Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Grape Cake That Suits Me to a Tea

Since I brought home those richly sweet Niagara grapes from the farmers' market last weekend, I've been experimenting. (Call it research!)

The more I tried to determine how to describe the aroma and the taste of these grapes, and the more I tried to discover what flavors might work well with them, the more I realized that Niagara grapes have an almost floral scent, not unlike jasmine tea.

So I pulled out my tin of jasmine tea and pried off the lid. Sure enough, the two fragrances smelled very similar, and when I set the two side by side, the combination nearly carried me away.

How, then, could I combine the two in a recipe? It didn't take me long to remember a raisin tea cake recipe I developed a couple of years ago, and I pulled out the recipe to see if it would work.

Looking over the ingredients, I was sure that, in theory at least, I could substitute skinned Niagara grapes for the raisins and jasmine tea for the regular black tea. But I wasn't able to put theory into practice until this morning.

Since it takes a while to halve and skin grapes, I worked through that step last evening so as to save myself the time today. (Good thing, too.) With that out of the way, it was -- dare I say it? -- a piece of cake to brew the tea, whip up the batter, and slide it into the oven to bake. Once the cake started to cook, the enticing aroma reassured me that theory would, indeed, prove to work.

I love it when my ideas work out! Not only did the cake smell wonderful, but the first moist, tender bite told me that the combination of flavors was definitely a winner. Sweet grapes, with a taste akin to the jasmine tea, perked up with a bit of fresh lime zest and honey to draw out the complexities of the flavors of both fruit and tea. (The fair Titania, long a fan of jasmine tea with lime, would approve.)

I have plenty left over for breakfasts and morning tea breaks this week. And that suits me just fine.

Niagara Grape and Jasmine Tea Cake

Based on my own Raisin Tea Cake, which is itself based on the "St. James Coffeecake" from My Domestically-Challenged Aunt (one of the few baked items she actually knows how to make well), this morning cake replaces the usual coffee cake with a delicate flavor that resists being too sweet and cloying. You could save this for dessert, but there's no reason to feel guilty about starting your day with it.

2 tsp jasmine tea
1 c boiling water
1 T honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1/2 c unbleached or whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar (I like cane juice crystals)
1/4 tsp fresh grated lime peel
1/4 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c Niagara grapes, halved, skinned, and seeded

Steep tea in boiling water 10-15 minutes until strong. Strain tea and add honey and vanilla. Set aside.

Sift together flours, sugar, lime peel, baking soda, and salt. Cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Remove 1/2 c of the mix and set it aside. Stir in liquid ingredients and grapes.

Pour into greased 9" square or round baking pan. Sprinkle reserved mixture over the top. Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes, until tester inserted in middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving

Serves 6-8


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Time to Turnover a New Treat

Late last month, the Bistro Chef and his beautiful wife, the Ballerina, welcomed a second son into their family. And as any of you who are parents know, this past month has been utterly exhausting for them.

The Innkeeper and I have been plotting for a while to arrange dinner some evening while the Bistro Chef is at the Bistro so that we could keep the Ballerina company and enjoy good food and good conversation. We planned to take dinner over this evening, and then late this week, the Innkeeper had to send in her regrets due to another commitment.

I called the Ballerina, and she still sounded excited about having me visit, so I planned a fairly simple dinner to share with her and her toddler, the Adorable Imp. (Of course, I know my idea of "simple" may not match with others as I decided to make a butternut squash risotto for us to share.)

I had originally thought to make another tarte tatin to take with me for dessert, but it didn't seem like the best thing to tote a mile up the hill since I don't have a cake carrier. So I thought and thought and thought... and came up with a new idea altogether: apple turnovers, made with homemade croissant dough.

I started the dough last evening, making a butter sheet to fold into the yeast dough and rolling out the dough again and again.

Each time I rolled out the dough, I folded it in thirds before chilling it again in order to work multiple flaky layers into the final product.

Finally, I was able to let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight. After returning from my adventure this afternoon, then, I made a simple apple filling from chopped local Freedom apples, sugar, and cinnamon before rolling out the dough and cutting wide strips for the turnovers.

A couple of quick slashes, and the turnovers were ready to rise. Before baking them, I added an egg glaze and a sprinkling of maple sugar so that the tops would brown, crisp, and have a hint of sweetness.

By the time we had finished our risotto and salad for dinner, the Ballerina, the Imp, and I were all ready for dessert. The Imp couldn't guess what I had brought, but he bravely tried something new and gradually picked his way through the turnover, so I'd say he liked it fairly well. The Ballerina and I definitely enjoyed our turnovers, and if they hadn't been so generous, we might not have saved the last one for the Bistro Chef. (He's a lucky guy.)

Given those results, I think this recipe is one to add to my occasional repertoire, and I hope you'll enjoy this new treat, too.

Apple Croissant Turnovers

I've been making croissants for over twenty years now, and I'm not sure I still have the cookbook where I found my original recipe. For this meal, I actually made a full recipe and then just used a third of the dough (freezing the rest for some Inn breakfast in the future), but for this recipe, I've approximated a reduced version. Don't be afraid to use whole grains here; spelt makes for a tender dough, and whole wheat pastry flour combined with unbleached is equally good. Serve these for dessert... or breakfast!

1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T flour
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water
1/4 c milk
1 T sugar
dash salt
1 egg white
2/3 c spelt flour
2/3 c unbleached flour (as needed)
1 apple, peeled, cored, chopped
2 T maple sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 egg yolk + 1 T milk for glaze
maple sugar

Cream butter with 2 T flour. Roll butter mixture between 2 sheets of waxed paper into a rectangle. Chill at least one hour.

Soften yeast in water. Heat milk, sugar, and salt until sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm, then turn into large mixing bowl. Add softened yeast and egg white; beat well.

Stir in spelt flour; beat well. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a wooden spoon. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes total). Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Roll dough into a square. Place chilled butter on half of the dough, fold over the other half, and roll into a rectangle. Fold and roll twice more, chilling after each rolling. Fold into thirds. Chill several hours or overnight.

Toss chopped apples, maple sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.

Roll dough into rectangle. Cut into 4 long narrow strips. Place 1/4 of the apple filling on one end of each rectangle. Roll up each strip loosely, then tuck in the ends and press the seam (on the bottom) to seal.

Place on ungreased baking sheet; make two slashes on the top with a sharp paring knife to allow the filling to steam. Cover; let rise until nearly double (30-45 minutes). Beat egg yolk and milk; brush over rolls. Sprinkle lightly with maple sugar. Bake in 375 F oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Remove from baking sheets. Serve warm.

Makes 4 large turnovers, so share!

And Miles to Go Before I Eat

As the Eat Local Challenge Month draws to a close, and as I realize there's only a month left for the farmers' market, I've been squirreling away good fresh local produce as much as I can. (When I truly get to the end of my preservation season, I'll give you an update as well as llinks to other inspiring pieces about canning and such; I just haven't had time yet.)

So with backpack, basket, and extra bags all in hand, I headed down to the farmers' market this morning with gleeful anticipation. Though there were fewer vendors on hand (most likely due to the relocation of the market because of our local Oktoberfest), they all had plenty of colorful and delicious offerings for the passers-by. I'm afraid I was so entranced by it all that it took me over an hour to do my shopping, simply because I lingered to eye all the produce and to talk at length with lots of people.

By the time I had filled my pack to an almost unbearable weight and my basket to overflowing, I had stocked up on plenty of good things:

--broccoli and sweet potatoes from the Amish farmer;
--oregano, basil, Chinese cabbage, small potatoes, and the fantastic Dutch apple jam from the Cheerful Lady (Handyman Joe ran away when he saw me coming!);
--butternut squash, pie pumpkins, okra (unbelievable!), red onions, and Kennebec potatoes from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife;
--luscious red raspberries and carrots from the Madcap Farmer;
--Brussels sprouts, pasta squares embossed with fresh parsley, tomato and mozzarella focaccia, and a ginger cookie from the Spelt Baker;
--more cider vinegar from the local orchard; and
--Glenora (purple) and Red Reliance seedless grapes from the local vineyard.

I rushed home to unload my bags before heading out again to meet the faithful Persephone, who awaited me at the public library. We drove out of town, wandering through the dew-dappled countryside to another local orchard, where we found plenty of apples (I filled a small bag with Pinata, Jonathan, and Golden Delicious), chestnuts, and other goodies to bring home. I even found a couple of small jars of locally produced maple sugar... wicked expensive, but oh so good to enhance baking! We sat out by the pond to enjoy a mid-morning refresher of coffee, apple fritter, and shared agrarian dreams... not a bad way to spend time with friends!

We rounded out our adventure with a stop at West Point Market (where I bought cheeses and teas and chocolate, all entirely non-local but utterly irresistible) and lunch at Aladdin's, a local Middle Eastern eatery. (Ahhh, falafel!)

I think I've got enough food to last me through the week, and I'm sure a few things will end up in the freezer or in a jar (depending on where I find room). It's worth traveling a little way sometimes to pick up additional goodies, though most of the time I manage to make do very nicely with the bounty I can find here in town.

And I am really looking forward to eating all this good food!


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tarte of Gold

I haven't had the chance to catch up with the faithful Persephone of late due to our mutually harried schedules, but when she mentioned over email this week that we should do something to celebrate the onset of fall, I applauded her idea and invited her to an autumnal equinox dinner.

When I passed through the farmers' market yesterday, I kept my eyes open for ideas for tonight's dinner, not knowing if I would feature squash or not. After using squash in last night's dinner, though, I turned to my backup plan of making imam bayildi, a delectable Persian dish that features late season eggplant and tomatoes. With some garlicky bok choy and a slice of whole grain challah on the side, I knew we'd have a colorful and satisfying meal.

I also picked up a bag of apples at the market, and not just for making more applesauce. For the past few years, I've made it an autumnal tradition to bake a tarte tatin, a stunningly simple and easy French apple tart.

It never ceases to amaze me how the simplest ingredients can often result in the most glorious desserts. The shortcrust pastry uses only four ingredients -- flour, sugar, butter, and an egg -- and the filling results from melted butter and sugar combined with apple slices. That's it.

Well, in my version, that's not really all there is to it, but even I know when to leave well enough mostly alone. The only thing I like to add is a smidgen of fresh chopped rosemary leaves, and when the rosemary cooks with the apples, it balances the sweetness with a piny taste that casts your taste buds a little further into autumn.

So while the imam bayildi simmered in a pot on one burner, I cooked the apples on another.

When the apples had softened just enough, I covered them with the pastry crust and slid the pan into the oven for about 25 minutes, until the crust browned. A few minutes later, I flipped the pan upside down onto a serving platter and revealed a buttery rich dessert that would prove the perfect foil to the light and savory dinner.

I'm always bowled over by the depth of flavor in such a simple dessert, and I can't help but sink back into my chair as I savor the luxury of it all. Persephone apparently felt the same way, because she cleaned her plate slowly but thoroughly, and she barely hesitated when I offered to send another piece home with her.

The weather hasn't quite made up its mind yet as to whether fall is truly here or not, but the fresh food I'm finding now confirms the change in seasons.

And I'm more than happy to celebrate that fact with a dessert worth its weight in gold.

Tarte Tatin du Romarin

I don't really know why I'm so fond of upside-down desserts (unless it's because life has a way of turning so many other things upside down!), but this one reigns supreme over them all. I found the original recipe in Baking, a guide to nearly professional-quality baking, and other recipes I've seen since confirm the basics. Since I love to pair herbs with fresh fruit, though, I do enjoy adding fresh rosemary to the apples, and that helps to cut the sweetness. You may enjoy a sharp cheddar along with the tart (served warm), or you might just want a cup of cider or tea.

1 1/4 c unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 c chilled unsalted butter

Sift flour and sugar into mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and break the egg into it. Cut chilled butter into small pieces and place them around the edge of the well. Cut through ingredients with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gather together and knead pastry with cool hands. Shape into flattened disk, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

1/2 c sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter
4 medium apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced

Roll out pastry to 1/4" thick and set aside.

Over medium-low heat, melt sugar and butter in heatproof 9" cake pan or deep pie pan until syrupy. Arrange apples and rosemary in syrup and cook 8-10 minutes or until slightly softened.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Cover apples with pastry, pressing pastry edges against sides of pan to seal. Bake 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Invert tart onto serving plate and serve warm.


Save the Last Jam for Me

I'm up early today since my schedule is full and my kitchen soon will be, so I decided to start the day (after a hearty breakfast, of course) by dealing with two pounds of very ripe pears.

As much as I want to wrap up this year's canning, I'm still not immune to ideas from other people. And when Dear Reader Tina called to chat with me last weekend, she mentioned finding pear-ginger jam at her local farmers' market.

I was hooked. Pears I love, and pears with ginger have to be (in my book) easily the most delightful combination of fall flavors I can imagine.

So when I saw yesterday that the Madcap Farmer had more of his luscious Bartlett pears for sale, I snagged some, knowing full well that I'd have to try making one more micro-batch of jam for the year.

As I peeled and cored the pears, they started to turn to mush in my hands, so I crushed them right into the saucepan with the fresh minced ginger. (There's something deeply satisfying about using my hands so directly in cooking... messy, yes, but oh so much fun!) I added a bit of lime juice to keep the pears from browning too much, and then I drizzled some good local honey into the mix.

I set jars and rings and lids into my "baby" canner and turned on the heat while I set the jam mixture on the next burner and slowly brought it up to the boil. While it simmered, thickening only just a little, I stirred and kept the fragrance rising to my nose.

When I judged that it was about as thick as it would get, I took out the jars, filled them, topped them with hot lids and rings, and set them into the canner to process for 15 minutes. And shortly after that, I heard a trio of loud pings, that happy chorus that lets me know the jars have sealed.

Though the jam turned out chunky but a little runny, almost closer to a pear version of applesauce, I'm really looking forward to trying it, possibly over gingerbread pancakes some winter morning.

But don't expect me to save you some... this last jam is for me!

Pear-Ginger Jam

2 pounds pears, peeled, cored, crushed
1/2" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 c honey

Combine ingredients in saucepan. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly, then turn heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars, cap with hot lids and rings, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Makes 1 1/2 pints


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Butternut Give Me Ideas

At this morning's farmers' market, I stopped to talk with the Herb Farmer and to ask her how last weekend's Harvest Festival at her farm went. (I ended up unable to make it, thanks to work, a bad back, and no ride.)

As she told me how pleased she was with the day, my eyes scanned her table, looking for I know not what. She had plenty of cherry tomatoes, yard-long beans, Laotian chilies, raspberries, herbs, and the like... but what did I want?

First of all, I wanted some of her pasta. Each week she tries different combinations of herbs in her homemade noodles, and I always enjoy trying them. This week, she offered a browned flour and sage noodle that sounded very tasty, and when I picked up a bag, she immediately started to spin out her own ideas for the pasta.

"I've been thinking about using butternut squash, sage, and goat cheese with that pasta, just like I do with my ravioli," she said with an eager smile.

My reply was a simple, grinning, "YES!"

You see, at that very moment, I knew I had half a small roasted butternut squash in the refrigerator, as well as a small container of goat cheese crumbles. And it doesn't take much to give me good ideas about cooking dinner.

The Herb Farmer also had bags of baby bok choy, some with their blossoms still attached, and since I could see the dark leaves mingling beautifully with the rich orange of the squash, I bought some of those, too, and headed home.

Come time for dinner, I started with my usual vegetable prep and then set two pans on the stove. In the first, I carmelized red onion slices before adding garlic, thyme, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some skinned Niagara grapes, cooking it all down into a savory variation on my garlic-shallot jam. In the other pan, I sauteed onions and garlic before adding thyme, squash, and some whey (to finish softening the squash cubes).

Once I finished the onion-grape mixture, I cleaned the pan and boiled water to cook the pasta. And as the squash cooked down, I laid shredded bok choy on top to steam before mixing it in and adding goat cheese crumbles.

By this time, I was ravenous from all the fantastic scents, so I pulled out a plate and layered everything: the pasta, the squash/bok choy mixture, some crisp bread crumbs, a hefty dollop of the onion-grape confit, and a tiny sprinkling of sea salt. With a single bok choy blossom for garnish, the meal looked picture perfect.

Every aspect of the dish offered interesting contrasts. In texture, the soft squash and creamy cheese melted into the al dente pasta, and the crisp bread crumbs kept it all from turning to mush. In taste, rich, fresh, savory, and tangy flavors all combined harmoniously, with just an echo of sweetness. And the colors! Well, the Chef Mother would be proud... not to mention hungry.

I admit that I knew I'd be cooking with squash this weekend, so a dish like this really didn't come out of the blue.

But when good ideas are offered to me, you can bet I'm going to make the most of them!


Happy Challah Day!

As the seasons slowly change from summer to fall, I've noticed a shift in my food cravings. Tomatoes don't hold the same appeal for me as they did a month ago, and now I find myself eyeing the wild variety of squashes with appreciation.

My cooking is gradually starting to reflect this change, too, as less and less I fire up the burner under the canner and more and more I reach for the oven dial.

So it should come as no surprise that I'm about ready to slip into my fall and winter routine of baking bread on a Saturday morning. Right now, it's a little tricky to fit it into the schedule, what with visits to the farmers' market and my work at the Inn, but today I made the effort.

And though I'm not Jewish, what could be more appropriate for the end of Rosh Hashanah than to bake a loaf of challah?

I haven't made challah in many years, probably not since my 4-H days when I had the urge to try baking many different kinds of bread. But when I browsed my copy of King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, I stopped and lingered over the recipe for Whole Wheat Challah and decided I'd have to give it a whirl.

Since I'm out of local whole wheat flour, I did use local spelt flour for nearly half the flour in the recipe. I used local eggs, though the remaining ingredients definitely came from a little further afield. I also added an egg white glaze to the loaf before baking, even though the recipe didn't call for it (strangely enough) -- but believe it or not, that was the extent of my improvisations.

I threw together the dough, giving it a quick knead before pushing it into the refrigerator and heading to the Inn to make breakfast. When I returned home, I pulled it out and let it warm up, only to find it woefully sluggish. I kneaded it again, divided it, let the dough rest a little bit, and then started to braid it, figuring I had nothing to lose.

One piece, as always, came out a bit short, but I managed to weave a respectable braid, even though I haven't made anything but loaves and boules of bread in quite a long time.

I covered the loaf and headed out to meet the Southern Belle and my sweet little guy Beaker for a fun outing this afternoon. And when I returned home, lo and behold, the loaf had at last more than doubled in size. Huzzah!

The loaf baked while I started on dinner, and the fragrance fairly knocked me off my feet with its combination of sweet butter, rich eggs, and nutty whole grain goodness. I could hardly wait to pull the challah out of the oven!

Though I managed to finish cooking dinner without ripping chunks of warm bread off the cooling rack, I did slice off one end and slather it with double-cream Brie for dessert, paired with a semi-sweet pink Catawba wine that enhanced the flavors of both cheese and bread.

What better way to celebrate the holiday?


Fall: In Love With the Market

Have you noticed that twilight comes earlier and earlier every night now, and that even the sun seems as slow and as sleepy as the rest of us?

It's hard to believe that fall starts tomorrow... and that only five weeks remain in the harvest season for my local farmers' market. And as much as I'm looking forward to wrapping up my food preservation for the season, I have to admit, I'm just as smitten with all that delectable produce as I was back in June.

After another morning's work at the Inn, I arrived at the market after 10 to the joking relief of my favorite farmers. At least now they know why I'm regularly late... but that doesn't mean they don't give me a friendly ribbing anyway! I repaid the favor by buying lots of good food:

--little red and orange sweet peppers, fresh parsley, two small acorn squash, and a long striped zucchini from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe;
--browned flour and sage pasta and baby bok choy (some of it flowering!) from the Herb Farmer;
--nearly a peck of Freedom apples from the old orchardist;
--two pounds of Bartlett pears and a small bunch of carrots from the Madcap Farmer;
--red onions, two small butternut squash, a pie pumpkin, a few tomatoes, and a handful of Fairy Tale eggplants from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife; and
--two quarts of Niagara grapes and half a gallon of cider from the local orchard.

I bumped into My Dear Papa while browsing and enjoyed sharing finds with him (he took home some fresh eggplant, too, in the hopes of making eggplant parmigiana later this week), though for once I didn't run into too many other familiar faces. (It's probably because I was both too engrossed in my shopping and too late to see some of the regular folks I know.)

My hands (and my backpack) were overflowing as I trudged up the stairs to my loft, but as I surveyed my finds for the week, I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction at gathering so much good food and in knowing what to do with it. Some of it will be preserved for the winter, but other items will show up later this weekend in cooking for a friend.

How can I not fall in love with fall when it tastes so good?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Time Oat for Dessert

Last week's pear crumb cake experiment got me back in the mood for home-baked desserts, so I sorted through recipes over the weekend.

In leafing through the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, I found an oatmeal cookie recipe that sounded like it was worth a try, especially for Eat Local Challenge Month. Unlike most oatmeal cookies, this one contained no flour -- just oats. And I still have plenty of local oats!

Of course, other non-local ingredients made it into the batter, like pecans and baking powder and seasonings, but the eggs, cider vinegar, and butter were all local, so I felt pretty good about counting the cookies as mostly local.

I didn't really end up with a solid dough, like with most cookies, the kind you have to shove off the spoon with your finger. But though I spilled piles of batter on the baking sheet, the cookies didn't spread too much, and they held up well once they were cool.

In case you're wondering, the cider vinegar, which may strike some as an oddity with the rest of the ingredients, served two very useful purposes: it combined with the baking powder to create a more airy texture, and its cider flavor added a good tang to keep the cookie from being too sweet.

The first two pans held cookies that were just the right size -- not too big, not too small -- but after that, I had enough batter for one giant cookie. And in the interests of quality control, I enjoyed that one for dessert along with a glass of cider.

(I know it's hard to tell in the photo, but the cookie was about 6" in diameter -- a true queen-sized cookie. Or is that a Baklava-Queen-sized cookie?)

Tomorrow I'll take a few of these goodies to the Chef Mother when My Dear Papa and I visit her in the hospital. Should be good medicine!

As for me, I'll enjoy kicking back with a couple of these for dessert tomorrow myself!


Monday, September 17, 2007

A Cider of Relief

I was afraid it might happen. After stocking up on more goodies at the market Saturday, I didn't have enough time or energy over the weekend to take care of it all.

This evening, though, I made the effort to check a couple of small projects off my list: making more spaghetti sauce and simmering cider to freeze.

Here's another "duh!" moment for me this year. It makes sense that, like other juices, you can freeze cider, but I never actually thought of doing it before.

Cider season runs for a few months around here, and I can usually still find good local cider around Thanksgiving and almost to Christmas. Later in the winter, though, I don't even try to
find it, and so a whole slew of recipes ends up being tucked away for another year. (There may be cider available at the grocery store, but it's definitely not from the local orchard.)

Not this year, though! I'll be able to use local cider in coffeecake or bread or just in my juice glass come January or February. And how easy it was! All I had to do to prepare the cider for freezing was to heat it to a gentle simmer before pouring it into jars. After refrigerating the jars for 24 hours or so, they're ready for the freezer.

So there you have it: two quarts of delicious local cider, pushed to the back of the freezer so I won't even see them until after the New Year.

And when I find them again, what a sweet relief that will be!


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hey, I Clean Up Pretty Well!

It's Saturday evening, my back hurts like mad, and I'm hungry. But despite my foray at the farmers' market this morning (or perhaps because of), I haven't got anything ready to eat. And honestly, after eating out more than I really would have liked this week, I don't want to head back out and go somewhere else for dinner.

What's a girl gotta do to get a decent meal?

Well, given the state of my refrigerator, I've gotta do a little cleaning, that's what.

See, I still have plenty of other items left over from the past two weeks, and before I have to pitch them into the local compost heap, I'd better use what I can. So I scrounged together the following items:

--a squash with a soft spot
--half an onion
--the last clove of garlic in the bulb
--wilting radicchio
--one lonely pear
--the remains of a jug of cider
--half a very crusty loaf of stale (but not fuzzy!) bread
--a bunch of forlorn little dinosaur kale leaves (nowhere near Tyrannosaurus size) from a pot on the window seat

Sounds pretty pathetic, doesn't it? And yet...

It looks pretty impressive, don't you think?

The bed of greens consisted of about 1 cup of shredded radicchio and the handful of kale leaves, wilted in a pan with about a teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of bread crumbs.

The squash puree began with sauteed onion and garlic, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, with a cubed pear, clumps of baked squash, and a splash of cider thrown in and cooked down until soft and flavorful.

And I crowned the whole dish with yet more breadcrumbs, sauteed with just a hint of olive oil, rosemary, and pepper.

It tasted as wonderful as it looked, and aside from the olive oil, salt, and pepper, it was all local. Now I have a little more room in the fridge (and the kitchen) for cooking with the new produce from this weekend's outing.

But maybe not just yet...


Succumbing to Market Forces

Since I had to head off to the Inn early this morning to help with breakfast, I knew I wouldn't get to the farmers' market until later in the morning.

That's all right, I thought. After all, I'm almost done with canning, my budget is low this week, and I don't really need a whole lot of food to get me through the week.

But as you've all figured out by now, I have a classic case of Low Sales Resistance where the farmers' market is concerned, and I ended up carrying home more produce than I had expected, with more plans for cooking and preserving.

The Cheerful Lady had more paste tomatoes this week, and as soon as I saw them, I had visions of making another batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze since I only have a couple jars
tucked away. I also bought more small red onions and a pair of butternut squashes from her, as well as a little bag of fresh thyme (to be dried).

Then I turned and found the sweet older couple back this week, with their table loaded with homegrown Concord grapes. That enticing fragrance pulled me in, and the next thing I knew, I had a quart of grapes for making more juice.

And on I went, filling my basket:

--a quart of maple syrup for winter baking
--a quart of tomatoes and a box of garlic from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife
--more spelt flourand a bag of spelt berries
--a gallon of apple cider from the local orchard
--baklava from the Pita Princess (her last week this year)

I didn't go too far overboard, simply because I couldn't carry any more, but that was definitely enough for this week. At least I resisted buying apples for another week... I don't think I have the strength to consider applesauce or an apple pie on top of everything else!

But I defy any of you to blame me for my spendthrift ways when the temptation -- fresh food from friendly folks -- is so good!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the Muffin Em-pear

Since I bought some sweet, firm pears at the farmers' market this past Saturday, I've been wanting to make a cake. I just didn't know which one.

Would it be the classic pear butter cake that my friend Mitch Heat loves so well? Would it be the pear-hazelnut torte found in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors (a divine combination!)? Or would it end up more like the pear-chèvre crumb cake I developed earlier this year?

Tough choice! And it seemed like the longer I waited to bake, the tougher the choice got.

Last night, though, I finally made the time, stepping right into the kitchen as soon as I got home for work. And the choice was... yes.

Actually, I decided to make cupcake-sized versions of the crumb cake, minus the goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, and I added chopped hazelnuts to the streusel topping and laid one wedge of pear on top.

There was only one problem with the plan.

My muffin tins are not of the oversized variety, and so the combination of vinegar-leavened batter, pear, and streusel resulted in the baking version of a fallen souffle or an overambitious pull of Guinness.

The portion of batter and streusel that puffed up and over the confines of the muffin cups baked to a hard, sugary crust, and it made it impossible to pull the cakes out of the cups. I ended up digging it all out with a spoon and serving one cake's worth of crumbs in a bowl for my dessert.

Sometimes that happens, you know. You know the recipe, you know the hazards, you know what your skills and pans can handle... and yet, your ambitious ideas get ahead of you and leave you with a mess. Things don't always turn out beautiful and perfect, even in the kitchens of the most experienced cooks.

But what a glorious mess! The cakes still turned out moist and rich, despite being vegan, and the combination of pear and hazelnut and cinnamon with all the rest made for a satisfying taste experience, if not for visual beauty.

I took a dish of the pear crumb, er, crumble to the Chef Mother when I visited her at the hospital at lunchtime today, and her first taste of the dessert confirmed my own opinion: it's a damn fine cake, even in a messy state.

Perfection is overrated... but pear cake in any form is still pearfectly fine!


Honeydew You Like This?

Over Labor Day weekend, I stole My Dear Papa for the day, wanting to give him a break from unpacking the apartment and from looking in on the Chef Mother at the hospital. Away we drove, heading northwest, until we reached the small town of Milan and the annual Melon Festival.

For some reason, I expected something more along the lines of a traditional county fair, with a little more in the way of melon mania. Mostly, though, we found tents with people selling all sorts of useless trinkets, the usual array of carnival games and rides, and lots and lots of food.

We enjoyed roasted ears of corn, followed by cabbage and noodles, for lunch... not the usual "fair fare" but tasty nonetheless. I intended to save room, though, for the cantaloupe ice cream and watermelon sherbet offered by the local dairy. The cantaloupe ice cream was delicious, smooth and creamy without the usual aftertaste of the melon, but the watermelon sherbet was a little too cloying and pink for my taste. (I think I'd have preferred watermelon ice.)

I wanted to pick up melons for myself as well as for the Innkeeper, but when I saw that the melons available at the festival ran around $4 per melon, I thought we'd better head up the road for a better price. Closer to the lake, at our favorite orchard, we found a good bargain on fresh melons, and My Dear Papa even found the last peaches of the season.

So why didn't I tell you about this little outing sooner? Well, I had very specific ideas for those melons, wanting to experiment with some new recipes and to spin the adventure into my latest post for the Ethicurean, my third and final post as a guest writer.

With that milestone achieved, I'm pleased to announce that I've been asked to join the Ethicurean team on a regular basis, so you'll be reading more from me over there. (As you can see, I've already started researching some other ideas for posts.) I'll still keep you up to date here on my regular cooking activities, but I hope to explore some different topics and highlight the Ohio food scene with this additional writing.

And though I'm afraid I don't have any more of that lovely honeydew bellini slush left to share with you, I hope you'll still help me celebrate this very exciting new venture! (I'll even share the recipe... it's a keeper!)

Honeydew-Mint Bellini Breezer

I found the original recipe from Cooking Light, and I only made a couple of changes. Aside from the lime, all my ingredients were local, and you can be sure I savored that fact as much as the flavor!

1 c honeydew melon, pureed
2 T honey
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp fresh mint leaves
1/2 c sparkling white wine (I used Mon Ami's Spumante)

In blender or food processor, combine melon, honey, lime juice, and mint. Puree until smooth. Stir in sparkling wine. Pour mixture into a baking dish and freeze, stirring every 45 minutes, for 3 hours, until frozen and slushy. Stir with fork and scrape into glasses. Serve garnished with sprig of mint.

Serves 2


Monday, September 10, 2007

Outstanding in His Fields

Though I haven't reviewed a book here in a while, I've been slipping in a good bit of reading between rounds of canning and cooking. And since I'd tried for months to get a hold of Michael Ableman's Fields of Plenty: A Farmer's Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It, I was utterly delighted to have its arrival coincide with my visit to the Original Organic Farmer and her little slice of heaven.

Ableman, a farmer and artist, left his own fields with great reluctance and longing one harvest season in order to travel across America, visiting a wide variety of farms and farmers in different bioregions who raise different crops by different methods and offer different views of farming and the world. His photographs reveal the simple beauty of the farm life, from the undulating rows of fresh greens and the smiling faces of farming families to the vibrant color and life in a pile of chili peppers or homemade cheeses.

When you consider that farming is one of the few professions in which the practitioner is out on the land every day observing nature, it's hardly a surprise that many farmers are inspired writers, musicians, and visual artists. (p.128)

He traveled from his home in British Columbia down to the Central Valley of California, across to the drought-stricken Southwest, up to the lush dairy country of the Upper Midwest, across to New England, down and across and around again, musing along the way about the various methods he's seen, what techniques might apply to his own work, and what a sustainable food system might look like in our vast country. While he confronts some of his own ideas and prejudices in looking at other farms, he also recognizes the value of individual, local solutions, and he celebrates the biodiversity not just of the farms, but of the farmers themselves.

I consider the individuals I've met on this trip, farmers who might be lumped together under the banners and slogans that attach to "organic" as it becomes more mainstream. The farmers I've seen have no such consensus or homogeneity of thought, method, or food. (p.163)

The farmers all have definite views on why they farm the way they do and how they view their customers. Some farm specifically to supply large chains like Whole Foods, some tailor their production to the needs of local chefs, and others focus on selling at local farmers' markets. And some can be pretty outspoken.

The conversation drifts to the local-food movement. Amy [Ransom] questions the way it's being presented. "This whole idea that's being put forth, that if you don't buy locally, farmers will go out of business, makes people think they're saving our farm by buying our milk. We want people to buy our milk because it's good milk. ... I don't want to ask people to buy my stuff out of charity or out of some belief system. It's the pleasure equation instead of the guilt equation." (p.169)

The visual and verbal snapshots Ableman offers of these farms and farmers reveal a group of people passionate about good food and the need to take an active part in supplying it to others. They care deeply about the parcels of land in their stewardship, and they care about the people they serve. Each has made choices along the way, some better than others, and each has made compromises that from the outside might look like a betrayal of principles when in fact they reflect the need to adapt to the ever-shifting reality of working with nature. Reading the book is an eye-opening experience, and even though I thought I was open-minded, looking beyond rigorous labels of "organic" and "local" and drawing on my own gardening experience, I learned a great deal about the ups and downs of farming and the need to make compromises for a farm to survive and flourish.

Ableman sums up the beauty and the purpose of farming in his elegant way:

There is a richness and complexity that comes with lives lived in the pursuit of abundance -- not material abundance, but that which comes from good relations and careful connections: with the land, with a community of soil organisms, with the plants and animals we eat, and with other people. It's more than the food. ... To gather together around food, food that is of a place, carefully brought forth by a person, is the ultimate expression of love. (p.225)

Along with the stories and interviews with the farmers and the lush photography, the book includes recipes, either from the farmers or based on the produce Ableman sampled on his journey. It's an ideal pairing: if you're more interested in cooking than farms, you'll find yourself fascinated with the stories behind the food.

In short, it's a book worth finding and savoring in slow measures, and if it doesn't make you want to run off to a nearby farm to sink your hands into the soil or pick fresh produce, I'll be surprised!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Be Prepared

Though I've long been in the habit of preserving fresh local food for later, the more I do to fill my pantry and freezer, the more I learn.

Here's one example: I've long known that I could keep herbs by chopping them, stuffing them into ice cube trays, filling them with water, freezing them, and then popping the cubes into a zippered freezer bag. I've also been in the habit for a number of years of using those same ice cube trays for freezing single-serving portions of pesto.

Seems logical, right? If you can freeze things in individual portions, it makes it easier to take one small lump of herb or pesto or sauce out of the freezer because then you don't have to thaw the whole thing and use it all up quickly.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I could do the same thing with the various elements of the Indian sauces I love to make.

In making the makhani sauce recently, I needed to puree the onion, garlic, and hot pepper to make a smoother sauce, and it occurred to me then that I could puree this aromatic mirepoix in larger quantities and freeze it in small (1/4- to 1/2-cup) portions.

Since that worked so well the other week, I decided to make more today.

Coarsely chopping a red onion, several garlic cloves, and a couple of hot peppers from the Archivist, I tossed them all into my mini food processor and pureed them.

I lined my pottery ramekins with cupcake liners and then scooped in the puree. (Normally I don't like to use these liner papers, but for a project like this, it does make it much easier to keep portions separate.)

After a couple of hours, the portions were sufficiently frozen for me to pop them out of the ramekins, wrap them in a small piece of foil (for extra protection), and slide them into a big zippered freezer bag. Now I'll have to do is thaw one when I'm ready to make sauce!

As I worked, I thought I might as well do the same thing with the tomato-cilantro combination that gets used so much in Indian cooking. And since I have pints of tomatoes and tomato sauce that will get hauled out when I'm ready to cook, I decided to use the faithful old ice cube trays to make these portion-sized nuggets.

So easy... why didn't I think of this before?

Now I can be prepared for almost any curry emergency!


Fair Market Value

At first glance this morning, I might have thought I'd flipped over one too many calendar pages. The clouds loomed grey and forbidding over a parking lot only half full of tables and farm produce, and it almost looked like the end of the farmers' market season.

Don't worry, though -- the decreased numbers are temporary, as many farm families are spending this weekend (and the better part of the coming week) at the county fair, showing their animals and 4-H projects and participating in the usual fair events.

Since I had lighter pockets this week and a determination not to spend wildly, I didn't mind too much. I found everything on my list, including a few other gems, and I returned home with lighter bags and a happier back.

Among this week's finds:

--spearmint and black walnuts from the Cheerful Lady;
--lettuce from the Potato Lady;
--eggplant (2 kinds), cilantro, onions, and a butternut squash from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife;
--more Fredonia grapes and a half-gallon of apple cider from the local orchard; and
--pearsand paste tomatoes from the New Organic Farmer.

That's plenty for this week, since I also have two melons from last weekend's getaway, and I have serious plans for experimenting with those.

I returned home to start work right away on another batch of grape juice, and I'm sure I'll have plenty of other projects to report as the weekend goes on.

But that's a fair start, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Saucy Lady

By the end of the holiday weekend, I had no more energy left to deal with the Paula Red apples I had bought at the farmers' market on Saturday. The only trouble with putting the applesauce project off a few days was that a few apples already showed signs of bruising or other damage, and I knew I needed to get busy soon.

I didn't wait long. The first chance I got, I headed into the kitchen to halve, core, and chop the apples and toss them into a pot with lemon juice and just enough water to keep the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. (According to Stocking Up, for every 4 lbs. apples, use 1 c water and 1/4 c lemon juice.)

I turned up the heat and let the apples simmer for 20 minutes, and they gradually softened into a fragrant, pulpy mess.

Cup by cup, I ladled the apples into my chinois and slowly pressed all the sauce out of the fruit, leaving only the skins behind.

Since I had a very large basket of apples and had several apples left over after filling the pot, I made a second batch of applesauce, adding cinnamon bark, whole cloves, and a couple pieces of home-dried orange peel as well as about 1/4 c local honey for a spiced applesauce. The fragrance rising from the pot reminded me of mulled cider and the joys of the end of the harvest season... not so far away, now!

Once all the apples had been cooked down and sauce, I filled jars (6 1/2 pints) and ran them through the hot water bath for 20 minutes.

I have to tell you, I am very pleased with the results -- I think this was my best batch of applesauce ever! The sauce turned out thick and velvety, not somewhat watery like most of my previous attempts, and by leaving the skins on the apples, the sauce took on a faint pink blush.

Normally I only make one batch of applesauce each year, but I am tempted now to make another batch in coming weeks after the success of this one.

And I admit to feeling a little more saucy than usual today.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Grounding Myself

Every year at the farmers' market, late August signals the harvest of ground cherries, an odd little fruit that resembles tiny tomatillos.

Ground cherries, also known as cape gooseberries, come from the broader group of plants known as nightshades (which, though it has its poisonous members, also includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant). So it should come as no surprise that within the husk, the little round fruit looks like a miniature yellow tomato.

Still, it's an odd-looking creature, and I've steered clear of it for a few years, not sure of what I would do with a bag full of ground cherries.

I came across a recipe in Simply in Season two years ago that nearly tempted me to try this fruit, but it never happened. Last year I found a recipe for "Poha Pie" based on Euell Gibbons's recipe in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I got as far as copying it.

Third time's the charm, they say, and this year I got the third and final push needed to persuade me to try something new.

The Bistro Chef, aside from his obvious work and his breakfast stints at the Inn, writes a column once a month for the weekly paper, and in this month's piece, he waxed poetic over the abundance of fresh produce available at the market, particularly the ground cherry.

Describing the fruit as having "a unique flavor with hints of strawberry and pineapple," he further piqued my interest by indicating the ground cherry's suitability for dipping in melted dark chocolate. (Mention chocolate, and I definitely show interest.)

So I succumbed. I brought home a bag of ground cherries from the market Saturday with every intention of making the Poha Pie.

Temptation rose up quickly, though, when I met up with the Innkeeper and watched her feed berry after berry to her 14-month-old daughter Little Bird, who ate each one with sober concentration followed by eagerness for more. With such a vivid example before me, I had to taste the raw fruit first, just to understanad the taste for myself and to imagine what might go well with it. And with that first bite, all my structured plans went right out the window.

See, the Bistro Chef was only half right when he described the taste. There's a tart edge to the sweetness that reminds me of fresh pineapple, but there's also a deeper, creamier background flavor that, surprisingly, reminded me of toasted and ground hazelnuts.

Unfortunately, I don't have any hazelnuts on hand at the moment, but I did have a bunch of fresh lemon basil from my friend's farm, and one small leaf resting on one little berry evoked a dramatic "Oh, yes!" when I tasted the combination.

That's why I decided to adapt both the pie recipe and my own date bar recipe to make ground cherry bars: a shortbread base with chopped lemon basil worked into the dough, and a topping made from ground cherries simmered in a thick lemon basil-infused syrup.

The syrup, alas, was not quite thick enough, something I realized as I poured the liquid over the unbaked crust. But the result was actually a lovely change of pace.

The liquid sank into the shortbread, causing it to bubble and carmelize around the edges -- as well as to blend the fruit mixture into the buttery, lemony base.

To me, it tasted almost like a creamy version of a lemon bar, with little of the tang except for the occasional mouth-tightening bite, and though the strawberry-ish flavor seemed to be lost, the gentle citrus taste and aroma gave me plenty to savor.

It's not a picture-perfect sort of dessert by any means, and I'm sure the recipe itself could use a little more work (but I'll try to capture it here if you care to head back to your own kitchens to give it a whirl).

On a very busy, warm day, though, I'm more than happy to let go of perfection so that I can enjoy something new.

Rustic Ground Cherry Bars

The lemon basil syrup was something I decided to make separately to use in lemonade and iced tea, but it seemed to fit with the flavor of the ground cherries. If you don't have lemon basil, I'm not sure that regular basil would work as well. You can try substituting lemon balm or lemon verbena or, as a last resort, lemon juice and peel.

Lemon Basil Syrup
2 c sugar
1 c water
1 large sprig fresh lemon basil

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until sugar has dissolved and syrup has thickened slightly. Remove basil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour into bottle. Makes nearly 2 c syrup.

1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c spelt flour
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp minced fresh lemon basil leaves
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9" square baking pan and set aside.

Whisk together flours, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and basil. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until mixture resembles thick crumbs. Scrape shortbread dough into prepared pan and press evenly into pan. Set aside.

1/4 to 1/2 sugar (depending on how much syrup you use)
3 T flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 c lemon basil syrup
2 to 3 c ground cherries, husked and washed

Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and syrup in saucepan and boil until thickened. Add ground cherries and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes (longer if you wish a thicker topping).

Pour fruit mixture over shortbread, spreading evenly. Set pan in oven and bake for 40 minutes at 350 F.

Cool on wire rack before cutting into bars or squares.

Makes 12 to 16


Labor Day

Summer unofficially ends today, with the holiday, and since I had the day off work...

Wait. I'd better rephrase that.

Since I had the day off from my place of employment, I planned to fill the day with thoroughly enjoyable activities and a little bit of a treat for myself.

Now at the end of the day, I can tell you that I'm thoroughly exhausted from everything I've done, and when I'm not sagging into the cushions, ready to nod off, a contented smile slips across my face.

So what, you might ask, filled my day so pleasantly? Did I go anywhere special, do anything out of the ordinary -- what??

Perhaps it would be better if I just show you:

Welcome to my Eat Local Challenge Labor Day Baking and Preserving Extravaganza! (Yeah, I know, not exactly catchy.)

I started off the day (dark and early as usual) by making pizza sauce from the recipe the Perky Coffee Lady gave me -- 5 pints' worth. Since I had skinned and strained the tomatoes the day before, it wasn't as difficult as it sounds. I also pureed onion, garlic, and hot peppers (on the left) and froze 1/2 c portions for using in curries later; sliced, breaded, and baked eggplant for eggplant parmigiana come winter; and baked a loaf of pumpkin bread.

I managed to wrap that all up by about 9:30, leaving me enough time to dash off for my massage appointment (much needed at that point). And after I returned home and enjoyed a bit of lunch, I started work again:

I strained and simmered the grape juice and decided to can it (4 pints' worth) as my freezer is getting full. I also made a simple syrup infused with lemon basil (center bottle) for use in lemonade and iced tea as well as in the rustic ground cherry bars seen in the foreground.

Once the bars came out of the oven, I headed up to the hospital to meet My Dear Papa and to visit with a very groggy Chef Mother following her surgery this morning.

After that, I knew I really only needed to focus on dinner, and by that point, I decided to keep it simple:

I settled on a composed salad of nasturtium leaves, green grapes, fresh mozzarella (not local), golden pear tomatoes, roasted beets -- most of which was drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper and lemon basil -- and a slice of the neighborhood bakery's house bread. Very local, very easy, and very tasty!

I'm headed back to work -- er, to the office -- tomorrow, knowing that I still have a couple of projects undone.

But at least on this Labor Day, I enjoyed the work that filled my day.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Grape Escape

With all the food I bought at the market yesterday and all the things I need to do to tuck plenty of it away for later, I'm determined to stick to my usual waking schedule this weekend. (Not an easy task when I'd really love to sleep in!)

I got going this morning with two loads of laundry and a delightful local breakfast of homemade pancake topped with raspberry jam, scrambled fresh eggs (that I gathered out of my friend's hen house yesterday) with shredded local organic Monterey Jack cheese, and a cup of chocolate mint "tea" (from leaves gathered at my old house).

Once I felt more awake, I went through the three quarts of red grapes from the market, pulled them from their stems, and rinsed them before adding them to my big pot to make juice. As always, I followed the very simple recipe in Stocking Up, my favorite book on preserving food (and likely my favorite book for the Eat Local Challenge month!).

I added water, not quite enough to cover, and set the pot on the stove over medium heat.

It took ten to fifteen minutes for the first faint bubbles to appear, but it was evident that the skins had already started to release some color and flavor.

Once the water reached a simmer, I turned down the heat and let it simmer for ten minutes before coming back to strain the juice.

I lined my cone-shaped colander (known as a chinois) with a jelly bag and slowly added grapes and liquid to it, allowing the juice to flow through. Once I'd gotten the contents of the pot into the bag, I pulled the drawstrings on the jelly bag and tied the bag to the rack overhanging my kitchen counter so that the remaining juice could drip down through the colander and into the pan.

That's it for today, aside from putting the pan in the refrigerator when the grapes have finished draining. Tomorrow I'll heat the juice again, see if I need to add a touch of honey (I doubt it!), strain it, and can it. (At least I think I'm going to can it this year so I can store the jars in the pantry. The freezer is awfully full right now!)

And now, I'm ready to escape for the day!


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Make Mine Makhani

September snuck up on me. Let's face it, when a month starts on a weekend following a frenzied week, it's hard to remember that you need to turn the calendar page.

But while it arrived in a stealthy manner, September hasn't caught me fully off-guard. I still remember that this is the beginning of the Eat Local Challenge Month, and I'm ready.

I started the day in a half-heartedly local way, making pancakes (with local grains, milk, and eggs) and green tea for breakfast. By lunch, I managed a wholly local meal by virtue of cleaning out the last of the lasagna. (OK, I admit it. For two meals, I got lucky.)

After an afternoon's visit to and work on a local organic farm, though, it took a more conscious effort to whip up a local meal.

I pulled out the makhani sauce (an Indian recipe) I made the other night.

Loaded with Sun Gold tomatoes from the Archivist's garden, onions and garlic from the farmers' market, and butter and milk from the local dairy, about the only ingredients not locally sourced were the spices (one of my few exceptions for the Challenge).

I decided to steam some red potatoes from the Potato Lady and green beans from the Archivist, and then I sauteed garlic from the Cheerful Lady, added the vegetables, and simmered them in the makhani sauce until most of the water had evaporated. Opting not to use rice, I pulled out half a whole wheat pita from the Pita Princess, added a dollop of homemade pear-cardamom chutney, and had a perfectly sized and perfectly spiced meal.

For dessert, I enjoyed some of my homemade spiced plum crisp accompanied by creamy vanilla ice cream from the local dairy. Bliss!

I know it will take sustained effort to remember to eat local as much as possible throughout the month, because even though there's no better time to enjoy fresh foods, I know I can also eat snacks and such without much thought. (That's also why I'm hoping this month's Challenge will get me to make and eat healthier meals and snacks.)

It's encouraging to get off to a great start, though!


The Uncommon Market

You know, I can tell myself each week before I go to the farmers' market that I'm not going to buy so much and that I'm going to have a purpose for everything that I pick up. I know at this point what is in season (approximately) and when to get it.

But when I get to the market, all resolve fades away in the face of such luxurious bounty. And when I find something new, it's even harder to resist.

Take this morning. I had every intention of limiting myself to some basics (including the last batch of paste tomatoes). Yet I ended up making a trip home with a very heavily-laden backpack, a full basket, and another bag -- and then I headed back for more.

So what was so irresistible? (Besides everything?)

First of all, grapes are coming in like mad, and this year is the first I've ever seen such variety. A new fruit farmer brought Venus grapes (on the left) and a lovely variety of white grapes (not Thompson), and the local orchard brought the other red grapes (Fredonia, similar in taste to the famous Concord). I'm still planning to get lots of Concords when they come in so that I can make juice, but I thought I might make a small batch of juice from these lovely reds.

My other finds included:

--kale, beets, eggplant, and Brussels sprouts from the Fiddlin' Farmer;
--paste tomatoes, two pie pumpkins, two unknown squash varieties, garlic, and onions from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe;
--ground cherries from the Flower Lady;
--Jerusalem artichokes, Laotian chilies, and raw honey from the Herb Lady;
--a pint of honey from the Bee Man;
--dark chocolate candies and a big basket of Paula Red apples (good for applesauce) from the Potato Lady;
--Yukon Gold potatoes from the Gentleman Farmer's Wife; and
--grapes and fingerling potatoes from the local orchard.

See? No sales resistance whatsoever. I enter the market, and visions of pizza sauce, grape juice, applesauce, and other delicacies enter my head, despite the full weekend schedule ahead of me. The money just flies out of my pocket.

But I'm not complaining. I'm really looking forward to trying it all!