Coasting Along in Early January

Nothing too much happening here, just coasting along the first week after the holidays and prepping for the rest of the winter.  We are tapping into some of our beans and grains.

The black beans from our CSA are divine.  Look at that purple color!  The weird looking thing next the beans is a piece on Atlantic Kombu, a form of seaweed, courtesy of Iron Bound Island.  Inside tip of the week, adding kombu is a great way to decrease the gassy end result of eating beans.  Soak the beans at least 8 hours with a piece of kombu, rinse and cook with the seaweed.  It really helps and the seaweed adds a ton of trace minerals that we might not get.  Not eating enriched foods is great, but we need to make sure we eat food from all soucres to get plenty of stuff like iodine, selinium and B vitamins.  That slimy gray thing? Nutrient powerhouse.  Even better, in pureed soups, it disappears completely!

This is the perfect bitterly cold day soup.  Beans cooked with garlic and onion, dried pepper and tomatoes, all pureed to perfection when everything is tender and falling apart.  Served with winter coleslaw and roasted squash, it was super.  This was one occasion that the quality of the beans really elevated something simple to the next level.

Same thing with these corn fritters.  They are mostly corn, held together with enough egg, yogurt and cornmeal that they don’t fall apart.  Served with aged cheddar and apple butter we got as a gift over Christmas, it makes a great breakfast (and puts a dent in our freezer storage!)

Speaking of storage, we did an inventory to kick off the new year on the right foot.

It’s blurry, but this is the list of our food in both freezers.  It is a LOT of food, and we are going to be putting a moratorium on shopping for anything besides cheese and apples for a while as we work through this mess and try to keep up with our Deep Winter CSA share.  Maybe we’ll get some fresh greens here and there, but damn, we have a ton of food to eat.  This list doesn’t include our canned goods (lots and lots, we put up more than last year) or our root storage (not quite as bad).

Luckily, we will have help eating it all.

Hope you are enjoying the strangely warm weather as much we are.  The arboretum is still splendid to visit, and we are loving every brisk day we can go and enjoy the park.  Enjoy it before mother nature drops the other shoe!

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A New Year

And may it be lucky for you too!

I’m a little superstitious.  I like to do (read ‘eat’ here) lucky things for the New Year.  New Year’s Eve for us was particularly calm.  We went to Henrietta’s Table for a divine late lunch and then we had a quiet evening at home for reflection.  We finally broke open the one jar of holiday spiced cherries that we made at the beginning of our preserving this summer and served it over cake.  Nom.

Holiday spiced cherries and their delicious syrup over cake.

Then, on New Year’s Day, we made sure we had a very lucky day with lucky food.  For breakfast, we had coin sized pancakes with butter and maple syrup.  Anything that looks like coins or money is generally considered lucky.

Coin pancakes for prosperity for the new year.

For dinner, we chose a more Southern approach with beans and greens.

Yellow eyed beans from Maine. They also resemble coins for prosperity.

Greens of any type symbolize money.  Usually collards are the traditional pairing, but we only had green cabbage for greens, which I cooked up with some bacon and our home-made apple cider vinegar.

Cabbage=money. Who'd have thought.....

We also used a ham hock to cook the beans and vegetables with.  Two uses of pork in the meal is very lucky.  Pigs only root forward, which symbolizes a forward view to the year- not looking back on the past.

Cornbread out of the cast iron skillet. Nom.

Lastly, I made cornbread.  Is cornbread lucky?  Dunno.  It felt appropriate for the meal, though.  Maybe the corn kernels that I ground into meal also symbolize coins?  Either way, I think it went well with the rest of the meal.

New Year's Day Meal: Yellow eyed beans with vegetables and ham hock, wilted cabbage with bacon, and cornbread.

And thus our new year was started on the right gastronomic foot: lucky local food.  🙂

What else have we been up to?  Not too much, the same old winter local cooking right now.

A lovely medley of carrots, potato, celeriac, and parsnips getting ready for roasting for a winter vegetable salad.

We got quite a few awesome winter eating cookbooks as presents for the holidays that we’ll be trying out in the next months. We will certainly keep you posted on those developments. I’m certainly excited!

Wishing you all a very lucky 2012.

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The end of the CSA season

Last Friday was our last Red Fire Farm CSA distribution for the year.  This year’s extended season went out with a bit of a bang. A truck breakdown caused the distribution to be an hour late.  However, there were very few bumps after that.  Everyone was patient and understanding. We were able to give a last big produce-laden haul to our members for the holidays and get them started on local eating in the winter months.

The last distribution is always a mixed experience for me.  I am sort of excited about taking a break from running the distribution, but I am really sad that I won’t see the members for a long while, and I won’t get to play with beautiful produce every week or so.  It’s a hard parting, but it always brings little bits of unexpected joy and love:

A beautiful plant from a remarkable farm manager, baked goods from generous and newly made friends, home-made hand cream, much thanks and warm partings, and lastly, a peek at the legacy the CSA is creating:

A letter from a CSA member.

Bridget, a CSA mom, elegantly manages to come every week or so with a lovely bunch of kids who are more than enthusiastic about the produce they are helping pick out.  The kids couldn’t come to the last distribution because it was late, so one of her sons made me a card.  If you didn’t catch it- he admirably announces he is a vegetable pirate (a little translation from Bridget helped, but it definitely looks like a vegetable pirate to me :-)).

It just reminds me how far the CSA goes.  My hope is always to develop a community around the food that nourishes our bodies and souls, while maintaining the connection between farm and table.  The last distribution reminds me that not only are we delivering amazing produce to wonderful people and creating a community, but we are also nurturing a new generation’s appreciation for the food that comes to their plates.  I can only say I am so thankful I am a part of this amazing thing, and so thankful for what Red Fire Farm has created.

And with a big sigh with a sense of sadness and accomplishment, the CSA season ends.

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Our Last Major ‘Put Away’

It is December, and we have just finished our last ‘put away’ of food for the upcoming dark days of winter.  I’m sure you are probably thinking ‘what the heck is growing in December?’, to which I will reply, ‘not much’.  However, the food we received last Sunday has been carefully harvested, dried and tested for us before we were able to go and collect it.  We picked up our Grain CSA for 2011!  100 pounds of the loveliest local grains and beans!  Be still our beating hearts!

We picked up Sunday, December 11th.  Unlike last year, this one was given to us in one fell swoop, which is nice that we didn’t have go out to Western Mass twice.  We arrived a few minutes after the start of the pick up, and there was already a line!

The place we picked up at was super cool: Pioneer Valley Cohousing, in North Amherst.  We were in the main house which has guest rooms and a large dining area for all of the cooperative members.  While I held our place in line, Laura dashed around getting pictures of the pickup and the great people who make this all possible.

The space was nice and big, and the grain was set out similarly to last year, in large baskets with scoops to measure the grain, one scoop for a half share, two scoops for a full share.

We whipped through the line, so no pictures of us actually measuring out our grain (though Ben did take some pictures of us which may or may not appear on his blog at some point, we will keep you posted).

Once home, we piled up our stash and admired all 100 pounds of it.

Garlic for scale. 🙂

This current weekend, we finally got around to storing it.  We collected and washed all of our numerous glass jars.  Laura is very fastidious about cleanliness, partly from her time working in a lab, and partly because we had a moth outbreak this past summer (we are still not sure if they are from the bird seed, the cat’s corn husk litter, or one of the grains, or even the mysterious other).

We poured in the grain, moved them to cold storage and enjoyed knowing we had lots of grain to fill out our vegetables and preserves for the next year or so.

So what all in all did we get?

Live oats and spelt.  Can you see the color difference?  The entire sensory experience of each grain is so unique.  Oats are grassy, greenish and long grained where spelt is nutty, tan and short grained.  Laura is good enough to identify  most of our grains by sight alone, I’m not so talented, hence the labels.

Zorro Wheat, emmer/farro and more live oats.  We also got red turkey wheat, but Laura found a bug (or four) in the grain, and that went directly into the freezer for killing any more buggies that might be lurking.

Just pointing out canning funnels are good for more than just canning preserves.

Black turtle beans





Pinto beans





Kidney beans








Mandan Bride dent corn





Northshire dent corn


Very successful, I think.  We have made soup and tamales so far, and they have been splendid.  The grain mill is going to get a lot of use, and we are excited!  Look out for lots of baked goods in the future!

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Turkey Day… With No Turkey!

Happy Monday after that long and glorious ode to food weekend.  My dreams are still filled with the delights of our weekend, even if we didn’t overindulge so much.  There is something about super-carb-o-rific dinners (stuffing!) that make it a special occasion in our house (real bread!).

We did buy a turkey, and scored a super heirloom bird from Kate Stillman. Laura rendered that bird into its meal-sized bits, legs, wings, breasts, etc. and we made room in our overflowing freezers for winter-long consumption.  Yet, we decided to NOT eat turkey for Thanksgiving.  So what did we settle on?

Ten points to whomever can identify the tasty treat on our cutting board.  Need another picture?

That there be a bunny.  One enormous rabbit, actually.  We were going to cook the whole thing, then took a second look and decided that we could not eat the whole thing in one sitting.  The limbs went into the (really over full) freezer, and the rib cage went promptly into the stock pot.  We ate the saddle, or loin, of the rabbit for Thanksgiving, following a recipe from a cookbook I can’t remember for Rabbit Saddle with Cream Sauce and Carmelized Shallots (we added bacon which was awesome).

It took nearly three times the amount of oven time as the recipe said, but it was super when finished.  It was the perfect size for two people: gamey, lean and delicately not turkey. Perfection.

So, we knew shallots were good. Raw in dressings, used in sauces as the mellow and sweet allium, roasted into concentrated perfection.  This, though, brought together some of the best things about all of those different ways of preparing shallots (except the raw part).  Concentrated stove top goodness?  Yes please!  Butter and brown sugar and a long cooking time over low heat was the magic worked here.

We had wicked good sides too.  I have fallen in love with the heirloom winter squash Honey Nut, a form of butternut squash.

Laura took a bunch of pictures holding them, but they sort of looked like Hand from the Addams Family, so take my word that each one was about the length of a woman hand.  They were sweet, definitely a little nutty and the perfect size for a small squash side to our Thanksgiving table.

We also had to have mashed something or other, and we settled on mashed potatoes and celariac for a change of pace.  The celariac wasn’t quite as mashed as the potatoes, but it was a nice textural thing in the smooth potatoes.

Really good, and I am not even a huge fan of celery-tasting things.  I might be a convert, just for this one dish (as long as cream and butter are involved).

Obligatory salad was actually really good.  We had a few oranges around (more on that in a later post), and Laura grabbed the last bits of fresh tarragon from our declining herb boxes.  Roasted golden beets and Red Fire Farm Greens really rounded out the simple salad.  We both ate this first.  Good, but not as good as everything else.

Now on to the good stuff. Stuffing.  My absolute all time favorite food.  So much so, when we were talking about last-minute Thanksgiving shopping on G-chat, I had this to say: “I HAVE to go. I realized we have no bread… which means NO STUFFING!!!!! (unless you bought some) I can’t can’t _can’t_ have thanksgiving without stuffing!  I’ll survive the terror of the grocers.”   I could eat a giant bowl full of this stuff with gravy and be in blissful la-la land.  I am disappointed when buffets of the non-asian variety do not feature this delectable food.  I was in charge of making stuffing, and I really feel like I delivered (to myself, of course, that was my goal for the evening).

Mushroom chestnut stuffing with onions and parsley, whole wheat bread chunks, chicken broth and Italian sausage.  I am salivating thinking of it all over again.  This is (in my heart of hearts) the only reason I really love Thanksgiving.

Another picture of the deliciousness.  Lets look at all of this good food together on the dinner table.

We were more focused on the food than decorating the table, but you know, it was just the two of us that day, and we wanted to eat, not decorate.

Moving onward, we had intended to make some fabulous dessert, with our hopes centered on Sticky Gingerbread Pudding with Toffee Sauce.  Instead, we had cookies.  After lunch, in a fit of self-indulgence, I declared I was making chocolate chip cookies.  We had everything for them, and I was going to make some decadent cookies, four ounces of butter and all.

They were amazing, if only because they were perfectly crispy the whole way through. Not a trace of chewiness, but not even a touch of burn on them anywhere.  It was amazing.  I think it was because I melted the butter instead of waiting for it to reach room temperature, and therefore it was softer dough going into the oven.  We were supremely excited about them.

Then… I dropped them.

They exploded when they hit the floor.  I could blame the bird who was trying to eat them as I moved them to a safe place to cool, or the cat who decided to stop right under my feet, or the parchment paper that ripped right down the middle while I walked, but I won’t.  The floor was clean (enough), and we picked up the big pieces, rescued some of the crumbs and enjoyed them anyway.

It was a nice end to a good meal, eaten with goats milk while reflecting on our dinner.

A lovely weekend all around, with good food celebrating another year of good food and looking forward to a winter of good food.  Our freezers are bursting!  Bring on the winter!

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Branching into Buckwheat

Buckwheat flour has been something foreign, scary and generally relegated to the safe world of pancakes. But, as we near our fall grain CSA pick-up, we are finding we have few options left for grain and flour.  No more red wheat, no more spelt, no more dent corn, some rye, some white wheat and buckwheat.  Laura is quite the resourceful baker, and with a recipe from Good to the Grain as a guide, produced the most splendid muffins four our breakfast.  I mentioned them last Sunday, and here is the recipe and pictures!

Step 1) Figure out the best way to mill buckwheat.

Whole buckwheat is lovely to touch and smell, but it can be a challenge to get the tasty insides that make flour separate from the hulls.  After some futzing with our way awesome grain mill, she figured out that milling it medium finely, and running through a fine mesh sieve caught the vast majority of the hulls and produced a delicious smelling flour for muffins.

The unmilled flour above shows what happens.  The hulls are composed of three mostly flat sides and a little flat top that pop apart during milling and get pushed out but the milling stones pretty much whole.  The germ, being a pyramidal shape, is  too big to slip out between the stones and gets broken into small pieces.  Some hulls gets broken up ass well, but for the most part, its a pretty tidy system.

The sifted first pass flour is given a second go through the mill at a finer setting, making a legit flour the consistency of pastry flour, but with no gluten.  That’s right, zippo gluten to hold baked goods together.  Buckwheat has to be mixed with some other flour for it to have much rise, in our case white wheat flour.

Step 2) Modify recipe to suit our needs.

The average baking recipe calls for way way WAY more sugar and butter than we are willing to commit to a dozen or so muffins.  We have no persimmons and we didn’t want to eat too much chocolate first thing in the morning.  What came out was this:

Dry Mix:

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup white wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

(If you are good you’ll preheat the oven now to 350 F) Mix these ingredients together thoroughly.  Use a sifter is you have one, adding back any big bits of grain that might linger in your sifter.

Wet Mix:

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup mixed brown and white sugar, to your taste (or how much you have of each)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 shredded pear (~1 cup)
  • 1 shredded dessert apple (~ 1 cup)

Cream  the butter and sugar together until fluffy (or until Laura can’t stand to wait any more). Add eggs and yogurt and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add in the dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined.  Fold in the fruit and mix until just combined.  The batter will be really thick and you will have to plop it into the muffin tins, however many you like depending on how big of muffins you want.  We did ten, and cooked them for about 30 minutes.

If you are like me, you’ll turn on the oven now, swear you’ll remember next time, and eat batter out of each tin until the oven is ready.  Pop them into the oven for about half an hour, then test for doneness.  These can be hard to judge, as the cocoa makes them dark already.  They will be moist, but they will spring back when tapped or a toothpick will come out crumb free,

Step 3)  Enjoy for breakfast with more fruit, butter and a wedge of cheese. Groggily comment every morning how good they are, even after living on the counter under a tea towel for several days because our fridge is too crowded with other stuff for them to fit.

Any good Thanksgiving plans?  We got an heirloom turkey from Kate Stillman, but we are planning on doing something else for Thanksgiving.  No ideas yet, but we will share what we do this year for sure!

Cheers everyone!

Posted in Desserts, Recipes, Vegetarian Meals | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Variety of Quickbreads: Scones, Muffins and Loaves

Its a beautiful November so far, a welcome time after our freak October event that cancelled Halloween.  The trees are absolutely splendid right now, though the leaves are falling quickly.  The fall harvest seems to have been okay, despite the storm, with RFF suffering mostly structural damages and no severe root crop loss.  Thank goodness! Our winter produce!

December is nearly here (ack!) and that means that our grain CSA pickup us approaching as well.  Laura did a quick overview of what we had left for grains, and we were pleasantly surprised that we had gotten through most of our stores.  Only some rye, buckwheat, spelt and white winter wheat left.  We have been using them up in quickbreads, as none of what we have left has the right amount of gluten to make a really successful yeasted bread.  Do we miss yeasted bread? A little, perhaps, but it is totally outweighed by the success Baker Laura has been having with her quick breads. Take a look:

Rye-cornmeal bread. Heavy, dense and weighs a ton. Perfect with beans and molasses.

The same rye-orn bread dressed up with dried grapes and cherries simmered in a honey butter vanilla sauce, served over vanilla ice cream. The bread was stale and we let it soak in the melting ice cream and honey sauce before eating it, luscious!

Scones! Spelt and white wheat flour were mixed with a heavenly combination of blue cheese and carmelized onions for the most wonderful savory scones.

The scones were a tad burnt, but nothing that kept us from devouring them in a few days.  These are taken from a recipe in Good to the Grain, with the all purpose flour replaced by finely ground white wheat flour, and the graham flour by spelt flour (I believe). We are used to dense breads, and these were very light to us, very very good.

Splet flour chocolate chip cookies. Nutty, earthy, and gone.

I'm not sure what this is, but it was good, lightly spiced and crumbly.

Whatever it was, it was good with cream cheese and molasses, which was how we ate it for breakfast everyday we had the loaf around (we are on a a molasses kick right now)

Dried fruit muffins with oatmeal, carrot and rye flour I think. They were like a lightly sweet carrot cake with raisins, best eating with yogurt and maple syrup. I am bad in that I don't pay too much attention to what Laura is doing when she is baking. I keep her company by knitting and keeping out of the way as she buzzes around the kitchen doing her magical thing. This were really good too, we've had nothing bad thus far.

I’ve saved the best two for last.  The first is an excellent recipe from Local Kitchen: Freeform Rye Muffins with Red Onion and Farmstead Cheese.  We used cheddar, yogurt, white wheat flour for the all purpose (as normal) and lots and lots of dried thyme.  These dissapeared faster than normal, since we ate them with everything.  Really, do try them, they are easy and delightful.  Like, go now, and do it.

Ready for the oven

A standard breakfast right now: some quickbread, with an apple and wedge of cheese or a dollop of yogurt. Really, how can it get any better right now?

Lastly, I give you our current breakfast: Chocolate Buckwheat Pear Muffins.  Adapted from Good to the Grain (a recent birthday gift and much loved right now), these originally called for persimmon, but Laura substituted pears instead.

Dark from the cocoa, and perfect with an apple.

We’ve been stuck on buckwheat for a while: how to process the whole grain into flour, what to bake with it, how to eat it.  The book said that buckwheat pairs well with fall flavors, which we have in abundance right now!

I think I am going to chat with Laura about these a bit more, and come back to you with the modified recipe and more pictures of our buckwheat adventures.  I hope that with the cooler weather, you can enjoy cranking up the oven and eating some homey goodness that is quickbread!  Enjoy!

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