Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tidings of Good Year

Where does the time go? First, November flew by, and the next thing I knew, Thanksgiving was over, baklava-baking season was staring me in the face, and the fourth anniversary of this modest little blog peeped out from the calendar.

This annual celebration usually means a look back and a look inward, to see how I've grown as a cook and (hopefully) as a writer -- as well as to see where I might go next.

Looking back at last year's goals, I can report that, once again, I saw mixed results. My indoor gardening remained somewhat half-hearted, though I did get an ongoing small crop of kale I hope to replicate this year, but I did start a good Victory Garden with friends in two places, and I was able to put away a portion of the produce and to share some with other people.

I did keep up with making homemade pasta for a while, but my bread-baking dropped off at some point over the year (perhaps it was once I taught the Renaissance Man how to bake; think I could persuade him to supply me more regularly?). I managed to work through most, though not all, of last year's preservation before starting this year's round, but I still haven't quite figured out how to use more jam. (That's the main reason I didn't make so much of it this year.)

I didn't cook for My Wonderful Parents as much as I had hoped, and I certainly didn't get around to reacquainting myself with basic sauces, but I do think I made some strides in food preservation techniques, thanks to the impetus to share with all of you what I know or learn! I'm still working on reducing food waste, but I think that will be an ongoing goal.

So overall, I think it's been a very successful year, and I feel very fortunate to have learned so much and to have had such good feedback from all of you!

What might this coming year bring, then?

1. Since this year's garden turned out to bring a great deal of joy and togetherness for the Southern Belle, the Absent-Minded Professor, My Adorable Nephews, and me -- not to mention good food! -- we've decided to expand next year's garden. The AMP plans to put in another large bed in the back yard and to double the width of the lower bed, so I'm hoping to put in some unusual crops along with the rest: more dried beans, potatoes (or maybe sweet potatoes), and a couple of grain crops.

2. Along with that, I'd like to put some of what I learned from Four-Season Harvest into action by planting late crops and using row covers to extend the harvest even a little. I hope to plant a few things extra early, too, but we'll see how the weather cooperates.

3. As part of that garden expansion, I'm hoping to stock my pantry a little more fully. I've had the experience with drying beans this year and hope to put more of those away, and as for the grains, I've recently bought a small hand-cranked grain mill (and roller) to try making my own rolled oats or spelt as well as grind my own flour.

4. I'd like to try some new preserving methods. (I know, how many can there be???) I recently picked up a copy of Terre Vivante's book on Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques, and though I haven't read it yet, I expect that it will give me plenty to consider this winter in my planning for next year. Though I expect I'll do plenty of canning, I'd like to rely a lot less on frozen produce. I'll keep you posted on what I find.

5. As you can guess, I'm an avid reader, and I've been picking up a lot of books on agriculture lately -- more than cooking books. So I expect that will continue into the year as I have a pile of back issues of Farming Magazine (a locally published periodical for small farms), a handful of other books by perennial favorite Gene Logsdon, and anything else that piques my interest.

6. I finally picked up Ricki Carroll's book on Home Cheese Making, so I'd like to revive my interest in that and try something beyond paneer. I've got a kit for making mozzarella, and I've got a contact for lessons, so we'll see what cheesy trouble I can get into. This should be gouda...

7. Finally, at this point I am planning on breaking up my vacation time next year and spreading it among a few local farms run by kind people I've come to know a little better through the farmers' market and elsewhere. My hope is to spend a few days at each place at different times of the season in order to learn a variety of things: maple sugaring, running a CSA, animal husbandry, and anything else I can soak up. It should be an exciting adventure.

I know, again, it's an ambitious list, and we'll see how much I can actually check off as I go through the year. But I'm definitely looking forward to building new skills and finding a way to move closer to my dreams of greater self-sufficiency.

Having thought about all this over the past day, I decided that it really is worth celebrating another year of learning and sharing kitchen skills. And while I haven't come up with many new recipes this year or even cooked much beyond the basics, I still like to experiment every now and then. Tonight I decided to shake off my baking slump and tweak an old favorite -- my recipe for ginger-molasses cookies -- to end up with maple pecan cookies that incorporated local flour, maple syrup, butter, and maple sugar. It's a small batch, but it's just right for a small celebration.

So once again, here's to another year of culinary adventures, garden exploration, and developing new skills. Please join me!

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At 12/04/2008 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We eat most of our jam stirred into plain yogurt. Yum!

At 12/04/2008 9:36 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

And I really should try to remember that, Emily -- but that means remembering to choose yogurt for breakfast, which means wanting to make yogurt again, which means keeping milk on hand... ;-) Seriously, though, thanks for the reminder. I'll have to do that again sometime.


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