people, preserving and enhancing its own culture, and producing things. somewhere along the way in the last 250 years, we have lost sight of what it meant to be free, and of what it was to be able to build yourself up from nothing. our class divisions grow, while our culture slowly dies. what do we produce here anymore? what is here that's worth having? don't get me wrong--i love this country, and i fully realize how lucky i am to have been born here where i feel safe and have the freedom to write a blog post like this without getting arrested. but damn, america! we need to get back to the making of things. when we made things, people HAD jobs, and the economy held its own because we had something to sell. we grew our own food and we made cloth, and we made clothing and home furnishings from that cloth, and people built cars and houses, and all manner of thing. now--now, we push money around. money with nothing to back it up on paper that's virtually worthless. we are in debt to our eyeballs to countries who would love to watch us crumble, and we buy all manner of crap from those same countries to fill the holes where we once had well-made products manufactured down the road from where we live. we need to take a step back and look at things more critically.

    4a. corporations suck. gigantic financial institutions suck. it's like having an entity that's chaotic evil running things to let them control what happens in this country. they are NOT people, yet are treated as such under many of our laws, which gives them license to just seriously screw things up in the name of the bottom line for this quarter, right now. there is zero forethought for next quarter, or next year, or 10 years from now, as long as the CEO and CFO and CTO continue to rake in the bucks and someone somewhere continues to invest. there's no interest in the greater good, or the future of anything. it fills me with impotent fury. 

ok, i'm done for now. there's more to rant about, but i am too damned tired to do it right this minute. besides, my teething baby is waking up, so there's some rocking and hugging to be done. rocking a sweet baby is way more fun tan thinking about all this mess anyway. 'night, y'all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

peanut butter pie

peanut butter pie for mikey

i cook a lot. i read food blogs like some people read news feeds. i am not a huge contributor to the online foodie network, but i am most certainly present for it. earlier this week, a food blogger i only occasionally read, jennifer perillo, lost her husband mikey very suddenly--he died last sunday, leaving her and their two children unexpectedly alone. i have been thinking about her all week. and about my brother doug's quick descent, leaving my sister in law and their children similarly bereft. and about myself and my two small children, and what we would do if something happened to our beloved hippie. i cannot imagine, and i hope i never, ever have to know what that's like.

since doug's death, i have become morbid. i think about death almost constantly, and i have bone-shaking fear in my heart every single day. i don't talk about it much--what's the point? and i go on living my life, loving my people, and doing what i need to do. but it's omnipresent--this cloud of doom that follows me. i am self-aware enough to know that this is my way of grieving. i know it will get better with time. but there are days when the weight is literally soul crushing. i cling to anything that can lighten that weight, even for a moment.

the events of this year have taught me, again and again, how very important it is to hold the people you love close to your heart every day. EVERY day! and TELL them you love them. and SHOW them you love them. every day. the whole purpose of this life is to make every second of it count, and i honestly believe you can do that only by living every day as though the future is unknown. because it IS unknown, and all you really have is what's right here in front of you now.

some folks who know jennie much better than i do set up an event for today: making her husband mikey's favorite peanut butter pie as a show of support and commemoration for his life. and in spite of the fact that i do not really know her, i wanted to add my efforts to the event so she will know that one more person in the world knows and cares about her and her family. further, making a peanut butter pie provided a perfect opportunity to tell my hippie that i love him and i am glad he's home. he's been away at a conference all week, and he came back late last night. i made the pie last night, and chilled it overnight so that it's waiting for him this morning as a welcome home gift. i predict he will love it since peanut butter is one of his major food groups. i think i will make him some coffee and serve him a piece of pie for breakfast.

so jennie--i am thinking about you. i am so sorry for the loss you have suffered this week, and i am sorry for the many days of suffering that will come in the next weeks as well. time will heal. and remembrance will help. thanks for sharing this recipe with us.

the recipe can be found here:

for the record, it's absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

where's finn?

where's finn?



playing games like peek-a-boo is one of finn's favorite things. i love this age--he is an absolute blast right now! :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

whole wheat crust

after that last post about quiche, i decided to try making one with a whole wheat crust. i had every intention of photographing the whole process, but then of course i forgot to do that about half way through. i did manage to snap this one pic with my phone. there are herbs and parmesan cheese in there, in case you're all--what's that stuff??

whole wheat crust

anyway--the variation on the crust is as follows:

1 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 stick butter
3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp iced water

everything else is the same as below. this was slightly more dense, but still nicely flaky and delicious. i think it might be good with the further addition of some cayenne pepper or chopped herbs, etc. i plan to experiment further...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

quiche, sadly with no pictures

lately, i've been making quiche, and our whole family is into it.

in fact, a couple of days ago, kieran was pretending to make quiche using some random toys. i questioned him about his choice of ingredients, and he told me his quiche contained spinach, basil, red onion, peppers, chicken, and lots of cheese. he also told me he had to make a crust, and that he would use flour, butter, and marshmallows. i was like--marshmallows??? and he goes--MARSHMALLOWS ARE DELICIOUS! hard to argue with that.

but i digress...

until very recently, i had never made a quiche on my own without hand-holding from my friend, meredith, but i decided i would try it anyway since i always have stuff around i think would make good ones. and, OH. MY. GOD. it's been amazing! AMAZING! we always eat them too quickly for me to take any good pictures, which is, i know, the sure way to lure you into trying something, but i am telling you, people--make some quiche. eat it. be happy. here is the recipe (though i use that word lightly--y'all know my favorite measurement is "some") for the one i have liked best so far:


1 3/4 c flour
1 stick butter
3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp iced water

4-5 baby portabella mushrooms
~1/2 small red pepper
2 cups packed washed spinach leaves
1 small spring onion (or 2-3 scallions)
olive oil
~1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or other herbs)
1/3 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk

preheat oven to 400 F.
make crust: sift flour and salt together into medium bowl. work butter into flour mixture using fingers or pastry knife, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. add 3-4 tablespoons of iced water, just enough to make a dough that will stick together--it should still be fairly dry. on a floured surface, roll out the dough and place in a 9-inch pie pan. fancy up the edges if you feel like it--i like mine a bit on the rustic side. line the crust with foil, making sure the edges are covered, and fill with dry rice or pie weights. bake for about 20 - 25 minutes, until the crust is cooked but not browned. meanwhile...

make the filling:
thinly slice the mushrooms. finely dice the red pepper and the onion or scallions. in a medium to large-ish pan, heat a little olive oil and quickly saute the mushrooms, peppers, and onions, for just a couple of minutes. add the spinach and remove from heat as soon as the leaves wilt. you want these veggies cooked, but NOT overdone--they should still have some life in them. in a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk, and add salt and pepper as you like--i never measure salt and pepper, but i would gess i added about 1/4 teaspoon of each and maybe a few extra shakes of pepper. when the crust is done, remove the weights and foil. sprinkle the parmesan cheese into the crust. next add the oregano, and then the veggies. last, pour the egg/milk mixture over the other ingredients. use your foil to cover the edges of the crust so it doesn't burn, then bake for 15 minutes. remove foil and bake about 10 more minutes or until the quiche is set. then eat!

we've been having it for dinner one night with a big salad, then eating the leftovers for breakfast a couple of days later with some chopped tomatoes--highly recommend!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

robbing the bees, part two

note: this is part two of a two part post on my family's honey harvest. click here for part one. also, if you want to skip the words, and just check out the pictures, you can find them all here: honey harvest, a set on flickr.

centrifuge brand - old school
spinning the honey
inside the centrifuge
empty frame

spinning the honey

once the wax caps have been cut away so that the honey is exposed in the honeycomb, you load 8 frames into an extractor and spin the honey out. the extractor is basically a centrifuge, and i have learned that there are two kinds, radial and tangential. the one here is tangential, which means that we have to spin the frames twice: there is a solid layer of wax in the center of each frame, so you have spin in one direction, then flip the frames over and spin the honey out the other way as well. with a radial extractor, you can extract both sides at once because of the way the frames are positioned in the centrifuge. in both cases, as you spin the extractor, honey is forced to the outside of the cylinder and then runs down to the bottom, where it collects until you are ready to drain it. this is harder than it looks, just from a control standpoint. note that in the pictures, you can see that dan chained the whole thing down to a heavy wooden stand so that nothing could get too out of control. each of the frames isn't all that heavy on its own, but you add 8 of them, full and dripping, and your load not without some inertial mass. you have to lean down on the top of the apparatus as you crank it, or it will go flying out of your hands. and then slowing it down when you want it to stop is an act of brute strength--i am pretty sure i came a hairs breadth of letting that thing fly across the room at one point. it's worth mentioning that you can also go too slowly or too quickly as well. you want to go fast enough to extract the honey without getting TOO fast and accidentally collapsing the honeycomb in the frame. kieran and finn were fascinated by the extractor. it's loud and whirring, and produces a lot of wind if you open the lid during the spinning process. and believe me, when the bottom of the tank starts to fill up, you KNOW when it's time to stop--the thick honey will hit the bottom of the centrifuge itself, and it's suddenly like trying to stir a brick. when the honey is out of the frames, they are light, and the comb cells are empty. some people will cut the comb and include it in jars of honey, but i really don't see the point of that. unless you have a use for the beeswax, i'd say just let the bees have it back.

problem frame
cells with pollen
bee pollen

bee pollen (aka, problem frames)

once in a while, you come across a frame that's a big pain in the butt to deal with. this one has a mix of half-filled cells, capped honey cells, and bee pollen. the pollen is the real issue--you don't want to spin that pollen out into your honey because you will NEVER get it back out again. dan taught me how to look at the frame and tell which cells are good and which are not. i thought it was odd that the bees cap the pollen cells just like the honey cells. so the trick becomes uncapping the honey cells without opening the pollen cells. then you can spin the frame just like the others to get what honey there is without getting pollen into the mix. it should also be noted that this is the bee pollen you can buy as a dietary supplement--some people believe that it's beneficial for all kinds of things ranging from improving memory, helping with weight loss, increasing sexual performance, to preventing hay fever. there's actually some evidence to support the use of local pollens to help with allergies, although from what i have read, ingesting them can also CAUSE sever allergic reactions in some people. i think most of these claims are probably marketing hokum, but what do i know, right? if i ever decide i need any, i clearly have a good source for it right here. :)

straining the honey
big pot of honey
clean jars

straining and pouring

as you extract the honey, you periodically have to empty the tank. since we had many hands, we just ran the honey through a fine mesh strainer into big stock pots, then took it upstairs to pour into clean jars. this process is slow, but not difficult. if we were doing this as a commercial operation, we would probably have gone through more than one straining of the honey to make sure we got all of the impurities out. however, since our honey is for--well--us, we strained it once and called it good. i would say about 99% of all the stuff was out after that first straining anyway. it's actually pretty amazing how clean and clear it is straight out of the hive. after the straining, the pot of (freakin' heavy!) honey is carried up to where the jars await. these are just basic mason jars, for which i have some kind of i-was-a-farm-wife-in-a-previous-life kind of love. why do i think they are so pretty?! the pouring is straightforward, if a tad messy. i am honestly not strong enough to do it with a full stockpot of honey, so i enlisted help from the hippie. check out those guns. heh. i thought it was cute how he tucked in his hair to keep it from getting into the honey. this strategy, while seemingly sound, did NOT keep the honey from getting into the hair by the end of the day.

jars of honey
a LOT of honey

a LOT of honey!

in the end, we harvested over 12 gallons of honey, which is a TON if you ask me! keep in mind that this is only a portion of the harvest, and only from two of the four hives. we will harvest again in the fall, but at that point, we will not take as much from each hive since winter will be coming, and the bees will need honey for themselves. i am really interested to see how the summer harvest is different from the spring one. even this time, there was a marked difference between the early spring honey, which was very light and clear, and the later honey--you could tell that dan and denise's neighbors had put in a buckwheat field in the late spring because the honey suddenly became much darker. we didn't try to separate the honey, but rather chose to blend it all together. however, i've talked to people who do this professionally, and they will rent little plots of land on which ti place bees on farms where specific crops are growing just to get different varieties of honey. i had some cotton honey once that was almost clear and so sweet it hurt my teeth, and then i've had buckwheat honey that's as dark as molasses and has a nuttier flavor. the honey is as different as the crops themselves.

pot of capping wax and honey
capping wax detail

finishing up

last, but not least, you have to harvest the capping wax and honey. this is done with heat--you collect it all in a pot, and slowly heat it till the beeswax melts. this causes the wax to come to the top, with the dirt, debris, and impurities in a layer under the wax, and then the honey on the bottom. from this amount of wax, dan said we should get another gallon or so of honey. and this honey, we WILL keep separate since it's been heated, which changes its character.

to wrap up, here are the answers to the questions everyone has been asking me since harvest day:
1. no, raw honey hasn't been heated in any way at all. it will crystallize more quickly than honey that's been heated, and if this happens, you can return it to nearly its original state by heating it very slightly. however, you don't want it to go over about 120 - 130 degrees F or you will start breaking down the sugars.

2. no you do NOT need or want to store honey in the fridge. it really doesn't go bad that i've ever seen or heard of. just keep it in your pantry. (or if you're like me, put it in something pretty because you are going to keep getting it out and leaving it on the counter so you can look at it.)

3. do NOT give honey to a baby under a year old. the sugars in honey are more complex than their little digestive systems can handle, and giving it to them can make them very sick. in fact, my grandmother used to say not to give it to a baby under 3 years old--the american academy of pediatrics now says one.
after all this, i guess it's safe to say that i am even more of a honey evangelist than i used to be. it just has to be one of the coolest processes in nature. i'm grateful to dan for teaching me so much about it, and i am really hoping he will let me help with the bees in the fall when we get ready to harvest again. if so, there may be a part three. we'll see!

Monday, June 20, 2011

robbing the bees, part one

i love honey. i think it's beautiful and tasty and healthy, and i love trying all different kinds. i like cooking with it (especially pumpkin pie!), i like it on toast with butter, it soothes my throat when it's sore, it's good in peanut sauce and salad dressing, and i have this idea that at some point i will have time to make things like facial masks and stuff out of it as well. i love how it smells and how it tastes. i've read books on its history, taken pictures of it, and eaten it by the spoonful. there are probably 15 kinds of honey in my cabinet right this minute. so when my pseudo-father-in-law, dan, asked me if i wanted to help him harvest the honey from his hives, i jumped at the chance. and folks, that was one awesome, educational, hard-working day! prepare to be bombarded with pictures, and more information than you ever wanted about honey! (by the way, i think i am going to break this up into two posts--there are too many pictures and too much information for one.)

note: if you want to skip the words, and just check out the pictures, you can find them all here: honey harvest, a set on flickr.

dan's four hives
the bees' view

the hives

dan has 4 hives, all lined up in a perfect, shady clearing well away from the house or anything that would disturb the bees. the two in the middle are parent hives, and the two on the edges are child hives. this means that he's using the first two colonies to set up two new colonies in the smaller hives. the parent hives are normally much taller, but dan had already pulled out the boxes we were going to harvest when i got there. as the colonies grow, the hives will as well, but you start the child hives small and with the hive entrance facing in the opposite direction from the parent hives. if you look closely at the middle picture, you can see the bees coming in and out of the entrance on the bottom level of the hive. there's a stump in the middle of the clearing that's hollowed out and filled with water for them to drink. the bottom picture is the view of the top of the clearing, and when you stand there, you can see the bees zooming in and out of the clearing like tiny dive-bombers.

super with frames
full frame with the caps on

the stucture of supers

each hive consists of a stack of wooden boxes called supers, and each super contains 10 frames, which are wooden frames in which the bees build honeycomb that gets filled with everything bees need: eggs and larvae, pollen, and eventually, honey. when you pull the supers, you suit up in protective gear, smoke the bees to calm them, pull the boxes out, inspect them to make sure they are not brood chambers (ie, filled with eggs, larvae, baby bees, etc.), brush off the bees with a paintbrush, and take 'em into the house--all before the bees get wise to your game and come after you. this is the part i didn't get to help with, about which i was both relieved and sad. honestly, i don't know if i could lift a full super--they are pretty heavy even without a full load of honey! the bees have spent all spring gathering pollen, turning it into honey, which they put into the combs in the frames, and capping the honeycomb cells with wax as each one was filled. the picture on the bottom of this set is a full frame, and the white/yellow coating you see are the beeswax caps on the honeycomb cells.

dan removing the caps
removing the caps
capping wax
full frame, caps off

processing the frames

so, to get the honey out of the frames, we must first remove the caps. dan has this special knife for cutting them off--it's an electric knife shaped like a flat sword that heats up so that it melts the wax enough to cut through it. this process is straightforward but a little tricky. you stand the frame up and hold it with one had, while skimming off the caps with the other. you want to cut deeply enough to open the comb without gouging the it, lest you a) lose too much honey, and b) damage the comb, which will be returned to the bees after the harvest is complete. some people take the comb for the wax, but dan lets the bees have it back so that they spend less time building new comb and more time making honey. makes sense to me. the pointed sword edge of the knife is essential for getting the caps off in the corners. it's also worth noting that this knife is HOT, which means the honey that does come out of the comb at this stage is also HOT, and hot honey is more than a little bit like napalm. there's quite a risk of burning here. i cut a couple of the frames, but dan did most of them, as he's about 14 times faster than me. he makes it look easy and simple, but trust me--it's not. as you cut the caps, you just let them fall into a pan to deal with later. they can be used for any number of things of course, primarily candles and seeding new frames for new bees. the bottom picture is what a very full freshly capped frame looks like. that one is now ready for processing.

next up, spinning, straining, and pouring!