Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Hiatus

I thought that I might have a bit of time to sneak in some blog work the over the holidays, but, as those of you following the blog may have noticed, I haven't.

I have had time to do some other wonderful things though. Like celebrate Christmas with my husband and daughter, hang out with my husband's family over at my brother-in-law's house, take my daughter on her for her first sled ride, and eat a lot of yummy food (including buckwheat pancakes). Some of the food was even local.

She likes the piano too,
but man that's a good box!

Taking time to focus on
the new toys.

Partying at the bowling alley with Grandma!
 With all the fun, I haven't had the chance to make any completely local meals for the dark days challenge since my cabbage soup (unless you want to read a post about scrambled eggs - local eggs and local butter, what could be better?) but I have been fitting in a few dark days side dishes here and there as I experiment with some new things at home and help out with the cooking at the in-law's.

The list is short, but here are my recent local food creations:

Roast squash (sweet dumpling and honey bear from Seeds and Spores in Marquette) filled with homemade lemon cheese (Made with milk from Kolpack's farm in Ontonagon)
Sweet and sour cabbage (Made with cabbage from a neighbor's garden and honey from Algomah Acres in Greenland)
Cabbage with sweet pickled beets and cauliflower (Made with cabbage from a neighbor's garden, beets and cauliflower we grew and pickled)
Roast brussels sprouts (From a neighbor's garden)

The squash were roasted plain, then filled
with a simple homemade cheese and baked again.

I did get to introduce several family members to the simple art of roasting brussles sprouts with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they just begin to brown. They loved them! Some were already brussels sprout fans, but I managed to convert my sister-in-law from a person repulsed by all things brussels sprouty to an appreciator of the roasted sprouts. Score one for the tiny cabbages!

The cabbage was stir fried with honey, dried jalapeno from
our garden,and non-local lemon juice (leftover from
cheese making), salt, and pepper.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cabbage Soup with Bacon and Caraway

A soup for every other Dark Days meal sounds about right to me. As I mentioned in my first Dark Days post, I do like to make soup.

Cabbage, bacon, and caraway soup before its final simmer.
The orange bits are rutabaga.
And why not? Soups are satisfying, simple to make, endlessly variable, and lend themselves well to my locally available ingredients.

This was, sadly, another almost local soup. I like to give soups quick flavor by starting with bacon, or sometimes sausage. There used to be a wider selection of local bacon and sausage at my co-op than there has been the last couple times I've shopped for them. This last time I had four options, bacon from Wisconsin that would have fit my broadest definition of local (we are very very close to Wisconsin) but had nitrites, non-local nitrite free bacon from far away, bison sausage from I know not where, and some apple chicken sausage from California. In the past I have been able to find bacon and/or sausage sourced within 50 - 100 miles of me.

I had to go with the nitrite free bacon option. I cannot say whether or not nitrites and nitrates are a food safety issue, but they give me migraines so I avoid them.

This was a weekend shopping trip so I couldn't speak with any buyers, but I will need to ask my co-op about this change ASAP. If I'm lucky, their past suppliers are still around and I can buy directly from them.

3/4 of a twelve ounce package of bacon, one medium onion, one rutabaga,
two turnips, a tablespoon whole caraway seed, and some dried jalapeno.
I deglazed this pan with a bit of water, added a medium cabbage, chopped,
one pint home canned tomato puree, and water to cover.This simmered
for about a half hour, until the cabbage was tender but not limp.
The rest of the soup, aside from the salt, pepper, and caraway seed, was local. The vegetables, which included cabbage, rutabaga, turnips, onion, canned tomato puree, and dried chile pepper were a collection from four different area gardens (including ours).

"Bacon Bits"
The highlight of the soup was the bacon crumbles I garnished it with. I used about 3/4 of the bacon for the soup itself. The remaining was chopped into bite sized pieces and fried with a generous pinch of whole caraway seed and a half a dried jalapeno pepper minced.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Building My Holiday Traditions

This is my first Christmas as the mother of a toddler. This is also the first Christmas that I've chosen to make cookies for my friends and family. Also, this is my first Christmas as a blogger. It makes quite a combination of firsts.

There are so many beautiful food blogs, and right now they are full of beautiful Christmas cookies. Cookies with qualities of deliciousness that I aspired to match during my week long cookie making marathon. But of course, no matter how many beautiful cookies I planned to make, I never stopped being the mother of a toddler.

Now that the marathon is complete, I feel I need to make a public service announcement of sorts. The snowflake cookies with only five points, the truffles that are as misshapen as their namesake, the candied lime with chewier-than-you-meant-it-to-be peel are all as delicious and loved by your loved ones as they would be if they were picture perfect.

Deep breath. Your cookies will be fantastic.

You see, I'm not really a Christmas person. I'm new to this Christmas spirit thing and I don't want to turn the love I want to share with those that have touched my life this year into a giant stress fest. And I don't want anyone else to either. I'm pretty sure Christmas traditions are meant to be enjoyable for everyone involved, even those with the role of Santa's elf.

For a long time I have been something of a Christmas observer. My husband and I would make sure to see our families during the holiday season, we would get presents for our nephews, we would try to find gifts for our respective siblings, but we just didn't get that into it. December is our quietest month farm wise, nothing is growing and we've just barely started planing for next year, so we've always liked to keep it laid back. The actual day of Christmas was generally just a nice day off from work that we could spend together. Our Christmas included no decorations, a few gifts, and a big batch of buckwheat pancakes with jam.

We'll take any excuse to make buckwheat pancakes with jam.

Last year our Christmas routine changed a bit. I suppose all routines change when you toss in a three month old. I was up at midnight on Christmas Eve, wrapping the world's greatest teething ring in shiny silver paper. I had thought I wouldn't want a tree, but at the last minute I even sent my husband out into one of our brushier fields for a tiny little Christmas tree to decorate our living room. I got a taste of what it is like to be a Christmas person, and I loved it. This year, I wanted more than that little taste.

Baby's First Christmas, or The Most Presents I've Ever Purchased
So, although I'm still not buying a lot of presents, I'm starting some new traditions. I've got cookies, I've got lights on a tree in my yard, I'm donating to three different charities on behalf of my parents and sister, and, of course, I'm taking a laid back day and eating buckwheat pancakes with jam on Christmas morning with my husband and daughter.

Maybe you would like to join us.

Buckwheat Pancakes

We got this recipe off of a box of buckwheat flour, I think it was Hodgson Mill, several years ago. It's the only 100% buckwheat pancake recipe I've run into. It is now written on a piece of loose leaf paper and taped to the inside of our plate cupboard door. That is how special this recipe is to us. It must be enjoyed with homemade jam, preferably blueberry or blackberry.

  • Two tablespoons butter, melted
  • One cup milk
  • One egg
  • One cup buckwheat flour
  • One teaspoon baking powder
  • Two tablespoons sugar
  • Half teaspoon salt
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients.
  2. Combine the egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir until well combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. It will be a little gooier than non-buckwheat pancake batter.
  4. Heat a griddle or shallow pan over medium heat.
  5. Grease the pan with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray. We prefer butter, but we're decadent. They all work.
  6. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter onto the pan, as many times as will fit.
  7. Watch the batter. When bubbles are just about to break the surface, flip the pancake over. This traps those bubbles in the pancakes and makes them nice and fluffy.
  8. Cook until the center is set and the bottom is lightly brown.
  9. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roast Duck with Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce

Plants. As a botanist, farmer, herbalist, and cook I study, grow, prepare, and consume them. Plants tie my passions together. Why? Some people are just plant people. We know who we are. My path to plant personhood is too long a story to share here. Actually, now that I think about it my plant story is basically my life story. I wonder if that is true of most plant people? I will say that foraging, or gathering wild plants for food, has been an important part of my life for a long time.

This meal, my second for the dark days challenge, (click here if you don't know what I mean by dark days) features the chokecherry. Chokecherries are easily found in the Western U.P. and are foraged, at least casually, by just about everyone who ventures outside around here.
How have I never taken a picture of the chokecherry?
Ah well, here is an old school one from the
to give you an idea.
The chokecherry, or Prunus virginiana, is an astringent (astringent food = unripe banana) little cherry that grows in racemes on scraggly bush/trees in brushy areas. A lot of folks pick it for jelly when it is ripe in late summer. It does make good jelly. It also makes an excellent barbecue sauce. You can find my chokecherry barbecue sauce recipe below. As a bonus, chokecherry bark makes a very effective cough syrup. It's a great "gateway" herb to convince non-believers of the efficacy of herbal remedies.

Chokecherries can be found in this Dark Day's dinner as barbecue sauce, which I made and canned last summer, and wine. We drank chokecherry honey wine from a vineyard called Threefold Vine Winery in Garden, Michigan, about 200 miles from me. That's a vineyard in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For real.
The duck was one of the Khaki Campbells we raised last season. We also ate sweet potatoes grown by us and Brussels sprouts from a neighbor's garden. I basted the duck with a mixture of half butter (from Jilbert Dairy, about 115 miles from me) and half barbecue sauce. The bird weighed about 3 pounds and I roasted it at 400 degrees for around 35 minutes. When I removed it from the oven I let it rest on a plate and added my vegetables to the pan of duck fat, butter, and barbecue sauce. I turned the oven up to 450, put my pan of sweet potatoes and sprouts back in, and let them roast while the duck rested and my husband did the fancy carving job you see in the photo here.

Everything was good, but the roast vegetables in duck fat were definitely the highlight of the meal. I seriously recommend this method of cooking Brussels sprouts if you have the chance to try it.

I found the wine at a gas station of all places. I was already planning the duck with chokecherry barbecue sauce and I thought it would be fun to try a chokecherry wine with it. A sommelier I am not. It was much sweeter than I expected and didn't work so well with the barbecue sauce. It was surprisingly good with the roasted vegetables though. I liked the wine overall, but I like sweet, fruity, spicy things. It probably isn't something that wine lovers would rave about, but I think that is true of all cherry wines. I am very excited to try more things from Threefold Vine Winery. Especially the wines made from the grapes they grow. There is another winery even closer to me in Houghton that I will be purchasing wines from during the challenge, but they don't grow their own grapes. I still can't believe there is a vineyard in the U.P. Already, I love the things this challenge is helping me discover.

As promised above, here is my recipe for a small batch of chokecherry barbecue sauce. If ever you spend a pleasant afternoon picking three and a half pounds of chokecherries this is the thing to do with them. We like it on chicken as well as duck. I'm sure it's good on pork too, we just don't eat a lot of pork. I use either honey or sugar depending on what I have on hand. This year I used sugar. It's good either way, but I like it a bit better with honey. This recipe makes about three cups of barbecue sauce.

Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce
  • 3 1/2 pounds chokecherries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp black mustard seed
  • 25 peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  1. Place the chokecherries and water over medium low heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Simmer until they have burst.
  3. Push the chokecherries through a strainer to make a thick pulp. You should end up with about two and a half cups of pulp.
  4. Return the pulp to a small heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat.
  5. Lightly crush the mustard seed, peppercorns, and cloves, tie them in a spice bag, and add the bag to the pulp.
  6. Stir the remaining ingredients into the pulp.
  7. Allow the pulp to barely simmer for about an hour.
  8. Remove the spice bag and puree the barbecue sauce with an immersion blender if you would like it to be very smooth. Leave it as is if you don't mind little chunks of onion.
  9. This can be refrigerated for about two months, but it keeps longer canned.
  10. Can half pints in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Defining SOLE and Making Soup

Some things are more difficult than others. Making soup is easy. I love it, do it almost weekly, and feel pretty darn good about it. Deciding whether or not I can consider my soup sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (the objectives of the dark days challenge) is a bit more difficult.

I actually made this particular soup last Wednesday, day one of the dark days challenge. I had planned for my first dark days dinner to be freshly killed duck glazed with chokecherry barbecue sauce paired with a local chokecherry wine (that ended up being the second meal, a post will come) but I had an awful cold on Wednesday and I didn't want to eat glazed duck. I wanted soup. I decided to wait until I felt better to make my dark days debut meal. I started to plan the soup.

I was already writing about our friend Marty and all the beans I had purchased in preparation for the dark days, so I had given myself a taste for beans. Our porch has a bag of lovely carrots our neighbor grew, so I had the requisite root vegetables. I have some dried sage hanging around that I harvested from the hoop house a few month back and dried in the fridge (a frost free refrigerator is a great way to dry small quantities of herbs by the way), so I had some herbs to accompany my beans. The soup would be simple, but tasty, and hey - the ingredients I had come up with would satisfy the dark days challenge after all. I could make my first dark days challenge meal on the first day of the challenge and still satisfy my "sick bed" cravings. 

Except...the stock and meat that I was planning to use came from leftover Thanksgiving turkey my husband had set simmering on the stove earlier in the day. Leftover turkey my mom bought downstate. It may have been local to her, she wasn't really clear on that, but I don't think so. She did try to get a local one, bless her, but I think she ended up with a nice, possibly organic, bird shipped in from parts unknown. It was a tasty one though.

I was left in a quandary. There was no question as to whether I would make the soup. I would, did, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But, should I post it for dark days? I really want to take this challenge seriously. I want to consider the source of my food before it goes on my table, find the most local and sustainable options, and share my finds with other interested folks. The truth is though, I have given a lot of thought to the meat that I eat already. Non-local meat, especially poultry, is something of a rarity in my house these days. Other than the occasional ground beef purchase made when we are returning home late and hungry and need something substantial we can cook up fast, our meat is either raised (or sometimes hunted) by ourselves or by a farm about 10 miles away. The turkey was kind of an anomaly.

My mom always makes turkey soup after Thanksgiving, but my parents are getting ready to move so she wouldn't be able to. She gave me the carcass because she knew I would do it justice, though my soup didn't feature the rice and frozen mixed vegetables she favors. 

I had to make a decision about the challenge, how to define my parameters, and whether or not to post my soup.

The word sustainable is what finally made me decide that this soup, while not entirely local and probably not entirely organic, fits the challenge just fine. Using every last piece of turkey while it was still good was the most sustainable thing I could do in the situation. People, including me, waste a surprising amount of food, and, as a food producer, it makes me sad.

I know that this issue (and unforeseen others) is going to come up again in the challenge. I will need to decide whether to use items I already have (for example, 20 pounds of wheat berries grown in Montana) or purchase new items just for the challenge. As you can tell from my decision about the soup, I am leaning towards using the resources I have before buying new. Using the things on hand to nourish my self and family feels like the right thing to do, but maybe I am just taking the easy way out? I  would love to know how other participants plan to deal with this dilemma if it comes up for them. Please let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on the subject.

The other thing that pushed me towards posting this dinner was the beans. They were the star of the soup. I used some of the hutterites we grew. Hutterite soup beans are on the Slow Food Ark of Taste list, a catalog of food items Slow Food considers both delicious and endangered. This was my first opportunity to taste them, and I agree, hutterites are delicious. They are extremely soft and buttery with excellent white bean flavor. They were also really easy to grow and high yielding. I can't imagine why they would be endangered, perhaps there just isn't enough people out there growing heirloom beans. We got our seed from Fedco if you are interested in growing some yourself.

As the stars, the beans deserved special treatment. If you are intimidated by dry beans, don't be. Their treatment takes a little time and planning, but not that much, and the actual cooking of them is as simple as boiling water.

On the left is a series of pictures showing the beans through all the steps it takes to get them ready for cooking. Step one, pick over the dry beans and wash them, as you would any fresh vegetable. Step two, place them in a pan, cover with water, bring the water to a boil. Use about two cups water for every cup of beans. The beans will get wrinkly as the water heats up. Step three, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. This picture shows the beans through a glass lid, all saggy skinned in their steamy bath. Step four, soak the beans for at least an hour, or until you are ready to use them. the last picture shows the beans after about five hours of soaking.

That's it. All I did was boil water and the beans are ready to use in my soup.

Hutterite Bean Soup with Turkey and Sage

What you see below looks like a recipe, but it isn't really. It's more a description of some soup I made. This is simply how I cook day to day. I bring foods I have together to make something (hopefully) good. Often, that something is soup. If you want to do something similar chicken would be good in place of the turkey. Hopefully you have used up your Thanksgiving turkey by now.
  • 1 1/2 cups dry hutterite soup beans, prepared as above
  • 3 cups turkey stock and/or bean soaking liquid
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, depending on the strength of your sage) dried sage, crumbled
  • freshly ground pepper
  • two medium carrots, sliced into coins
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked turkey (mine had been roasted, and simmered as the stock cooked)
  • a handful of dried chard, or other greens, fresh is fine too, or leave them out.
1. Combine the beans, stock, sage and pepper. You could also add onions, salt, and other seasonings. My stock was extra flavorful because the turkey still had stuffing in it when it was put to simmer. I didn't need to add salt, onions, or much in the way of seasoning to my soup.

2. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

3. Add carrots and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

4. Add turkey, simmer for about 10 more minutes or until the turkey is hot and the beans are very tender.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in your chosen greens. I almost always finish soup with greens.

The finished soup (I like them thick). It served 2 adults and one toddler,
with leftovers for one lunch the next day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Magical Fruit

I have the bean problem figured out.

If you have been following the blog you know that I am participating in Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge (see the cute logo in the upper right corner?) and that I have plenty of meat, dairy and a fair amount of vegetables to get me through my season of locally sourced meals. You may also remember that I am on the look out for local grains and legumes, as all I have in that category is a jar of hutterite soup beans we grew in a test plot this year.

Our Hutterite Soup Beans. This is about half of what we harvested from our 15 foot
plot. The rest are soaking as I type this, getting ready to be made into soup.

Enter an old farming friend, Marty Heller, who's been trying his hand at heirloom bean growing in Traverse City.

I know, I know, at 380 miles away Traverse City is not exactly local to Ontonagon, but, for several reasons, I think that these beans fit into the spirit of the challenge. To start with, the challenge is pretty flexible and past participants have considered their whole state to be local to them, so I'm not really doing anything against a rule, though, overall, my goal is food grown within 150 miles of my home. Next, our trip to get the beans was a 40 mile detour along our Thanksgiving travel route, and the grower was an old friend of ours. So, while the beans grew 380 miles from our home, they grew only 40 miles from our lives (if that makes any sense). Finally, Marty grew the beans on land he rented from the Leelanau Conservancy. The Conservancy wants the land, part of the DeYoung Farm, to be maintained as active agricultural land. They hope to start a farmer in residency program to allow individuals who have experience farming (training, internships, and the like) a place to learn about farm management and, hopefully, build some capital so that they can start their own farms. It would be a sort of farm incubator program.

Farm incubator programs are an awesome local food promoting idea that I wanted to encourage in my tiny way by mentioning the Leelanau Land Conservancy's goal in the blog. If any of you know of similar programs I would love to hear about them.

Marty, who grew up in a farming family and has been involved in the operation of two CSAs, told us a little about his experience growing beans on the Conservancy's land. He grew over fifteen varieties on about two acres, didn't have the opportunity for as much weed control as he would have liked (this is pretty much a given for chemical free farmers), hand pulled the plants at harvest time, and threshed the beans using a 1940's Allis Chalmers All Crop 60 Combine. We were able to see much of the yield when we visited. He was storing them in burlap sacks in his garage that he allowed me to paw through so I could select my beans. I didn't think to ask what his overall yield was, though we did have a nice talk about beans, weed pressure, and the variable success we have each had growing dry beans under different conditions.

Marty's baby bean plants at the DeYoung Farm.
Photo courtesy of Marty Heller.

For example, our experience at Wintergreen Farm has taught us that those hutterite soup beans I mentioned love black plastic mulch and king of the early beans hate being planted in our fields, no matter what we do for them. Marty found similar discrepancies with the varieties he grew. I guess that means bean farming, like all farming, is an endlessly interesting process of trial and error.

Even with weed pressure, Marty ended up with a spectacular bean harvest. Enough for a 13 variety bean tasting event that I very much wish I could have been a part of. I guess I'll have to be content cooking and tasting the six pounds of beans we bought from him and the hutterites we grew.

Three of the four varieties I got from Marty.
From left to right these are Low's Champion, Coco Rubico, and Peregion.
Photos courtesy of Marty Heller.

It's going to be a magical winter...