Saturday, December 31, 2011

Simple Pot Beans or How the Holidays Got Away From Me.

Oh internets: I've missed you so.

I have received several admonishments for disappointing you, my dedicated (if not numerous) readers, by categorically neglecting my blogging duty. I was informed that I'd better pull myself together right quick and POST SOMETHING ALREADY, lest the fickle love of the Intarwebs wane, and another derelict-in-her-duty food blogger lost in the sea of abandoned weblogs.

And so, I owe you all an apology. Oh, and also, about 6 blog posts.

Just like everyone else at this time of year, Christmas was fully upon me before I knew what was happening, and suddenly my life was one shopping-day / holiday party / earnest 4-mile run after another, Just like every other food blogger, I also had my fair share of culinary delights and gastronomic disasters in the last 6 weeks.  Fortunately, I documented all my triumphs, and they're waiting in a queue for you to inspect.  Unfortunately, I forgot that you might also like to see the disasters, but I forgot to take pictures of the failed pie crusts, the splatted pumpkin purees, and the lumpy deviled eggs, so you'll just have to wait for the next time I royally mess up in the kitchen (you won't wait long).  All in all, the flurry of holiday cooking had me THINKING a great deal about blogging, just not actually doing it. So, in the spirit of the new year, here are the promises I make to YOU, my fine, unwavering readership:

1. In 2012, I promise to post at least ONCE every week.
2. I'll unveil a monthly feature called "Gastronomic Disasters" that occur in my kitchen. WITH pictures.
3. I promise I'll proofread my posts at least once before I publish them. I'm lazy, for sure, but I'm also a college educated lady. I'll try to do better at sparing you the typos.

Okay. On to the show.  Since there's a giant backlog of recipes, over the coming weeks you'll see holiday favorites like the Old Fashioned Aged Egg Nog that's still working its magic at the back of my fridge, and the Deep Dish Apple Pie of Doom.  Sorry they didn't make it into the public arena in time for the holidays, but seriously, how many more food writers needed to talk about apple pie this December? You'll thank me when its 15 degrees in your house on a bitter January afternoon, and a pie recipe wanders across your reader feed.   Not just for Christmastime anymore, kids.

But come tomorrow morning, we'll all be thinking about 31 pounds of cheese we consumed this year, several of them on Christmas day alone, and wondering how we'll get our GI tract back in regular working order. I myself consumed no fewer that 4 different kinds of meat on Christmas day: prime rib, regular BBQ rib (not a typo, I could only eat one), smoked turkey, and honey-baked ham.   But that's standard holiday fare in Georgia. Our gracious host, my ex-military, currently bad-@ss-police-officer brother, primed the pump Christmas morning by devouring 2 fried pork chops before consuming the day's meal, which brings his meat total to 5, not counting the deviled eggs.  In any case, it was an animal-protein-tastic day, and my intestines are still whining about it.

On the eve of the New Year, as we all say in unison that we'd like to lose 10 pounds or so this year, I'm going to spend the rest of this post's real estate on a crucial-but-under-appreciated workhorse food in my kitchen:beans. Yes, yes, beans, beans that musical fruit, and so the rhyme goes (DEAL WITH IT, people, its perfectly natural). Tasty, easy, versatile, nutritious, oh, and did I mention CHEAP? Hell, we gave them out as FAVORS at our wedding.  But we have rules about beans at our house.  Here's the thing though, the number one rule that I have about beans and that I suggest you follow:

Buy AWESOME ones.  

Self-evident, no? But what do I means by awesome beans (also not a typo, just being cute)? I means Rancho Gordo.  Heard of them? No? Click the link now. NOW. YOU WANT TO GO TO THERE. These folks are incredible. They head to Mexico and Central American, buy crazy heirloom beans from grannies at roadside stands, and bring them back here to share with us.  They work with local growers in Latin American countries to bring their crops to us. Rancho Gordo beans cook up faster, because they haven't been stored and dried for years and years.  Their beans cook up tastier, because their heirloom varieties grown in small batches, and they're fresher. Oh: and they have like a zillion kinds. So you won't get bored. And spices and hominy and popping corn and chiles. Plus: flat-rate shipping (holla!).

Now, I know what you're thinking. "5 bucks for a pound of beans? That's outrageous! Beans should be cheap. I can go to a grocery store and buy a pound of dried beans for a DOLLAR." Okay, I hear you.  But here's the thing: you get what you pay for.  The beans in the grocery store are anywhere from 2-4 YEARS off the plant. You can count the varieties on one hand. And the taste: unremarkable. They're cheap protein.  Look, there's nothing WRONG with them.  They're cheap and accessible.  But you'll work hard to conjur a hint of taste from them

The bottom line: if you can afford a cup of coffee at your local cafe, you can afford to buy a pound of beans for $5 instead of $1. And here's why: when you buy grocery store beans, how long do they sit in your pantry? Months, right? Because, they're BORING.  Because they're uninspiring.  So you grab the frozen chicken breast out of the freezer, and you make fajitas instead (exciting! but potentially problematic! where's that chicken from?)  But when you buy freakin' fresh, delicious, unique, and BEAUTIFUL beans, you will EAT MORE BEANS, thus saving yourself money.  So forgo the five dollars of chicken (which gets you 1 meal), and buy a pound of gorgeous beans, and you'll eat like a king for at least 2, if not 3 meals.  And your arteries will thank you.

Seriously, if you need more convincing, email me and I'll talk you into it. I mean, LOOK at these ladies:

Rancho Gordo Cranberry beans

(PS: obviously, your beans don't have to be from Rancho Gordo. There's lots of heirloom bean growers out there. I'm just loyal to these folks, But keep your eye out at farmer's markets and co-ops for locally grown dried beans, or use our friend The Google, who Knows All.)

So with no further admonishment about high-end-bean-purchasing, here's how to make a simple, extremely delicious, full-of-fiber pot of beans that takes no time at all and will keep your belly full and your digestive system happy. No pre-soaking required. You can start this recipe with dried beans after lunch, and have supper ready by 6pm, easy-peasy. Crock Pots ready, set.... SLOW COOK!

Simple Pot Beans
a winter meal triple-threat


1 pound of dried beans (the most beautiful beanies you can find/afford)
1 onion (or shallots, or garlic)
2 ribs of celery (or bell pepper or chiles)
2 carrots
salt & pepper
olive oil, butter, bacon fat, fatback, or another fat of your choice
ham hock, bacon, prosciutto, or other pork product (optional)
chicken or vegetable stock (optional)

 1. Chop yo' stuff. Dice your onion, celery, and carrots into a fine dice. Don't have these things? Try garlic and leeks. Or onion and bell pepper. Just gather your favorite aromatics, and chop down to size.  These are ingredients used to build a flavor base for your beans, but the better beans you buy, the less you need. (Next week's feature: how to properly dice an onion! Neat! Useful!)

 2. Sautee yo' stuff.  Take your fat o' choice, and add 2 tablespoons or so to a large sautee pan over medium heat.  (If you have one, use a regular finish skillet or a cast iron one instead of non-stick. We're using aromatics to build a base of flavor through browning, and a non-stick pan doesn't promote browning as well.)  Once the fat sizzles when an onion piece is dropped in it, your skillet's hot.  Add your aromatics and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables become soft.  (If you're using bacon or prosciutto, dice and toss in with this mixture.)

They'll begin to produce small brown bits of carmelized sugars, or fond on the bottom of the pan. This is good. We want this. These are a result of Maillard reactions, complex chemical changes to sugars in foods that create hundreds of volatile, delicious-smelling flavor compounds  Keep the heat at medium - too high, and you'll scorch those lovely browned bits.  You'll start to see them stick to the bottom and sides of the pan. They look like this:

Remove your skillet from the heat, and set it aside.  Now, get this bad boy out of the cabinet: 

Step 3: Lock 'n load.  Rinse your dried beans, and put them in your crockpot. Toss in your sauteed veggies, and then add a cup or so of water to the skillet you sauteed them in, and gather up all that lovely fond, using a spatula to scrape browned bits off the pan.  Toss that water into the pot, then cover the beans with 2-3 times as much water as volume of beans, depending on how much pot likker you like.  Add a generous pinch of salt, or cut your water with half vegetable or chicken stock, if you're inclined. Or, you can add one of these: 

ham hock magic.
 Step 4: Slow Cook. Depending on when you need them, set your crockpot to low or high.  In my crockpot, using fresh Rancho Gordo beans, they'll take 3.5 hours on high, or 5 hours on low to fully cooked.  Dried beans from the grocery store may take an extra hour. ***IMPORTANT NOTE: do not add anything acidic to beans before they're cooked. Acidity will prevent beans from fully cooking, and you'll get tough, unfinished (and unpleasant!) beans.  So, no tomatoes, no lime juice, no vinegar until AFTER they're fully cooked.*** When they're finished, they'll be soft and creamy.

Spritz with lemon or lime juice, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of rice, quinoa, or another grain, or with cornbread and greens. Or on top of tortillas, topped with queso fresco and fresh green chiles.  Or on squash, with roasted squash seeds. Whatever. Eat your beans. They're good for you. 

P.S. And please, no complaining about getting the toots. Tooting is good for you too. In the immortal words of REM: "Everybody TOOOOOOOOTS... sometimes."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Observed or When My Heart Beats Hard

I don't even know where to start. And yet, I must, given that I'm 2 weeks from the last post and the masses are clamoring "more! more!" You know, all 7 of you...

My Thanksgiving was just as it was for many food bloggers out there: a delight, an indulgence, a downright Bacchanalian fury fest of harvest homemade-this and local hand-grown that.  I myself fell into flights of fancy: because I was traveling to family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I INVENTED a holiday as an excuse to get to cook the big gala meal.  Seriously, who DOES this? This slightly-too-pleased-with-herself-for-her-own-good renegade domestic, that's who.

And so the big not-actually-a-holiday commenced. The Friday the week before Real Thanksgiving, we had Thanksgiving Observed. I observed my own personal Thanksgiving rituals, which include homemade pies, brined turkey, and chestnut stuffing, and a very important midday meal of a wheel of baked brie and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. You know, to keep up one's energy.

First off: stuffing. Jeebus, let's talk about stuffing.  In honor of my dear friend Laura, with whom I've shared no fewer than 4 Friends-givings and Lonely Orphan's Thanksgivings, I knew there had to be homemade stuffing. Trouble is, Laura was usually in charge of the stuffing.  She knew how to score and roast chestnuts, tear the bread and all the rest. And people: her stuffing is for real. Like, she generally made 3 pans of the stuff because we knew we wanted AT LEAST as many leftovers as for the actual dinner.  So I emailed her:
"I am making stuffing by hand. for the first time. by myself.
will you please share your ridiculously yummy recipe?
also: what do I do with the chestnuts?!?!"
Laura responded promptly (she's very responsible; she's a librarian, don't you know?) with her "recipe", that included the following:
"I don't have a recipe, so much as some guidelines. Use more bread than you think you'll need - either left out to get stale or toasted crisp. Use an enormous amount of butter...."
Oh Lordy, one of those recipes. I asked what exactly she meant by "enormous amount".  A stick? A pound? A gallon-tub? Her response was culinary poetry:
"I would probably go with the half a pound. Without the butter, you're just eating stale bread."
Thanksgiving Observed, aerial shot
Hell yes.  Kitchen wisdom, from a bad-*ss librarian. The stuffing was delicious, despite the shards of chestnuts under my thumbnail. (Funny, as I was screaming in pain while peeling those suckers, I remembered years ago Laura hollering from the next room, and never really knew what the big fuss was about.)  That stuffing? Totally. Worth it.

Then, there was the finest pumpkin pie I've ever made, (or rather, my variation on this recipe) so absurdly scrumptious that I'm making another one next week just for kicks, (to be shared on the blog as soon as we get a new camera, since our current geriatric point-and-shoot is declining so rapidly that I can only take 4 pictures on newly charged batteries before it starts flashing low-battery warnings at me, which prompts NSFW language from my mouth at 10am over cooling pies - nobody wants bad mojo over their breakfast baked goods, its a bad scene), homemade cranberry sauce which is so stupidly easy to make, I can't comprehend the canned phenomenon (other than the lines' handy serving size suggestion), and bacon mashed potatoes (which is a personal invention, but pretty much means mashed potatoes, replacing 1/3 of the butter with bacon grease and crumbled bacon).  All in all, a ridiculously wonderful night.

Oh and all that food: for 4 people. 'Cause that's how we roll. So, copious leftovers were had, and the next morning it was stuffing (oh glorious!) for breakfast and stuffing (oh divine!) for lunch. And I had it on the docket for dinner, but went on a quick outing to the local Target, and saw a gent sitting 6 blocks from my house. He looked like my grandfather.  He was holding a small sign, just a sliver of cardboard, and it had one word on it: hungry. I saw him on my way to the store, and again on my way back. And I got home and looked in my fridge.

I looked at the handmade stuffing, hours of labor, with homemade bread and sage from my backyard.  I looked at the bacon mashed potatoes, potatoes grown in the Shenandoah Valley, organic, from Horse & Buggy, and apple-cider gravy, homemade too.  I looked at the roast chicken, pasture raised and fed, slaughtered just a few weeks ago by a small farmer in Amelia.  And I looked at the nearly 2 bushels of apples in my fridge, from Vintage Virginia Apples, Winesaps and Staymans, Black Twigs & Albemarle Pippins.  And I put as much of all this locavore-loving, foodie-feeling, privileged-to-have-the-best-of-the-best eats food as I could fit into a large tupperware container,  and grabbed the biggest Sun Gold apple I could lay my hands on, and drove down to meet the man with the sign. My heart was beating hard in its chest.  Why was I so afraid? Its beating hard now, just remembering it.

I said, "Hi! Hey, I don't have any money, but I do have lunch!" as I handed him the container. He protested "Oh, but I don't want to take your container!" I told him to not worry about it.  He thanked me, and I said that I hoped things would get better. He was cheery, bright-eyed, as he assured me "Oh, they are! They will!"  I reached into the pocket of my warm down vest, and pulled out the Sun Gold, big as a softball.  His eyes lit up, and I put it in his hand.  He looked at it, a smile growing on his face, and said "Now, that... that I like," gesturing to the glowing orb of fruit in his palm.  I smiled back. I walked back to my car, and looked over my shoulder. He waved, and then gathered his things. He put on his coat, his hat, and crossed the street to the bus stop, still looking at that apple. He had been hungry. And now, he wasn't.

I drove home in tears. They came in spurts, but they didn't stop for an hour.

I don't know what came over me. I still feel overwhelmed thinking about it. I know that when I came home, I felt so full of ... gratitude? Despair? Luck? Confusion? I felt like I'd gotten carried away, that I'd almost missed the whole damn point.  There was all that local flavor bursting out of my kitchen, we're all swept up in the trend of the handmade and homemade, the local and organic, freshness and quality, and how food can make us feel good.... I love all that. I love the resurgence of food culture and of domestic traditions, of our appreciation and enjoyment of food, of knowing food's story and it becoming a part of my own experience, and the pleasure of telling story while doing the eating.

But this is not a Thanksgiving morality tale. I didn't do it to be virtuous. I did it because I was compelled. Because I was shaken at my core, where my heart beat so hard at the sight of a man whose only identity was simple: hungry. This man who looked like my grandfather, the same heavy hands with broken nails, a white slick of hair, he didn't need the story of where the chicken came from, or who grew the potatoes, or the origin of my sourdough in the bread in the stuffing. He just saw an apple, a big, golden apple, and he looked at it, and it looked like it was good to eat.  "That I like!" he said. Simple as that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Search for Richmond's Finest Milkshake or My Not-Quite-Shotgun Wedding

My husband and I were married this year on April 23rd, in a lovely mountain-side ceremony tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, surrounded by friends and family.

The wedding was followed by 1920's era pre-war swing music by our good friends, Skeedaddle

Jefferson's masterful homebrew (30 gallons, oh my!),

cake pops from my delightful friend Emma, 
(please go make them if you haven't yet. oy!)

and of course, an old-fashioned Virginia pig roast.

It was glorious, as you might imagine.  All of it. But what we didn't tell our families (until the next morning anyhow) was that we had actually already been married for 5 months!

Although not a shotgun wedding, Jefferson and I were married quite literally in the eyes of the law. On a brilliantly sunny November morning, we walked to the Charlottesville Sheriff's Office, Jeff wearing his favorite bamboo shirt and me in a lavender linen dress (found at Goodwill that morning), and asked the Sheriff to marry us.  Captain M.W. Baird presided over the small gathering: just me and my husband. A short, but touching ceremony (Cpt. Baird was a second-generation wedding sheriff; his father had also been sheriff, and wrote the marriage ceremony) and we were legally wedded.  And as we walked out into the crisp autumn air, we went in search of a celebration fitting to the occasion.  We found it at Timberlake's Drug Store: Milkshake.

Post-wedding, pre-milkshake Timberlakes.

After spilling to the family they weren't the FIRST to see us wed (though the most dear), they asked us 2 questions: 1. Why? Well, mostly tax purposes (yes, we will happily pay you less in taxes because we LURVE each other), but it also turns out that getting officially married involves a lot of paper work with the guv'ment, and we spent the rest of the day (post-shake) changing my name, getting me on the insurance, issuing new social security cards, etc. Turns out: it was GREAT to have all that out of the way months in advance.  In any case, that was a question we'd expected and had good answers for.  But not the next one: 2. When would we celebrate our anniversary?

To be honest, we hadn't thought about it.  It was obvious that our family wedding on April 23rd was the proper, official-in-our-minds' date of the anniversary, and that we planned to celebrate the day that our commitment was blessed by our friends and family, not the day it was witnessed by some amorphous, anonymous authority like the US government.

But I think the emotional nature of Wedding Number 1 took us by surprise. There was something deeply special and intimate about having that moment to commit to one another, alone, in private. We wanted to enjoy that memory, and honor it, outside of Wedding Number 2.  We wondered "what's an appropriate commemoration for that morning, the small, quiet marriage in front of the second generation Wedding Sherrif?"  Jefferson answered first: Milkshake Day.

Let me explain: Jefferson's family has a history of creating holidays around the need for dessert.  His father celebrates 4 times a year with cake, spaced appropriately according to important birthdays and other occasions.  Unfortunately, there was one quarter without an event to celebrate, and due to a slightly neurotic need for symmetry (and let's be honest, cake), he simply celebrates "Cake Day".

Like father, like son.

And all this blathering leads us to the point of this blog post (though I hope it was a good story anyhow).  Milkshake Day will soon be upon us! November 17th is the day in question, and we encourage lovers of all ice-cream products, husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends to join us in this arbitrary and yet totally-not-Hallmark holiday, with a milkshake treat.  Don't resist! How often do you just go out FOR A MILKSHAKE? Go, enjoy, or do like my father does, and make your own at home with Schwann's Ice Cream and a raw egg (Midwest farmers: I don't question).

Now I know I don't have a huge Richmond reader base, but Jefferson and I definitely need some suggestions for an appropriate milkshake venue. I like my milkshakes so thick, I can stand a spoon up in them.  So you tell me: where's the best milkshake in Richmond? And then meet us there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Elim Springs Farm - Pasture-raised Chicken Special!!

Hey all..

This is a quickie-post for anyone out there in virtual food land.  I met up with a farmer yesterday to collect Horse & Buggy Produce's eggs. (Which meant a cooler full of around 150 eggs in my car. Ha!)  His name is Rich Hamilton, and he owns Elim Springs Farm in Ford, VA.  He raises pastured beef, poultry, and eggs, and there is a serious special happening today and tomorrow: he is processing several hundred birds between now and Friday evening, and anyone who is willing to drive out to the farm can take home a freshly-processed, non-gmo-fed, bug-eatin, grass-pickin' chicken for $10. Of any size. These birds generally go for nearly $4.00/lb., so this is a pretty significant discount. Happy birds make tasty meat, and his eggs are top-notch. Here's a picture of his happy little chicken tractors:
Elim Springs Farm, Chicken Tractors

The farm is about an hour southwest of Richmond. So its sure to be a gorgeous drive.  So, take off work a little early on Friday, throw the cooler in your back seat, and drive out to Ford.  If you're interested, take a look at his website, and give Rich a call to let him know you're coming. Oh, and if you want to see how chickens are processed, he's welcoming anyone who wants to help. Talk about knowing where your food comes from!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Case for Pie - New York Times, 1902

NYT broke this story on May 3, 1902:
"No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished." 

I'm not saying this statements in this column aren't socially and culturally problematic, even racist, but I cannot help but get behind one thing this author siezes upon:

 Pie. Is. Powerful.

Thanks to Alex Barron for this. I don't know where you find things like this, but I'm glad you do, and I'm glad you send them along to me. What's your favorite piece of pie? And have you made it recently?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apple Cider Bread or The Basic Bread Dough

This Apple Cider Bread is a simple adaptation of the classic lean bread dough. A lean dough is a dough without any enrichment in the way of sugar or fat, and is the basis for classic rustic artisan breads the world over.  Here's a little secret: you can exchange any part of this liquid in this recipe for something else. Water. Beer. Some buttermilk for tang. This bread dough is so versatile, and bakes up gorgeously, it will become a standard I'm-craving-hot-fresh-bread-but-didn't-pull-together-a-sourdough dough. I used my stand mixer for this bread since I was short on time, but knead by hand if you like.  Its a wet dough, so you may need to oil your hands during the kneading stage.

Apple Upside-Down Cake or My Cliched Love of All Things Apples

In the words of Pepe LePew, or was it the lady skunk he was always chasing after:

*le sigh*

The object of my adoration? The reason for my swoony mooning? The current "apple" of my foodie eye?

Its apple season, y'all.

I know its not terribly creative to be in love with apples at this time of year.  Everyone and their brother is apple baking, apple caking, apple picking, and apple... licking. (Whatever. Shut up.) But with the discovery of heirloom variety apples, and the knowledge that you can store apples for months and months and months, I look forward to apple season almost as much as I look forward to my birthday.  And as a self-obsessed ego-maniac, that's saying something.

So, 2 things today about apples: recipes and an event you can't miss. First off is Vintage Virginia Apples Annual Harvest Festival on Saturday, November 5th.  I know, you all are all harvest-festivaled out, but that's just because you haven't been to this place down  on 29 South yet. This is the One Festival to Rule Them All.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Funnel Cake or Why I Don't Eat Funnel Cake

This weekend was a crazy one: the Richmond Folk Festival was in town.  After being in Richmond for only a few months, I've already been identified as one of the few old-time guitar rhythm players in town.  So, amazingly, I performed at the Folk Festival on the Virginia Folk Life stage for the flatfoot clogging demo on Saturday. (Check out some video here.  I'm the young lady with the pearls playin' the guitar.)  It went well, and now my mediocre guitar playing will be forever immortalized in the Library of Congress, yo! I gave my maiden name for the description; as a newly married woman, I felt the Orwig clan deserved recognition for all my years of middling musical training and skills.

That said, there was MORE to be done that weekend. Jammin' on the James, a Lindy Hop dance workshop was all weekend, so I spent the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday experiencing the kind of pleasure and deep embarrassment that comes from being a 31-year-old beginner at anything, much less at dancing. That said, I had a heck of a time, listened to Dixie-land jazz that included a sousaphone, and ended up having dances with my hubby that made me feel that I might have learned a bit about Lindy Hop after all. Which is good.

But thrilling as all this may sound, it is not the reason I'm writing.  Oh no.  I'm writing, ever so briefly, about funnel cake.
Photo courtesy of user Lorax & released under the GNU FDL from Wikipedia
Inspired by the Richmond Food Collective's recent discussion of fair food, I realized I had $10 worth of food tickets from performing at the Folk Festival that I hadn't redeemed by Sunday afternoon when our Lindy workshop ended. So Jefferson and I headed over to catch the last band at the Richmond Folk Festival (afro-cuban AMAZINGness), and since we missed the State Fair this year, cash in on our annual fried dough obsession. 2 funnel cakes used up all my tickets, and boy-oh-boy were we pleased.

1st taste: Oh yum! Hot, sweet, buttery dough, chewy and perfect!
2nd bite: Oh god! The taste sensation continues!
4th mouthful: *pause to catch breath*
5th go: I feel funny.
6th bite: Is that my liver twitching?
7th bite: Oy.  Shoulda stopped at bite number 6.

I gave the rest to Jefferson, who not only ate all of his, but finished the last 1/3 of mine. We then shook our booties (and the powdered sugar off our fronts) for a few minutes to the Afro-Cuban harmony madness of the Pedrito Martinez Group, and then waddled home.  That was at 5:30pm, and it turned out that the funnel was to be our dinner.  Mostly because we both felt if we ate anything else, our livers would go on strike. Blergh.  Who knew that I'd need Tums after a little fried dough. (Okay, a LOT of fried dough.)  And considering my suffering, you might ask if I had the chance, would I do it all over again?

Yes. Yes, I would. And you know what? At next year's State Fair: you betcha I will.

Now, time to go train for that half marathon. I wonder if they'll allow waddling as well as jogging?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Best Mojitos or what I've been cooking all week but not blogging about

Its not that I haven't been cooking. In fact, as the thronging mass of fall harvest comes flowing into my kitchen, I've been cooking like crazy. The trouble is, turns out, taking photos of food is HARD.  Also: remembering to take photos of food isn't such a cakewalk either.  So, every night when I sit down to blog, I think, "well, crap, I forgot to finish taking photos of that".  So, with that in mind, here's the reader's digest version of My Week in Food:

Baby-sized cabbage from Horse & Buggy
Apple-Cabbage Slaw & Mushroom-Cabbage Galette: This cabbage showed  up in my produce share from Horse & Buggy Produce.  Have I talked enough about these folks yet? Also, have I fessed up that I'm a longtime subscriber and now I WORK for them? True story.  Anyhow, their food is grown by Mennonite farmers in the Shenandoah valley, and although I am admittedly biased, the veg from H&BP is incredible: consistently fresh, gorgeous, and oh-so-tasty.  It drives my cooking experience on a day to day basis. (Mostly because we get a "family" share for just me and my husband, so I have to keep cooking to keep the produce avalanche at bay.)

So, this cabbage was literally the size of a 2 month old child.  (BTW: when I say literally, I literally mean the word "literally". As opposed to the metaphoric way most folks are using the word literally nowadays.  Pet peeve much? I think so.) I used half for an Apple-Cabbage slaw, and the other half for a variation on Deb's mushroom-cabbage galette. Mine included some ground beef and crazy curry spice. A quick note about this galette: I'll make variations of this over and over again this winter, but I've got some serious pastry opinions and am constantly tweaking. More pastry pontification laterz...

Butternut Squash with Green Lentils & Mint: evidently, this was a SmittenKitchen kind of week, and I found myself turning to Deb's fantabulous cooking blog almost every day.  This week, I was catering an office luncheon to feature Horse & Buggy's produce, and I had the following to work with:

Butternut, pre-dismantling
The recipe was tweaked from the original, omitting the goat cheese and roasting the squash for considerably longer.  The winter squash salad is totally a revelation.  The basic recipe is: roast a cubed up winter squash, toss with some sort of legume (chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc), a fresh herb like parsley, cilantro, or mint, and a light dressing, like walnut oil and red wine vinegar. I promise, in the depths of February where you can't stomach the thought of another squash soup, this salad will save you.  Also, will you please take a look at the size of this butternut? That is a 10 inch chef's knife, people! That means the BLADE is 10 inches. So that means, this squash is as long as my thigh and nearly as rotund. The Mennonites are NOT FOOLING AROUND when it comes to vegetables.

Other recipes I couldn't help myself from this week:

  • Roasted Sweet Potato rounds with Thanksgiving on Top: I told you it was a SmittenKitchen-fest here in the Night Kitchen.  I swapped walnuts for pecans, cherries for cranberries, and used fancy-pants walnut oil instead of olive. Uh, yum.
  • The Best Deep Dish Apple Pie: look forward to a post on this, complete with pictures and a new, mind boggling-ly easy pastry technique. Promise.
  • Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes: they were piling up in my fridge and I just WANTED them.
  • Roasted Tomato & Green Bean salad: this was a last-minute brainstorm that was inspired and savory. Expect a post on this sweet-patootie too, once I get more green beans and find the damn camera.

Finally: last night? Mojitos.  I made them. I drank them. They are inexplicably intoxicating, (and not just because they're alcoholic).  And they aren't always, this is not a cocktail where you can just "wing it". I know they seem simple: mint, sugar, lime, rum.  Except if you do it wrong? Mint-flavored cough syrup. For real.  Its not pretty (personal experience perhaps?). Though to be fair, that's what happens when you let clowns mix your drinks (ask me later)....

Once I started the mint in my porch planter, I knew I'd have a lot of drinking to do.  So, finally, after all that culinary de-briefing, here's the mojito recipe you've all been waiting for. You'll never curse your mint plant's precocious growth ever again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Starting a Blog - Motivating, Creative Tool or Just Really Pleased with Myself?

Of note: I'm not really good at what you might call "follow through".

Never have been.  Truly, and seriously, I thought of starting a food blog YEARS ago.  I had one. That I never posted on. And then, suddenly, I get a job at Horse & Buggy Produce (more on these folks later. I know I keep referencing them, so I'll fess up my alliances in another post this week), and move to Richmond, and feel like now's as good a time as any.  So, here it is. She Has Boots Has Arrived.

Trouble is, I'm still sorting out what it is I want to be saying in this forum.  I know that I want to write about food, but, as with my obsession with cooking and homemaking, nourishment is too small a concept to hold what it is that the kitchen symbolizes for me. Or perhaps it is that, as a jack of all trades, not only is there a lack of mastery of any subject, but it is in fact the great breadth of my hobbies that keeps me sane and living free.  I couldn't write a blog just on food, or cooking, or art, or music, or gardening, or finding a path, or being a domestic renegade feminist, but somehow they all weave together to create a life that is my creative life.  It is all those moments of making stuff that are sprinkled throughout my days.

It has always been the making of things that gives me the greatest pleasure.

So, perhaps this little portal is a container for that place in my life. Because truly, making a winter soup is not so different from forming a band, and growing seedlings not so far from creating an ensemble of musicians.  The skill set is the same. And in the moments when I feel the most ordinary, the most bored and boring, afraid that I'll leave this world having achieved nothing of note or worth, I think about making some bread. Or sowing some seed. Or making something grow, live, change, expand, develop and thrive.  And it is those small acts of creating, of making, of bringing into being, that don't seem magical or ambitious.  Just real and alive.

(Uh, so expect some occasional rambling like this y'all. I didn't FEEL like writing about soup, alright?!)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Your Own Sourdough Starter or Harnessing Wild Yeasties 101

So, we have a bit of an obssession for the microbes in our household. Jefferson is a killer home brewer (he brewed 30 gallons of beer for our wedding!) and now the (seven foot-tall, 2 ton) ManTastic Beer Cabinet is filled to the brim with brewing supplies and beer bottles. (This could be a guest post in the making....)
The ManTastic Beer Cabinet 
I make my own yogurt, mostly because we eat yogurt like its OUR JOB, and it made me die a little inside every week when I threw out those plastic containers.  I make my own sauerkraut, or should I say Jeff's sauerkraut, 'cause I don't touch the stuff.  And now, with our powers of wild yeast combined, I AM CAPTAIN PLANET.

Suffice to say, at one time, we had 4-5 different products fermenting in our house.  That's no big deal for the avid home-maker foodie enthusiast, but for your average American, that's "Whaa?!?"-inspiring awesome.

And when I first started the whole sourdough thing, I read the trials and tribulations of others about how onerous and horrible and difficult and persnickity those little wild yeasties are.  That they died really easily, that you had to feed them just right, that it was basically like getting a PUPPY to keep a sourdough alive for use.  (Not that I am against puppies. No. I have a solidly pro-puppy stance.)

Well folks, I am here today to tell you that all that microbe-fueled angst? Is a load of malarkey.

Sourdoughs are easy to cultivate, easy to use, and easy to keep alive. If you have a spider plant in your house, you can build, use, and feed a sourdough.  You know how hard spider plants are to kill, right? That's why we give them to college students.

'Kay. So, what follows is instructions to build your own sourdough starter, harnessing the power of the wild yeast that is present in your home at this very second! Amazing! In fact, so amazing, that that's how sourdough started in the first place.  Its how beer started, yogurt, and all those other good by-products that come from a food source (starches in flours, sugars in grain, lactose in dairy) meeting up with wild microbes, microbes party hard all night long, and hutcha-hutcha-hutcha: bread. beer. yogurt. So, if some Sumerian with no knowledge of modern science can do it, surely, we modern-day folk can manage.

One more note of awesomeness before instructions: what this means is that not only can you build a sourdough anywhere, the wild yeast present in the micro-environment of your kitchen will produce a slightly different sourdough than any other kitchen.  I have built 3 sourdoughs in 3 different houses, and they've all tasted different. From very subtle to extremely sour. So, starting your own sourdough is a very local action. In a way that makes you feel more connected and grateful for the uniqueness of your own place in the world. Plus the end product: looks like this ------>

I could continue to wax culinarily poetical, but I digress... Hit "Read more" for the Sourdough Manifesto.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Don't Tell Darlings release "Sugar for Sugar", or Sweet Potato Fries & Old-Time

Most of you know (all 3 of you) that I'm in a band.  And what's funny is that when you tell people that you're in a band, they're interested, in a curious, "oh, you're one of THOSE" kind of way.  You are suddenly a bit of a novelty, and suspect that your music is too. However, it has been as surprise to all those acquaintances, and frankly, to me, that I am in a GOOD band.  Like, when those folks finally come out to a show, they come up to me afterwards and, slightly starstruck, say "Wow! You guys are really GOOD!"

Yup. We know. (And are inordinately pleased with ourselves at regular intervals. Kinda like in this photo.)

So, its a rainy, gloomy Friday in Virginia, which means its the perfect time to get in yer truck, get yerself to the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville, Virginia and see the Don't Tell Darlings release our new CD, Sugar for Sugar.   We play a mix of old-time, bluegrass, early country, and western swing.  As the line goes, "harmonies so sweet, your teeth will ache".

Plus: signature cocktails. And sweet potato fries.  And these ladies.

Just TRY and say no. We dare you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Panzanella or How I Came to Love Running

So, let's be clear: I'm not a runner.

If you've seen me, you know this. I don't have a runner's body: there is nothing lithe about me. I weigh about 160 pounds at 5'8", my thighs are dangerous weapons that could crush a small kitten, and one would never describe my movement as "sprightly".  Punctuated by moments of grace, I lumber through a space on ponderous feet, making a lot of noise without meaning to, and probably accidentally breaking something in the process. So, how I came to take up running I have never understood, and yet, 10 years down the road I'm running more than ever.  What started as an extremely cheap way to keep my ever-growing bulk at bay has become a past-time of sorts.

Panzanella - Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad
Not only is my husband a runner, he is good at it, and he loves it. When he suggested early on in our relationship that I try and run the Charlottesville 10 Miler, my response was simple: "Uh, why?"  And yet, there I was trolling the Internets (perhaps at work) in January, looking at 10 miler training programs and thinking, "Well, I could do that."  And so I did. In March. Ran 10 miles. And then promptly signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon.

Okay, okay, but here's the SECRET that I've learned from talking to long distance runners and pretending to be one: when you're training for a race, when you're running 20 or 30 or 40 miles a week, when your long run is 7 or 8 or 14 miles long, you can eat whatever you damn well feel like eating.

Like this bad boy right here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Potato Galette or How Cook's Illustrated Makes Me Happy & Drives Me Nuts

La Galette Of My Dreams
Cook's Illustrated.

I know there are those of you who read this that just LOVE this magazine. The explanations, the food science, the perfect recipes.  I also know there are those who are IRRATIONALLY ANNOYED by the fussiness of these recipes.  I can't blame you. (Though in the interest of full disclosure, I *heart* CI.)  Those 12 extra steps in a recipe can take something so simple and make it into a huge, messy, how-did-you-dirty-all-these-dishes-honey ordeal.

But what a TASTY ordeal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Night Kitchen or How the Internet Can Teach You Everything

my Night Kitchen (apologies to Maurice Sendak)
I've sort of done it all, job-wise: education, non-profit, healthcare, nannying, retail, professional studenting, administration, secretarial.  Nothing was really my cup of tea, and I was always off chasing some artistic rainbow in the sky, like starting a theater company or getting an MFA at clown school. (Not. Kidding.)  I moved to Virginia 3 years ago on a similar whim, basically to start a band with my best friend.  Ah, the foolish ramblings of a young adult (nevermind that I was 28 at the time). But something aligned: in the first 6 weeks in Virginia, The Don't Tell Darlings played our first show and I met my now husband on the contra dance floor.  I moved to Virginia with the puppy-like excitement I feel about all new things. Because I am a puppy. Or, you know, my soul is a puppy. Whatever. I'm easily excited (sometimes to the deep annoyance of my husband, who was born an eighty year-old man.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Food from the soul, literally & figuratively...

Its finally happened: i've joined the blogosphere. If folks have to listen to my goings-on in real-life, why deprive the virtual world of my thoughts on food, old-time and traditional music, cooking, canning, handicrafts and all other kinds of nonsense that make my life worth living? How could you say no? Stay tuned to this station for more delights, delicious and devious, culinary and creative, very soon...