Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Latest Additions

I have a whole list of posts that I want to write, built up over these last two weeks that I've been away from home. Instead of tackling one of those though, I thought I'd share a few pictures of the latest additions to our flock!

Monday afternoon we picked up six new, teeny-tiny little chicks. They are *unbelievably* cute!

Last year I mail-ordered our chickens, but since we were getting fewer this time around, I decided to look for a local source. It turns out that the Agway in Ithaca sells chicks each spring, and you only need a minimum order of six. Perfect! Of course, if you wanted to be certain they were fed only organic food from day one, this is not the way to go. I'm not too worried about this as we're not going to be selling ours (or their eggs), but it's something to keep in mind when picking where you're going to get your chicks.

Picking out the chicks at Agway.
All those birds made such a chirping ruckus!

You have to call ahead to have them reserve chicks for you,
but Agway does get in several varieties over the time span of about a month.
Here are the Golden Comets and the Buff Orpingtons in the cage at the store.

Because we want to be able to tell the age of our birds in order to cull them out as they get older, we decided to get some new varieties this year. We are now the proud parents of three little Barred Plymouth Rock and three Golden Comet chicks!

*Truth be told, we did have a Barred Rock last year too, but she turned out to be a he, and we ended up making soup out of him after he started beating up on his ladies!*

They are now living safe and sound in a plastic tub out in the garage. We have a heat lamp on them (this first week they like temperatures between 90° and 95° F, and we'll lower that by about five degrees a week until they're big and strong enough to be outside at ambient temperatures), and they already are eating and drinking well.

We'll need a bigger place for them soon (anyone have a huge cardboard box out there that they want to part with?) but for now they seem quite content in their modular home. The Little Bug just loves them, asking first thing each morning to go out to the garage to see the "baby bauk bauks"!!

I tried this last year and failed, but I'm going to attempt to photograph them every week to document just how quickly they grow and change! I'll post those periodically so you can follow along if you want!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dark Days Finale: Pierogi

I went back and forth this last week about whether or not I should make this, the 19th week of the Dark Days Challenge, the final meal, or go on one more week to make it a round 20. Going by the calendar, I think this is the official "end", yet I find myself thinking about one more week.

Here's my problem: Yesterday, I left for eight days in California for work.

That kind of puts a damper on getting a 20th DDC meal made and written about by next Wednesday.

So, for now, I'm thinking this will be it. We'll see how things go when I get back - we could well have some interesting local things growing right in my refrigerator by that time!  Really, I'm joking - I'm sure things will be much clearer and cleaner around here when I return than they are right now. My husband is a much better housekeeper than I am, and he has the added benefit of not having the uncontrollable need to have a full pantry and refrigerator at all times in order to feel secure!

But I wander from my point, which was pierogis.

For the last several years at Thanksgiving, my cousin's wife contributes huge plates full of steaming, tender pockets of dough, stuffed with various savory fillings. The funny thing is, I don't think she is of Polish heritage. She is however, interested and generous enough to provide this (half) Polish family with some traditional food each year!

You would think that I'd have memories of them from when I was a child, and I'm guessing that my Busha also made pierogis during the many times we were at her house. But, typical perhaps of stubborn youngsters, I probably thought I didn't like them and never tasted their goodness. Clearly, my loss.

I had hoped that my grand finale of Dark Days Challenge meals would be more... grand... but as it ended up being a little rushed, it was actually quite simple.

Maybe that too is part of the "Dark Days" lessons for me. Cooking with foods in season doesn't mean fancy. It doesn't mean big. It does mean realistic, honest meals with lots of flavor that are eaten with people you love. It means appreciating what you have when you have it, no matter how simple.

And sometimes, simple is best.

Maybe even most times.

Here's how I made my pierogis:

I started with my fillings. I tried two different flavors: potato and sauerkraut. The potato was fashioned after this recipe for Ruskie Pierogi, but I used my own home made ricotta in it and left out the extra herbs. I also mixed the sauerkraut with the cheese and added one egg, salt and pepper to it.

I drained my ricotta extra long this time to make it
a more dense, creamy style cheese.
Boiled and mashed about two pounds of peeled potatoes.
My very last onion from last year's garden.
It held up remarkably well, don't you think?
Potato, cheese and carmalized onion.
An out-of-focus shot of the very last
of my sauerkraut experiment.
The Bug loved the rolling pin! His attention span is pretty
short still, but he's been loving being in the kitchen with
me lately!
Unbeknownst to me, peirogi dough is basically the same as the Italian pasta dough I've been making, just with less egg and no oil. I used about three cups of bread flour, one egg and a heaping teaspoon of salt in this version. I (with help) rolled half the dough at a time out as thin as I could, then used a 3 1/2' biscuit cutter to make the rounds. After topping them with a scoop of filling, I wet the edges with water and sealed them with the tines of a fork.
The filling process.
After shaping each batch, I kept them in the freezer until I was ready to cook them. For that, I first boiled them in salted water until they floated (about three minutes), then fried them in butter and another onion until slightly browned.

Along side the pierogis, we ate a salad of fresh greens from the market, local carrots, and our favorite (Tillamook) blue cheese dressing. Even the beer was (relatively) local - an IPA from Saranac Brewing!

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Once again I kept the majority of the foods within my 50-mile radius: the potatoes were from the farmer's market (Sobel Farms), the milk and cream for the cheese and butter from Moravia, the onions from my and my father's gardens, the sauerkraut home-made, the egg from the back yard, and the salad fixins from the farmer's market.
  • Non-local foods used included: the flour (may or may not have been from NY grains), the salt and pepper, and the rennet and citric acid in the cheese.
  • I think if I did it again I'd use a bigger sized circle to form the pockets. No matter how big the diameter, you still lose the same amount on the edge to make the seal, so a bigger circle would allow for a higher filling:dough ratio. I have no idea how "traditional" that is, but I like that idea!
  • All in all they were not as much work as I expected; my cousin's wife says they freeze well, so I think if I did it again I'd make a double batch and store more for future consumption. I did freeze a few just to share with my parents when I return from California!

Our final Dark Days Meal, eaten in the
bright light of a spring evening!

So that's it for now for the my winter of cooking and eating locally one day per week. It was a great motivator to learn about seasonal foods, to learn to cook new foods, to take the time to find what's in the food I eat and where it comes from and most importantly to share all those things with the people I love.

I think it will be an easy shift to the summer to keep eating local - I'm not sure how many complete meals will be SOLE as we proceed into these next months, but I know my thinking and attitudes have changed about what we eat, and that will be carried over to ALL the meals each week, not just one. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Skunk Cabbage Classic 10K

This past Sunday morning, I ran a 10K for the second time in my life. Officially anyway. And I've survived to talk about it!

The first time I ran that far in a race, it was June of 2008, and there were 1,059 finishers, all women. I ran the race with my good friend Lynn, and we had a great time. I finished 335th overall, and 71 out of 205 in my age group, at 1 hour and 1 minute. I was pretty darn happy. I also remember being very hot. That's how things go in Southern California though!

This time around, there were 409 finishers, both male and female, I ran alone (but with a great cheering squad), and I still had a grand time. I finished 246th overall, 116th among the women, 13 out of 30 in my age group, yet I slightly bettered my time to 58 minutes and 4 seconds!  Yes, pretty darn happy. And, I may add, the race was at just the right temperature.

I consider this quite an accomplishment seeing as when I signed up for this race nine weeks ago, I wasn't running at all, and hadn't been for quite some time.

When I was a junior in high school, I was on the Varsity Girls Track team. There were, I think, eight of us that year. Maybe ten? I'll have to dig out the yearbook at my parents to confirm, but I remember we were a small and ragtag yet tenacious group of girls who managed to go on to win their sectional title that year.

Granted, we didn't go up against the big schools, but still, we each had to compete in three events in order to scrape up enough points for our wins. Though only one of us was a real rock star runner that year, we were good enough when put all together to pull off the championship. There was a camradarie and a confidence that I'd never felt before with that group; looking at it now, I'm sure it was not as big a deal as we thought, but at the time, we thought we'd done something special for sure.

My love of running had started much earlier, but it was that year with those memories, those feelings of companionship with the other girls and the sense of accomplishment that came with trying my very hardest at something, that has been the fuel that's kept the running embers burning though my adult life.

Now, that fire has faded pretty dim a few times, I'll admit. Most recently, they've been nearly doused these last couple years since we moved here to NY and the little guy came to be with us. I'm not sure how it happened exactly, but between feeling the need to let my body recover from helping the Bug get his start, the uncertainties of "home" and (shamefully) perhaps even the cold wet winters, I just couldn't seem to get myself running again.

This spring I decided to change that. The first step was to sign up for this race; the second was to start running again. I managed to do both. I still am far from being good, but that's no longer the point. 

I've felt that running high again, and I hope I can keep it around for a while this time.

Warming up with my live-in trainer.
I think my trainer could start wearing
a bib with a number on it!
The start (I'm in there somewhere, toward the back).
Still in the masses toward the beginning of the race,
waving at the pit crew!
On the return lap, smiling to be nearly done!
Coming up on the finish line!
The BEST part of the finish! 
I had such great encouragement from my family
and it made all the difference in the world.
For comparison: June 2008
June 2008

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dark Days #18: Spätzle

Do you remember when I wrote that I had enough meal ideas running around my head to get us through our Dark Days committment? I should have listed my ideas then so I'd have some proof of this, but I swear to goodness, I've known that spätzle was going to be one of my DDC meals from the start. Just because at least one of my favorite food bloggers decided to write about it recently had nothing to do with my cooking these this week!!

I used the recipe given to me by the wife of a friend. She's from Ulm (I'm pretty sure), in the Southern part of Germany. She made this for dinner one time while I was staying with them, and I liked it so much I made her write down the recipe for me that same night.

I love foods that bring back such happy memories!

That first time, she served them topped them with a chicken / mushroom / brocolli gravy type sauce, which was incredibly delicious too (yes, I also got that recipe), but not something I could keep local this week for dark days. Instead, I opted to make my version with some variations on the theme.

I started with spinach in my spätzle. Yus, IN. From the recipes I've found, this is not a traditional way of preparing spätzle. In my looking around though, I found a YouTube video where someone added some chopped herbs to her eggs before adding them to the flour. At least I assume that's what she did. It was all in German so I didn't understand any of it. But the visual cues let me to believe that's what she did. Anyway, it gave me the idea to put spinach in.

Then I went to see what was left in our freezer, and I found some ground beef.

Then I remembered the sauerkraut.

Then I had my meal.

Here's a litte photo essay of how I did it:

First I qickly beat up a fresh batch of butter.
Then I used my immersion blender to combine about a quarter pound of fresh spinach leaves with
4 eggs and 250ml tap water (yes, my recipe has metric units - straight from Alemania, remember?!).
 I combined that slurry with 1 cup of semolina, 2 cups of whole grain AP flour,
1 cup of white bread flour and a scant 2 tsp of table salt.
 Then I mixed (by hand) it until the dough was fairly stiff and quite sticky.
 Using my special handy-dandy spätzle making thing-a-ma-bobby,
I dropped little pieces of the dough into boiling water
and let them cook for about a minute (until they floated) before removing them with
a slotted spoon to a large bowl and then started the process over again with another batch.
 Then I moved to the topping. I browned about a pound of ground beef seasoned
with salt and pepper, drained off the fat and put the meat aside in a bowl.
 In the same pan I put some of the butter, and few generous handfulls of sauerkraut and let them toast up for a few minutes before adding back in several large spoonfulls of the spätzle to let it brown up also.
In the last few minutes of cooking I tossed back in the ground beef and some of this cheese that I'd cut into cubes. This essentially made the consistency of the final dish somewhere between a goulash and a casserole.

Somewhere close to perfect.

So good that by the time we sat down to eat it, I never did take another picture before we inhaled our bowlfulls! I served it with a side bowl of homemade applesauce, and the whole thing made for the ideal meal for the cold spring night we were having.

How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • 50 mile radius local foods included: cream for the butter (Hillcrest farms, Moravia), spinach (Stick and Stone Farm from our Saturday Market), eggs (backyard), whole grain flour (CPO/FGF), beef (organic, from the Sheffler Farm), cabbage in the 'kraut (Farmer's Market), cheese (Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese from the Farmer's Market), and apples (from my Dad's trees).
  • Non-local or foods of unknown sources included: salt, pepper, grapes in the 'kraut, semolina, bread flour (supposedly semi-local), and sugar and cinnamon in the applesauce.
  • I'm not sure if it was my whole grain flour or if it was the addition of the spinach, but I ended up needing to add more water than the recipe originally called for to make the dough the right consistency. Either way, it seemed to turn out OK and the little noodles were just the right texture after cooking.
  • Turns out that you couldn't taste the spinach in the noodles, but since it ended up getting at least a little bit of veges into my little guy (who loved them, by the way), it was worth the effort. It was still fun to have the green color, and anything that little guy eats, especially those that can be considered "vegetables", I consider a success in the kitchen these days!
  • Fried sauerkraut is good stuff.
  • Spätzle is a great dish - quick and easy to make and this recipe gave us enough for a meal for two, plus plenty of leftovers which I've found are great for freezing and using later in soups, topping a salad or in casseroles.
    • ONE IMPORTANT NOTE:  key to sanity in the kitchen on the night you make spätzle is to clean up anything that's come in contact with the dough right away. Especially the spätzle maker (or colander, or cutting board, or potato ricer or whatever you used to make the strands of dough). Once this stuff hardens it's a beast to clean up.
    • An added bonus to the spinach  the dough is that it made it easier to see where the dough was for said cleanup!

So that's all for week 18! Technically, I think I only need to do one more DDC meal to get me to my mid-April finish line, but there's this part of me that just want's to make it a nice round 20 for the challenge. Our spring Farmer's Market started again this past weekend, so inspiration is near!

I hope to get up a post about the end of the maple season some time this week, but in the mean time, here are a  few pictures from this past weekend while my boss and good friend Maria came to visit from CA. We are so glad she came and finally got to meet our little guy!


Blogger just ate my whole post.

I pressed "Publish" and it disappeared. And apparently no drafts were ever saved.

I'm beyond frustrated and I give up. 

I'll try again tomorrow.