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

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:

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


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...


...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.


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?