November 20, 2011

Home Making

Right now, Ry and I are "house making." We live in a great little house; we cook a lot; the house is warm, clean and full of cats. And we do a lot of other things that are considered "home making." However, for us right now, it feels more like "house making." We feel at home, but we have grander plans for making a home.

We are in the incredibly early stages of building a house (a home, really) in Massachusetts. To put it in perspective, we are in month two of a possible 5 year plan, so it's really early on. But, we have land adjacent to my parent's land, adjacent to the property I grew up on. We are appreciative of how blessed we are to have the opportunity to have a little parcel of land, especially given how important it is to me, my extended family (cousins, uncles, aunts) and now to Ry. He quickly fell in love with the tiny New England town I've always known as home.

So, we "house make" in Vermont, and have just started "home making" in Massachusetts.

To date, we have picked up the checklist to apply for a building permit; we have drawn a few different house plans on napkins while at restaurants; and hung up decorative pennant flags on the lane. Most impressive, however, is how much we have cleared the land. With our wedding money, we purchased an investment - a chainsaw. Since then, we have spent five weekend days clearing the land.

Words can't describe how many trees Ry cut down, how much knotweed we've knocked down, how many tree tops I swamped into a huge burn pile, how many huge logs my father has moved (effortlessly) with the front end loader...or how fantastic it feels to compare before and after, and to walk around our newly cleared plot and dream. So, here are some pictures.

(before, courtesy of Jen Parker / Bob Keller)














November 16, 2011

The Two Best Tomato Sauces (or Long Live Summer)







Ry and I love tomatoes almost as much as we do tacos. We love them from seed to sauce, and every heart-breaking or overjoyed moment in between. Even though our tomato plants are long since composted, the trellises safely to rest under the porch for the winter, I am reminded of how much we love them because of a) how much we talk about how much we miss them and b) how much we still rely on them for sustenance. For instance, last night we had a very quick yet healthy meal for a busy busy week that was simply de-frosted hearty tomato sauce tossed with good pasta. Thank goodness I had that Sunday to spare a few months ago to toil over this sauce, or else what on Earth would we have eaten last night, in between spanish class and a kitty dr. appt? (I can tell you - cheese. That's what we would have eaten. Just cheese.)

First, in the tradition of giving thanks, I would like to thank the genius of food-processing, as well the modern conveniences of freezers.

Second, I'd like to share my two favorite tomato sauce recipes. First my own, and the latter from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (think: Julia Child for Italian Cuisine). With either one of these, it is completely acceptable to eat with a spoon, forgoing pasta altogether.

Hearty Tomato Sauce
the kind that takes a while to cook, kind of like a veggie bolognese with bacon

1/2 lb good bacon or pancetta, cubed
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 - 5 cloves garlic, minced
(optional: 2 small green peppers, chopped)
15 - 20 small to medium sized tomatoes, blanched, peeled, de-seeded and roughly chopped (you can substitute 2 quarts whole tomatoes canned...and you can even forgo the peeling/de-seeding part to make it easier if you either want to use a food mill as you put the tomatoes in OR if you don't mind a few seeds in your teeth)
1/2 cup fresh basil
1 tsp oregano
(optional: 1 tsp crushed red pepper)
1 Tbl brown sugar
3 Tbl tomato paste
salt, pepper

In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, render the fat off the bacon in just a little bit of olive oil (approx 7 minutes). Add the onions, carrots, celery, green pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until just tender. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper (if using...and why wouldn't you?). Bring to just barely a boil, cover part way, turn the heat down to low and simmer slowly for an hour. Check the flavor, and add more salt, pepper (and other spices you're in to) if needed. Add the brown sugar and tomato paste, and let simmer for another 1/2 hour or so. Eat right away, or let cool and freeze for future use.

***

...and now for a simple, delicious sauce that is easy to make...

Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter
"This is the simplest of all sauces to make, and none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste."

2 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes, blanched and de-skinned (or pureed in a food mill to get rid of seeds, etc, but no need to fuss) OR 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice (I just use a quart of our canned whole tomatoes)
5 tbls butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table

Put the tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion and salt and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir from time to time, mashing any large piece of tomato in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

May be frozen with done; discard the onion when freezing.


Thanksgivings




It might seem cliche to say "Here is what I am thankful for" this time of year, but I can't help it. I have caught myself multiple times recently in the middle of feeling grateful for something. The other day I was thinking about the Post Office and how thankful I was for them, what a feat the whole system really is, their reliability and for mail in general. I paused and thought "hey wait, that is how I'm supposed to be thinking right now!" Perhaps it's subconscious messaging from the radio, Facebook, the calendar, or advertisements. But maybe it's because this time year it's easy to honestly feel thankful. It’s getting colder, we’re spending more time inside, it’s darker, we’re winding down the year and reflecting on what it has given us. It’s almost like an acceptance speech. The previous three seasons have been the work, the joys, the pains, the awards show. And now we’re holing up to enjoy it and find out who has won. Well, like a game in a Kindergarten class, we’re all winners, and now it’s our turn at the podium to say Thank You to those people/items/events/conveniences (like the Post Office) that have gotten us to this point.

Today I’d like to thank Thanksgiving.

Thank You, Thanksgiving, for deeply-engrained traditions like Shirley’s zucchini bread, and walks in the woods while wearing sweatpants because those are the only pants that fit. Thank you for mid-afternoon naps in my parents bed, because that is the only bed big enough for my tryptophan-induced sleepiness. Thank You for bringing my conservative family to the same table as my liberal family (and thank you for at least trying to curb the conversations about politics).

Thank you for Mahar vs. Athol, and all the other intense High School football rivalries that take place on Thanksgiving morning, where die-hards and alumni stand freezing on the side-lines, reuniting, cheering, and holding hot chocolate in their hands to stay warm (yet it’s too hot to drink). And when I've chosen to (and I thank the Hupperts for this!, Thank You for the Turkey Trot, and all the other cleverly named Thanksgiving Day races.

Thank You to all those professional football players and announcers who play or announce, year after year, so my family can have something to gather around in sports camaraderie, as we sit by a fire together. And as loud as it can be at times,Thank You for giving the uninterrupted time for my family to play rousing games of Gin, Spite and Malice, Dominos and Yahtzee.

Thank You for being the one holiday where you aren’t bombarded with media telling you to buy anything that will last more than 24 hours in the fridge (unless you’re the type of family where the leftover pie makes it to Saturday). Thank You for making it acceptable to put treasures from outside, like pine cones, gords, bittersweet, winterberry and moss on the table and call it decoration.

Thank you, Thanksgiving, for lending yourself to a healthy dose of humor and shenanigans, including cartoon turkeys, giant inflatable things at parades, Punkin' Chunkin', and people asking children how to cook your turkey (and then video tape it or put it on TV). Thank You for always providing a new blooper that we add to the long list of holiday stories we tell (did I even tell you about the time Amelia tried to make a key lime pie?)

Perhaps most of all, Thank You for being so focused on food (what a joy!). And as much as I love garlic, Thank You for being so focused on food without a single clove of garlic being broken open (it's interesting, really). Thank You for making turkeys need so long to cook, so my mother has to stay up later and wake up earlier than normal to baste, the sounds of which (that I hear from the couch, on which we must sleep to accommodate family guests) give me such comfort, and the knowledge of what pleasures await in that oven permeate my dreams). Thank you for mashed potatoes, dark meat, crispy skin, jellied-cranberries, brussel sprouts, peas, stuffing and three pieces of pie (one of each).



Thank You, Thanksgiving. What a joy.

November 11, 2011

Weekly Menu 11/7 - 11/13

Meatless Monday
  1. Breakfast - Liberte yogurt (Coconut, and Apple Crumble are my favorites. And kind of local because it's from Montreal)
  2. Lunch - leftovers from Sunday
  3. Dinner - Butternut Squash Bisque, and wild mushroom and onion saute
  4. Snacks - Red Hen 7 Grain bread and goat cheese

Tuesday

  1. Breakfast - yogurt
  2. Lunch - chicken rice soup from Park Row cafe in Waterbury (Ry had tuna)
  3. Dinner - tuna casserole
  4. Snacks - olives and more 7 grain bread with goat cheese

***Also made a quiche, with tomatoes, ham, leeks and goat cheese***

Wednesday

  1. Breakfast - quiche
  2. Lunch - leftovers
  3. Dinner - Taco Tuesday on Wednesday, for Kate and Don
  4. Snacks - carrot sticks and hummus
Thursday
  1. Breakfast - quiche
  2. Lunch - quiche
  3. Dinner - stovetop chicken and onions, garlic toast, and wild rice on a bed of arugula (with a white wine sauce that Ry made by accidentally pouring in way too much wine, and sprinkling with way too much salt - but it was delish). Wow, this dish sounds really fancy!
  4. Snacks - olives, goat cheese and 7 grain!
Fish on Friday
  1. Breakfast - yogurt and an apple
  2. Lunch - splurged on a chicken salad sandwich
  3. Dinner - lemon dill salmon, cabbage slaw and leftover rice
  4. Snacks - hummus and pita


This weekend I hope to make...

...pierogis, from an old friend's blog! We both have a surplus of sauerkraut, and I love her method of alleviating that.

...whole wheat pumpkin pancakes

...slow-cooked ribs, to feed Ry as he comes in from hunting on opening weekend.

November 9, 2011

Tacos, two ways



We now have three cats! Percy and Lula were just joined by a seven-week old kitten, who we named Taco. I must say, the process to name this kitten gave me a little sigh of relief about my concerns with child naming. We were dead set on Dr. Huxtable for a name, because it was funny, because we love the Cosby show, because there are lots of nickname potentials, and because we like weird cat names. (Although, Ry wasn't all that weird when naming Percy and Lula ten years ago). But...he just wasn't a Dr. And he just didn't scream "I'm a fuzzy, little Bill Cosby!"

But he did scream "Taco!"

Taco is indeed a character on one of our new favorite shows, The League. But our love for tacos goes WAY back. Since we have been together, there has been only one meal that has made an appearance into the menu each and every week. Tacos.

Ry grew up eating tacos a lot, and it was his idea to buy that first Old El Paso taco kit. I always loved tacos, but never thought to buy a kit or to make them at home. I always went with burritos when craving Mexican food. You might think they're the same, but they are very very different. It only took one crunchy, cheesy, sour-creamy bite to buy into "Taco Tuesday" which quickly evolved into "Taco Tuesday on Wednesday," purely based on the scheduling of our TV show culinary indulgence, Top Chef. It stuck long after the last contestant packed their knives and went.

Our taco intake evolved in a few other ways as well. Ry does not do much conventionally, and eating his tacos is no exception. He does not use the shell as a vessel for the taco innards. Instead, he mixes all the inside ingredients in a bowl, then places them on a plate full of crushed, warm taco shells. So, the first taco night, Ry dined with a fork while I enjoyed my tacos with my head tilted dramatically to the side, with juices dripping down my face, my elbows out to prevent more fluids from flowing up my arms. Delicious, but not pretty. The next week I tried Ry's method, and I have not looked back. Ry said smugly that every time he eats tacos in front of someone, he changes their taco-eating ways.

This new-fangled taco method even converted my father, who is notorious for hating tacos (or any food, really) because of their messiness. I was nervous when we put tacos on the menu in the week leading up to our wedding, knowing he would quietly eat them, but swearing a blue streak on the inside for every drop of grease that smeared into his hands. So I was thrilled when he copied Ry's "mix and crush" tacos, and almost fainted when he told my mom "we should make these at home."

The Evolution of Healthy: After a few weeks of delicious tacos, I almost vetoed the whole thing when I read the back of the taco kit box. First shocker was the amount of sodium. It was hard to believe that the tiny seasoning packet could pack that much anti-nutrition into it. And the second surprise was what was in the seasoning packet. If you took away all the unpronounceables, I had all those things on my spice rack. If we were going to eat Tacos every Tuesday (read: Wednesday) for the rest of our lives, I was going to devise a way for us to make them healthier.

I had to be careful, as not to scare Ry away from the tradition of the kit. So I weaned Ry off the kit, off the seasoning packet, off the bagged "salsa" using the recipe below. He barely even noticed the switch, and we haven't bought a kit in years.

Mix and Crush Tacos

The Meat
-1 glug of olive oil
-1/2 large onion, minced
-2 cloves garlic (more if you like it)
-optional: 1 green pepper, diced
-3/4 of a pound (or thereabouts) of a protein of your choice (we rotate between ground beef, fajita-style beef and chicken)
-optional: 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (not optional in our house)
-1 1/2 tsp chili powder
-1 1/2 tsp paprika
-1 1/2 tsp cumin
-1/2 tsp turmeric (to achieve that taco kit orange)
-salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a deep cast iron pan, and add 1/2 of the chopped onions, garlic, crushed red pepper and green pepper. Cook til onion and peppers are just tender. Add the protein and all the spices. When the meat is a few minutes away from being done, add the rest of the onions (for crunch). Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

The Assembly
-1 c shredded cheddar
-sour cream
-salsa - we like homemade, or Herdez Medium, available in the international aisle of the supermarket
-shredded lettuce or cabbage
-diced tomatoes
-if we have it, minced cilantro, avocado, lime juice, jalapenos or full on guacamole
-the meat
-taco shells or tortilla chips, warmed in the oven at 325 for 5 minutes

Crush the shells or chips between your hands, and put on a plate. Mound all the fixin's want on top of the shells and mix on the plate -- OR -- get a medium sized mixing bowl, put all the fixin's in there and pour out over the crushed shells. Eat, enjoy, get seconds.


November 4, 2011

Bisque Management



Even though I can move past the Kardashian wedding debacle (I promise - this will be the last time I mention that name. If I'm lying, Ry will literally disown me), I still need a little comfort, which this evening I will take in the form of the best, richest Squash Bisque recipe I've ever known.

It doesn't come from a book! Like most "best" recipes, it comes from nostalgia, and a person whom I admire, and who doesn't even know it -- Rexine, a family friend who is simply amazing.

She baked carrot cake cupcakes for our wedding with cream cheese frosting, and gave us a Daisy butter churn! But, of course, I admire her more for her strength, positivity, creativity, thoughtfulness and hard work. She has been in my life seemingly forever, and was my boss for a summer when I worked landscaping. I dare say she is responsible for first planting the seed within me for cooking, entertaining and gardening. That's significant.

My best memories of Rexine are of when our families would get together at their house before Christmas for a long, indulgant evening of posh food, elegant table-settings, warm, cozy fires, A Christmas Story, games and laughter. The night always ended late, with us kids falling asleep to Christmas movies on their couch, having to be moved to the car to head home. Her husband and my Dad's best friend passed away in 2005, and it was a huge loss, that I never expected to feel (and tear up about) to this day. And so those holiday parties are sealed in the past, with only a few elements that can be brought back today. This Squash Bisque is one of them. Thank you, Rexine.

Squash Bisque

1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced carrot
3 tbls butter
salt & pepper to taste
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes (I suppose you could use other winter squash, but I personally will never mess with it)
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup light cream
cayenne, to taste

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, sauté the onion & carrot in butter until soft, but not brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add potatoes, squash & chicken soft. Simmer 45 minutes until vegetables are tender. Force through a sieve, food mill or blender. Return to pan; heat and add cream. Correct seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne. Serves 6.



Kim Kardashian, you are NOT the 99%.

Kim Kardashian and her "husband" got a divorce after 72 days of marriage. This, after a huge, expensive, 4-hour-televised "Kardashian Fairy Tale Wedding" Hollywood stunt that cost a rumored $10 million. This, after a $2 million dollar engagement ring. This, after her family warned against it, and there were a few giant red flags - like when they could barely speak to each other at the rehearsal because they were fighting.

As ridiculous as this whole celebrity marriage is/was, and as so polar opposite as this lifestyle is to mine, I can't help but feel a reaction to this display. And I feel disappointment...and rage.

Yes, I DVR the Kardashian show. So I've been following it all, and it's my Sunday night indulgence. Overall I enjoy their shenanigans, family ties, and I think they are funny. (Here's a secret: part of me even thinks that Kourtney and I could be friends). And yes, sometimes they make me mad because of their frivolity - like when all the sisters go to the doctor to get x-rays of Kim's butt to prove to the tabloids that she does not have butt implants. And there are people (probably in their neighborhood) dying because they can't afford to get simple, life-saving procedures because they don't have health insurance. Strike 1.

And something about this wedding lead up made me hopeful for Kim and NBA player Kris Humphries. The 'nuptials' farted in front of each other. They played. They laughed, and bickered, and made up. He, a country-boy from humble beginnings, pushed her to move past her materialism. It almost - just almost - seemed like they were human. For a brief moment, I was able to look past the digusting diarreah of extravagance that they planned for their wedding (she wore an unnecessary 3 Vera Wang dresses - Strike 2), and I hoped that they would make it and buck the trend of celebrity-ism.

But, they didn't make it, and I am so disappointed, and let-down, and ashamed for them. But I'm also livid. What a huge waste of resources in a time of extreme economic turmoil for most of the f-ing planet. If they cut out just one element of their wedding, think of all the good they could have done for one person, or a family, or a community...or a freaking country! The lavishness was disgusting even if their marriage had lasted, but since it was so fleeting, it's even more enraging.

Strike 3.

So, I've cancelled the recordings. Unliked them on Facebook. Refuse to buy the People magazine with this story on the cover. I'm just over it - slightly sad to lose my vice, but this was the last straw, and they have made it easy to move on...in my small house...with my one wedding dress that I got ON SALE at David's Bridal hanging in my closet...and with my husband who, during OUR rehearsal, was by my side, holding my hand, supporting me as we both cried tears of joy throughout the whole thing.

November 2, 2011

Cookbook Collection: Part I


  • The Joy of Cooking, Irma Bombauer -- a true joy! Everything you ever need to know about everything culinary. I got my copy (and so much more culinary inspiration) from the nanny-mamma, when I was a nanny in Seattle, which was the best job I've ever had. I also knew Ry was the "one" when he brought his own copy to the relationship. I knew he had his priorities right, and he got it from his sister and family, which meant his whole family had their priorities right.
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, Julia Child et al -- I rented this from the library no less than 9 times (yes, around the time the Julie and Julia movie came out...), and finally bit the bullet and purchased it for $22 from Half.com. I don't know what took me so long...it's heaven, and a French lesson all in one. If you can only read the first paragraph and the section on cutting an onion, you will still be changed forever.
  • Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?; Back to Basics; The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook -- Ina Garten is the best. She makes things look so easy, and watching her show is just like curling up in your favorite pajamas with a cup of cocoa. Her recipes are fabulous and glamorous without breaking the bank or breaking a sweat.
  • Jamie Oliver: The Naked Chef Takes Off; Ministry of Food -- I first got interested in cooking, cooking shows and good food when I was studying in London and watched my first episode of Jamie Oliver's the Naked Chef. Oh Em Gee. He was CUTE, and British, and had cute little -isms, and loved his wife, and cooked a whole salmon in wet newspaper in a fire on the beaches of Brighton. He followed it up with a Nutella-swirled sweet bread. Seriously? And now he's a good, homegrown, local food advocate the world over. The love affair has never ended.
  • Gordon Ramsey: Makes it Easy -- Some more British indulgence; this one a bit more "high end", but the wild mushroom risotto is to die for, and he explains the full English breakfast quite well.
  • Nigella Lawson: Feast; Nigella Bites -- Ok, so I might be an Anglophile. Nigella is also British, and also cute as a bug, and also makes cooking approachable. I was also introduced to her when studying abroad in London, when my Health Psych class professor had us watch a documentary on her first husband John Diamond's battle with throat cancer, which he unfortunately lost. So it's more than just admiration for the "queen of food porn", as she sometimes has been called. She also makes a ham cooked in Coca-Cola.
Just realized I have to go to work in 7 minutes, I am still in my glasses and pajamas without breakfast...with so many cookbooks left to talk about! So I think this will have to be Part I. Part II will come soon...

November 1, 2011

Things Ry is proud of right now...


  • science-geeking out on refractometers for checking his beer gravity
  • 15 gallons of beer fermenting in our closets, each a different batch
  • pureeing up our own homegrown pumpkins to use in the Punkin' Porter
  • how beat up his Carhartt's are after giving them some serious wear and tear these past few months
  • his (our!) new chainsaw
  • the new gun rack in his truck
  • his yeast "farm" in our refrigerators, as he tries to cultivate his own Parcell strain
  • the Buffalo Bills