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


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.

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.)

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.