Archive for We are busy in the kitchen.

The secret ingredient of Nettle Soup is…

a good helper wearing mismatched snow mittens.

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In which I reveal my kitchen secrets

These are a few of my favorite (culinary) things…


This homely, bulbous mass of intense flavor is like celery, only MORE SO! I use it in lieu of celery by simply slicing off a portion, (1-2T) cutting or peeling the skin away, and finely dicing.  The rest of the bulb gets thrown back into the fridge where it keeps nicely for quite a long time.  This bulb was plucked from my garden yesterday, the last of a small bunch I’ve harvested over the summer.  They need a pretty long growing season, so I’d like to suggest (to my future self) not harvesting any of them till mid-late Fall.  Celeriac.  If celery is a quiet whisper, a pale, anemic hoarse croak of flavor, celeriac is a SHOUT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS! (so a little goes a long way and a single bulb will fill a generous many celery needs)

2. Whole Nutmeg

It was an earth-shattering moment the first time I took some cookbook’s suggestion and picked up some whole nutmeg.  It is absolutely nothing like that pale powder shoved into the Durkee jar labeled nutmeg;  you would never pick out the two as being related in a line-up.  Get yourself a whole nut, grate it with your microplane or fine grater, close your eyes, and smell.  That’s our nutmeg ritual – the kids come running and we all pass around the fresh-grated nut and inhale.  Bliss!  When you’re ready to open your eyes, delight in the beautiful swirly pattern hidden inside that unassuming nut exterior.  Really, could your eyes and nose derive even a fraction of this pleasure from the bogus jar powder?  No.  Treat yourself – it’s such a visceral pleasure.

3. Homemade chicken stock

I took the suggestion of The Splendid Table‘s How To Eat Supper cookbook and left the skins of the onion on before tossing them in.  Use any chicken bits you have, though the ones with bones might pack more nutritional punch.  We have a whole freezer full of chicken carcasses – what remains after we cut off the thighs, breasts, legs, wings of the fresh-butchered birds- which we prize for stock-making.  The idea was to make up a bunch and preserve it in the pressure canner, but the stars have not yet aligned to make that happen, so we are content to throw some chicken in a pot of water, simmer it for awhile, and call it the foundation of Supper. The leftover bits from a roast chicken make a wonderful stock, too.

4.  Miso paste

As easy as throwing a chicken carcass into a pot of water is, sometimes there’s not even time for that.  Sometimes, all that lies between making a real supper or copping out with a frozen pizza is the (instant) option of miso paste.  I often use it in lieu of chicken stock.  Use it carefully though – adding it to a boiling mix will kill off all the beneficial bits.  I usually add just the required amount of water for the recipe, then stir in the dissolved miso at the very end when I’m seasoning the dish.  Delicious, packed full of health – what’s not to love?

5. Whisking

I chucked the flour sifter after reading something about whisking instead.  The real estate that opened up in my cupboard was quickly put to better use and the whisk inventory was doubled, allowing for a spare.  Measure out your dry ingredients, whisk, and call it good.

6. Engage the senses

This one’s sort of redundant, having waxed on and on about the intense sensual pleasures of celeriac and fresh nutmeg, but I did want to mention this one thing:  I feel like I’m doing my best work as Momma when we casually meander through the aisles of fresh produce and bulk spices of our grocery coop and take the time smell what we’re putting into the cart.  Fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and cinnamon all got special attention in the store yesterday from our noses – big and small, and I felt like a really good mom.

7. Hidden greens

Swiss chard, kale, collards…all are fair game for tucking into the sauteed onions and garlic that are the base of nearly everything I cook.  Lasagna, spaghetti, enchiladas, or anything that starts with cooking diced onions in oil can usually expect to include finely chopped greens sauteed in the mix.  It’s a sneaky way for a mom to add some green veggies, but that’s part of my job.

8. Lemon juice with greens

I read somewhere that citrus helps our body better process the good stuff in those greens, so it goes without saying that each time I add those finely chopped greens to the saute, I also squeeze a lemon over the top.

9.  Lemongrass

Did you know it freezes well?  Yes!  Please don’t let me forget to harvest mine before the big frosts come.  Please and thank you.

10.  Delicata squash

I grew some this year, but didn’t photograph any?  Maybe because we inhaled it.  This is a variety of squash with a thin skin – so thin that you need not peel it before cooking, because it becomes just as tender as the flesh. When I do peel something, it’s reluctantly, so taking squash off that list of obligatory peeling is dynamite.

And you?  What’s your greatest kitchen secret?  Favorite tool?  Technique?  Do share!



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Mining jewels

The metaphor of precious jewels is irresistible when describing the season of canning.  Reds, golds, vibrant indigo, plum – I now understand that the color “plum” refers to the cooked fruit, not the fresh- those colors of the harvest, as seen through sparkling glass jars, is one hallmark of Fall for us.  It’s a frenzy, though, a race to get through the abundance of everything that has ripened all at the same time.  This year, aided by the steadfast attendance of the bees, we’ve discovered fruit bursting from previously-undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Herein lies one of the most difficult lessons of managing a very full life.  Get as much done as you can and let go of the rest.  It rang familiar to me as I typed this, and I vaguely remembered feeling a similar sentiment in the past.  Oh yes – last year’s garden recap post.  Hee hee.

There are, at this moment, no rotting tomatoes on my kitchen counter (yet) but the little sweeties I’ve set aside for drying are starting to tap their toes.  Setting up shop at my local Farmer’s Market has proved to be a handy impetus to can like a dickens.  I managed to follow through on several years of intent by harvesting elderberries this year and making jam.  A thick, sweeeeet jam, but one that will still prove quite handy at banishing winter colds.  The biggest surprise was that I was able to pick all the berries I needed from our own bushes, without having to forage elsewhere, a feat made possible, no doubt, by the bees.

Stewed tomatoes were my opening act.  See how strange and oblong these beauties are?  They look like giant red peppers.  What you can’t see on the inside is their delicious flesh, almost completely absent of seeds and juice.  They are Federles – chosen specifically for this fleshy-ness. They can up like a dream – all tomato and little juice.

Isadora joined me in the Sisterhood of Canning this year, as a very promising skin-peeler.  I can’t quite put it into words, but I’ve started to get a sense of an almost-primal connection to a larger community of women doing the very same thing this time of year.  I know that, as I blanch and peel and fill my jars, that Mom and Grandma and Aunt are doing the same, perhaps even that very day.  Neighbors, friends, passing acquaintances from the market, too. It’s hard to describe how satisfying that is, how rhythmically appropriate and in tune with the season, and how visceral the pleasure from so literally providing for my family – from seed, to plant, to fruit, to jar.  Gosh, that’s good stuff.  But it’s a lot of busy work.  A lot. Pulling elderberries from their clusters took me hours and was one of those activities that teetered between mind-numbing and meditative, depending upon your mood.  I swayed more to the mind-numbing side, sadly.

What great strides I’ve made over last year.  In the cellar are proudly displayed 10 quarts of stewed tomatoes, 6 quarts of the absolute best marinara I can muster (way better than last year), 6 pints of plums (plums! I bought them on a whim at a Farmer’s Market), the aforementioned elderberry jam, dill pickle slicers, dilly beans, pickled jalapeno-type peppers… and the harvest has only started.  We’ve discovered an abundance of grapes (again, thanks bees!) that might make a nice jelly, there are so many more tomatoes in progress, as well as peppers. What remains to join these jewels in the cellar will be determined by whatever time and energy I can muster in the weeks to come.  And grace.  I’m holding tight to the satisfaction I’ve gleaned so far this season, in case these jewels manage to be the only ones I mine this year.  Winter eating will be our best yet.


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The Vicarious Farmer: The Kraut King has been summoned.

These cabbages were truly the pride of my garden this year.  Started from seed, grown so big and lovely…the garden is quite lackluster now without them.  Now they patiently wait in the cool of the basement till the Kraut King arrives with his trusty shredder, stone crock, and sack full of salt.  I am waiting for the trumpet blast which never fails to announce his arrival.  Hear, hear:  there shall be kraut for all the kingdom!  Perhaps we should have grown some pork to accompany such a bounty of cabbage.

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Father’s Day Feast

In a celebratory Father’s Day breakfast fit for a Captain, (a Captain Daddio) the very last of the season’s asparagus was bid adieu.

For its final act, it was dressed in prosciutto and surrounded by some of its very best friends:  poached eggs, Bearnaise sauce (which seems to me to be like a Hollandaise but with vinegar and lots of tarragon) and fancy-cut toast.  Sometimes the most important part of meal prep around here is careful attention to marketing.  For this meal, bread was elevated to the status of “butterfly toast” simply by arranging the diagonally-cut quarters carefully on each plate. Bullseye.  Who can resist a special butterfly breakfast?

Not this guy.  Isadora declared it “the best breakfast I ever had,” though she frequently speaks in the superlative when rating meals.  It was a meal that featured both a delicious sauce AND visually-stunning, luminous cured meat that melts on the tongue, so you can bet that I loved it.  And Daddio, the Star of the Day?  He stopped just short of licking the plate.

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I’ve grown weary of tomatoes rotting in my kitchen.

Thus begins this year’s review of The Garden.  And what a year it was – the Year of the Volunteer Plants, the Year of Mud, the Year of Mosquitoes, the Year of ‘Hey – Stuff Actually Grows Here,’ all of which boils down to this one designation:  2010:  The Year of Rain. Lots of it.

While I haven’t much spoken about the unceasing bounty of this year’s garden, it’s because I was reporting on other, shinier things.  Behind the scenes, I’ve actually been quite busy picking and washing and canning and pickling and jamming.  Most of that inevitably happened in the hour or two preceding a big weekend trip out of town.  For at least three weeks in a row, this scene played out in a relentless loop, leaving me breathless and exhausted and quite pickled-out, with no energy left to photograph or blog about any of it, and even less energy to properly preserve any garden thing that came after.

And now I’ve arrived in that season where the over-ripe tomato hits the fan, so to speak.  It’s the time of year when there are so many balls up in the air to be juggled that a few inevitably crash to the ground, some making a bigger, smellier mess than others.  I’ve just now decided to pull my head out of the sand to assess the damage and while I’m at it, dispel a persistent myth.  As we speak, a kettle of tomatoes sits atop my kitchen counter emitting a steady stream of noxious, rotting gasses.  I’d feel better if I could tell you it was the first batch of the season to suffer such neglect, but, well… Isadora just had a birthday, complete with a party!  We just painted the living room!  Four coats of paint! I just got a spinning wheel, which didn’t shop for itself! Said living room needed to be redecorated! Completely! Did I tell you we got another batch of chicks? Yes, we did! Did you see I participated in KCWC? Yes! And on, and on and on.  Can you see, (quite clearly) can you smell, even, just how vividly I don’t even come close to ‘doing it all?’ Can you see that all of the triumphs that I report about here are the result of choosing how to spend my time, leaving some key tasks to fall to the wayside?  Sigh.  I get accused of ‘doing it all’ all. the. time.  Here I shall set about swiftly debunking this grievous myth.

There are tomatoes rotting on my kitchen counter.  My family was unreasonably challenged in finding clean clothing to wear this morning, yesterday, the day before, etc.  Yeah, I bake all of our bread and make all of our yogurt, but I only just made a batch of dough a few days ago, after going without for quite some time.  It’s been at least three days since I’ve served a vegetable with an otherwise protein-laden supper.  (gasp!)  File these tidbits away, please, for the future when I post some magically-lit, beautifully-enlarged photo of something wonderful that I just made and you are tempted to beat your head against the wall for not having the time or the idea to do or make whatever you think you should be doing or making if only you had more time.  It’s funny (and kind of sad) how blogging, which is really just holding up a magnifying glass to a tiny aspect of what is actually Real Life, tends to portray the bloggers as super-human.  I find myself feeling the same way, usually when reading about some wonderful approach to parenting that someone is generously sharing, which I take as finite proof that I’m not nearly as good a mother.  I’d really like to be done with that.  You?

In that spirit, I shall resume my Garden Recap, serving it up with a healthy dose of grace and self-forgiveness.  Deep breath.  Come wintertime, we will be light on stewed tomatoes, but still enjoying the many quarts Grandma so generously canned up last year for us.  We will, however, enjoy some new additions to the pantry:  a few quarts of the perfect marinara, a delicious riff on Soule Mama’s Tomato Soup, and roasted red peppers.  Our delicious homemade bread will be enlivened by the Strawberry/Raspberry jam I finally got around to making, but I fear we’d enjoy it lots more if I weren’t so skimpy on the honey to sweeten it.  Noted for next year.  In the height of my preserving burst of energy, I put up legions of Grandma’s World-Famous Dill pickles, which I’m delighted to say I grew entirely from the bountiful Pickle Bed of my garden.  It was my first time growing them myself and the soaring high I gleaned from harvesting the cukes, garlic, and dill all from the same garden bed was elating enough to propel me through all of those quarts of canning in such little time before rushing out the door for the weekend.  The squash are starting to take shape, there are sweet potatoes, popcorn, beets and cabbage all a bit small to harvest.  An abundance of swiss chard and kale is making me frantically rummage through back issues of Eating Well magazine for all of those recipes I remember seeing that prompted me to plant all those leafy greens in the first place.  The onions are still laughing at me, having disappeared from existence before producing a single bulb.  And it’s about time to plant the garlic for next year.  I didn’t get to all of the fall seed planting and cold-frame-building that I was dreaming about when I kept compulsively buying seeds mid-summer, but I suspect they’ll keep till next spring.  Oh, and there’s TOBACCO.  But that’s a story for another day.  Next week, perhaps?  I also plan on showing you our awesome new living room, so cleverly put together from all kinds of repurposed things.  If, on that day, seeing those pictures makes you feel like your own living room is a failure, and that surely the water out here is infused with some kind of genius, just remember that I probably still have that same pot of rotting tomatoes on my kitchen counter.

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Step aside, Macaroni & Cheese.

Imagine this Foodie Momma’s horror at receiving a project back from preschool that listed Macaroni and Cheese as Isadora’s favorite food.  What the…?  Really?  That handful of times having it elsewhere made it YOUR FAVORITE?  Really?!?  Whatever.  Kraft may have won the battle, but I’ve clearly won the war, thanks to the lovely boot-shaped country of Italy and her delicious recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara.  Step aside, you boxed pretend-food poser.  You are no match for Momma’s Carbonara, especially when she can sneak in some asparagus from the garden.  Ka-pow!

The recipe really couldn’t be easier.  In fact, the motions are pretty similar to that of the blue box and its powdered mix, swiftly negating the bogus ‘easier to make’ edge it may have tried to claim.  I learned how to make it through the fabulously-simple instructions from RP’s Pasta – Madison’s own fresh made pasta from scratch.  It’s been on our family’s rotation for years now and has made the prestigious ranks as one of our ‘get out of jail free’ meals when we have no idea what to make for supper.  As long as we have pancetta in the freezer, it’s like money in the bank.  (pancetta being that smokey Italian cousin to bacon.  You could of course substitute traditional bacon, but why not live a little and go for broke with the pancetta? )

Simply put, you boil some salted water for your pasta.  Any shape will do.  If you at the same time put a strainer over this pot of boiling water to steam a veggie to throw in (broccoli, asparagus, green beans) you’ll feel pretty clever with all of your multi-tasking at the stove.  While the water’s boiling, fry your pancetta in a separate skillet.  We find that dicing it while still frozen (or fresh) is easier than chopping it after it’s cooked.  In a separate bowl, whisk 2 whole eggs with 2 egg yolks.  Add a heaping pile of grated hard cheese (parmiggiano, pecorino) to the whisked egg mix.  Whisk it together to combine.  Add the cooked pancetta, combine.  Set steamed veggies aside.  Once the pasta is cooked to perfect al dente, drain and return to the hot pan immediately.  Whatever you do, do not rinse it.  I’ve heard that the pores of pasta just cooked are open, eager recipients of whatever they can suck in.  Would you rather that they absorb cold, tasteless water, or a delicious sauce that you’ve prepared, incorporating the exquisite flavor into the very molecular framework of the pasta?  That’s what I thought.  Also, you want that pasta to remain piping hot, because the next step is to add the egg/pancetta/cheese mixture and to stir it in vigorously.  The beauty of the whole process is that the heat of the pasta cooks the egg in the sauce to perfection, creating with the cheese a creamy, delicious sauce.  Add the veggies, stir to coat, and try to get the whole pot to the table before it’s devoured by your hungry mob of eaters.

Can I just say that I’ve intended to photograph the finished Carbonara about a dozen times now but have always been caught up in the heat of serving and eating, forgetting the camera every time?  So your now-inflamed taste buds will have to paint their own picture of how delicious this looks, because it really is fantastic.  And for the record, it’s triumphantly usurped Mac & Cheese on the Girl’s list of Favorites.

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Reporting Live from a Hill of Beans

We are literally swimming in beans.  Or at least one of us is.

Black turtle beans.  Pinto beans.  Cannellini beans.  All organic, bought in 25 lb bulk bags.  That’s 75 lbs of beans.  Looks like I’ve got me a couple of projects.

I must have foreseen this hill of beans when I picked up a ginormous pressure canner at a rummage sale last summer.  It seemed like a wise investment into our future, so I snatched it up, kissed it on the forehead, and tucked it into bed on the shelves of the basement root cellar, right next to the smaller version canner, inherited from the other Mrs. B.

The pinto beans were the first to emigrate to Five Green Acres.  I received them with much fanfare and welcome, knowing full well that our days of paying $1.50 – $2.50 for a can of organic beans were in the past, sorry suckers.  Ok – I must digress now and say that this talk about the high cost of canned beans makes me feel really, really old.  It also reminds me of the time I visited my Grandpa and was presented with a whole flat of canned peas that he had bought by the truckload, practically, because the price was so unbelievably great.  I will forever remember him grinning ear to ear, so pleased with his shopping prowess, displaying that elfish, impish grin that he’s now bequeathed to my son.  I thought he was crazy then, (and very old) but I totally get it now.  Sigh.  Miss you Grampa.

I cooked a whole crock pot worth of pintos, with the intention of then filling the jars and processing them in the pressure canner.  Using my handy Ball book of preserving, newly acquired at Christmas, I read over the instructions, scratched my head, reread them, read them aloud, then read them again.  Wait – did I not have to fully cook the beans before canning them?  Better do a quick internet search.  No. Way.  Really??!!??!!  I just get them boiling, (if I wish) load up the jars, and cook in the pressure canner while simultaneously killing the bacteria for safe canning and THAT’S IT?  I was floored.  Is this common knowledge that I missed somewhere along the way?  Regardless, that little tidbit of info painted a rainbow over my head as I ran to my grocery list and added ‘Black Beans’ and ‘Cannellini’ in big block letters, followed by ‘in BULK!’

I had read somewhere, some time ago, that cooking beans with a small piece of kombu seaweed was a good way to add some trace minerals and also offset some of the more negative digestive tagalongs, namely gas.  Seaweed is a pantry staple for us.  Having learned of its merits in my herbal studies, we found that we love it.  We get it here.

I filled each pint jar about 2/3 – 3/4 full of beans that had reached a boil.  They’d expanded a bit, but not filling the jars to the brim allowed room for more expansion as they cooked further.  To each jar I then added 1/2 t of salt (which you could omit) and a 1/2″ piece of kombu.  I topped each off with some warm water, filling to the bottom of the jar’s rim, allowing the appropriate headspace, then stirred to remove trapped air bubbles.  The lids were applied per the instructions, and those little sweeties were packed into the pressure canners.

The end result was so promising.  The beans were cooked, but retaining their shape so much better than crock pot cooking allows.  My only concern is that the level of liquid in the sealed jars is low.  There were some issues at first with getting a proper seal on the canner (faulty gasket), so it’s possible the liquid escaped then, or maybe it also was absorbed by the expanding beans.  Should I be worried about this?  Should I do anything differently for the 60-odd pounds of beans yet to can?  I’d love any feedback you preserving mavens might have.

Also on the docket is refried beans.  I’ll be using this book as a starting point.

And beans make a perfect plaything for the kids, with their tactile and visual deliciousness.  Non-toxic, too, (organic!) if a few end up in the mouth.  We’ll likely see some again tomorrow during diaper changing time.  The perfect toy, I say, unless you have a problem with a million little things scattered on every surface in your home.  I just might have a problem with that. Edited:  Forget that.  Beans are a horrible, horrible toy.  What a mess.

(it seemed disingenuous to post all the happy-shiny pics without also illuminating the dirty reality)

And I’m off for a crafty sew-’em-if-you-got-’em retreat up North.  See you back here next week, with a full report.

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An exercise in Poultry Appreciation. Round 2. (with recipe!)

Every year, as fall starts yielding to winter, the flock begins their molting ritual.  Feathers start blanketing the coop floor, sometimes in such a startling amount that first night that an impromptu head-count and 12-point inspection is warranted to rule out attack wounds.   It’s interesting how each lady (and gentleman) goes about molting in her own way.  Some bear no hint of feather loss whatsoever, sneakily dropping feathers here, there, in no great quantity.  Others appear a bit light in feathery bulk.  And Brownie Girl, Daddio’s favorite, molts right down to her skivvies, looking as close to a plucked chicken as a still-breathing, still-clucking hen could be.  You can imagine our alarm the first year we witnessed it – we nearly opened a Poultry Intensive Care unit right there in the coop.

So the molting commenced in late fall this year, triggered by the change in daylight.  The most important thing to know about molting is that it’s extremely hard work.  So hard, in fact, that a chicken must stop all laying operations and devote her focus solely on growing new-and-improved, Now-50%-Fluffier! new feathers.  So hard that those who tend a small flock of laying chickens are forced into an egg fast, watching their egg supply dwindle right before their eyes, sadly turning away their devoted egg customers with a tear and a pitiful shake of the head.  So hard to grow those new feathers, but not nearly as hard as the mournful squeak of the shopping cart, as it slowly approaches the refrigerated egg section of the food coop.  ‘Uncle’ we cried, ‘you’ve got us!  We were wrong to take your delicious eggs for granted.  Your eggs are truly the most robust, with the orangest yolks, the most delicious flavor, and no doubt the best nutritional content.  You, the Lovely Ladies, are artisans, true masters of your craft!  We vow never to forget that again.  Please lay some damn eggs!’

The Ladies held a conference, with quiet clucking and muffled chatter that went long into the night.  Meanwhile, leaving nothing to chance, I procured the brightest compact fluorescent light bulb that federal regulations would allow and installed it in the coop, programmed by timer to supplement the dwindling daylight and trick the girls into resuming regular ovulation.  And in time, (a long time) that first egg reappeared.  Then a second.  Within a week, we had more eggs than we could juggle in our bumbling hands and pockets, requiring once again, the egg basket for all visits to the coop.  A call was made to the Egg Customer.  ‘Your dozen eggs are ready! (you know, the ones you ordered two months ago!)

This is the third winter we’ve tended these chickens.  That first winter, fresh from moving in and inheriting the flock, you can imagine our panic when the laying ceased.  I ran to the Chicken Book, all dogeared and bookmarked, trying to diagnose the devastating poultry disease that had consumed our flock.  After an embarrassingly long time, I realized it was simply molting. Last winter, the second of our charge, we had freshman hens in the coop, raised the spring before, who were not yet mature enough to undergo the ritual of molting.  They kept the eggs a-coming while the veteran Ladies were on hiatus.

And here we are now, still circumspect after it was brought to our attention that we were taking those eggs for granted.  After the brief resumption of normal laying operations, we’re again facing a shortage.  One, maybe two, eggs grace the straw-laden floor of the coop these days.  (that’s about 4-8 eggs short of the normal quota)  I’ve engaged the alarm; we are again in a state of Chicken Drama, code Orange.  I’ve gone through the litany of possible culprits:  Light (the bulb is still working, bright as ever, on schedule) Heat (it’s not been that cold, and I’ve lined the coop with insulating straw) Food & Water (there’s been plenty) Calcium? Seems to be fine.  How about thieving critters?  It seemed that we might need to engage the giant rat traps hanging from pegs on the coop walls, until it was brought to our attention that the thievery must be happening in broad daylight, when Critters are inactive.  This points the blame right back to the chickens, who’ve eaten their own eggs plenty of times before.  Even so, production is still way down.

So I’ve called a Business Development meeting with the Ladies.  I plan on explaining how this is no way to run a business: hooking unsuspecting folks with the highly-addictive, mind-altering deliciousness of those eggs and then pulling the rug out, withholding them altogether.  In as diplomatic a way as possible, I plan to ask them what concessions they require:  more scratch, full of delicious corn and grain?  Ok.  It’s yours.  More regularly-freshened water?  Fine.  An even-bigger supply of oyster shell and grit?  Done.

Just lay us some eggs, already! (or I may have to line up the stockpots)

(click for link to PDF)

Should you be among the Fortunate, finding yourself with a plethora of eggs, I recommend you mix up a batch of this delicious Eggnog to ring in the New Year.  It’s a seasonal family favorite, though it’s been a little too scarce this year, considering our shortage.  We may have to grease up the shopping cart wheel and mosey back over to that refrigerated egg section….(shudder)

A few notes about the ingredients:  the sugar called for is Sucanat, or evaporated sugar cane juice.  It imparts some lovely carmel-ish undertones to the brew – do try it if you can find some.  Raw (turbinado) sugar would work just as well.  If you must, (I say with much snobbery) plain, old white sugar will suffice, but understand that you won’t reach the same level of enlightenment.  And fresh-grated nutmeg:  absolutely run out this very minute and buy yourself some whole nutmeg and grate it on your box grater and prepare to never, ever look back at pre-ground nutmeg again, which is a mere shadow of Fresh-Grated Nutmeg Greatness.  That dingy brown, pre-ground poser does not deserve to bear the same name as the Nutmeg, grated by your hand.  (Cluck cluck – what cooking snobbery today!)

With that, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  Meet you here in 2010.

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Tomato Math

Tomatoes have been the thrumming beat moving us steadily through the days of late September and early October.  Some stretches of milling, peeling, or canning have been marathon-like, blocking out all else on the To Do list; others have been snuck into the regular workings of the day like rags plugged into a drafty window.  Now lining the shelves of our pantry are various representatives from the Tomato Clan:  stewed tomatoes, the backbone of the pantry and only repeat visitor, as well as some new visitors –  Tomato Soup, Ketchup, Pizza Sauce, Plain Tomato Sauce.  Slated to arrive shortly:  Spaghetti Sauce.  Three boxes of Grandma’s Roma tomatoes are waiting patiently for their transformation, the final bit of tomato canning for the season.  I hope.  I think that I, too, have participated in the grand tomato metamorphosis:   my blood has no doubt turned tomato, the bouquet of scent that is My Own now carries with it the unmistakeably essences of garlic, onion, and basil.

It should be said that these tomatoes are not from my own garden, for the most part.  The Blight that was pandemic this summer found our overcrowded, not weeded, not-properly-supported tomato plants the perfect place to take up residence.  So I secured 30 lbs from a local grower and stewed them.  And then I bought three bushels (150 lbs) of the biggest tomatoes you’ve ever seen from the farmer’s market.  And we made ketchup, soup, pizza sauce, and running out of steam in the last bushel,  just plain old sauce, unable to chop one more onion or head of garlic.  Somewhere in the second bushel, as we were elbow deep in blanched tomatoes, the phone rang.  It was Mom, wondering if we could use any of Grandma’s surplus.  Andrew laughed as he handed me the phone, that laugh that is a combination of irony and weariness and look-out-here-we-go-again.  Turning away good (free) tomatoes nurtured by Grandma’s magic hands is surely bad karma, and I try to respect the karmic rules at all times.  So they sit right now, a chorus of red voices chanting, whispering, and beckoning, the volume growing ever louder as they reach the peak of ripeness and pull me away from all else but the sink, the mill, and the giant roaster that will turn them into sauce.

Lucky for me, I have help.  Lots of it, in fact – Mom and Grandma teamed up to can 3o quarts of stewed tomatoes for us, securing their spots as Most Prized Mom and Grandma for a long time to come.

So here’s the math:

310 lbs raw tomatoes yield:

6 pints of ketchup

6 pints of pizza sauce

45 quarts of stewed tomatoes

6 quarts of soup

5 quarts of plain sauce

and an estimated 9 or 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce

That’s a lot of tomatoes.

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