Monday, September 14, 2009

Pancake Perfection

I love blueberry pancakes, and yet they madden me when done wrong. Which they usually are. Perfectly fresh blueberries, I find, are a little too wet and juicy for ideal pancaking. They gush and squirt, in the worst case scenario they create a wet (albeit tasty) puddle in the middle of a pancake, damaging its integrity. On top of that, the intensity of their flavor usually leaves me unsatisfied.

Dried blueberries, unfortunately, aren’t much better. They are too dry. They are too chewy. They refuse to share their flavor with the surrounding batter, the stingy little bastards.

I’ve gone so far as to make a batch of pancakes with half fresh and half dried blueberries. Fail. They embodied the worst of both worlds. The dog, at least, thought they were fabulous.

Recently, thanks to a gift from my lovely hubby, I started drying my own blueberries. Nova Scotia blueberries are selling for fifty cents a pound this season. The results are beyond compare. Made from local berries picked at the height of ripeness and quickly dried, they have a depth of flavor unsurpassed by anything I’ve ever found in a store—and I’ve paid some ridiculous prices for Very Special Organic Dried Blueberries in my day.

Normally it takes 10-18 hours to properly dehydrate blueberries (depending on size). Last week, I stopped my dehydrator a couple hours into the process to check and see how they were coming along. The berries were just starting to wrinkle up, their skins still soft. I took a couple out and bit in. A hot, rich gush of juice flooded my mouth. They were… THE PERFECT PANCAKE BERRIES. Embodying just the right degree of wetness in combination with a soft exterior that broke upon pressure, they obligingly released hot, concentrated juice into my mouth. As, I quickly deduced, they would into a pillow of surrounding batter.

I expect that you can even freeze fresh berries, defrost them the day before, and pull this trick out of your hat in February. I'll certainly be trying it. (Warning: do NOT try this with blueberries bought “fresh” at the supermarket that have been shipped from Chile or someplace equally ridiculous—they will taste like soggy cardboard. Scout's honor.)


The Perfect Blueberry Pancake
Ingredients
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk (goat's milk works well here)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional melted butter
Fresh-grated zest of one lime
2 1/2-pints of fresh, local blueberries, dehydrated for 2 hours to about 2 pints

Preparation
Preheat pan on medium. Whisk both flours and next 3 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk milk and eggs in medium bowl. Gradually whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, lime zest, and blueberries.

Coat the pan with melted butter. Working in batches, pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto griddle. Cook until bottoms brown. Turn pancakes over and cook until second side browns. Times vary, so keep checking until you get a feel for it.

Cook according to taste. I like my pancakes cooked in ample butter, so that one needn’t add more at the table. Pancakes cooked this way keep well wrapped up and make great stand-alone snacks to take here, there, and everywhere!

This is a handy brunch dish, as it’s ideal to put the blueberries in the dehydrator two hours before you start making the pancakes so they’ll be hot when you add them to the batter. If that’s not possible, however, they are still excellent if concentrated the day before and then refrigerated. Enjoyeux, mes amis!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Web of Facebook

Delivered August 9, 2009, at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax



The first time I ever had a look at facebook I thought, frankly, that it was just awful.

People seemed to be posting things like, “I came home from work and took a shower” or “I had Thai food for lunch. It was good.” The very format struck me as the epitome of navel gazing. Or rather, navel gazing and then displaying the lint you’d picked out to the world. I couldn’t imagine why I would care. I certainly didn’t want to get involved. Whenever someone mentioned facebook I had a whole spiel at the ready about how I wasn’t into that kind of thing and I could get my social needs met in real life and blah di blah di blah di blah.

Then, about a year ago, I signed up for my own account. I entered into it in what seems to be the usual way, begrudgingly and out of necessity. Facebook was the only communication channel that the Halifax-based homeschooling group Comedy of Errors used. I was too keen to know what they were doing and when to let the social media website aspect put me off.

Once I had dipped my toes in the ocean, however, old acquaintances slowly began to contact me from the four corners of the globe and pass the word on to other friends that now Elisabeth, too, was on facebook. As they began to contact me I slowly sank into the sand, barely paying attention to what was going on at my feet as I became incontrovertibly entrenched.

They say to preach what you know and explore your passions, and frankly, facebook has been at the nexus of mine for a while now. It was the first thing that leapt to mind when Dean asked me to preach today. Still, I was concerned it might not seem relevant to everyone here (and hopefully I’ve already established my abhorrence for navel gazing).

But when it came time to submit a description to the newsletter, Dean didn’t call me to ask for the sermon topic. And he didn’t send me an email. He sent me a message on Facebook. And within ten minutes of receiving his message, facebook sent me a link from UUplanet.tv to an article in the UUWorld about congregations using facebook to deepen their connections with congregants and widen community exposure to their churches, and I said, “okay, facebook it is. Perhaps not so navel-y after all.”

One of the first people to track me down once I’d joined was Nancy, a friend of mine from high school. Nancy was the vice-president of our drama club. I was the secretary. We’d been fast friends during the teenage years, before going our separate ways. Nancy had kept in touch with several dozen people from our hometown, and before I knew it I was chatting with all the people we’d eaten pizza with at lunchroom tables all those years ago. Back in high school it was Nancy who had introduced me to the Grateful Dead and, I guess not incidentally, other pleasures.

Unsurprisingly, she still has wonderful things to offer me decades later.
We’re both major foodies now, Michael Pollan-following organic, local, sustainable types. It’s something I often write about on my blog and in my professional writing, while Nancy’s done me one better and started a small, organic farm with her husband’s family in their home community of Northfield, Minnesota. Her day job is at an upscale food market, and we both like to check in on facebook at the end of a long day, to talk about children and books and wonderful food.

In fact, food and facebook have seemed to go hand in hand for me in a marvellous number of ways. Sylvia, one of my favourite professors from college, incited massive jealousy by telling me about the new Brazilian restaurant in Tucson. I sent her the recipe for my chile chocolate wedding cake, and she posted a link for all her friends to see. Some of my most interesting updates come from Henry, a Taiwanese architect, photographer, and inveterate foodie living in Quito, who takes gorgeous pictures of Ecuadorian street food to post on facebook. For those of you who remember my apple sermon, you may be interested in a tip Henry gave me: his mother used to soak apple slices in a bowl of cold brine in the refrigerator on hot days. They’re just delicious.

On Thursday mornings, I go to our famer’s market, where I talk to real life friends, then go home, put away and process freezer stock, and then I get on facebook to say, “hey, everyone, here’s what I got at the farmer’s market this week and here are the delicious, sexy things I’m planning on doing with it; how about you?” and all sorts of people respond, from friends I had just said hello to at the market, to Joy, whose mother’s farm-fresh tomatoes I ate as a child, but who now lives and surfs in Hawaii. Susan, who I sang with in the Carl Sandburg Children’s Choir, posts pictures of her gorgeous preserves. Natalie, who dated my older brother in high school, posts pictures of her purchases from the farmer’s market in my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, so I know what’s in season just now where my parents live and can compare it with my own market and my own garden.

I used facebook to ask Doug, a college friend of mine who now works for our alma mater, to help me connect with current student food activists at our school for an article I was writing, and he in turn used facebook to send me a link to an article about Monsanto “unintentionally” spraying the organic crops in the fields of Iowa farmer and Grinnell College dining hall food provider Andy Dunham.

Marya, who I met at a summer program in Vermont twenty years ago, links from facebook to her blog Accidental Vegetables, about her adventures with community supported agriculture in Portland, Maine. From her I stole the idea of rhubarb infused gin, which I promptly made and served to my friend Nilanjana. Nilanjana lives at 122 Our Street in Lunenburg and I live at 211 Our Street in Lunenburg, and when we make plans to get together and enjoy rhubarb gin or a tomato and lemon thyme granita, we do it over facebook. It’s turned out to be just the right tool to connect my interests in local food with an international web, honing my postmodern sense of the local.

Facebook has even helped me make new foodie friends, like Alice, who lives in the next village over. I had met Alice in passing a few years ago when I asked her to sign one of her books for me, but we didn’t really know one another. Then facebook’s automated system began suggesting to me, fairly insistently, that we might really want to be friends because we had so many other friends and interests in common. I ran into her at the farmer’s market in her village and said something utterly dorky, like, “facebook wants us to be friends!” Luckily, she thought it was a fine idea and we made a date for coffee. Alice came to my house for the first time this week. She wrote me a message on facebook to ask me where I lived. I sent her a message back with a picture of the front of my house and directions from the farmer’s market in my village.

Thanks to facebook, I’ve taken nearly everyone I’ve ever known who is also computer literate, thrown them up in the air, and let them bounce down into new coalescing configurations. One of the people I’ve most enjoyed getting to know again, and another old choir friend, Kerry, who grew up with me in Illinois and now lives in Maryland, surprised me by being facebook friends with Joanne Elder Gomes from the Fredericton congregation. It was a most unexpected joy to explore what passions the three of us had in common. When my old roommate Ross in LA got a teaching position at the college in Northfield, Nancy’s hometown, I was able to introduce them (over facebook, of course) so she can hook him up with the best local food sources in their part of Minnesota. In Ross’s case, that means especially finding the good doughnuts. I was proud to help.

The process of creating community on facebook has had its surprises. Many people I thought were absolutely fascinating when I was young are... not. People I had no use for in college turn out to be hidden treasures. The lesson here apparently is that I have terrible judgement, or used to, at least. At this point I’m convinced that it’s best to postphone major life decisions until you’re at least thirty and only then if you had a happy childhood. It’s been odd to get reacquainted with so many people from my past, and odder still to have them interact with one another in a single, albeit virtual, space.

To be honest, facebook appeals to my personal strengths, and it’s not equally for everyone. One of the things I like best about the format is that it lets me carry on conversations in real time, while allowing me to edit for the kinds of dumb, blurty things I often say when I’m speaking with my mouth. It’s a great way for blurty mouthed people to connect. My wit sparkles best when I take a second to shine it before I show it off.

Like many of my generation I’ve moved here, there, and everywhere in my adult life. Given my postmodern, fractured existence, I haven’t really known the kind of social cohesion that has been the normal experience of the vast majority of humanity. I feel a bit like flotsam on the ocean, sometimes, in Lunenburg. I’m cast adrift from everything I knew before. Despite its downsides, I had gotten used to my pieced-up life, and having a space for it to be knit together has made me feel whole at some times and socially naked at others.

Facebook connects me with the world, with the earth. It brings me closer to people I see every day in my neighbourhood, and with friends who’ve experienced me in all my stages and moods and hairstyles, from people who changed my diapers to people who’ve learned how to diaper from me. It’s scary and it’s fabulous. Standing up for my beliefs in front of a wide audience, one that includes friends of my family and many social conservatives, for instance, is often discomfiting. And yet it grounds me in my beliefs to stand up for the rights of babies to nurse when and where they are hungry, and of their mothers to feed them peacefully and without prejudice.

I love how facebook connects me with people far away, but I love even more how it connects me with people in my community. Not only do I foster valued friendships with people I know in “real” life, but I get a sense of their friends and wider communities, as well, which helps me to get to know them in ways that I might not necessarily without facebook, and also introduces me to other people in my community and throughout Nova Scotia. I still haven’t been to any of the Comedy of Errors events, although I am well informed about what I’m missing.

Facebook is a corrective for our multifaceted, postmodern culture, full of people like me who move long distances several times in their lives. I am moored by facebook, by a web of people who have known different aspects of me, know my family of origin, think of me as they knew me then, underneath what they know of me now. It’s sane making. Facebook is a virtuality that creates a reality.

The desire to make many rich deep connections in multiple aspects of being is human. It’s normal mammalian behaviour. Facebook is a new way of doing an old and beautiful thing. With bad ads and some annoying games—but on second thought, that’s not so new, either. There are other negative aspects to facebook, of course; for instance I wasted approximately million hours while writing this sermon by fooling around on facebook and pretending that it was research.

All of our readings today are unsolicited pieces shared with me on facebook in the last couple weeks or so... the Smokey the Bear Sutra came to me from the aforementioned Alice. Our closing words today come from Sylvia Bass West, former director of lifespan learning for the CUC. She happened to post them five minutes before I sent the order of service to Sandra this past Wednesday, just as I was searching frantically for one more piece to round it out. I was very grateful. The Maira Kalman piece was posted by Doug in Iowa. And both the opening words and the Mark Belletini reading were offered by the Rev. Matthew Cockrum, a seminary classmate of mine who is particularly gifted at finding and sharing meaningful words.

Facebook is an ocean, and guess what, that’s where the fish are, bobbing on a sea of connection, between people and information, people and technology, people and people. As Fritz Kuehn at the First Unitarian church of Dallas puts it, “The ideal is that a real multigenerational, multiethnic, multi-interest opportunity conversation happens in a unified space.” For me, and countless others, facebook has been an qualitatively invaluable digital web of interconnected being that doubles as a safety net for the disposessed of the postmodern age. It is infused with qualitative worth. In other words, there is no price you can put on knowing and being known.


But don’t get me started on twitter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Au Revoir, Isabelle

A good friend from the farmer's market is leaving us to help take care of a new grandbaby. We have a wonderful goodbye party at the Laughing Whale--believe me, when a bunch of organic farmers and foodies decide to have a party, they can really bring it! I had the honor of giving her goodbye address--here's an excerpt:

We’re all here today to say goodbye to Isabelle. I know that everyone here is thrilled for her to have this opportunity to be close to grandchildren and to go forth into new adventures. And I know that everyone here is sad for themselves to be saying goodbye. She will be so missed.

When I first moved to Lunenburg six years ago and came to the farmer’s market that spring, I couldn’t believe the line at Vendeene. For weeks, I was too intimidated to join it. My husband and I made jokes about what illicit substances were being dealt out of that little blue cooler. I didn’t understand. Could the bread really be that good? Or was it the charming personality behind the counter? Now I know it was both.

Once I did start standing in that line, Isabelle quickly became the guiding star of the market for me--as she has been for so many others. Her tremendous kindness and diplomacy have come to the fore whenever I have tried to speak French. She’s taken the time to know my family, and share hers with me, especially pictures of her gorgeous granddaughter, Danica. I’d like to think I’m special, but I know she shares herself as lovingly and generously with many, many people. Isabelle has an art for making everyone feel special.

I’ve been asking around about you, Isabelle, in preparation for speaking today. People have told me that you are gifted at making a gorgeous meal out of whatever is in season. And that at every market you arrive and literally dance across the parking lot singing “allo” to everyone there. You know your customers like nobody’s business, and tell them their orders just as often as the other way around. Your hugs last a week—or at least last you for a week! And everyone knows that if you’re feeling down, you should just go talk to Isabelle. She’ll tell you that you look wonderful and smile at you with a twinkle in her eye, and the day will improve.

If every vendor at the market is a bead on a chain, Isabelle has been the clasp that completes the circle. Goodbye, Isabelle. Thank you for being with us while you were with us, and take our love and our blessings into the future, to accompany you wherever you go. To Isabelle!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Comfy Bed

This was the perfect sunny Sunday to get our new raised bed set up. There's an ill amount of our own compost in there, along with two varieties of tomato (Hogheart and Amish Paste) and two lettuces from BW. John's putting his chile seedlings in the other half. In the background are rhubarb, corn, spinach, a touch of kale, carrots, and a ridiculous amount of garlic.

Tea Time

I can't believe I never tried tea with fresh leaves before. Same concept as tea with dried leaves--just put them in a teapot (or in my case, measurinng bowl), pour hot water over them, steep, strain, and drink.

These is peppermint and lemon balm from Rumtopf Farm. Just beyond delicious.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hot Cold Spicy Yum

This must be one of the best ideas I've ever had.

(Okay, it was actually my four year old's idea. But I made him, so does that count?)

Mexican Hot Chocolate Popsicles


Ingredients


2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
5 oz unsweetened chocolate (like always, I prefere Scharffen Berger)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinammon (fresh ground if you can manage it)
a pinch of chile powder
a generous handful of mini-marshmallows
cream to taste

Directions

Heat milk and chocolate over gentle heat until chocolate is melted and fully incorporated, then add vanilla, cinammon, and chile. Stir until well-blended. Taste the liquid--if it's too sweet for you, thin with cream until it reaches the desired level. Add mini-marshmallows and stir until they are melted about halfway (they will continue to melt after you pour the popsicles). Remove from heat and pour the mixture into popsicle molds--or if you want to go old-school, an ice cube tray. Insert popsicle sticks (or if you're using an ice cube tray, cover the top with plastic wrap and poke toothpicks into each square). Freeze overnight. Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tricks are for Kids



My favorite Secret Mommy Trick for infusing fresh, local produce into the diet of my carbohydrate-loving four year old is to make stocks. Lots and lots of them, brimming with with chicken or beef bones and whatever's in season. Today's stock features spring greens of the south shore of Nova Scotia: stinging nettles and parsley from Sustenance Gardens, asparagus and fiddleheads from Donna at the Mahone Bay farmer's market, and both regular chives and garlic chives from my own garden. (Plus there's a whole chicken from MacNeill Farms under there somewhere, trust me!) I just rinse it all off, dump it in the crockpot with a couple cups of water, and walk away for the afternoon.

Later, I'll compost the vegetables, strain the broth, and strip the chicken carcass. The broth will go into the fridge until a solid layer of fat forms on the top. I'll strain this off and put it in a separate container. Then I'll use some of the fat to toast grains of rice before cooking it in the broth. Put a little parmesan cheese on top and the plain, shredded chicken on the side, and there's a delicious, organic, local, nutrition-packed, picky-proof meal for the little one. Oh, and me too. ;-)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More for the Compost Heap

When push comes to shove, I'm an imprecise cook. Inventive, experienced... even inspired, at times. But give me an exact procedure such as those common to pastry-making, and I sink to the bottom of the class.

So it was not a surprise when my stinging nettle soup failed. One is supposed to wear gloves to destem and chop the nettles before cooking. That sounded like a recipe for a kitchen full of little nettle-y bits to me. Instead, I dumped them whole into the soup, theorizing that I could strip the leaves from the stems after they cooked, avoiding the stingyness altogether. That didn't turn out to be a valid theory.

Well, I don't get too fussed about Cooking Gone Wrong. If I didn't experiment, I wouldn't keep learning. Instead I started musing about how to use nettles successfully without chopping OR destemming. And by Jove, I think I've got it. Tomorrow I'm making a stewed chicken with nettles and garlic chives in the crockpot. It's an easy recipe that makes both the chicken and a fabulous stock in one fell swoop.

I'll report back soon. Cross your fingers for me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bucolica

First outdoor market of the year. Gluten free bakers, saxophone players, and Glad Gardens friends from the Valley with enormous rhuarb and verging-on-obscene asparagus. They built a log greenhouse over the winter and invited me to come check it out. Local chefs with crepes and pates, the welcome addition of a menu from Vendeene. Babies everywhere.

Later, visiting friends inland, a warm, summery day. Ate French pastries from the market with blueberry tea. Kids fed dandelions to the chickens and chased the kitties through the wildflowers. Hills of fresh spring grass, glowing. Then home again, home again, to the cool sea air.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Linky Goodness

My new article on Art and Climate Change is available here. Almost as much fun as writing about food!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Immaculate Caffination

The other day I went down to Laughing Whale Coffee for a personalized tour of their exciting, new, ultra-low emissions roaster. They haven't picked it's permanent name yet--for now it's going by "Joe Green".

Joe is a heck of a sight to behold. An 18 kilogram roaster made by US Roaster Corp, it takes up rougly the same square footage as my entire kitchen. The computerized controls with touchpad are impressive, as is the huge roasting barrel, but it's the wide, black, floor-to-ceiling catalytic tower that takes the cake. Smoke from the roaster spirals up into the catalytic burner, which incinerates the particulate in the smoke at a temperature of 575 degrees Fahrenheit. The output is very hot, 98% emissions-free air--which can then be redirected into the roaster or released through a vent at the top of the building. A former energy consultant, owner Steve Zubalik is contemplating adding a heat exchanger to allow them to use the hot air for building heat and/or constructing a greenhouse on the roof which can be heated with the exhaust.

After our introductory, reverential pause in front of the roaster, Steve showed me around his operation. We inspected the various green beans and the distinctions among them (long story short: decaf is unappealling at every stage of the game), measured some into a plastic bucket, smelled them, and used a robot-gone-crazy type vacuum attachment to suck them up into the roaster. While we waited for the machine to get up to temp, Steve told me about their new Cafe Feminino coffees. Not only are they fair trade and organic, but they support community programs for women across South and Central America.

The roaster kicked into action. We watched the beans circulate through a doll-sized porthole and listened for the telltale signs of successful roasting: The first crack passed by, then the second crack, and then we watched the beans spill out into the cooling tray. I crunched one up while it was still warm. Delicious.

Steve sent me home with a bag of French Roast. Until about... three days ago, I hadn't been a fan of the dark roast. Now that I know what it tastes like when it's artisanally roasted to perfection, I can't go back. 'nuff said.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May! With Cookies!

My office is a forest of seedlings. Tomatoes, regular broccoli, broccoli romanescu, kale, onions, beans, morning glories, moonflowers, marshmallow, and horehound surround me. The garlic and rhubarb outside the window are growing enormous. I am absurdly pleased. The first outdoor farmer's market, with produce from local greenhouses and the Annapolis Valley, is just a week and a half away.

I, of course, am celebrating with cookies. This fabulous recipe is a rip-off of a Martha Stewart recipe (that I tore out of a magazine at the bank whilst waiting for an appointment). I have always liked soft chocolate chip cookies but have never found any at the store made with natural ingredients. These will stay soft at least a couple days (and if there are any left after that, it means you didn't make 'em right!) As always, ingredient quality is key--especially the chocolate. Life is simply too short for bad chocolate.

Ingredients
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
7 Tbs unsalted butter at room temp
1/4 C white sugar
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1 large egg at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract (or so; I always add a little extra)
3 Tbs creme fraiche (make your own! I explain how here)
3/4 C dark chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 C semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I used a couple Scharffen Berger chocolate bars I got at the dollar store--I put them in a ziplock and beat them with a hammer until I like the size range of the shards. Diversity = yum.)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat butter and sugars together, then add egg and vanilla. Combine until fully integrated, then add dry ingredients and creme fraiche. Stir in chocolate bits. Grease a cookie sheet and drop balls of dough on it, sizing to suit (I like little cookies), about 2 inches apart. Bake until the centers are set and the cookies are a pale golden brown, about 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies.

Enjoy! And you're welcome in advance.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Green Living: One Car Lane Closer

I'm participating in Adbuster's Digital Detox Challenge this week and am therefore not hooked it to my usual news sources (I am naughty to be blogging, btw) but I couldn't resist sharing this article in the New York Times about a new concept for electric cars--one in which a robot removes and replaces the battery at a pit stop similar to a gas station--a not-gas station, I suppose. This out-of-the-chassis solution is so elegant and useful, it gave me chills.

Now if I could just find a robot to re-energize me in 45 seconds, we'd be made in the shade.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Beans

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ping Post

Sexy new hybrid battery! (Yes, I just like hybrids) http://ping.fm/AiEU0

Something Old is New Again


I've long been a fan of the simple solar cooker, so I was gratified to see that one won the Forum of the Future's Climate Challenge Competition (the runner-up evaporating tiles are pretty sexy, as well).

I'm digging on Garden Rant this morning, too. Growing your own vegetables? Easy? Yes. While I myself am going for a slightly more structured garden this year by building attractive raised beds(at least in the front yard, where people can see it) I warmly urge beginning gardeners to just dump a pile of dirt in a sunny spot, throw in a variety of seeds, and see what grows.

It doesn't have to be pretty. It doesn't have to be organized. It doesn't have to be well-planned. It just has to be a garden. Once you've eaten something delicious from your very own dirt pile, you'll have the confidence to go from there. I promise.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Testing ping... oddly popular with Canadian UUs!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Springy Thingy

Very exciting! The last of the snow (hopefully) melted out of the yard yesterday and some brave early folks are peeking up (see below). Inside I've got pumpkins, broccoli, basil, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and kale started. I've been indulging in my favorite early spring hobby--pinching back excess seedlings and eating them. It's not even proper to call them baby vegetables. Fetal vegetables, perhaps. There's nothing to bring me into myself like the freshest, tiniest tidbits of spring. It's like I'm the cruel demigod of my own 1/4 acre.

Chives
Garlic
Rhubarb

Sunday, March 29, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

Woot! I won second place in a writing competition today. "Describe Your Perfect Orgasm in 10 Words or Less". Here's my lube-winning entry. (A little on the literary side for a blog contest, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.)

My body: interlacing ribbons of joy, first woven, now unraveling.



And now that I've jinxed them to my blog, I'd like to extend a special welcome to my seminary professors, high school boyfriends, and, of course, my Mom. Hi Mom!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Monkey Cookies

Okay all you facebook-y types, here it is.

Monkey Cookie Recipe

Ingredients:
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
3 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour (I used Speerville Mills Whole White, which lent a naturalistic, ecru quality to the white dough)
1 bar (85 g or 3 oz) swemisweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger Chocolate that I got at the dollar store FOR A DOLLAR, or substitute your own *quality* chocolate)
licorce whips
chocolate chips

Directions:
Cream the butter, powdered sugar, salt, egg, yolk, and vanilla together to a smooth consistency. Add flour and blend just until evenly incorporated. Separate out 1/3 of the dough. Melt the chocolate on low heat and add to remaining 2/3 of dough, stirring no longer than necessary. Cover both doughs with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (or in my case, overnight).

When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 and grease a cookie sheet with butter. Roll out the chocolate dough first--you'll want to be zippy here and keep the dough cold but malleable, a balance you just have to get your own feel for. Cut into circles with a cookie cutter. Next, hand shape balls of the vanilla dough for the muzzle and ears. I recommend giving them a bit of dimension--it looks cuter on the finished product and gives you something to sink the licorice into (see below for examples of when I did not do this). Press them gently into the chocolate circles. Use chocolate chips for eyes and pieces of licorice whip for mouths, sized to fit. The licorice has a mind of its own, so push it well into the muzzle so it will hold its shape during baking.

Bake at 375 for about ten minutes.


And again people, these are the ones that didn't work out--monkeys gone awry!

Scallops Pernod


Seriously. Golf balls. These are sitting in a scallop shell the size of a dessert plate.

The recipe's too easy to formally write out--toss scallops with olive oil, salt, and pepper, pan fry on high heat, turn off heat and remove scallops, deglaze the pan with a splash of pernod, and enjoy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Who I'm Reading

I'm a busy little writer these days, so not much time for blogging (or cooking, or gardening, or breathing...) but I thought you all deserved to know about my friend Naomi's blog, The Wonderment. For those of us who seek to find meaning and joy in everyday life (Oh wait, that's all of us!) Naomi's deep, loving, and pirate-y reflections infuse the heart.

Who else do I keep a close eye on? I follow blogs of several shades of green, but the only ones I actually want sending announcements to my inbox are Climate Progress and WorldChanging. For my foodie fix I turn to La Vida Locavore. Jill Richardson, the blogger behind La Vida Vlocavore, turned me on to Hyperlocavore, a boon to all us yard farmers. I've also been enjoying Accidental Vegetables, a witty foodie/drinkie blog by my old college friend Marya.

As far as my personal projects go, I have Brine interviews lined up this week with BW of Sustenance Gardens and Dawn of Biscuit Eater. Non-incidentally, I'm headed to Biscuit Eater tonight for a community meeting on alternative energy. Updates soon!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forestry Fun

My new article in ClimateEdu is out. I pitched the topic for this one--far more fun than taking an assignment!

Cap the Coal

Woot! Nova Scotia is considering a cap on emissions from coal-fired electricity. It's a step in the right direction, at least. Now to push Emera to solve their problems by turning to solar and wind power, rather than just marginally cleaning up their dirty operations...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Theological Tidbit #1

"Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." - Bertrand Russell

I love this quote. When I get the book of my theology together, this will be listed under axiom #2: "We Don't Know Shit".

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Notes from a dinner

Pan friend scallops with truffle oil, fleur de sel, and black pepper. $12 a pound at this time of year, $7 in season. They're hours off the boat. Varied in size, but none small--regular ocean scallop to golf ball. Jimmy talked up the cod; Vietnamese fried cod tomorrow.

Kurt Wentzell's potatoes, simply baked.

Green chard and mild onion bisque. A little fresh-grated parmesan.

A few hours later, a barely-sweet baked apple pastry from Boulangerie la Vendeenne. Lovely, and--

Spring is just around the corner.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Whoopsie

Found 'em. Blogging about it was, to borrow a metaphor from my early 20s, like lighting a cigarette to make the train come. Huzzah!

Corm Quandry

My inner Martha Stewart has been whining up a storm lately.

"All I want to do for Christmas is give my friends and loved ones a beautiful little glass vial full of hand-harvested saffron. Is that too much to ask?"

Yes, Marty, apparently it is. And not because I'm unwilling to grow the lovely purple crocus sativus whose teeny, tiny stigma comprises a thread of saffron--I actually think they would be perfect set against the purply-blue foundation of the house--but because I can. not. find. them to save my life. Not in Canada, anyway, and US seed companies can't ship the corms (like a bulb) across the border.

What to do? I'm about to start spamming gardening forums and Craigslist across Canada in hopes of finding a saffron grower with too many darn corms on his hands. Wish me luck. Or, if you have a fairy godmother complex, send me corms. ;-)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Corn Free Betty

I've been considering eliminating corn from my diet for a while, and I think it's time to take the plunge. Sound easy? Well, you might be surprised at where corn hides on the grocery shelf. Here's a fairly complete list I'll be using. Lots of luck finding--well, any processed food that doesn't contain at least one of these ingredients. Good thing I sure like cooking from scratch.

Why eliminate corn? Because I think that genetically modified crops are a really, really bad idea--and make no mistake, virtually all the corn used in contemporary food science is GM. And because I want to see if I can do it. It will be very difficult. And that, in itself, is pretty scary.

The good news? I can still eat corned beef. I think.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flaming Chartreuse Tomato Soup

This post is a big tease. I know I've been promising another Chartreuse recipe for some time. I've tried several. They were all bad. Chartreuse takes a back seat to no flavor. It's great for making beef taste gamy, if you like that.

I have discovered, however, that a splash of Chartreuse in my gin and tonic is delightful. And I recently found this recipe for Flaming Gin and Tomato Soup and thought, "Great Scot! A couple tablespoons of Chartreuse would work beautifully here! How did I never think to set it on fire before?" (Note: I blame the "Great Scot!" on my son's superhero addiction.)

I will try it some time when I am brave and sober, and report back here. And when tomatoes are in season--I wouldn't waste my precious green (by which I mostly mean Chartreuse) on tomato juice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Ha Ha



There's no better way to fire the imagination about what I might grown than to write a blog post about what I will grow. One that left out the herb spiral and the rhubarb, no less. As you can see, we're reconsidering our options.

And Charlie's doing his part to mke it a big garden. Today at the supermarket he pulled a "Hey, Mom, look at that!" on me as he snatched several seed packets from a display and tossed them into the cart. Gosh, he reminds me of... me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Plan

Okay, I know I said we'd have a smaller garden this year. But that was before I:

A) rediscovered a sexy heap of gardening supplies in the corner of the basement;
B) started reading The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler; and
C) asked my four year old what he wanted to grow in the garden this year. Turns out he has plenty of ideas.

So here's the new plan. We just put in an order at Salt Spring Seeds for three kinds of tomatoes (Costoluto Genovese, Tibet, and Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter), Winter Party onions, and Royal Chantenay carrots. Charlie's also hell-bent on having broccoli and "salad" in the garden, so I'll buy those seeds locally. We'll have to replace the apple tree in the front yard (@#$% deer; we'll fence it like Gitmo next year). We'll add some berry bushes in the front, expand the squash patch in the back, and probably add some bean climbers at the end of what used to be the driveway, along with the hops.

Is this the final blueprint? Probably not. It's still February. And if last year's experience has any predictive value, we'll end up with an entirely different garden than we plant, anyway. (Spinach self-seeded last year, for instance; who knows what it'll look like in the spring?) The point isn't so much to have a successful garden, though, as to develop the skills necessary for having one in the future. We're just learning as we go along.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dream Home #5




This is an off-grid, highly efficient, green designed home that is also, technically, an RV. That I could afford.

And It's made in Canada, no less. Go Canucks!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Market Baby

Valerie Tanner, president of the Lunenburg Farmer's Market Association, gave me some pictures this morning of my son at the market in his stroller. She took them a couple years ago, but they're just too cute not to share here.



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Soupy Sue

As mentioned previously, I interviewed Sue LeBlanc of Chester Organics over the weekend. I suggested meeting at one. "Great!" she replied. "I'll make lunch." My four year old in tow, I trekked over to icy Otter Point Road outside of the village of Chester to visit her at home.

While our children played together (albeit slightly maniacally), Sue and I had a lovely chat. Our topics ranged from childcare to property values to government grants, but mostly we talked about food. Who's growing it, where to get it, and how to foster the development of a local and sustainable foods market. Her business acumen and focus bowled me over--Sue's the kind of woman who can soothe a child with one hand, balance the books with another, and provide nutritional counseling to her customers all the while.

As we talked, Sue cut onions, ripped kale, broke up some tempeh burgers, sauteed the whole shebang, then added goat's milk to make soup. Then she served it to us. Now, I'm fairly pleased with my kid's diet--he eats more whole foods and "good stuff" than most of his peers--but this seemed like a stretch, even for us.

Charlie stood in front of me and opened his mouth like a baby bird. I spooned in the soup. He swallowed. He contemplated. "Yum," he said, eyes widening. And opened up for more.

I, of course, ran home and bought some kale so I could strike while the iron was hot. It's close to the only green vegetable that's both fresh and local this time of year. Ted Hutten of Hutten Family Farm supplies it (and my carrots, and my potatoes, and my onions...) We made this easy bisque yesterday--not quite as wholesome as Sue's, but equally yummy.

Kale Bisque

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (I just use my mandoline for this)
1 large bunch kale
1 tsp salt (I like fleur de sel, but any salt will do)
pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon paste (We use Better Than Bouillon from the Lunenburg Country Store
21/2 cups whole milk (We used cow's milk, but goat's milk is a fine substitute)

Directions
Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add salt and onions. While the onions begin to sauté, rip the green leaves off the kale in shreds, leaving the ribbing for the compost. Add the shredded kale to the onions and sauté for about ten minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and turn the heat to high. Simmer for about half an hour, until kale is tender. Turn off the heat and puree with an immersible blender (or, if you don't have one, pour the hot soup into a blender or food processor to puree). Add pepper to taste.

I had planned to add some grated parmesan at this point, but upon tasting I decided the soup was already perfect. Charlie gobbled it right up, and so will you.

Monday, February 9, 2009

February Fresh Food


One of my favorite things about Nova Scotia is the neverending stream of spanky fresh fish. Jimmy, my dealer, meets the boats coming in late at night on Wednesdays. He chums around with the fishermen and honeys away the last haul they brought in before quitting time (and therefore the freshest). Thursday mornings I buy whatever he recommends and make it for lunch.

It's been a couple months since he offered me scallops. In season, they're $7 a pound. This week they were $12 a pound--still a bargain, given their size and quality. This dish, which is both easy and posh, received resounding praise. I serve mine in scallop shells, but they would be delicious in a dixie cup--any container with a rounded edge will do the trick.

The secret ingredient is Sriracha, my favorite condiment. Although Gourmet magazine recently recommended buying Sriracha (also known as "Rooster Sauce" after the graphic on the bottle) from an import company, I recommend checking at your local grocery store--it's actually produced in California, and is widely available in the United States and Canada.

Rooster Scallops

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh scallops, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup white wine
2-3 tablespoons Sriracha, depending on how spicy you think you can take it

Directions:

Heat a cast-iron skillet on a burner set to the highest setting. While the pan is heating up, toss the scallops with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. When the pan is sizzling hot, carefully and quickly introduce the scallops. Pan fry for 2-5 minutes (depending on size). Cut a scallop in half to test for doneness--the interior should be slighly rare but not raw.

Remove scallops from the pan and turn heat to low. Deglaze the pan with wine, then reduce the sauce by about half. Add Sriracha and spoon the sauce over the scallops immediately before serving.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

J'ai besoin de Super Marie


A departure from the usual fare of this blog, but I couldn't resist. This is just so us.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Life Is Not All Cupcakes

As much fun as it is to sugar up for Valentine's Day, I'm even more excited about Easter carrots.

Things are falling into place beautifully for Brine, my own local and organic food magazine, which is set to debut this summer. Tomorrow I'll be interviewing Sue LeBlanc of Chester Organics. I'll also be speaking with sustainable beef, lamb, and chicken farmer Kevin Veinotte, permaculture activist and Sustenance Gardens farmer BW, heritage breeds farmer Faye Labelle of Silverlane Farm, and--well, the list goes on.

Everyone at the market is excited to develop a resource that will list what's in season when here on the south shore of Nova Scotia, who's selling and where to buy it, easy ways to preserve your produce, and recipes for both the fresh product and the stuff you throw in your freezer. It will practically write itself.

Now... who wants to help me with advertising? ;-)

Happy Sugar Love


Okay... not local, not organic, and you definitely can't substitute honey in the recipe. But very, very yum. And see how nicely they match my Formica?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Warm My Toes and Think of Spring

Imbolc's come and gone. The ground is thick with snow, but there's a slender thread of warmth in the breeze off the sea. It's time to start planning the garden.

Thanks to last year's foibles, there's plenty of garlic in the ground already. The hops will dominate the end of the driveway. Deer have made a feast of my beloved Honeycrisp apple sapling, so we'll have to see if it survives and replace it if it doesn't. I want to put in an herb spiral, a little squash in the back corner of the yard, and more raspberry bushes under the front windows. And...

that's it.

A much less ambitious plan than last year, or the year before that, I admit. As I've gotten to know my farmers and developed a sense of what's available locally (happily, just about everything) my DIY ardor has cooled significantly. I'm busy writing about food, perserving food, and cooking food. I want to keep one finger in the dirt, but that's about all I can spare. I'm tempted to rip out the whole lawn and replace it with indigenous wildflowers, but I somehow doubt I'll get around to it.

My neighbor's pesticide-treated lawn on the other hand, is crying out for some guerilla gardening. Better sleep with one eye open, Chuck and Judy Tanner!

(I'm kidding. Really. Maybe.)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Little Something Something While We Wait for Sunny Days

January's almost over. I think I'll celebrate with cookies. I dragged this recipe out of my archives for the occasion--

Oreos for Grown-Ups

Ingredients for Cookie
4 tablespoons Kahlua
3 tablespoons instant coffee (or half that amount of instant espresso powder, if you can find it)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

Ingredients for Filling
1 cup heavy cream
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I like Scharffen-Bergen for this. Of course, I like Scharffen-Bergen for everything.)
A heavy splash of liqueur--you can use Kahlua for consistency, or Amaretto to add a new element of flavor

Directions
Stir Kahlua and instant coffee or espresso together (I call this mixture "happy happy drug paste") and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, and salt. Beat the butter and sugar together, then add happy happy drug paste and blend. Combine with dry ingredients and stir into a dough. Using plastic wrap to mold the dough, shape it into a log--the circumference of the log should be the shape and size of your final cookies. Wrap the log in plastic and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight.

While the dough is chilling, you may prepare the sandwich filling. Heat the cream to near boiling; then add chocolate and liqueur. Blend over low/medium heat until chocolate is melted. Chill mixture in the refrigerator until the cookies are ready.

To bake, position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat to 350. Grease cookie sheets lightly or use parchment paper. Unwrap your refrigerated dough log and slice thin rounds. Space them an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Bake one sheet at a time until the tops look dry and the edges begin to brown. Cool on a rack.

Once your cookies have cooled down, you can use your filling to make sandwich cookies. These pack a punch at a party--rich, flavorful, sweet (but not too), and a delightfully mature change from the cookies we're used to sharing with our kids!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Read It Here First

My new piece in ClimateEdu is out. For all you climate lovers out there. ;-)

Memory of Fall

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fruits of My Labor

AKA Lesson #126 About Preserving My Own Local, Organic Produce

The strawberries from last summer have been a revelation this month. More specifically, they have revealed that I need to bag a whole big mess of strawberries next summer so I don't run out in January again. The raspberries have also been fabulous. Blueberries, on the other hand, have been a bit... bland. It's not that they don't freeze well so much as that they weren't all that dynamic to begin with. They needed just a little oomph.

So this morning I made oomph for breakfast. It was divine.

Oomph Cobbler

Berry Mixture:
3 pints blueberries (I used half high bush and half wild to add a little extra dimension to the flavor)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
zest of 1 lime
juice from 1/2 lime (save the other half of the lime to add juice to sparkling water for a refreshing morning drink--especially good for hangovers)

Cobbler Dough:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup creme fraiche (To make your own creme fraiche: Mix 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon buttermilk, let sit in warm location 8-12 hours. Ta da!)

Preheat oven to 375 F with a rack set in the lowest third of the oven. Mix the ingredients of the berry mixture and spread in the bottom of an unbuttered pan. Combine the ingredients of the cobbler dough with a pastry blender or knives, then press in a thin layer on top of the berry mixture. Top with a sprinkling of sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes, then enjoy with unsweeted whipped cream. Perfect for breakfast!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Doing it UU style

Whoopee! The issue of the Canadian Unitarian for which I am senior writer has finally been published. You can take a look at it here. It was a fun assignment--I especially enjoyed working with William Wuttunee, whose testimony column is on the last page. To quote his bio:

Lawyer, activist, and author William Wuttunee has been a member of the Unitarian Church of Calgary for over forty years. In 1961 he founded and became the first chief of National Indian Council (which became National Indian Brotherhood in 1968 and then Assembly of First Nations in 1982). Currently a member of the Oversight Committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, William Wuttunee was listed in the Calgary Herald this spring as 1 of 125 nominees for Greatest Citizen.

On top of that, he's just an all-around dear heart. Getting the chance to speak with interesting, accomplished folks like this is one of my favorite parts of the job.

Will I write more for the Canadian Unitarian in the future? That ball's up in the air. The Canadian Unitarian Council is between executive directors, and how responsibilities for the publication are structured will be the call of the as-yet-unnamed incoming director. So: fingers crossed, breath unheld. In the meantime, thanks again, Bill, for the opportunity to get to know you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nigella = Charnushka = Yum

*le sigh* I must be a trendsetter.

Shortly after writing this post, my Gourmet magazine arrived in the mail. Guess what it featured? A recipe for rye bread with charnushka. (Which they refer to as nigella, but it's the same seed.) Oh well, at least theirs had walnuts. Which reminds me, I found my bread even tastier with half the amount of charnushka, and dried minced onion substituted for the other half.

In other news, big ups to my friend Ania for showing me how to analyze my blog traffic on Statscounter (I directed her to Statscounter in the first place, so it's a fair trade.) Apparently lots of people out there are looking for a chartreuse sauce. I'll have to create another one. Maybe tonight. ;-)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Totally Green, Totally Cool

I am simply enchanted with this company. They make eco-friendly plantable cards, invitations, and promotional products. (What's more, they're Canadian!) While they specialize in paper with embedded wildflower seeds, I have my fingers and toes crossed that they can make me business cards with herb seeds in them--and if I'm really lucky, rosemary, for remembrance.

Ooh! Which reminds me, I now actually have a name for my business: Greenlance. Considering that I focus largely on clean energy, green home building and renovation, and local/sustainable/organic foods I think it's an excellent fit.

Time to get hustling on my website... I have my little eye on a green designer in Halifax who's currently working up a site for one of my clients, Laughing Whale Coffee (which is organic, free trade, locally roasted, AND something else sexy soon to be announced).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Snow Snacks

It's a windy, snowy, foggy, day. I can just barely see the Academy on the next hill. The foghorn is omnipresent. It's good to be home.

I've had salt cod soaking in the fridge for two days, so it's time to make a brandade. My recipe puts a Mexican twist on a classic Gourmet recipe:

Brandade
1/2 pound choice-grade skinless boneless salt cod (I get this locally from my fish men, Jimmy and Timmy. Heavy history with cod in Nova Scotia!)
2 large Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 head of garlic, crushed
2 dried chiles
2 fresh oregano sprigs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Baguette (Ours, of course, is from Vendeenne)

Rinse cod well to remove external salt. Cover with cold water by 2 inches in a bowl and soak, chilled, changing water 3 times, about 24 hours.

Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Put in a saucepan with well-salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and simmer potato until very tender, about 15 minutes. (Do not drain until ready to whip.)

While potato is cooking, bring cream to a simmer with garlic, chile, and oregano in a small saucepan, then simmer gently, partially covered, until garlic is tender, about 15 minutes. Discard child and oregano, and purée garlic with cream in a blender until smooth.

Meanwhile, drain cod and transfer to another 2-quart saucepan with water to cover. Bring just to a simmer and remove from heat. (Cod will just flake; do not boil or it will become tough.)

Drain cod and potatoes in a colander and, while still warm, combine in a large bowl with cream mixture. Beat with an electric mixer at low speed until combined well. Add oil in a slow stream, beating, and season with salt and black pepper. Top toasted baguette slices with warm brandade just before serving.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Stock Pot

It's too cold to go out today, so might as well make the most of it. Thanks to Kurt Wentzell at Wooly Mountain Farms for the organic beef bones--two pots worth for $1.30.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hoppy

Everyone in the house has DIY foodie fever lately. I'm obsessing over what to freeze and salt, Charlie has his perfect cookies, and John has... hops.

Or to be more precise, he will have hops. Next summer. Towering over us, if everything goes right. (Note: I said John was growing them, not me. So they probably will actually work out.) At 25 feet, they should give the neighbors something to talk about. We found this fellow selling rhizomes over in the Valley. I smell a field trip.

And yes, we're turning them into beer. What the hell else is there to do with hops?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fingers and Toes Crossed

Since its inception, I've dreamed of winning the New Yorker caption contest. Here's my latest entry:

"Order in the court! Order in the--oh hell, forget it."

Friday, January 9, 2009

Back to Basics: Chocolate

Well, that was a bit of a heavy post. So to balance it, here's my hot new recommendation for all you true chocophiles out there: Snake and Butterfly Chocolate. It's organic, it's live, and it's fabulous. A little bird told me that life doesn't get any better than their cherry and chili bar, so order today!

Breaking News! Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan Have Sex in a Big Pile of Cocaine

And now that you're reading my blog...

I'm having some Deep Thoughts about sustainability these days. As much as I love the idea of my Dream House, it's pretty unlikely to ever get built. And on the whole, that's a good thing. Because it's a far more sustainable practice to insulate the hell out of an existing structure than to build a new one. My most recent fantasy involves a crappy old house with charming bones that I can wrap with straw bales, plaster with local materials, and hunker down in for a long winter's rest.

The best--and most difficult--thing, imo, about sustainability is that it confronts inequality on all fronts at once. Patriarchy is unsustainable. Racism is unsustainable. Classism is unsustainable. Things aren't looking good for the suffix "ism" at all.

Sustainability is hot on college and university campuses just now, and I'm fascinated to see where this trend goes. Everyone wants to talk the talk, wear a fair trade hemp shirt, and ride the biofuel bus. But when it comes to embracing the big picture.. what will happen to our venerable institutions as we confront the unsustainability of global travel, Western medicine vaccine schedules, and all the beliefs and practices predicated on salvation theology? To bastardize that bumper sticker classic, you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for the End Times.

We're in for a ride, folks. Buckle in.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Foodie Junior

Much to my delight, my son Charlie, age four, shares my culinary orientation. To my consternation and mild shame, he's far more of a stickler for detail (and presentation) than I am.

Yesterday we made chocolate chip cookies with his friend Jonas. Jonas, a little more typically, was mostly interested in eating the finished product. Charlie, however, stood attentively by my elbow while I mixed the batter, taking the occasional turn himself. We washed our hands and used them to finish mixing, then balled up portions of cookie dough and put them on the sheet. I merrily shaped and dropped fairly round clumps, just as I've been doing for the past thirty-odd years.

But Charlie inspected my balls of dough, then shook his head in slow sorrow. "We want to make them nice, Mommy," he chided, and carefully reshaped my cookie lumps into perfect spheres, or as near perfect as one can get with sticky cookie dough. "Here, I'll do the rest," he directed, and I stood back while he filled the sheet with meticulous orbs.

We baked. We appreciated. We ate. Then we googled culinary programs for kids. How much of a discount do you think we could get at the CIA if we apply five years in advance?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Foodie Foodie, How and Why

I'm reading two great books just now. The first, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee is a loaner from the library--although it's at the top of my Gimme list.

I flip through this 884 page tome at the dining room table during meals and snacks, usually to research whatever I'm eating at the time. It's an endless font of fascinating details. In all the writing I've done about coffee (and all the espresso barista-ing I did in my younger days) I never before learned that the foam on a capuccino serves as insulation. The airy bubbles hold in the heat below, allowing you to sip your coffee at temp, at leisure.

Want to know how burning wood creates flavor on the surface of a trout, the etymology of the word "ripe", what the hell lutefisk really is, or what seventeenth century French sauces you can make with the ingredients in your kitchen? Harold McGee's your author.

The second book, Putting Food By by Janet Greene and friends, is the gift I gave myself this holiday season. I'm enjoying its pristine, clean appearance at the moment--it won't stay that way for long. The end all be all of food preservation guides, this book is my new farmer's market shopping companion--so I expect it to pick up both food and dirt stains along the way.

As those of you who have been reading for a while know, I have a strong preference for freezing (because it's... easy! And I have a chest freezer!). My first five minutes with this book revealed an embarassing number of mistakes I made last summer, while simultaneously charging me up for next summer. In addition to my standard dry pack method, Putting Food By has convinced me to give salt preservation a try and...

(drumroll)

...we're seriously considering digging a root cellar. It can double as a guest room for Guests who Go Bad (and you know who you are). ;-)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dream House

In my professional work I've been writing about green homes--clean energy, green building and remodelling materials, and (my favorite of all topics) passive solar design. It's fascinating work.

As someone who's always had a weak spot for home design, I can't help but imagine how I'd apply the green design principles I've been learning to my own home. As a child I used to pore over the tanatalizing blueprints of seven-figure apartments in the back of the New York Times Sunday Review; during the deathly boring school week I'd covertly design my own. I'd sit there, sniff a little Elmer's, and get lost in a fantasy of wide wood plank flooring, clerestory windows, and ultra-quiet appliances.

My vision has changed a little since then. For once thing, my dream house isn't in Greenwich Village any more (although I wouldn't say no to a little pied-a-terre). Instead, I imagine myself in the country--close to where I am right now would do just fine. My ideas are coming together a little like this:

I see a home dug in the side of a drumlin with southern exposure in the side of the house, facing the sea. The roof is a green garden, full of edibles, with a large herb spiral dead center.

Inside, the centerpiece of the home is a large, sea blue-tiled pellet-fed kachelofen in the shape of the torso of a Venus figurine, with the fireplace (and pizza oven!) located beneath her navel, in her core. The whole structure is an open floor plan oval with skylights on the darker north side of the interior. Most of the home is single story, but there's a dome above the kachelofen with a built-in tile staircase wrapping around the back of the kachelofen, leading to a conversation pit hollowed in the "head". Several small tubular daylighting holes located around the base of the herb spiral light this area.

The windows, mostly south-facing, are coated on the edges with photovoltaic solar cell dye that supply energy to the house. A polished concrete floor adds to the abundant thermal mass of the home, scattered with thick wool rugs. The walls are a pastiche of tile and limewash.

Everything is quiet. Everything is clean. Everything is green.

Now all I have to do is win the lottery so I can build it. ;-)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year, New Tastes

Yum, I love skinny January. It's giving me an excuse to dig around in the chest freezer and find all the treats I stashed away last summer. Today I brought up a bag of cherries for snacking, asparagus for tonight's dinner, and raspberries for breakfast tomorrow. The winter market opens up again this week, so I'm looking forward to local greenhouse stew vegetables. Time to do a little experimenting with pot barley.

Tomorrow I'll be treating you to a description of my dream house. Until then, I'm going to be lazy and share notes from New Year's Eve (and stolen from my kid's blog):

"I'm going to stay up alllll night," proclaimed Charlie.

"Okay! Sounds like fun," we said.

"I'm going to stay up alllll night," chirped Charlie.

"Hmmm, aren't you a little tired?" we asked, yawning.

"I'm going to stay up alllll night," reiterated Charlie.

"Mmhflagle," we mumbled.

"Is it morning?" asked Charlie.

"Yes! Let's go to bed," we said.


It was 10:30. But next year we're staying up until 11.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Yum Bread

My friends Amy, Ania and I are all sugar-fasting in January. (Well, my version of sugar fasting includes the occasional pain au chocolat or sweetened coffee if I feel the need--let's call it the French version.)

Anyway, I thought I'd kick it off right with some savory treats. Having just made my mother's limpa for the holidays, I thought a repeat performance might fit the bill. Halfway through proofing the yeast, however, I realized we were out of caraway seeds. The horrors! In an unprecedented act of brilliance, I made a substitution that transformed the old family recipe into something hearty, rich, slightly spicy, and apparently an ancient cure for every medical disorder in the book. Aren't you lucky that I feel like sharing?

Everything Old is New Again Bread

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut up in small pieces
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 1/2 cups rye flour
3 tablespoons charnushka
4 cups white flour

Proof the yeast with 1/4 cup water and brown sugar. The water should be very warm but not hot--you're making a home for the yeast and encouraging it to grow. While the yeast is proofing, blend the molasses, salt, butter, and hot water so that the butter melts. Once it's cooled down a bit, add this mixture to the yeast. Stir in the rye flour and charnushka. Add enough white flour to make a moderately stiff dough.

Knead your little hands off.

Allow the dough to rise in a greased, covered bowl for two hours. Punch the dough down, give it ten minutes to get over the shock, then form it into two circular loaves and let rise another two hours. Bake at 375 for about half an hour. Brush the tops with butter.

Enjoy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year

We kicked off the new year in a blizzard. A ham omlette, tarte Normande from La Boulangerie Vendeenne, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, and mimosas chased the blues and cobwebs away.

My resolutions for the new year:

* Publish an edition of Brine, my little local foods mag, each month this summer
* Pitch Gnomes of Lunenburg at Word on the Street in September
* Kick up my heels in Montreal... sometime
* Have fun every day
* Keep on keepin' on

What are yours, dear reader?