Saturday, January 29, 2011


Last night we watched the movie Food Inc.

Now, I'd read the first part of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma a while back, so I had an inkling of what was coming. But the timing must have been right last night for me to be receptive, and it ramped up the volume in my head about paying attention to where my food is coming from.

I'll spare you the details of the movie, but suffice it to say that if you're at all interested in introducing yourself to some information about how much of our food gets from place of production to us the consumers, I'd recommend the movie whole-heartedly. That and I expect I'll be finishing that Pollan book soon now too.

So... what am I really getting at?  Well, one of the little bug's favorite snacks of late has been Graham Crackers (of the Honey Maid variety). You know, the ones we had as kids ourselves and probably still eat in smores on occasion? Yeah, those yummy things. Well, one of the points mentioned in the movie last night was how everything these days has corn products in it, and sure enough, there on the list of ingredients of these crackers was high fructose corn syrup. 

Now, I'm not going to go all nazi and attempt to avoid that stuff at all costs, but it just so happens that I got a copy of Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain cookbook for my birthday this past year (thanks, Mom!), and in there is a recipe for "Grahams" from scratch. Could I make them with my own known ingredients and have them be as good as the ones I'd eaten for so many years? I was about to find out.

Before cooking - I wasn't too convinced, at least based on looks, that the experiment was going to work.

But a little miracle seemed to happen on that cookie tray in the oven, and I have to say,
I think they're even BETTER than Nabisco! Of course, the cinammon and sugar
on these here probably isn't hurting anything either...

Yippee! And though I didn't get a picture of it, these crackers (cookies?) passed the little-boy-litmus test with flying colors. The bug loves them.

I'll leave you with this shot of our little GQ guy himself, complete with Tigger on his shirt, puppies on his feet and the favorite boa-esque scarf from GrandMaMa around his neck. How I love this little man!

Dark Days Dinner #9: Fresh Perch

The plan for the next meal was set - another pasta dish to happen some time this coming week.

Then I got a call from my father yesterday (Friday) morning. He'd gone ice fishing on Owasco Lake and come home with a quite a few fish Wednesday, and then a few more good sized ones Thursday. He and my mother were headed to Rochester to visit with my sister and her boys and the fish were in their 'fridge and the needed to be eaten. Could we help them out?


Fresh perch? That someone else already caught and cleaned? Who in their right mind would say no?! 

So here we have it - another of what I'm coming to think of as the best kind of Dark Days Challenge meals: the unplanned kind!

I quick sliced up some local potatoes and got them roasting in the oven and got some local (farmer's market) carrots steaming on the stove. I sautéed the fish on top of the stove and topped them with a white wine and shallot sauce that I'd never made before but it turned out delicious.

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • On top of the usual intruders of oil and spices, the sauce was not too local. I used lemon, vermouth and capers that were not at all local but that I had on hand. However, I did use our onions from the garden, home-made local butter and a little local heavy cream in it too, to try to even that out a bit!
  • The sauce recipe was from Cook's Illustrated (here) but I added about two tablespoons of heavy cream at the very end, which I thought was just perfect. I wasn't sure how the dairy would go with the lemon, but it worked well and didn't curdle or separate. That recipe's a keeper for sure, and even my usual caper-avoiding husband liked it and had second helpings!
Thanks so much to my dad for the fish - one of these times I need to get back out there with you to catch some myself!

Stay tuned - that next pasta Dark Days meal will eventually happen!

The little guy was pretty excited about the meal too.
Or maybe he was just excited to be holding that big fork.
It's hard to tell.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dark Days Dinner #8: Mexican!

It all started with this:

Well... OK, maybe it really started with reading this post about corn tortillas from scratch and this post about black bean and venison chile in the slow cooker and then finding another post about home made tortillas that really did it.

That and I've been saying since week one that I wanted to try to make Upstate NY local Mexican food!

Today was my day off, so the timing was perfect. I got started about ten in the morning with onions, garlic, spices, venison stew meat, black beans (like the corn meal, also from Cayuga Pure Organics who are just 17 miles away) and home made venison broth in the slow cooker on low.

Then just before dinner I prepped my toppings:  chopped some local cabbage (still good in the fridge from weeks ago!!), dug out a jar of home made salsa from garden tomatos, peppers and onions, and set out the home made yogurt that I'd put in a coffee filter to drain/thicken all afternoon.

In the end I also went with a block of cheddar cheese that Doug's mom had brought us from her home in Tillamook, becuase there's just something about tacos/tostadas that needs cheddar in my mind!

Have I ever mentioned that I love cheese? That might be a slight understatement of the truth.

Finally, the *challenge* part of the meal for me - the corn tortillas.  I didn't have local masa harina, but I'd found that finely ground corn meal pictured above. The recipes I "followed" both did the same thing, using whole wheat or white whole wheat as a binding agent of sorts.

I'm not sure I ever did get mine to ... bind. Or maybe it bound too well? 

They tasted fabulous - tender and corn-ey and the texture once cooked seemed about right to me, but to work with the dough was miserable! I added WAY more wheat flour that the other recipes followed, and it was still like working the paste (not play dough as had been described, though at the time I'm not sure I could have told you the difference between the two).

I did manage to get some rounds made and cooked but gave up at six and I probably could have gotten eight or nine from my batch if I'd kept at it. My apologies for the poor picture - at this point I was getting a little nonplussed and also had the kitchen full of smoke from the hot oil on the griddle that wasn't getting tortillas laid on it nearly as fast as they should have been.

(Note to self and husband: if at all possible we should move up on the list of priorities getting a fan above the stove.)

So here's the finished product, with accoutrements:

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Spices (cumin, coriander, cayenne, smoked paprika, salt, pepper) and oil for cooking were not local.
  • The yogurt was home made, but the milk was not local (at least from a known local source).
  • The salsa was mostly local, but there was non-local vinegar and cilantro (embarassing that at the time that I made it I was out of my own cilantro!) in it.
  • I already mentioned the pseudo-local cheese.  Mmm... Tillamook Cheese....
  • We opened a bottle of fantastic CA wine that we'd saved from our wedding (over four years ago now!) to go with the meal. At the time of our wedding, it was (fairly) local - does that count?!
  • As for the tortillas, as I was cleaning up after dinner I think I may have found part of my problem. While I thought I was scooping the dregs of a bag of whole wheat flour, I was actually using oat flour (mmm... slow down... read your labels... your memory isn't what it used to be, Wendy), and that may have been my problem.  I'm not sure exactly how the two differ (out flour is sure good in our pancakes!), but perhaps it at least contributed to my stickiness issue?
  • I pressed my tortillas down with a dutch oven to start (great idea, Kaela), and then rolled them with a rolling pin between sheets of waxed paper. I think if one was going to do this often, a press would be a worthy expenditure, assuming you have room in the kitchen to store it. I'd also like to try doing this with plastic wrap instead of waxed paper - maybe the stick factor would be lower?

All in all a success and another Dark Days meal well enjoyed. However, though as always I like the idea of from-scratch food better since I get to know exactly what's in it, I'm going to have to hone my tortilla technique quite a bit for this to be a worthwhile endeavor to do again in the future. 

I'll certainly try one more time at least, and see if the right flour will make the difference!

Here are just a few random pictures of the day to close out the post - thanks for reading!

The little bug cannot see a candle any more without
needing it near by enough to try blowing it out.
He did eventually get this on out all on his own, but
there was good bit of spittle spread around before that happened!

A bird's eye view. Or six.

This photo is out of focus (it was getting late in the afternoon),
but I love the expression on the little guy's face.
He just absolutely LOVES being outside!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bright Winter Day

I suppose a real blogger would write up a wonderful little ditty to go with an entry like this.

Unfortunately, nothing more profound comes to mind than my realization that I need to appreciate even small moments of lovely weather, particularly when I can be with my family, so what you will get is photos.

This morning was a glorious, sunny but very cold winter day. GraMaMa had just sent a package with a great new cozy warm down snow suit for the bug. We HAD to go out and test it. 

Here are a few shots from our fun in the snow. 

The little bug and the ladies, out enjoying the sun.
The chickens LOVE the addition of the former Christmas tree to their run!

Happy happy boys on the slide.

It's a much softer landing at the bottom of the slide in the winter than in the summer!

DaDa in his glory - in cold weather with his son!

[Note the MaMa-sized down slippers on the little guy's feet; we left his snow boots at day-care, so this was the next best thing. Turned out that all those down feathers really do keep you warm.  How about that. The only issue ended up being his nose, which ran like the dickens in the cold!]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hints of a Former Life

One of the probably too many grand plans I had going in to 2011 was to start being more active again.

Note that I did not commit to actually running every day or any nonsense like that.  No sense going and getting in over my head with this exercise thing, right?

However, my body has reminded me frequently lately that I've been sitting far too still in the last two and a half years since we moved to NY.

Finally feeling like I can breathe freely again after from my ever-hanging-on cold, I decided today was the day to start, and running it was going to be. I was going to try to make it to the corner and back - all of 1.5 miles or so. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Of course, I failed to fully consider the weather when making that mental committment. Today was in the low twenties, so not too cold, but it was blowing stink (as we used to say) out there!

I dug out the few cold weather running clothes that I own and decided to brave it anyway. Turns out that in the half hour that I was out, the sun decided to come out too, so at least I had that going for me! And though the wind was blowing enough to freeze my ears and fingers in no time, it was at least blowing in the right direction to help push me up the slight hill coming home!

I have to say, it felt good. Once over the mental hump of saying I was going to go, and getting ready to be in the cold and snow, it was great to be out, shuffling along. I really really do want to try to do it more often.

And I will never ever ever complain about my running life in San Diego again.

It was heaven.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dark Days Dinner # 7: Soup's On!

For some reason, energy levels are low and time seems to be going by particularly fast these days, so I was happy to come up with another fast and easy Dark Days meal to make on a week night! I wrote a a few days ago about some goodies I found at the Ithaca Winter Farmer's Market, and I knew that potato leek soup was going to be on the menu soon.

Serendipitously, my go-to food blog featured what she called a baked potato soup this week.
It was a sign. 
I'm sure of it.

Of course, having found celeriac at the market for the first time (or should I say having found for the first time celeriac while at the market?), I had to change things around a little and add that in. 

Well, that and I mis-read the directions and cooked the garlic and potatoes together for the whole hour (plus some). I added a lot more leeks that the recipe called for,and being the garlic lover that I am, I did add the cooked cloves back into the soup.  Also, since I had local heavy cream, I used it at the end rather than the recommended sour cream.

Despite all this, it turned out delightful, and hit the spot on this chilly winter night.

Along side we needed some green, so I made a quick salad of the fresh baby spinach from the market, local carrots and very not-local pomegranate seeds. My picture of it is out of focus and does not do it justice - the light fruity flavor was just perfect along side the hearty rich soup. 

I can tell I've not been eating enough fresh greens lately as I could just not get enough of this tonight!

The finishing touch was fresh home made bread from my parents, made with flour from a local mill, but not necessarily with all other local ingredients. But man-oh-man did it taste good.  Our little bug could not get enough - I wish I'd taken a picture of THAT!

What did I learn / How local was I?
  • I had a few blatent non-local infiltrations to the meal this week:
    • I failed to prepare any local chicken (or vege, for that matter) broth, so I did use about a teaspoon of powdered bullioun in the soup from I have no idea where. If I was to do it again, I now know that this soup could definitely handle the richness of the venison broth I do have in the freezer!
    • I already mentioned the pomegranate seeds on the salad, but I also topped it with just a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I think next soon I need to figure out how to make vinegar or add it to my list of "permanent exceptions"!
    • I topped the soup with just a touch of chopped bacon, which I already had cooked in the fridge so couldn't justify frying up the local stuff just for a few pieces.
    • I think quite a few of the bread items were not local; probably things like canola oil, wheat bran, sesame seeds were all in there, to name a few.
  • Other than *those* items, I think I made the 50 mile radius again!
    • Local heavy cream and butter made from it from a nearby dairy
    • Leeks, carrots, spinach, celeriac and potatos from local farms (all within less than 20 miles)
    • Garlic from my father's garden
  • Hhhmmm.  My exception list might be longer than my local list this week.  Yipes.
  • Perhaps most importantly though, I learned that I'm going to grow celeriac in my garden next year!  That stuff is amazing - it smelled of citrus as soon as I cut into it, and then of a mix of lemon and celery as I chopped. It added a great bright flavor to the soup with just a bit of crunch. Lovely!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Little Squeal

Don't they say that the apple does not fall far from the tree?

Like mother like son?

I say...

A little squeal with every meal, please!!!

We cannot get this little bug to eat any other kind of meat these days, but man-oh-man did he love the bacon I fixed with the pancakes this morning! 

Can't really say that I blame him. 

Does this make me a bad mom?!

An Exciting Find

Good news for the variety options for Dark Days Challenge meals arrived today!  Well, okay, I learned about this a couple weeks ago, but today I actually saw it with my own two eyes.

The Ithaca Farmer's Market started a Winter market! Yippee! The little bug and I went down town today to check it out. We came home with:
  • A belly full of apple, courtesy of the generous, happy man selling apples and cider
  • 6 oz of dried oyster mushrooms
  • leeks
  • carrots
  • a Kozzak Kholrabi (can't wait to try this - I really wonder how tender it will be this time of year?!)
  • a bulb (? is that what you call it?) of Celeriac, somthing I've never even heard of before learning more about seasonal foods
  • a block of local Gouda-style cheese
  • a big bag of lovely baby spinach
I'm so excited to find another source of local foods for the winter, and am looking forward to making potato leek soup soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hump Day Photo

I just had to share this little bit of joy:

Our little bug, fresh in from the cold and a run to check the chickens.

Dark Days Dinner #6: Breakfast for Dinner

This is the first meal of this challenge where I didn't really plan ahead to make the whole thing local. It just kind of happened by virtue of having the food around the house. It wasn't fancy, nor did it take long to make, but as most of these DDC meals have been, it was full of flavor and hit the spot in our hungry bellies at the end of the day.

Last night's meal was a simple frittata of home-grown onions, leftover spicy chorizo sausage from a farm over in Trumansburg (same stuff I used on the pizza a few weeks ago), potatoes grown in the next town north of us and eggs from our chickens. I cooked it in our home-made butter and thickened the eggs with cream from a local dairy.

The cheese I used was a "local" Havarti by way of Doug's mom, who carried it with her from Tillamook Oregon when she came to visit us for the holidays.

The best part about frittatas? The leftovers the next day...

Yummm. I love breakfast food!

Dark Days Dinner #5: Hand Made Pasta

After a bit of a break due to a combination of holiday exhaustion and a doosey of a holiday sickness that the whole family managed to get, we're back on the Dark Days Wagon. This week I decided to brave home made pasta.

Truth be told, I actually did make the pasta one other time about a week ago, but didn't serve it with local toppings and other foods, so it didn't count as a Dark Days meal. It did serve as good practice and this time around I had a better handle on what to expect and what I was going to get.

I'd been reading about other people's attempts at making pasta (like this and this), so it's been on my mind to try making it myself. We didn't have a pasta machine though, and I was hesitant (desipite my friend Brittney's encouragement that I really can be done just fine without one!). Funny how these things work out sometimes though:  I mentioned wishing I had a pasta machine to my parents, and out of their barn-of-plenty came this dusty box, with writing all in Italian, but that was no doubt a pasta machine. I should not have been surprised.

My father's barn is something of a wonder. Over the years, I've learned it's best to approach it part in awe (you very likely will get what you wished for from its bottomless piles of stuff) and part in fear (said bottomless piles are not always the most stable stacks of goodies), and you'll probably be OK.

In this case my barn-respect paid off and I proceeded to rather unceremoniously inherit what apparently was my paternal grandmother's (i.e. my Busha's) pasta machine.  According to the receipt I found still in the box, was purchased on October 21, 1976 for $21.01. 

It still had a few now-petrified, very dusty pieces of dough hanging from it, and there were two small spots of rust on the rollers, but it cleaned up fine and works like a charm! What a deal for me!

But, back to the pasta.

I followed the recipe for "Fresh Egg Pasta" from Lidia Bastianich's "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen". Very simple, you just use flour, egg, salt, a little oil, and a lot of elbow grease to knead it. Or at least I had to, since we don't own a counter-top mixer!

I like kneading though; it's somehow very satisfying. And in this particular case, after ten or fifteen minutes, you end up with this satisfyingly tidy little ball of dough.

After letting it rest an hour, I passed it through the machine two times at each thickness setting (folding it in threes in between each pass to keep the edges straight - thanks for the tip, Aunt JoAnne!), and then once through the cutting blades and voila! Polish Fettucini!

I served the pasta with a sauce based on Brittney's meal, using the ricotta I made a week or so ago and home-made butter from a fresh batch (we're addicted). I didn't have the fresh greens that she recommended, but it still was very tasty. On the side I served some canned venison, with a simple onion and garlic sauce.

What did I learn / How local was I?
  • I did have a few non-local foods beyond my normal exceptions again this week: 
    • I used corn starch to thicken the gravy for the meat.
    • I put fresh basil and parsley in my sauce that may or may not have been local (Rochester? Maybe? I now notice how few foods we eat actually say where they're from!), but I already had them both in the house and couldn't justify going out to buy local when these were already on hand.
  • Other than that, I think everything we ate was within the 50 mile radius again (at least for those items not on the "exception" list that I made early in the challenge).
    • Garlic, onion, venison, and eggs were home "grown" by either myself or my parents.
    • Milk for the butter and cheese was from a dairy in Moravia, about 15 miles away.
  • The pasta sauce was tasty, but a little dry. Maybe my home-made ricotta was drier than commercially produced cheese? Maybe because I used more than the recipe called for it dried it out? Maybe because I didn't use as many greens they didn't contribute the needed liquid? In any case it would have had a better consistency if I'd added maybe a little milk or cream at the end. I tried using a little pasta water to loosen it up, but it didn't work. Luckily, the sauce from the meat worked fine in the end to soften the noodles!
  • The pasta itself was amazing - a totally different consistency (chewey, but somehow tender and not mushy) than dried pasta! I think I'll get better and more efficient with the making of it in time, and actually think that making at least a full batch (I halved Lidia's recipe for just the two of us) and freezing some for future meals will make a lot of sense the next time around.

And that's that for another week. I have a feeling you'll be seeing more home made pasta again from us for these challenges (I wonder if we could swing local lasagna some week?!?)!

PS  I also have to add here some general thoughts about blogging that have been on my mind...

After these first weeks of attempting to photograph food with my Cannon PowerShot Elph camera, I have a new-found respect for food-bloggers.

First, to attempt to cook meals only during daylight hours so you can use natural light for your photos takes incredible (to me impossible) planning.

Second, the eye that some people have to be able to make a plate of food look like art is just amazing.

Third, I miss my SLR (it was a film camera, bought just before the major onset of digital - what a sad waste of my money!).

I look now at food photos in a whole new way to pick up tips to try to get mine to look less yellow (it's a light thing, I know) and more appetizing. Generally, I've found that things that I make look much better in real life than they appear in my pictures, and I apologize for putting you through my learning curve of food photography! Hopefully things will slowly start improving soon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ricotta Take One

Several weeks ago I made fresh mozzarella cheese from local milk. I saved the whey and a few days later used it to make home made ricotta. This is my story.

It's a short one, don't worry.

Re-heating the whey.
Despite getting two pounds of mozzarella from the two gallons of whole milk that I started with, I still had over a gallon and a half of whey. I first filtered out any leftover solids from the whey that I'd missed in the mozzarella making process, then heated the whey back up to 200 degrees.

I expected something visible to happen as it does with mozzarella, but no. It just got kind of foamy, and that was that.  I let it cool enough to be pourable, then strained it through several layers of cheesecloth. I let this drain for what ended up being several days (doh), and in the end, got well over a third of a cup of ricotta.
Pouring off the liquids - it took much longer than
I expected to go through the cloth!

I think if I'd specifically wanted lots of cheese, I'd do this again from whole milk not whey, so I'd get more volume. I'd heard that you don't get much after you take the majority of your solids out for another cheese, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how little I got!
The final product - creamy, mild, ricotta.

I'll post separately on what I did with my precious output...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More About that Deer

If you're interested in reading a bit more about the deer I talked about in my previous post... you can find more here: