Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stocking-up, Dark Days Style

My feet are killing me and my knees ache but it was well worth it for I am now fully “stock”-ed up with local, home-canned stock. I spent the better part of the last 2 days boiling, reducing, straining, de-fatting, and  pressure canning 4 batches of liquid gold totaling 13 quarts of chicken stock, 6 quarts of vegetable stock, and 5 quarts of pumpkin chunks.


I made the chicken stock from 5 local, responsibly raised, raw chicken backs I picked up from the Purcellville Smart Markets and a some bones I froze after roasting whole birds from the farmers market.  I also added 1 local yellow onion, a handful of yellow onion skins to add color, and a bunch of local, organic celery (the really dark green, pungent kind, not the pale, blanched, scent-less kind). I boiled it down in my large water bath canner, my biggest stock pot, to get it all cooked in one batch. It simmered and reduced over 5 hours  before I strained out the bones and meat and did a little fat skimming on the first half. The second half went into the fridge overnight before canning to make the de-fatting easier. I put it in my pressure cooker at 10lbs for 25 minutes but I could only fit in up to 7 jars at a time. As it canned I pulled the little bits of meat from the remaining carcasses.


I needed more room in my freezer so in addition to pulling out most of the chicken bones I also pulled out the veggies. The vegetable stock was initially made last month and frozen, until today when I it was re-boiled and canned. I have been saving up what I call vegetable remnants, the bits of veggies that don’t get used for their original purpose but are otherwise perfectly good. Woody broccoli stocks that I didn’t use in stir-fry, onions ends chopped off to get a flat edge for slicing, the large white end at the base of a celery stock, mushroom stems leftover from a mushroom cap appetizer, and other bits and pieces all got tossed into several Ziploc bags in the freezer over the summer. I started building the base by sautéing local carrots, celery and onion and then dumped the frozen veggies along with any extra local veggies that were languishing in the fridge at the end of the CSA season (cabbage is the only one i can remember) and covered with water. I boiled it most of the day, reducing it by about half to concentrate the flavor. The smell of if it reheating was heaven.


While I had the pressure canner out and while the broth was cooking I skinned and chopped 3 small pie pumpkins. I have already made 10 quarts of pumpkin puree but that went into the freezer because, according to every respected food preservation reference, winter squash (pumpkin included) is too dense when pureed to allow for the necessary heat distribution for food safety and shelf storage. The chunks were covered with water and brought to a boil for 2 minutes before being hot packed into quart jars and pressure cooked at 10 lbs for 90 minutes.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

3rd Annual Dark Days Challenge

darkdays09-10post I’ve signed up to participate in this years Dark Days Challenge put on by (not so) Urban Hennery. It starts today and runs through March 2010. Essentially, the challenge is to cook one meal each week that is focused on sustainable, organic, local and/or ethical (SOLE) ingredients and blog about it. I find it easy to pull together simple meals with few frills and even less ingredients. This year I’d like to find some new sources for staples that I still get from the supermarket and make a better effort to prep more variety of meals with more ingredients. 
My version of local is going to be within 100 miles if I can, up to 200 where I can’t and exempting salt, some spices, coffee beans (not the roasting), chocolate, and cooking oil. I’ll also be including things that are produced and finished locally but the base ingredients are produced elsewhere, if there is not an alternative that is entirely local. A perfect example is coffee; the northern Virginia hills are not known for their quality beans and I’m not even sure if they would even grow if planted here. I have, however, found a number of local roasters that take pride in their work, use care when selecting their sources, pay a fair price for quality ingredients and roast and package the final product nearby.


On the last days of December 2007, a little under 2 years ago,  I started sporadically posting to this blog . It was a year after K and I had moved to the northern Virginia area and though I had made time to explore the local farmers market scene, I had only just begun to research what CSA is and theoretically explore what impact it might have on our lives.  Though I was philosophically onboard, I was still concerned by how I would achieve my objectives and plagued by questions like, what would I do with 5 lbs of Kale and could I really handle making meals out of whatever came in my box. I questioned my skill, know-how, energy and time.  I wondered what place supporting local food endeavors would have in my career-focused life and how I would balance the mental split between what I saw as key to my life and happiness and what I had to do to get by and improve my long term employability.(Just Starting)

It’s almost hard to remember this time in my life when I wasn’t relying on my share to feed me through the summer and supplementing with food from the farmers markets all year long, especially in the winter.  Don’t get me wrong, I eat out more than I’d like to admit, splurge on convenience food when I’m at the grocery store, and waste too much of the bounty I receive because I either don’t like it, i don’t know what to do with it, or are just to tired to cook it before it goes bad. But there is something important that happens when you consciously connect yourself to nature and the benefits extend well past the nutrition that ends up on your table. I’m luckier than most of my colleagues; I was raised in and around gardens and other sources of fresh food and I already new the childish pleasures of tasting fresh sun-ripened strawberries right from the plant. I knew, on an instinctual level that only comes from early childhood experiences, that taking the time to reconnect with my food sources was the right thing to do but I had forgotten how much you gain. 

I have found that I look forward to the nuances of the seasons to bring a vast variety new flavors and smells unlike anything that comes in a box, can, or bag from the supermarket or can be chemically mimicked in a scented candle. The palate of colors is ever changing beginning with the red of spring strawberries, the blues and blacks of berries, moving through the yellows of summer peaches and corns, the oranges of fall pumpkins and squash and the only constant is green. It also means that I’m never stuck with anything for too long, with the exception of kale which is available for the better part of the year. I also lament this passage of time for it brings not only new foods but also signifies the end of them, some of my new favorite foods like asparagus and rhubarb are only available for that short window in the spring.(First Bite From Farm) Once they are gone I remember them fondly and look to their coming after the desperate days of the more barren winter as a signal of good times ahead. (End of the CSA Season)

On one hand, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I am no further along in many of my goals than I was on that cold day 2 years ago when I decided to try blogging as a catalog of my attempts at change and reminder of the things which I wish to explore or accomplish.  On the other hand, thanks to the inspiration of many a blogger who is either an example that I strive to meet or fellow traveler on the path to finding happiness, I continue to grow and explore the path ahead.  So, as a reminder, here is a list of things that I have changed, begun, restarted, found, grew, baked or did.

  • Found a CSA and became a member. I get a half-share, one box, for 20 weeks from spring to fall. We drive 45 minutes every weekend to pick up our share and also take advantage of the bonus u-pick (I really should calculate how much we get back for that bonus) and the free play space. K knows her fruits and veggies and where they come from, even if she doesn't eat them much. (CSA)
  • Found some of our favorite foods grown, produced and sold by the farmer at some great local Farmers Markets. Bacon, chibatta bread, apples, onions, garlic, pears, bell peppers, and ground beef are among the items that I only purchase at the markets, if they don’t come in our share. Many others things I try to get but may substitute based on toddler necessity and poor planning/timing on my part, like bread, chicken, beef, butter, and many other assorted veggies. (An Apple A Day)
  • Found a creamery that delivers our diary to our back porch. Milk, yogurt and cheese are our regular products all made from their dairy cows, but we also get all manner things like butter, cream, bread, granola, and this thanksgiving well try turkey that they source through local small farms and add to their deliveries. (We've Got Milk)
  • Began sewing more of Ks clothing and repairing things, eventually, so that they could be used again. (Thanks mom for fixing the machine and helping out for Halloween)
  • Started knitting again and found a circle of supportive women that I don’t spend enough time with, and yet the still say hi when we meet. I have completed scarves for everyone in the family but me (50% done), working on some hats and fingerless mittens, learning how to do socks and looking forward to more projects(Fiber and Needlework Update)
  • Learned to crochet and made a sampler scarf and am no longer afraid when a pattern calls for a crochet needle. (Yarn and Rhubarb)
  • Restarted old needlework patterns and began to relearn cross stitch. Nothing is completed yet but I hope to use this to embellish other projects soon
  • Started to try to bake more bread and other things. I’ve only been partially successful but I wont let that stop me (Honey Wheat Bread)
  • Relearned how to preserve food by freezing (perfected my freeze-drying technique) and canning. Put by all manner of cooked and raw veggies, raw fruits, chicken and vegetable stock, canned corn, canned jams, applesauce, peach halves and slices, bbq sauces and ketchup, salsas, and brandied apricots. (Summer Preservation)
  • Kept up with One Local Summer, making and posting an entirely local meal once a week, for twice as long as I did my first year, though still not the whole way (One Local Summer)
  • Participated in some of last years Dark Days Challenge but only blogged about the first few weeks. I’ll try to do better this round. (Dark Days Challenge)
  • Began gardening again. I thought it was near impossible to do any productive gardening, beyond a few tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets like back in college, with a poorly exposed porch, no access to water outside, a full time career and a toddler. I proved myself wrong by turning to self watering containers, intensive planting methods, dwarfed species and a lot of blind faith.  What I got back was an intense satisfaction at growing something, my hands in the dirt again, a forest of tomato vines and a few precious tomatoes, lots of herbs, a little lettuce, flowers from March until November, fresh peas off the vine, lemon cucumbers, and green space all to myself. It was less about the output, which was way more than I expected but way less than is cost effective, and more about the pride of having a garden and sharing that experience with K even though we don’t have a yard.(Starting Seeds)

Now that I put in writing, it seems like a lot, given where I started from. I guess all I can hope for is to keep progressing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

One Local Summer Week 15

This week I cooked up a local breakfast hash that was very yummy. I diced up a whole red bell pepper and half of a red onion and sauteed it with a bit of olive oil and a drop of bacon grease. Then I tossed in some diced up leftover home baked 4 potato (red, blue, yellow, white) oven fries coated with salt, pepper and paprika and chopped cooked bacon. The seasoning was just right and the salty bacon gave it a bright crunch. I served it with fried local eggs, sliced local apples and a cup of locally roasted coffee. This would be just as good in a scramble or a breakfast burrito. I think I've stumbled onto a new day-after trend.

Summer Preservation Activities

One of the most rewarding parts of working so hard to pick what the summer has to offer is then getting to preserve it for use later. Nothing can beat the taste of fresh strawberries in January or peach pie in February. I also like the idea of replacing store bought condiments with ones of my own creation. Why buy franken-Heinz katsup when you can make your own so easily. So here is a review of what I've put by so far.

Peach Butter: I have canned peach slices and halves in the past and not only was the skinning part a huge pain but we also didn't eat many of them. I'm not a big fan of the syrup I used and K had trouble eating them when they were so slippery. Maybe now that I am baking more I would have more use for them but I was looking for something else. In an attempt to try to use up as many of those peaches as possible I decided to try butter.

I still had to contend with removing the skins and without a good food mill I resorted to a stick blender, which did the job but took a lot of time and wrist strength. I don't think I got it down to the right consistency for butter, it was still a little runny. Otherwise, it smelled and tasted great and I look forward to the possibilities; jam thumbprint cookies and layered cakes come to mind.

Freezer Cole Slaw: I was searching for a way to use up and preserve cabbage that didn't call for fermentation when I saw a recipe in my Preservation For Busy People book that calls for freezing.

It called for shredding up everything, boiling a brine, pouring it over the vegetables and then freezing. I used cabbage from my share, carrots from the market, peppers from my garden and vinegar and celery seeds from the conventional supermarket.

I'm not sure what to expect when I defrost it but I'm waiting for my folks to come and visit so that I'll have some other opinions of its character and some additional mouths to use it up if it is good.

Condiments: In addition to peach butter, I also experimented with a few other canning recipes from my Ball Complete book of Home Preserving this summer. First was a fruit katsup that was equal parts peach and tomatoes with some apple too. It turned out a little zesty thanks to the addition of cayenne pepper. It was very, very good and felt extremely gourmet with my fancy fries and primo burger. Then there was a peach BBQ sauce. It didn't yield as much as I wanted but I attribute that to having very thick peach skins and no food mill. It was also very good. Then I made both a tomatillo and a fruit based salsa. I haven't tried them yet so I don't know if I will make them again or try something else.

Grape Juice: Finally, I tried making grape juice from the handful of too tart for just eating concord-type grapes that I got from my farm share. I washed and picked each grape and then, using my new mini-masher, crushed the heck out of them. Next I boiled them over med heat and continued to periodically re-mash anything that looked the least bit solid. Once, it was done cooking I strained the resulting mash through a strainer and ended up with about 1 cup of concentrated grape liquid. It was still a little tart, though much better than eating them whole so I stirred in some local honey. I filled the rest of the glass with ice and a dash of water, mixed it up and enjoyed my first glass of real grape juice in almost 20 years.

Harvest Round-up Weeks 10-14

Here is a round-up of what I have been harvesting from my little porch container garden:

Tomatoes are finally showing up in the week 10 harvest. I'm also enjoying a slow trickling of bell peppers and lemon cukes. The green onions are always plentiful.

In week 11 I brought in some chard and harvested more cilantro/coriander seeds.

In week 12, everything continued to produce about the same.

I picked all the remaining tomatoes in week 12 but there the lemon cukes made up for it in week 13.

Week 14 I harvested the bulk of the peppers. The plants are still going strong but it will be a little while before I have any more ripe.

One Local Summer Week 13

This week was my favorite one local summer meal so far. I used some frozen caremelized onions from a few weeks ago and a dash of worshestershire sauce with local ground beef to make the patty. I made oven fries from the tri-colored potatoes with a dash of salt, pepper and paprika. I sliced a homegrown beefsteak and some peaches from the farm. The dip was the leftover katsup from my canning (more on that in a follow up post). All it was missing was a home baked bun but with all that good food, once it took the first bite the bun was really not needed nor missed.

Week 13 CSA

Our farm share this week included more corn, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cherry tomatos and of course, more peaches. It also delighted us with a cantaloup and some concord-type grapes. The grapes smelled wonderful I tried eating them but they were a little tart and had lots of seeds. I think that I'll try my hand at juice.
For the u-pick bonus there were even more peaches and some more edamame.

Confression of Produce Overload

It is time for a fridge is suffering from produce overload. I want to show you but first a disclaimer. Please ignore the mess; produce fresh from the ground can be dirty and messy, not to mention the spills that a helpful toddler creates when trying to pour their own juice and mil. With the huge volume that overflows my fridge this time of year, it can be a little tricky to clean up, so I usually just avoid the task until the winter. Also, I am in desperate need of a long weekend where I can chop and slice and cook and can. Until then, I will continue to stuff things anywhere in the fridge or freezer that will allow the doors to close. And now for the proof.

Notice the numerous bowls spilling over with peaches, the tomatoes bursting over their baskets, and the apples lined up in what little space remains. The empty drawer is deceptive for lurking just outside of the picture frame is a unit of green apples waiting to infiltrate the only clean spot left.

And here is another angle where you can see the cheese drawer overflowing with creamery yogurts and cheeses; the door stacked with butters, milks, juices, and condiments.

And lest you think that I should just freeze something to make room, here you can clearly see that freezing is no longer an option. Assorted berries, fruits, herbs and shredded zucchini threaten to spill out of the door. Meats, pre-made dishes, and convenience food block your view of a whole host of other frozen vegetables, soups, ice creams and sorbets. If I could get the time to make chicken broth, I might make enough room to keep frozen zucchini breads and muffins.

I think I need help...or a big chest freezer...or a dehydrator.

Week 12 CSA

This weeks CSA share included some incredibly delicious nectarines, more beautiful corn, some nice fresh lettuce and some big tomatoes.

I mean look at these things. They are definitely destined for some sauce or salsa or something canned.
The u-pick bonus this week included some more peaches and edamame. I don't know what I'm going to do with more peaches but I'll probably take the same path as the tomatoes...canned. I plan to keep the edamame till I get more next week and boil and freeze it for future stir fries.

At the Saturday market this week I was thrilled to pick up some peppers for salsa and the first small batch of what will be my fall fruit staple, apples. I also got some chicken to keep in the freezer for soups or something.

At the Sunday market I got more salsa ingredients, some potatoes and carrots, mushrooms and apples. It was quite a score.

One Local Summer Week 12

My local meal this week was a light crisp salad. The greens came from my CSA share, the onions and bacon came from the farmers market, and the bell pepper and tomatos came from my garden. The onions were so sweet and the bacon and bell peppers so crispy.

Week 15 CSA

This week we got what is probably the last of the corn. Amazingly we are still getting peaches. The chard, tomatoes and squash continue also. We were also lucky to get a bag of potatoes in addition to our u-pick.
Here is our pile of u-pick potatoes plus a small bag of very small potatoes that I purchased in addition. I hope to can up a some small ones as it is hard for me to keep potatoes as long as I'd like to given that I have no truly cool place in the apartment once we start using the heat.

This week at the Saturday farmers market I stocked up on Jonathan apples, the first showing of Asian pears (so good) and onions. I also grabbed some ground beef and butter and treated myself to McCutcheons sparkling cider.

Week 14 CSA

This weeks share featured more tomatoes, a lovely watermelon, two banana peppers hiding under a generous handful of chard and, of course, more peaches.
This weekend was the potatoes and pancakes festival. We started with a pancake breakfast and then headed out to the potato fields where the tractor had already dug up most of the potatoes. All that we did was walk along the rows and pick up what ever size we wanted. I grabbed a mixture of sizes.
At the farmers market we stocked up on bell peppers and apples for snacking and added a few fun tomatoes to brighten up the salsa.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One Local Summer Week 11

This week, thanks to finally getting tomatoes in both my share and my garden, I have enjoyed dishes that featured them prominently.
After my dd hurt her wrist I spent a long day going from doctors office to d0ctors office in the temperatures that crested in the high 90's. When we finally made it home I was in the mood for a simple, cool dinner. I sliced and toasted a local loaf of sandwich bread, rinsed some large leafs of butterhead lettuce from the farmers market, sliced up my 2nd purple russian tomato, cooked up some crisp slices of Baker's bacon, and even tried to make my own mayo.

The mayo didn't work out the way I planned so I substituted some I already had on hand but in the end what I had was the best local BLT.

Week 11 CSA

After taking last week off from driving to the farm and picking, this week was another double share. It was also the Dog Days of August festival weekend at Great Country Farm, which means that peaches were in full swing and the there were doggies every where you looked. We picked a small bag of green beans and 6 peaches for our half share u-pick bonus.

The blackberries were also in the bonus but because of our late start K was to tired to stop at a third field. We fed the goats, grabbed some hamburgers and headed home. When we got home here is what we found in our box.

The tomatoes made their first appearance and should be in full swing for the rest of the season, until the fall frosts knock them out. Another nice summer debut (at least for us) was the watermelon, so dense that the second the knife pierced the skin the whole thing burst in half, happy to be free from the constraints of its rind. The corn is in full swing and the summer squash is still coming. I'm really enjoying the head of lettuce. The cilantro will be nice to use in salsa as mine has already gone to seed.

At the Leesburg Farmers Market I picked up my usual chibatta from South Street Under and a treat for K from Lola's. Then it was off to Potomack Vegetable Farms to get some leeks and onions. A lite market trip this week as we have lots of produce from the double farm share.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

National Farmers Market Week

Did you know that this last week (Aug 2-9) was National Farmers Market Week? Well, I did thanks to the heads up and encouragement from FoodieTots. Of course, we planned on being at at least one market anyway but in true Murphys Law fashion, the one week we should be at the market almost turned into the first week of the year where we did not even get to a single market.

I don't know how I forgot to swing by the Frying Pan Park Market on Wednesday when I planned my early lunch hour specifically to take advantage of it. Or how I managed to not leave with enough time to swing by the Reston Town Center market before I had to pick K up from preschool in order to make it to swim lessons. And then came Saturday, our usuall day of local food worship with planned stops at the Leesburg Farmers Market and/or the Purcelville Market along with u-pick and share pick-up at the farm. Surely, we'd be able to pick up our regular list of goodies and at this market I could take the time and get some good pictures of K for the Flicker pool.However, Saturday morning came and I woke up 3 hours late with a killer migrain and a whole host of other ailment that kept me in bed or immobilized most of the day.

Saturday night, with only one day left, I was just sitting up to re-write my list and plan a Sunday trip to the Cascades Farmers Market when K decided that no bedtime routine would be complete without some death-defying feat of acrobatics. The scream that emanated from her room was enough to get past my migraine and I bolted out of bed. No broken bones or abnormal swelling were immediately apparent but it was certain that she had at least sprained her right wrist and was intent on making her pain known to the whole world. She couldn't sit up, lay down, read books, drink water, move blankets, reach for a stuffed animal or go to the bathroom on her own and every few hours all night long, screamed bloody murder for my assistance. I was afraid that it might be worse than it looked or that we'd both be too tired to go anywhere, much less try to maneuver the crowded market.

But I had underestimated the power of fresh food, good people, and the sights and smells that only a Farmers Market can bring. All I had to do was ask "Do you want to go to the Farmers Market?" and my frail invalid was suddenly recovered enough to get dressed on her own, complete with arm sling, and head out to the car, albeit slower than usual, with the hope of getting not only her favorite market treat, a cookie, but also yummy food for the week ahead. My list was down to only the essentials as I had too much food to use up from overfilled shares and I was in a cooking rut and unable to make even a basic meal out of the food I had on hand but I planned to get bread, bacon, eggs, and potatoes. When we got there during the last hour of the market, K happily walked very slowly back and forth with my while I browsed for the best buys on my list. I ended up with my gold standards, Becky's Whole Wheat Bread, Bakers bacon, Red, Yellow and Blue potatoes from Onyx Hill Farm and a last minute find of eggs at Bigg Rigg's along with some of their bottled Awesome Sauce and a carton of Tomatillos. K also asked for some flowers so we got a bunch of zinnias from Medinas Produce. Last, but most importantly, K got her brownie bar from MeLoveCookies.

There is something magical about spending a few minutes at the market. The people, the sounds, the smells and the moments. I like, when K lets me, to just stop and take it all in. K likes the colors and shapes, the samplers and the dogs; I like the inspiration, the motivation and the feeling of community. Today she was really drawn to all the different tomatoes and how none of the looked like the purple ones we are growing at home. She picked out a bunch of tiny purple potatoes, tasted Bigg Rigg's Peach Jam on crackers, listened very shyly as the Banjo player sang Mary Had a Little Lamb just for her, was very intent on following a rather large shepard as he and his owner browsed for corn, and reluctantly let me hold her beloved flowers so that she could use her one good hand to pet the stuffed dog at Chase Your Tale Bakery.

On what started as a miserable day K returned with a smile on her face (and chocolate brownie too) and a story to tell her grandparents. And the market turned my day around too. When I got home, my headache and my cookers-block was gone and I effortlessly whipped up bunch of local dishes like BLTs, roasted cabbage colcannon and tri-potato mash, diced potato bakes, freezer coleslaw, roasted corn, peach medley and put by a bunch of cabbage, zucchini, peaches and onions with dreams of local produce in winter soups, breads, and pies.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

One Local Summer Week 10

In celebration of our first homegrown tomato and the bounty that is available here in Northern Virginia, K and I spend Monday evening washing, spinning, slicing, dicing, shredding, and throwing our very own local salad buffet party. Here is K holding the first of the Purple Russian tomato and one of the red bell peppers.

After harvesting the fresh tomato, bell pepper, spinach, chard, beet greens and nasturtium blossoms from the garden we pulled out the cucumber, green beans and peaches from our farm share and added the smoked ham and lettuce we got from the farmers market and the cheese that gets delivered, along with our milk, from South Mountain Creamery. Each got its own little bowl and once we sat down at the table we got to pick our own combination of fresh, local produce to make our party salad.

Here is what mine looked like.
And here is K adding the final touch to her creation: cheese, cheese, and mom can I have some more cheese?

Disclaimer: items pictured on this child's plate may or most likely may not have actually been eaten. This image has been provided to represent a sampling of likely edible objects. Each was tried, however not all passed the "I don't like it" test equally. The cheese, however, was delicious.