Summer on a plate, in a glass

BLT on lettuce

It happens every year with that first bite into a vine-ripened tomato, a splash of juice as my teeth pierce the skin, the subsequent slurping as the acidic fruity tang slides over my tastebuds, that I think this just needs some bacon.

Green Zebra is my favorite BLT variety, and I’ve often though it must have been bred to pair specifically with the fatty crispness of pork belly, the smokey maple-syrup sweetened decadence of bacon.  Unfortunately, we lost all but one green zebra in a late frost this spring, and amid the ripening red orbs, the green fruit sometimes eludes me on harvest days.

No matter, one can’t stop the pairing of fruit and meat as August turns toward ripeness.  I’ve found the joys of German Johnson, a tomato to rival Brandywine; It’s size trumps green zebra, with some slices as big as bread, and we eat BLTs open-faced on a bed of oak-leaf lettuce, crowning them with basil leaves and a dollop of chèvre.  Summer on a plate.

And then there is the glass–a tall one with muddled spearmint and blueberries, three ice cubes and a long pour of seltzer, or as I like to say, bubbly water.  At another time in my life I got excited about mojitos and gin and tonics, but these days its the clarity of cold water and herbs on a hot day that quenches my thirst.  Sometimes I get fancy with a squeeze of lime, or go the lemon-ginger-honey route, or steep strawberries and lemon balm in a quart jar for hours in the fridge.  Sometimes, I imagine the most refreshing thing in the world would be to steep in a cold mint bath, though the earthy scent of lake water does just as much to cool and revive.

Set the Table with Rabbit

My latest article in Vermont’s Local Banquet is all about rabbit–who’s raising it, how it’s done, the challenges and benefits of rabbit as a meat source.  
Silver Ridge Rabbitry: New Zealand Rabbit

I circulated the room with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, weaving through bridesmaids, groomsmen, and guests. The social hour was winding down, and by my fifth or sixth pass through the crowd, I knew who the vegetarians were—who to offer the stuffed mushrooms to, who to pass by with the pulled pork.

The pulled pork had gone fast, and as back up, the caterer I was working for that night provided pulled rabbit to take its place.

“What’s this?” guests asked.

When I answered, “Pulled rabbit with sweet potato,” hesitation came over their faces…

read the rest at Vermont’s Local Banquet.

What’s to come

cilantro seedlings

share basket

I shouldn’t do this, but after reading John’s post, I couldn’t help myself–I had to take out the spring and summer photos and remember the heat and taste of what feels to still be a distant season.

We made it through last night’s cold, and the car engine managed to turn over this morning, despite it being -23.  If I sit close to the wood stove and stare into the photos enough, I can almost imagine that we’re tumbling amid all that food right now.  Soon.  Soon.

For now, I’m thankful for the heat of the stove, for bacon from our friends at Humble Rain Farm, and for the photos that remind me of what’s to come.

A Thanksgiving Goose

Crisp crackled skin, juicy fat, deep flavorful meat.  A Thanksgiving goose!

Thanksgiving Goose

The goose was a gift for Waylon’s birth.  Our friends at Gozzard City brought it over one late summer day last year when Waylon was still a floppy little baby unable to hold his head up, and the goose went into the freezer with the intention of pulling it back out come Christmas.  Instead, it got lost among the pork and chicken and turkey and beef that also filled the freezers, and so over a year later we finally took it out to thaw, and cooked it on Sunday for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration with my parents and brother.

It was my first goose, and though I rarely follow recipes step by step, I tried my best with this bird.  In the middle I switched the recipe I was following for a simpler one, and the goose didn’t seem to mind one bit.  The temperature and length of time were different, but it was still stuffed with caramelized onions, bits of fatty bacon, chunks of apple and torn bread.  It still dripped fat that became our leek-laced gravy.

pumpkin pieIn the case we discovered that none of us liked goose, the bird was joined by a smaller fowl in the form of beer-can chicken.  Luckily, we found that not only do we like goose, but especially when dribbled with gravy, we love goose.  Nothing went to waste.

By the time dessert came around, Waylon was past ready for bed, but he sat on his uncle’s lap and tried his first taste of pumpkin pie, which happened to be just the thing to keep him going a little longer into the night.

The left-over goose and pie kept us fueled as we drove to New Jersey yesterday, and primed us for turkey tomorrow.  This year I am thankful for all these things: friends who raise geese, our bumper crop of pumpkins, the leeks that started in our field and ended simmering in goose fat, the soil that grew our vegetables, the grass that fed the animals, and family, always family, who share these meals with us.

pies and candlelight

Little Gems in November, or, Lettuce is Beautiful

November Lettuce

Spretnak, Rhazes, Mirlo.  Lettuce in November!

We started these late in the season, and yesterday was likely our last lettuce head harvest.  These little gems and mini-butterheads have been holding under row cover for a few weeks, and though there are still more in the garden, I doubt they will size up even to their mini-maturity.

If this is the last harvest, I marvel at them even more–lettuce is so beautiful.  I love the ruffled texture of the butterheads, the deep green cones of Spretnak, a little-gem romaine, and the rich velvety red of Rhazes, another little-gem (“little gem” really is the actual term for these mini romaines.  It suits them well).

If I didn’t want to eat a salad, or cut them in half to grill with balsamic oil, I’d sit and stare at the lettuce like a painting.  Is that crazy?  Shouldn’t food be beautiful, shouldn’t we take the time to notice when it is?  Maybe it’s only my perception, but I believe food tastes better when we take the time to notice its textures, colors, and dimensions.  There is so much to take in before we ever take a bite.

{I highly recommend these varieties; if you want to grow them in your garden, you can find them at High Mowing Organic Seeds: Spretnak, Rhazes, Mirlo}

Alaska Bread

We made bread every Friday, each person or family proofing their own dough the night or morning before the bake; one person on oven duty stoking the fire all day; and then we’d come together in the late afternoon, and the soft, wet dough used to make snakes would be rolled out long and thin and go into the oven first, taking the hottest and fastest bake of all the breads.

We’d tear the snakes into pieces, dip them in balsamic vinegar and garlic olive oil, or spread herbed butter on the light crumb and devour the warm bread as the next batches went into the oven.  Mostly it was sourdough, with many variations: added honey, cornmeal, oatmeal, seeded crusts.  Then there were the cinnamon rolls, all puffed up and golden in their tray.  And after the baking, perhaps a chicken would roast in the heat that was left, or beans, or a moose stew would slow-cook overnight.  One bake would feed the whole farm bread for a week, sometimes more.

We took turns pulling loaves out of the oven, and as the snakes disappeared a mandolin and guitar might come out, the pedals of a spinning wheel would pat up and down to the beat, and the kids’ fingers would wind and tangle in cat’s cradle; some nights homemade ice cream balanced the heat of the fire; on the edges of the season, we’d eat inside where a wood stove warmed the house.

RWS_7345 RWS_7393 RWS_7400 RWS_7392 RWS_8358 RWS_7708 RWS_7677 RWS_9639We don’t have a wood-fired bread oven here on our farm in Vermont, yet.  It’s on the long list of building projects and won’t be built until next summer (I hope it gets built next summer!).  But I do have some whole wheat flour from a farm in Berlin, just a few miles on the other side of Montpelier, and I have this day to myself and a wood stove to crank up, and a bag of yeast in the freezer.

It’s been a long time since I made bread of my own; when Edge reluctantly admitted he had to go gluten-free for health reasons, the smell of fresh baked bread made me feel a little guilty.  He assures me now I should start again, the smell won’t hurt him, as enticing as it is.

And so here I go, warming the yurt, dusting the kneading board, baking bread.

 

{All this bread baking happened at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, the farm where Edge and I met.}

Gluten-free Apple Carrot Muffins

gluten-free apple-carrot muffinsYou know how much I love butter. Here’s a muffin recipe that uses ample butter and eggs. Coconut flour can absorb a lot of liquid, so a little goes a long way. Don’t get scared off by the gluten-free in the recipe title. These muffins are fluffy, and, especially when you add grated apple, perfectly moist. If you don’t announce it, I bet no one would guess they’re gluten-free. The base recipe is below, but there are endless possibilities. Last week our friend Karen made a batch of blueberry-ginger, and this morning she brought some apple-beet-ginger muffins over for breakfast, the perfect warm treat for a fall morning.

My most recent batch of apple-carrot muffins included one small carrot, one apple, and around 1 ½ tsp of freshly grated ginger.

Have fun! The possibilities are endless!

Ingredients:
½ C coconut flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ C sweetener (sugar, honey, or maple syrup)
½ C butter, softened
3 eggs
optional: 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Possible embellishments: carrots, apples, beets, zucchini, blueberry, strawberry, banana, ginger, nuts

Preheat oven to 350

Butter or oil a muffin tin and set aside. Mix coconut flour and baking soda together in a small bowl. Beat the butter and sweetener until creamy. Stir in vanilla. Beat eggs in one at a time. With the mixer on, slowly add coconut flour until it is fully incorporated, creating a soft dough. Stir in any embellishments, and fill muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until tops are golden. Makes 4-6 muffins.

 

Give Me That Butter

whipped sweet butterThese days, I eat bread just for the butter.  I lather it on like frosting.  It’s the cold fall air (or maybe it’s the creamy, fatty butter, which if I’m being honest, tastes good in every season).  It wasn’t always this way.  I grew up in a household that spread butter scantly on toast, never on corn, and sometimes stocked the fridge with margarine (the “healthy” choice).

Then I discovered Weston A. Price and the value of fat.  Then I got pregnant, and said give me that butter!  And I haven’t kicked the habit.  And frankly I don’t see a need to.

Julia Child famously said, “with enough butter, anything is good.”  To those unsure, she said, “if you’re afraid of butter, use cream,” and also, “fat gives things flavor.”

Aside from all this, butter is beautiful.  So last night as I made gluten-free apple-carrot muffins (recipe to come), whipping two sticks of softened butter and sugar together, I had to stop and just admire the creamy golden waves.

This morning I fried a muffin in more butter, and the sweet salty fat of that butter?  It was delicious.

 

50 Pounds of Blueberries

Ripe blueberries Picking berriesa cluster of ripe fruit pick and eatWe cupped our hands hands and raked our fingers through the bush, producing a heaping pile of blueberries in seconds.  The 20-year old bushes were full and ripe, so heavy with fruit that we circled the same bush three times, harvesting from it as if we were coming to it anew each time around.  From bush to bucket, we worked quickly under a sky threatening rain.  We picked so fast that it didn’t matter how many berries Waylon took out of the bucket to eat–his appetite couldn’t keep up with our hands and those bushes.

Just under two hours later we finished, our buckets 50 pounds heavier, and our berry-filled bellies heavier, too.  And so we’re ready for the winter: strawberries and blueberries piled in the freezer, and canned peaches stored away.  Of course the lamb and chicken will help us through the cold months, and the vegetables, too, but summer’s sweetness is what truly brings sunshine into the yurt on cold winter nights–when the night falls early and the wind and snow blow outside, what better way to warm a home than a peach blueberry cobbler?  Berries ripen in the summer, but we pick for winter, ensuring our desserts will bring us through to another June.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Pie (I cheated)

Gluten-free blueberry pieRemember those 7 pounds of blueberries I picked last Friday?  We ate them.  We were saving 6 cups to turn into pie, but only four of them made it through the week until I finally had enough time to bake.  Luckily, our friend Karen picked 12 more pounds, and the pie came to fruition on Tuesday night.

Edge and Karen are both gluten-free, so I didn’t make my Nana’s classic pie crust: white flour, a dash of salt, some milk and oil, mixed and rolled out, brushed with milk and sprinkled with sugar to form a flaky, browned crust out of the oven.  Nope.  I had every intention to find a GF recipe to make myself, but instead time got the better of me, and I found two GF crusts in the freezer section at the Coop.

So as the pre-made dough thawed, I flipped open the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes book and mixed up the filling just as a classic pie ought to be made.  Blueberries, sugar, tapioca starch, a fresh grating of lemon zest and fresh squeezed lemon juice, all spice and a dash of nutmeg.  Roll it all together, pour into the pie dish, and dot with pats of butter.  Top with a second round of dough, cut a few slits in the top, and into the oven it goes.

I did it all right: baked it at 400 for 20 minutes, turned down the oven to 350 for the next 30-40 minutes, watched for the browning of the crust and the bubbling of the berries, and then pulled it out to cool on a rack.  You’re meant to let it cool for 2-3 hours so the berries will set.  This is where we rebelled.  When a pie comes out of the oven at 8:30 pm, who is going to sit around and wait for it to set?  So we gave it 15 minutes, just enough time to run down the hill for ice cream and back.  Hence the picture above of blueberries swimming in sauce.

Next time I’ll let it set.  The flavors did seem to meld together and the thickness of the filling improved during its night in the fridge.  But I don’t regret the overzealous doling out of pie–after a long day in the field, blueberry pie and ice cream is precisely what this farmer needs.  I’d still like to make my own GF pie crust instead relying on a store-bought one–cheating on the crust might make a faster pie, but the flavor and texture leaves something to be desired.  Still, ice cream melting over warm pie, gluten-filled or gluten-free, is best when eaten in the company of friends, and if speed won over my baking desire one time, so be it.  We all went back for seconds.