Monday, February 28, 2011

Drip Drip Drip

This is the "Where's Waldo" of Maple lots. Can you find all five buckets?

This morning I woke to rain. Not just a drizzle, but full on rain.

In other years, this might have made me sad, since rain in February generally makes for muck, slush and most often it eventually turns to ice, which is rarely fun.

Those details remain the same this year, but it also means that the temperatures are high enough to be above freezing, and if that's the case, the sap might just might start running!

Mid-morning I myself ran down the road to check the buckets. Lo and behold - we have sap!!

Not lots, mind you, but the buckets were decidedly not empty any more.

The word "run" when it comes to sap is really somewhat of a misnomer. A fast drip drip is really more like it. Even that adds up over time, and though we still don't have enough to fire up the evaporator, with all the trees together we got about 35 gallons today.

The forecast is for cool nights and days in the high thirties this week, even into the forties Friday, so things are looking good for getting enough to start boiling in the next few days.

Let that rain come - I'm happy to see you this year!

In other local news, the Little Bug decided he loves me so much that he wanted to hug my neck off.
As you can see here, it looks like he succeeded.

He also decided Sunday morning that he was going to learn how to shovel snow. After careful, contemplative observation and with some pointed questions, he decided to give it a go. He was a very big help clearing the driveway!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Having a Moment

I found this video on someone else's website, complete with this great quote:

“Our lives a series of defining moments,
strung together by passing time.
Surrender fully to this moment,
because it is not the moment itself that defines us,
but how we choose to live in it.”
                      - Jill Pendley

Which is kind of related to one of my own all time favorite quotes:

"The future in an infinite succession of presents..."
                    - Howard Zinn

It caught my eye because of the title image. For a little while today, I felt just like this lady seems to be feeling.

Fortunately, it was just a "moment" and life proceeded on and carried me with it.

It also reminded me for some reason that the good times in life, which luckily for me are nearly all of them, are made somehow more real, more rich, by the times that are not quite so perfect.

And all of them - good or bad - in the big picture, are just moments.

The video is four minutes long, but a neat one. Enjoy.

Moments from Everynone on Vimeo.

(Thank you WindyCityVegan).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dark Days #13: Eggs Benedict

I am pretty certain that despite my pervading love of all things food, my favorite meal is breakfast.

I am a fan of pretty much all of it (except maybe waffles): yogurt, hard boiled eggs, granola, bacon, toast, soft boiled eggs, grapefruit juice, pancakes, sausage, jam, omeletes, sweet rolls, scrambled eggs, frittattas, hash browns, eggs sunny-side-up, pie,eggs over-easy, oatmeal, canadian bacon, orange juice, muffins of all types...

...and of course, the coffee.

I could eat/drink these things three meals a day.

And going out for breakfast? Mmm... even better yet! Not only is breakfast my favorite meal, it's my all time favorite thing to go out  for too. We don't do it nearly often enough.

That said though, I have one simple rule for eating out, and it applies to breakfast joints too: don't order something that's easy for you to make for yourself at home. If I'm going to enjoy the treat of having someone else cook and clean for me, I'm at least going to make it be for something that I can't (or won't) make for myself.

Thus, my most frequently ordered out-to-breakfast food is Eggs Benedict.

I've never made them myself. Ever, even once.

Until this past weekend.

Nothing like jumping in to something big when you have company over, right?  Yup, I agree. So I decided to make Sunday brunch for the family - hash browns and eggs benny. How hard could it be?


At least I thought to attempt poaching eggs for the first time ever before the big day, so that only the hollandaise and the english muffins would be "first time ever" when served to my parents and mother-in-law!  Ah yes... the learning curve!!

All in all, though it came out OK. Here's what I did:

1. Home Made English Muffins (see recipe below)

2. Hash browns using local potatoes, including beautiful Adirondack Red and Adirondack Blues, and local basil

3. Half the muffins were topped with canadian bacon from The Piggery, and half with steamed local spinach that I picked up from the farmer's market.

4. Poached eggs from our chickens

5. Home Made Hollandaise Sauce with our own eggs, and butter I made from local cream

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • I kept remarkably local on this one: the flour and corn meal in the muffins was from Cayuga Pure Organics / Farmer Ground Flour in Brooktondale / Trumansburg, the butter in the muffins and hollandaise was my own made with cream from Moravia, the bacon from Trumansburg, the potatoes grown in either Moravia (whites) or in Watkins Glen (reds and blues), the basil from here in Ithaca, the eggs from the backyard, and the spinach from a small town about 45 minutes south of here, purchased at the farmer's market.
  • Non-local ingredients included the lemon juice in the hollandaise, the yeast in the muffins, salt, pepper and the vinegar that I used in the egg poaching water.
  • I learned that there is good reason that I reserve this meal to be eaten when someone else cooks it for me.
  • I learned that poached eggs are very difficult to make 10 at a time.
  • I learned that hollandaise sauce should be served IMMEDIATELY after serving, or it will separate.
  • I learned that those people who claim if your sauce does separate that you can just "add a little water and whisk, and it will come right back together" are full of whooey.
  • I learned that even separated, hollandaise sauce is just a delightful food.
  • I learned that other than taking a lot of rise time, home made English Muffins are really easy to make, taste fantastic, and best of all, are loved by the Little Bug!

One other mini-tradition we have in this house, is to celebrate Valentine's Day with a chocolate chip cheesecake, topped with raspberry sauce. Sometimes, when I'm really motivated, it's even cut into the shape of a heart. This year, I didn't even manage to make it for Valetine's Day, but figured it would be a good way to finish off this already extravagantly rich meal.  Go big or don't go at all, right?!

The ingredients in the cheesecake were not local (except for the frozen berries I used to make the sauce), but it was deeelicious!

Finally, in other local news, the Ithaca Winter Farmer's Market will not be held during the month of March, so this weekend is the last market (boo). That will make the final six or so Dark Days Challenge meals particularly... challenging. Fortunately, I have a few things left up my proverbial cooking sleeve that I want to try. These final meals might be light on the veges, but I hope they'll stay as tasty as this past one! The usual summer market is slated to open in early April.

Also, we are not getting my hoped-for rain today. The weather has stayed cold, so no maple sap flow is happening yet. The forecast is for things to warm up by Monday, so our fingers are crossed.

Finally, we Dark Days participants were notified recently (in case we hadn't noticed!) that the offical recaps are not going to happen this year. The host (very smartly) decided that things were too chaotic for her and something in her life had to give. Can't give anyone a hard time about that.

There does seem to be a few of us still cooking and writing about weekly SOLE meals though, and there is chatter of trying to find a way to link all our blogs together to make things easier to read. I'll keep you "posted" if something like that happens (ba dump dump).

If you're interested, here's the recipe I used for the muffins:

English Muffins (from Rose Levy Berenbaum's the bread bible; makes 10 3" rounds)

  1. Make the dough sponge.  Whisk together for two minutes, incorporating air, until the consistency of a thick batter:  1c plus 1 1/5 T (5.5oz) unbleached all purpose flour, 3/4 c (6.2oz) water at room temperature (70° to 90° F), 1 T honey,  1/2 t instant yeast.
  2. Sprinkle on top the dough sponge the following flour mixture:  3/4 c plus 1 1/2 T (5.5 oz) all purpose flour, 2 T (0.7 oz) dry milk, 1/2 t instant yeast. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 1-4 h at room temp or 8-24 h in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 1 h before proceeding.
  3. After this first "rise", add the 3 T softened unsalted butter and 1 1/4 t salt, and stir until all flour is moistened. Knead dough in bowl until it comes together, then knead another 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, adding up to 1/4 c additional flour if necessary. Dough will be very sticky. Cover with an inverted bowl and let sit 20 minutes.
  4. Knead another 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. It will still be tacky and you can add more flour if needed. Try to add as little as possible.
  5. Spray or rub the dough with oil, cover and let rise another 1 1/2 or until doubled in size.
  6. With oiled fingers, deflate dough and knead lightly. Oil, cover and refrigerate to rise at least one more hour (up to 24).
  7. Sprinkle sheet pan lightly with corn meal (1/3 c or less). On lightly floured counter, roll out dough to be 8"x12"x about 1/2" thick. Cut out rounds with 3 1/2" biscuit cutter (rounds will shrink after cutting). Place these on the sheet pan and let rise until 3/4" high, about 45 minutes. 
  8. The original recipe says here to roll up remaining dough and refrigerate again for an hour before cutting remaining muffins. I just re-rolled it immediately so all the muffins were done at the same time and it worked fine.
  9. Butter a skillet (I used electric, heated to 275°F), add muffins, and cook 10 minutes or until brown. Flip and cook until second side is browned (inside temperature 190°F).
  10. Split with two forks to get the nooks and crannies, serve immediately lightly toasted with butter, or with eggs benedict. Or store them in paper up to 24 h or frozen for supposedly up to 3 months.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wacky Weather

Four days ago:  -4° F.
Two days ago: 48° F.
Current conditions: 33° F and

With a forecast of up to 8 inches of snow by late this afternoon.

I'm holding out for rain by the end of the weekend.

Come on, spring, you can do it!!!!

We're ready whenever you are.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maple Season - Part I

 A glorious morning with low temps and the lightest of snow left halos on all the trees.

I thought it would be fun to post some pictures I took earlier today while Doug and my Dad tapped the first maples of the year! I will write more as this whole process progresses!

We were hoping to do this on our own Maple trees that line the creek at the back of our property, but the snow there is still quite deep, and it's a long walk to the closest place to park the truck. We have permission to tap trees on our neighbor's land where the trees sit right next to his driveway and the road, we started there instead. 

Dad with the tapper (a gas powered drill).

Doug inserting the tap.

It's an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day out today - perfect to put us in the mood for mapling. I'll follow this up with more pictures as the process unfolds. Doug and I are just learning about it all, so it's new and very exciting. We do know however that we LOVE real maple syrup, so our motivation and spirits are high that this will work and we'll end up with some sugary love by a few weeks down the road!

This tree was big enough for two taps!

The first drip of (precious) sap!
We ended up with 12 taps in 10 trees. Doug will go back and seal up tight
the holes around where the tubes enter the buckets.
This is what happens to your cold plastic taps when you bend the tubing too far.
Doug is holding it for the picture, but I was the one who broke it! Doh!
Right in the center of this picture you can see the "scar" of a previous tap in this tree.
We will tap some trees closer to Mom and Dad's house also, probably ending up with a total of somewhere around 30-40 trees. Sap-gathering and firing up the evaporator should start happening soon - stay tuned!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dark Days Dinner #12: Back to Basics (and other Randomness)

Last night we experienced what I am going to call another spontaneous Dark Days Meal. It wasn't not fancy, nor was it all local, but we can pretty darn close, and it wasn't even planned!

How local was I / What did I learn?
  • Local foods included: green beans frozen from my parent's garden topped with home made butter from local cream, roasted local potatoes, poor man's shrimp (boiled local perch, eaten as finger food), grill (pan) cooked venison chops from last year's deer, local spinach, lettuce, cabbage and hard boiled eggs in the salad, and Central NY red wine to top it off.
  • Non-local foods included: salt, pepper, olive oil and spices on the potatos, plus all other toppings on the salad (the salad was left over from the night before, so we couldn't just let it sit another day in the 'fridge!).
  • I love love love to play in the kitchen with new foods and new ways of preparing them, but sometimes really simple meals can be just perfect - both in the timing of your day/evening, and in their simple, hearty, satisfying flavors.
  • The wine pictured at right is really really good.
In other local and random news:
  1. The Bug has been spotted eating something green. As in a vegetable. We are so excited.
    It's a terrible picture with both flash and focus issues, but if you look very closely, you'll see a piece of green in his left hand, a bean being put in his mouth. The key here is that it for once, didn't instantly come back out!  The night before he also picked out and ate peas from the pods. They stayed in too! We're so proud!
  3. In this week's Cooks Illustrated newsletter, there was a link to, of all things, a video recipe for Penne alla Vodka.  It looks like I did pretty well with my sort of made up recipe!
  4. I've started reading this great book by Michael Ruhlman called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, and I'm loving it.
    • From it I have for you Cooking Skills Lesson #1:  Do you know why shortening is called shortening?  I didn't, and it's so cool. Take for instance bread - the main two components are flour and water. Compare that to pie crust, whose main ingredients are flour, water and fat (in many cases, this stuff we call shortening). What does the addition of fat to the flour and water do? It shortens the gluten strands. That's why bread is soft and chewey, and pastry is tender and flaky. The gluten strands are cut up by the addition of the fat.  So obvious, but I just never put it together.
  5. Doug's mom is visiting this week from Oregon, and we've all loved having her around. Especially the little guy, who now has a full time play mate and he thinks he's died and gone to heaven.
  6. Today was farmer's market day again, and I finally remembered to take my camera.  Again, my pictures are really poor, but it gives a bit of an idea of what the Ithaca Farmer's market has to offer in the winter! While there I also ran into some friends we met this summer through Warm Showers and some others from Jillian's Drawers - how fun to see them again! It was almost like I knew people in this town or something!!
  7. Doug and my Dad started gathering/prepping/cleaning/setting up supplies this week for making maple syrup. We had a pretty warm spell, with temperatures getting up in the 50's yesterday, which really got us in the mood for spring. Today of course we got another four inches of snow and the wind howled all day, but we should be close to ready to tap once the next batch of warm days hit. We are very excited to learn this and maybe even end up with our very own Maple Syrup!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dark Days Dinner #11: Pasta à la Vodka con il Pesce

I can hardly believe another week has come and gone. Is this what happens as you age? Time moves more quickly? Fewer things seem to get accomplished? The amazing part of it is that I don't even see it happening. Last thing I remember of this week was the Super Bowl. Next thing I know it is Saturday morning again, time for pancakes and what has become the weekly trip to the farmer's market. What happened to those days in between then and now?

Of course, there was the slight complication this last week of one sick little Bug in the house. Or I could say lots of bugs that brought sickness to the house? Enough sickness was in that we did not send the little guy to day care either Wednesday or Friday, and I had to take a sick day myself from work to tend to one very clingy, snotty, coughing, feverish child. Enough sickness that we were all pretty tired around here this week.

Now, I'm new to this mothering thing, but I am learning pretty quickly that more important than anything in my somewhat chaotic life of mine right now is the happiness of that little boy. This week there was little I could seem to do to comfort him other than be at his side. And quite honestly, I didn't want to be anywhere else. Oh that decisions in life could always be so easy.

In the midst of my little world of humidifiers, thermometers, tissues and hugs, yesterday my father dropped off another bag of fresh-caught fish from Owasco lake. Many people seem to think living in this climate with winter temps hovering in the teens for days on end is absolute nuts, but I honestly think my dad revels in it. A fisherman at heart, one of the greatest joys of his retirement has been the freedom to be out on the lake, pole in hand (either in a boat or on the ice, depending on the season) on days when the weekend crowds are non-existant. He goes often with friends, but I almost get the feeling that his favorite trips out are those when he goes alone, tending the tip-ups, watching the sky turn pink and then orange with the setting sun, and (maybe, though I don't believe it is critical) coming home with a pail full of perch.

There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.  ~Washington Irving

If our winters weren't so cold, I think my father would be far less serene between the months of January and March. Odd, but true. I'm certain of it.

Of course, we, his family and friends, benefit from this too, in more ways than just his cheerful mental state. As far back as I can remember, I've loved his fishing too. Family vacations to the Thousand Islands for the opening of bass season were anticipated for weeks. I'm not so sure I actually caught many fish myself, but I loved how my father knew just where to drive the boat, even after dark, seemed to know exactly which lure or bait to use depending on the situation, how he managed to cast in just the right spot along the shoreline under that bush, and how he made cleaning what to me seemed like dozens and dozens of those beautiful fish look easy, if not even a pleasant chore.

Of course, I could never seem to get enough of the lightly battered and golden pieces of meat on my plate and into my belly to satisfy myself, and though I don't often fry them now myself, my mother's way of cooking fish might still be my all time favorie.

This week for Dark Days though, I needed to try something new. Perch is a tricky fish to cook. The fillets are usually fairly small, the meat is quite tender and falls apart easily once cooked, and the flavor is delightful but quite mild and could easily be overpowered. One of my other favorite perch dishes is a casserole of sorts with rice, onion, mushrooms, tomato chunks and feta, but too many of those items I cannot find locally.

Once again, the internet came to my rescue.  Initially motivated by my Antarctic friend and fellow Dark Days cook Brittney's description of a pasta dish made with Vodka, I went on to find this tasty sounding dish with pasta and whitefish at Food 52. I didn't have the right spices for that one though, but I took the fish+pasta idea and returned to the vodka concept (hmmm... imagine that). A quick look more and I found this dish by The Pioneer Woman and then this very similar one at Smitten Kitchen. I was on to something.

Again in somewhat of a rush when it came down to actual cooking time, I failed to take many pictures along the way. However, here's what I ended up doing:

Wendy's Pasta à la Vodka con il Pesce
  1. Saute one medium onion minced until soft but not browned in about 2 Tbsp of home made butter.
  2. Add 2 cloves of crushed garlic and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes and cook another minute.
  3. Add 1/2 cup vodka, and one jar of canned tomatos, drained and cut into small pieces. Cook until slightly thickened, 10 minutes or so.
  4. Add fish which has been cut into bite sized pieces (in my case this required only cutting the fillets in half), and cook until just done, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. Add 1/2 c (or so) of heavy cream, and re-heat until just bubbling.
  7. Take off heat and stir in a handful of chopped herb of your choice (in my case it was actually spinich, because it was the only local green I had on hand).
  8. Serve over hand-made fresh egg-pasta; and shape will do.
How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Making pasta with two people is much easier than doing it alone.  I'm getting faster each time I do it, but having Doug crank during the thinnest and cutting settings made things much much easier!
  • Our eggs must be smaller than "large" despite their weight.  This batch of pasta I upped my eggs to three and was actually able to incorporate all 1 1/2 cups of flour, without making the dough either overly tough or particularly sticky.  I think we got a few more noodles out of the batch too!
  • Again because of my dinner-time time crunch, I think I rushed the cooking-down stage. Were I to do this again (and I will!), I'll take the time to let the sauce thicken just a bit more.
  • The spinach was good and I would definitely do it again, but I think the addition of something like basil at the end would also have given the dish a nice finish.
  • My excpetions to the local foods were actually pretty few this time around! As usual the pasta had a spash of olive oil and salt, and the sauce had the salt and the peppers in it. I did use a vodka that I had brought home from a trip to Poland years ago and since there was so much of it still un-consumed , I couldn't justify buying more (what can I say, I'm actually a gin and tonic / gin martini kind of girl).
    • HOWEVER, to hopefully remediate this local-foods failure, I did do some research and found that I could have used a local vodka, had I so desired. On the shores of Seneca Lake, less than an hour's drive away, is Finger Lakes Distilling and amoung other spirits, they make a vodka.
    • Interestingly, over the Christmas holiday we were wine-tasting with Doug's mother in that area and drove right by the place. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I know just where it is!
    • Even more interestingly, they sell their products at the tiny little liquor store only a couple of miles from our house. Should we ever manage to finish our current bottle of vodka, I know just what to get next.
The meal turned out great - the fish flavor carried through nicely into the sauce without overpowering the freshness of the tomato nor being overpowered by the cream. The recipe will go on the "keepers" pile.

Once again, to close the post, I 'll share a few pictures from the last week.  My apologies for the boogery little boy; I totally failed to wipe his nose before taking the picture of him and his beloved pasta.  This just goes to prove I wasn't kidding about his being sick!

The Bug finally worked up the nerve to go IN the tent instead of just stand beside it, and he LOVED it!

He didn't eat much this week, but the hand made "NooNoo" were definately enjoyed.

The other big food winner of the week was fresh bread from BobbinBobbin,
eaten of course, only directly off the loaf while sitting on the floor.
I guess come to think of it, I'm a very bad mother when it comes to germs.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dark Days Dinner #10: Lasagna

I finally motivated to make Italian again.

And it was worth it.

Lasagna has a lot of steps - even more when you make the cheese and pasta from scratch, but it sure tasted good. That said, we once again found ourselves eating dinner at nine at night, so that could have impacted our opinion of the taste... 

(Another note to self: when the Little Bug does not start his nap until 3pm and you want him to go to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour, WAKE him up before 5pm or you'll lose even more of your evening than you usually do.)

I started the project the night before, making a gallon/pound of fresh mozzarella. It was easier this time than the last batch, and I think the trick was not over-working the curds.  I followed more closely the directions that Kingsolver gave in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I really did have it done in 32 minutes, start to finish. 

Then in the morning I made, from the mozzarella whey plus one more half gallon of milk, another batch of ricotta.  I'll post my thoughts on that separately again, but suffice it to say that this time I got a fair bit more final volume, and the amount was just perfect for my one big tray of lasagna.

In the afternoon, I started both the pasta, and the sauce, and assembled and baked the whole thing later in the day. 

Here's what I put in it:

Garlic (from my father's garden - 6 mi)
Onions (from our garden)
Olive Oil (not-local)
Dried Basil and Oregano (not-local)
Salt and Pepper (not local)
Dried Oyster mushrooms (from Blue Oyster Cultivation - ~10 mi)
Canned San Marzano whole tomatos (from our garden)
Canned San Marzano tomato sauce (from our garden)
Ground Venison (from my father's property - 6 mi)
Heavy cream (Hillcrest Dairy - 14 mi)

Fresh spinach (Trumansburg via Ithaca Farmer's Market - ~12 mi)
Fresh Shiitake mushrooms (from Blue Oyster Cultivation - ~ 10 mi)

Fresh Mozzarella (milk from Hillcrest Dairy - ~14 mi)
Rennet and Citric Acid (source unknown)
Fresh Ricotta (milk from Hillcrest Dairy - ~14 mi)
Pecorino Romano (Wegmans - source unknown)

Lasagna Noodles
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (New Hope Mills "mostly" NY grown wheat)
Eggs (backyard)
Olive Oil (not local)
Salt (not local)

How local was I / What did I learn?
  • Locality described above. 
    • Next summer I'm definately going to dry or freeze my herbs so they too can be local.
  • Making pasta is getting easier/faster each time I do it.
  • I really love mushrooms.
  • I really love lasagna leftovers.
  • The Bug really loves home-made pasta, which in turn really makes me happy.
When we finally did get to sit down to eat our then luke-warm but still delicious lasagna, we opened another bottle of home made San Giovese wine to drink with it.

 Life is good.