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.