Archives For local food

Very small batch canning

victoria  —  July 13, 2013 — 1 Comment
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A very small batch

I haven’t had many Saturdays lately that were just Saturdays – days without real plans, made for puttering and experimenting and maybe daydreaming. Today, this Saturday, is pretty much all mine. I drove Keifel to work very early for a weekend, dropping him about 7:45am. It was too early to go to the market but silly to drive all the home so I popped into Provence on 21st. I’ve been disappointed the last few times I’ve been there, the service has been off or the floors have been really dirty. Things seem a little improved today and I got an almond croissant, my favorite, and a latte and scrolled through some social media while the other early birds flocked in.

By the time I got to the market, the day was in full swing. I got milk and fruit. There were some gorgeous eggplant but no one at my house will eat them but me and as much as I love it, I don’t want to eat leftover eggplant for three days. The Peach Truck is still going strong so I picked up a bag of peaches and traded dollars with a couple other farmers for some huge blackberries and some tiny red plums I had never seen before (I wish I had thought to take a picture…).

The house was still quiet when I got home, so I dragged out the laundry baskets and made some coffee and set about making a batch of plum jam. I bought Food in Jars last spring with grand dreams of making Christmas presents of jeweled summer fruit in jars after a Saturday spent making some iffy strawberry jam with Andrea. Since purchasing the book I have perused its pages many times and made exactly zero things from it. I have actually made (so much better) strawberry jam a couple times and some devilishly good pickled onions but nothing from the book. I even bought a Kuhn Rikon pan with a rack insert big enough for exactly one pint jar… still nothing from the book. With my bounty from the market laid before me on the counter, I was determined to make something. I settled on the recipe for Small Batch Mixed Stone Fruit Jam thinking the plums wouldn’t equal the three cups of chopped fruit required and I would need to throw in at least one of the peaches.

The plums were exactly three cups. I grated in the zest of one lemon, pouring its juice in after and sifted the desiccated vanilla bean pods out of my jar of vanilla sugar (Ms McClellan had suggested adding a vanilla bean) and topping it up to two cups from the sugar canister. The sugared, lemoned plums hung out in the fridge while I started laundry, put the dishes away and had lunch with Julian (his breakfast). Then, on to serious jam making.

The recipe says the batch should be enough to fill three half-pint jars. Apparently I don’t have any half-pint jars. Apparently I have a whole box of wide-mouth pint jars (no idea), a couple small-mouth pints and two 1/4 pints. I set everything up best I could as I have not invested in a canning pot proper but use my pasta pot with a steamer in the bottom. This is not ideal as the pint jars are actually a little tall on the rack. The directions in the book are pretty spot on though it took a lot longer than I thought it would to reach the temperature suggested for a good set since there’s no added pectin. My batch made one full pint and one 1/4 pint of deeply purple jam. Of course I tasted the slick of jam left in the pan. I am always amazed at the natural spiciness of cooked plums. If it sets it’ll be wonderful.

As I typed the last line I heard the favorite sound of all home canners: the ping of a sealing jar.

Cherries in the sun

Cherries in the sun

It’s not every day that I get to wallow in what is now my avocation (vs. when it was my vocation – however poorly paid), but I have done so today. Thoroughly. And now I feel compelled to share.

I dropped Keifel at work this morning early and then wended my way over to Crema on Hermitage Avenue to have breakfast solo. A small group of travelling friends was ordering in front of me telling their story of being directed to Crema for latte art. Crema’s lattes are art but I would say more in the drinking than the deftly done heart in the silky foam. I got a latte, too, and a tasty lemon-raisin scone from Dozen Bakery, found a sunny window and enjoyed my quiet breakfast looking out over one of Nashville’s newest “it” neighborhoods. I ordered a coffee soda to go and bought a half pound of Yemeni coffee that smells like perfume in the bag and headed out the door to my next foodie adventure for the day. By the way, if you haven’t been to Crema and haven’t had the, seasonal, coffee soda – go now. It’s worth the drive over. I promise.

My next stop for the day was a class on food styling for food bloggers. I think calling myself a food blogger is slightly aggrandizing considering the (in)frequency of my posts, but we’ll roll with it for our purposes. Teresa Blackburn, food stylist and food blogger, taught the class assisted by Lindsay Landis.

Teresa had laid out several different table top looks for staging a picture and then mixed and matched a new one to put together a beautiful salad with figs, blackberries and preserved lemons. The new wrinkle in my brain on that score was using cold, pre-made mashed potatoes as “ice” under the leaves to keep them cold and act kind of like a flower frog to support the leaves. Some strategically placed figs, a couple blackberries on toothpicks and some pipette-drizzled dressing later, the salad was ready for its closeup.

The class was great but by far the best part was chatting with other local food bloggers, including Teresa, and meeting some incredibly talented, passionate women and men. Hence, part of the reason I felt compelled to step it up for the day, at least, and post. I’ve been chatting with Keifel about reskinning the blog. The purchased “harvest” theme is wearing thin on me and I’d like to clear up the clutter and pull in some of the info from the currently on extended hiatus supper club site, arsculinaria.net. I’d like to hope the fire will burn for a bit but it’s summer and there’s a lot going on, including but not limited to Nashville’s growing number of farmers’ markets and the abundance of beautiful local produce to enjoy.

As it’s the weekend and there are two young adults in the house with hearty appetites burning through the contents of the cupboards and fridge, a shopping trip was due. I missed out on my usual Saturday morning downtown farmers’ market run so had to hit Whole Foods a little harder than I usually do. There was a sale on cherries prompting clafouti (recipe from the Joy of Cooking with a slash of Trinidadian rum) for tonight’s dessert after a dinner of baby potato, leek and ham hash.

So wrapping up my foodie porn kind of day will be dinner surrounded by the lovely faces of my family, preceded by this blog post and some summery baking. I snuck in a photo, though I don’t think it stands up to the photos out of today’s class. I’ll get there, maybe. As much as I love playing with my food and taking pictures, I really prefer writing and that’s why there’s this giant block of text then my sunny picture of cherries at the top.

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Still summer. Still hotter than h-e-double hockey sticks. And I now have even greater reason to avoid turning on the oven; the element burnt out in a spectacular pyrotechnic display while making biscuits by request of the newly-returned from Trinidad boychick. In case you were curious, you can finish half baked biscuits on broil with fair results.

All that aside. We’re here for the sloppy joes. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I had them but I think it might have involved pigtails and Mom pouring the sauce out of a can of Manwich. They were definitely something I associated with late night dinners of my youth.

Jules, said boychick, and I were a the farmers’ market on Saturday and he was carrying around a bag of hamburger type buns we purchased from the Provence stand. The woman we bought our peaches from asked if we’d slap a burger or sloppy joe on one of those for her. The idea was planted.

On returning home later than expected this evening, I had planned to make dal and rice. A very hungry Jules suggested sloppy joes instead. Not having made the messy sandwiches in question in eons, if ever, I consulted that tome of American recipes: The Joy of Cooking. Not having several things the recipe called for, I winged it.

Sunday Night Sloppy Joes (mostly local)

Chop one onion and 4 to 5 cloves of garlic finely. Heat about a tablespoon of safflower or similar high-heat oil in a saute pan. Stir that around a bit while cutting up 3 or four small sweet peppers nearly lost to the back of fridge demon or one regular-sized red or yellow sweet bell pepper. Add the pepper to the pot. Add two teaspoons celery seed unless, unlike me, you have celery, then chop up one stalk finely and add that to the pan. Saute until everything is softened but not browned. Add one pound (local!) ground beef, a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (or 2 tablespoons brown sugar and the juice of half a lime), a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, half a teaspoon red pepper flake and a tablespoon paprika. While that is browning, stir it some to break up the meat and rummage through the fridge for some pickled peppers you made a week or so ago, if you find them, chop them up and toss them in the pan with some of the vinegar in the jar (Tablespoon or so). If you don’t find them, add a tablespoon or two of pickle relish or chopped-up pickles of some persuasion with a little of the vinegar in the jar. When the meat has browned and is pretty much done, pour in a quarter to half a large can of Muir Glen crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, depending on how sloppy you like your sloppy joes. Serve immediately on sturdy hamburger buns.

BONUS recipe!

Oil Biscuits (damn near instant bread for dinner which can be half baked and finished on broil if necessary)

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (can sub up to 1 cup with whole wheat for still pretty fluffy biscuits)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup safflower oil (or similar light tasting, high heat oil)

3/4 cup butter milk

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a 1 cup measure, pour in 1/4 cup oil, top with 3/4 cup buttermilk. Don’t stir. Pour into well in dry ingredients. Using a fork faff (technical term…) the flour mixture and liquid together just until it clumps up and most of the flour is moistened. Dump on clean counter or similar, gently knead and turn three times, then stop. No, really. Stop. Gently form into roughly 8″ square about an inch high. Using a  knife or bench scraper, cut into nine equal-ish squares. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until tops are lightly browned (about 12 minutes). Serve immediately.

(For variety, grate 2 ounces sharp cheddar and toss in flour mixture or add chopped fresh herbs to the flour mixture. For impromptu short cakes you can add 1/4 cup sugar to the dry mixture and 1 egg to the wet.)

 

This is one of those no photos, no fancy, no nothing posts. I’d love to say I patented the idea, but well we all know that’s not true. See many examples of frill-less bloggery about the internet.

I tried to log in to my online Hospitality Management class this morning and the system is down. At least I know my students are most likely having the same issue. I should next turn to finishing my lesson plan and lecture for my Wednesday Nutrition and Menu Planning class but I am sitting in the library in an attempt to not be distracted by the laundry and thirty thousand other things I need to do at home. Some people slack off with facebook, I clean out cabinets and alphabetize the refrigerator. So I am here in a laundry-free zone and I am monumentally distracted by the sound of thirty people banging away on clackety-clack keyboards and the low hum of the library punctuated by teeny voices and then moms shushing them. So much for getting on with my actual paying work. Funny how one can write for free when distracted but not for money. Okay, funny how I can write for free when distracted.

On more food related notes, the supper club is lumbering to a real start. We have some folks reserved for the September dinner but I would love to see it full and people disappointed that there were no spots left. I am unsure how to let people I know socially from previous work situations and through church know about the salon without feeling like a nasty spammer or a vinyl siding robo call. I know there are people who would be interested but if I haven’t spoken to them face to face about it I feel weird about contacting them electronically. This, my friends, is why yours truly is not in advertising or sales. I suck at it. No point in mincing words. If I’m bad at selling myself, whom despite my penchant for amusing self-deprecation I do believe in, imagine me trying to get you to buy a widget washer. However, if you are here reading this, I will let you know that the link for the supper salon is here. You can email, DM on twitter or face book or even call me for the password to view the menu.

We are still getting a half ton truck of veg a week from Avalon Acres. Okay, not a half ton. But this week we got two quarts of raw peanuts and about 8 pounds of sweet potatoes. I am now craving fall food and it is still 90 degrees outside. So, unfair. My latest discovery though is freezing okra and the joys of caponata bruschetta. I found a great recipe in this amazing book I discovered at McKay called Earth to Table for caponata. It has a lot of frou frou things that we are not getting in our farm box like capers and olives and fennel but I have made several tasty variations. It is heavy on the eggplant which ain’t doing it for the menfolk at my house. But really how can you go wrong with sauteed summer veg on grilled artisan bread? I have taken to having it for breakfast on occasion. As, for the book, it is fabulous for anyone trying to eat healthier, closer to home, at home, from their garden, simply… it’s just really good. I have made half the spring recipes and all of the summer ones. Granted I can never leave well enough alone so they are almost always the Victoria version of the printed recipe. But it’s good just for ideas, too. I don’t think I would’ve thought to make a blueberry upside down cake on my own (I loathe, and I do mean loathe, pineapple upside down cake). It was a revelation and went down a storm at the Wednesday night dinner. Jules made it by his lonesome and found it pretty easy unless you try to double it in bigger skillet (sugar doesn’t brown evenly).

All in all things are busy but mostly pleasantly so. I do wish I had been able to procure a full time gig of some sort before we rushed headlong into the madness of fall but apparently it was not meant to be. I am still looking but I get that companies don’t like to hire peeps in Q4 and have resolved to be open to what’s out there but giving it a little more time before I look at seriously drastic measures. Wish me luck.

Yesterday I had the great good fortune to mosey on down the road a short way with Keifel and Julian to meet two lovely couples, one with equally lovely offspring in tow, for breakfast at the still fairly new restaurant The Farmhouse at Fontanel. Keifel and I had gotten excited about it when I found it while looking for local food sources on the web, but schedules and budgets had kept us from trying it ’til yesterday. It’s on Whites Creek Pike which makes it very conveniently located for us North (of) Nashville types. They also source their ingredients locally, from many of the same producers we have been buying from for months.

Between the eight of us, we almost covered the breakfast menu. The omelets were of that particular shade of yellow only achieved by using the very freshest of eggs straight from farms where chickens eat what chickens are suppose to eat. The grits, courtesy of Falls Mills, were — with only the exception of those enjoyed at my mother’s table, made by her hand — the best I have ever eaten. I know grits are a love ’em or leave ’em proposition and most people I know are in the leave ’em camp, but these were every bit as creamy and light as the finest Italian-grandma-made polenta laden with shallots and Parmesan. I ordered the Whites Creek Benedict: buttermilk biscuits with country ham, a light cheese sauce and two perfectly poached eggs. Julian took a piece of my biscuit and said, “You just handed me a cloud.” Boy knows from biscuits.

Jules got the Mile Marker Zero BBQ Omelet. He was leaning toward the French toast but his serious BBQ love won out. And good thing. The pulled pork was perfect and the combination of fluffy yellow omelet with tangy sauce just goes to show that sometimes a great notion comes from coloring outside the lines. Keifel’s farmhouse breakfast arrived all of a piece: a perfect succotash of sweet corn and buttery limas layered with crumbled sausage and home fries topped with two (again perfectly executed) over medium eggs. None of this fifteen different plates and bowls like the similarly named breakfast served at that familiar interstate exit country eatery. (Don’t get me wrong, I have been saved many times by the checkers and rocking chairs beacon when travelling through the seas of fast food sludge served on plastic tables.)

There’s our three. I had nibbles of the others but saved the gusto of my appetite for my own choice. However, I was tempted and succumbed to the sweet siren song of fig jam and sweet potato butter that came with the toast plates. Vocabulary fails. Oh my. I love fig jam and well, that was amazing. Period.

Of course, I cannot be 100% fawning. Not because I’m afraid you won’t believe me or because I will seem like some paid sycophant. There actually was a teeny flaw. And honestly, it’s a pet peeve of mine and no one else seemed to mind in the least. I prefer a crunch to my hash browns/home fries and none registered with those that Keifel or Jules got with their meals. It’s a tiny but important thing, to me. So, I will always choose the grits when given a choice. Problem solved.

We are looking forward to going back for lunch or dinner and checking out the trails on the property. It’s a beautiful setting. It always amazes me how close we are to a rural area when we can be downtown in about 7 minutes. The new enterprise at Fontanel is icing on that best of both worlds cake. Oh, they are currently building a gallery/artist space, as well.

Go. If you aren’t as lucky to be as close as we are, it’s worth the drive. It’s the same folks that run The Loveless, but having eaten at both, The Farmhouse wins by miles. Must be all that great local produce, meat, eggs and dairy.

Local is about who we are in this place at this time, the things that make us Nashville, or Chattanooga, or Omaha, or Seattle or Timbuktu. And, in a very organic way, it helps all those others places, too, because we aren’t pumping the atmosphere full of more carbon.

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I read Plenty about a month ago and casually asked Keifel if he would be interested in an experiment to see if we could eat locally for a year. To my surprise, he said yes. So, the adventure will begun in earnest May 1. We were planning to start the first day of spring, as in the book, but after a week of realizing we would be eating eggs for two months, we postponed. We did decide we would start mostly sourcing locally and that we should eat anything already in the house because it would be wasteful otherwise. I am all about having a pantry, so we have quite a bit of non-local stuff to play with.

I started out that first spring week by foraging at the Produce Place on Murphy Road because I had seen local produce there from Mennonite farms in the past. They had produce from everywhere but here, but they did have some local biodynamic sweet potatoes. I bought four pounds. They were very dirty, not a problem, and spindly enough to poke a hole right through my bag. They also had some local cheese. I got a chunk of smoked cheddar but it looked a little plasticky through the plastic and is still in the fridge, untouched. My last two things there were local, raw sourwood honey (which is amazing, I can’t even describe the flavor) and local sorghum. We went to Whole Foods that Tuesday because they also carry local produce occasionally. All they had was local eggs, local milk and a teeny bit of local lamb and local beef. We then had not very many vegetables and a lot of animal parts or products.

We had a crazy week but mostly ate stuff from the pantry including local eggs and such as we went. Another stipulation was that if we ate out it had to be a locally owned restaurant preferably one that sourced locally. Fido is really the only one in our current budget. We also had dinner with friends at Rose Pepper. Another rule was that we not be assholes in turning down hospitality, gifts or invitations because of this. Trading the goodwill and fellowship of our friends and family for our experiment seems, well, like being assholes.

That Friday, we went to the Turnip Truck in East Nashville and scored some much better local goat cheese and local buttermilk. Jules and I hit up the Nashville Farmers Market on Saturday and got greenhouse lettuce, turnip greens, local chicken and more local milk, non-homogenized, so I could take a stab at making yogurt. (Still hasn’t happened.) All told, our foraging that week was successful. Also, somewhere along the way I bought coffee beans from Bongo Java Roasting Company. I chose not to give up coffee but to switch to locally roasted by a local business that uses organic and fair trade beans. I had been drinking fair trade organic, but not local.

The high point of our first week of eating local was a cottage pie with local beef, local sweet potatoes, local milk, and local herbs. The carrots and celery and garlic were leftover from the larder. The celery is now done and I really wished I’d had onions. We also ate the local lettuce with a honey mustard vinaigrette. Olive oil is also on my list of things I can continue to buy if it is organic and preferably Californian (as that is the closest olive production, we think). Julian and Keifel loved both the pie and the salad. Jules said if eating local is like this all year, he is totally in.

Things have continued. The new Saturday ritual is dropping Keifel to work, did I mention we also down-sized to one car?, and then having coffee and a pastry at Provence (and buying bread from them if we need it). Then heading to the farmer’s market. We are converts to JD Farms milk. We have tried whole (cream comes to the top!), skim and 2%. Jules has settled on the 2% and since he drinks it straight, he gets the deciding vote. They also have a wicked good chocolate milk. We get eggs from several vendors but the ones I got this morning are a lovely mix of pink and blue with a couple extra jumbo-sized and a teeny bantam egg as well. I got the eggs, some beautiful arugula, and sweet little white turnips with full, lusty tops from Common Grounds. There are two cheese vendors now. One for locally made goats milk cheeses and one that deals in American artisanal cheeses. I picked up an aged farmhouse cheese from N. Alabama. I am thinking a salad with a little of that crumbled over. I also got a pound of bacon from Emerald Glen Farms. The chicken we got from them last week was amazing. I also got a pork roast from Walnut Hills Farm. I got goat stew meat from them last week that Keifel curried in the Trinidadian manner with a little local lamb from Whole Foods. Another local dinner winner.

So, after a almost three weeks of dabbling, things are getting ready to head for the big time. I know that we are really going to have to carve out some time to do more ahead-of-time prep for breakfasts and lunches because we are crazy busy with so many jobs and one car scheduling. Our volunteer schedule calms down that second week of May and I am hoping to get stuck in to working on one or both of the books in progress. Our first CSA delivery from Avalon Acres is also that first week of May, so we will at least have something to eat even if I can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market.

We are preparing some herb beds around the house with some free bricks from Cajun Scorpio Girl and Mark the Carpenter. Julian and I dug one of them out last weekend but this weekend has been too hectic, as will next… We are planning to get a raised bed and get some tomato plants, pepper plants and, if possible, some pickling cucumbers (I love gherkins!). Julian and I started some herbs from seed and some of them actually lived and have sprouted which of course means we need to get on those herb beds.

I thought long and hard about this and I really think that local food is the best way forward for the planet, for the people and for food security. I don’t want to get too involved in being a screamy evangelist about it but I am hoping that with this blog, the supper club, twitter and facebook, I can talk about it to those who are interested in listening in on and seeing pictures from our adventure.

To have some guidelines we came up with a list of allowable indulgences (necessities, more like it!) and some ground rules. Our lives are pretty hectic and we didn’t want this to make it worse. It’s hard to make it look appealing if you are having a nervous breakdown in the process. Here’s our starting point:

Ground Rules:
1. Try for as much of our diet as possible to come from within 100 miles.
2. When travelling or receiving hospitality we will eat what is offered. (The “Don’t Be Assholes*” rule.)
3. We will accept food gifts graciously, even those from far outside the 100 mile limit. (*)
4. It is impractical to put the 100 mile restraint on catering gigs and the supper club, though we will make every effort to continue to source sustainable produce for those functions, especially the supper club.
5. We will make every effort to investigate local wild foods, fish and game. (I am trying to set a date for some trout fishing and have a line on a free -yay!- smoker).
6. We will acquire a small, energy efficient freezer; can as much as we can; and use the dehydrator (that has been in the attic for three years) to preserve as much as we can for the winter and early spring next year when we know fresh, local produce is in short supply.
7. We will plant a small garden this year, focusing on easily preserved items and herbs.
8. We will continue composting.
9. We will avoid food waste by creatively using up leftovers as soon as possible.

Exempt Items:
(the list was supposed to be 10 but we forgot a couple things on the first one and hope to delete some if we find local sources)
1. coffee, must be fair trade and organic and roasted locally
2. tea, organic and fair trade and only if we run out of our current supply
3. olive oil, organic and preferably Californian
4. citrus fruit, but not juice (I have to be honest and say that a life without lemons seems horribly bleak to me)
5. spices, but herbs must be local if not home grown
6. salt, preferably sea salt
7. American grown rice
8. Beer, but must be brewed locally even if the raw ingredients come from somewhere else
9. chocolate, must be fair trade and made locally
10. kefir, until I get my own yogurt set up going (my belly would otherwise not be the same)
11. steel cut oats
12. peanut butter, all natural and organic, unless we can find a 100-mile source (to prevent Jules from starvation)