Sunday, June 28, 2009

Do you brown bag it?

Well, DH does. Though his employer provides a large break room complete with sandwich and snack machines, he prefers to pack his lunch every day. One reason is he's a thrifty guy and would rather not fork out a minimum of 5 bucks a day to eat a day-old sandwich, a handful of chips and a soda plus the closest restaurant is almost 4 miles away. But the main reason is he's envious of me and DS.

Yes, that's right. He's driven by jealousy. He thinks of us, at home, doing our usual chores, homeschooling, stretching out with a book and then enjoying home-cooked meals without him. He can handle it all right up to the point when DS describes some great tasting dish we cobbled together for dinner. Then, especially if the meal included fresh garden produce, he turns green.

Now for me, having to cook and preserve almost all our food, I sometimes dream of being served a meal I didn't have to prepare. Just goes to show, one man's bane is another's pleasure. And it's not even that DS and I dine on exotic dishes or seek out little known recipes to enjoy when DH is at work. I think it's just the idea that we're enjoying the fruits of his labor without him.

So what does he pack for lunch? Usually leftovers. Yep, all this fuss and the man eats leftovers. But since I usually cook extra chicken with the idea of making tortilla soup from the remains or turn a few slices of ham and boiled potatoes into a fritta with the addition of eggs and onions, it's not always traditional leftovers. More of the cook once, eat twice or plan-ahead cooking style.

One day this past week, I realized he'd packed a totally local meal to take to work. Here's what he packaged up: ruby red beets, steamed and sliced, zucchini and yellow squash in browned butter, sugar snap peas with garlic-soy sauce, Harvey House slaw, sliced cucumbers in vinegar and a slice of locally raised and smoked ham.Except for the ham slice (the last of a fellow homesteader's delicious Christmas basket), DH grew everything from beets, cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, onion, sugar snap peas, yellow squash to zucchini. The dried and crushed hot red pepper on the peas came from last year's garden.

The butter came from Burnt Chimneys, the soy sauce from Richmond, and the honey in the slaw came from an apiary on the next county road over. The apple cider vinegar was more of the batch we made last fall from (non-pasturized) local cider. Non-local ingredients included in the meal were celery seed, dry mustard, kosher salt, a teaspoon of brown sugar and salad oil.

Sugar Snap Peas in Garlic-Soy Sauce

1 pound sugar snap peas, ends clipped, strings removed
2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil (OR sub plain olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
dash of crushed cayenne pepper

Toss olive oil with peas to coat. Broil 2"-3" from heat for 5 minutes. Mix soy sauce and brown sugar together and pour over peas in broiler pan. Toss to coat. Season lightly with pepper. Serve.

These are good hot or cold.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


In my house cornbread is never sweet and is always made in an iron skillet. Just the way my mama made it.

Now, if you want to add sugar, corn, peppers, sausage, onion or cheese, I still may eat it but it's strayed from being cornbread and started taking on airs. Oh, and if there's any buttermilk or yogurt in the house, that's always used in the batter in preference to any other liquid such as milk. Though, if it's a poor month, water will work in a pinch.

Around here cornbread often serves as a kid-friendly extra or as a meal extender, stretching a few leftovers into a full meal. Plus everyone's always happy to see it on the table when they sit down to eat. Combine it with homemade preserves and it can serve as a between-meal snack, too.

Because corn grows in so many areas of the country, local cornmeal often can be found more readily than wheat flour. Besides nearby Wade's Mill, we have a couple of local folks who set up during the year to grind and sell cornmeal at local events such as the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival or sometimes under a tent on the fringe of a large parking lot sort of like the ubiquitous chicken barbeques -- serving as a fund-raiser or simply a way to make extra money. Since we have a grinder, I can prepare our cornmeal fresh as we need it. I like to use popcorn as it makes a hearty, good tasting cornmeal and is something we can grow ourselves.

Cornbread came to my menu-deprived mind again yesterday as I planned a late dinner that was more of the same garden fare we usually enjoy this time of year. We'd been on the go since early morning and wanted something quick and easy for supper. Preferably something that could cook as we showered and changed after the hot, tiring day. So I fixed a quick two-skillet meal that's one of DS's favorites: sweet salsa cabbage with ground venison and cornbread.

First I mixed up the cornbread and put it in the toaster oven to bake. My small iron skillet just fits in the little oven and lets me bake in the hot summer without heating up the house with the larger gas oven. The cornbread takes about 20 minutes to bake which is just enough time to get the main dish prepped and cooked.

The cabbage and venison dish is another variation on combining available vegetables with ground meat and adding a sauce. In this case I chopped onions and green cabbage from our garden as I browned the frozen ground venison in a tablespoon of oil. The venison was from a deer put in the freezer last fall. When we grind it for the freezer, it's all lean meat so needs just a bit of oil for cooking like this. And I package it in flattened three-quarter pound packages so it can be cooked right from the frozen state, no waiting for it to thaw.

I tossed the onions on top of the cooking meat and covered the pan with a lid while I finished chopping cabbage. The sauce was 2 cups hot salsa we'd put up out of the garden last year and 1/2 cup home-canned peach preserves made last year with fruit and honey from an orchard just over the mountain from us. I added a bit of salt and black pepper, stirring all the sauce ingredients together before pouring it over the now-combined cabbage, onions and venison in the pan. Put the lid back on and let it simmer on low while I grabbed a quick shower.

No real dessert necessary with this meal but we all enjoyed an extra slice of cornbread with some more of the peach preserves as a sweet finish to dinner. Another successful OLS meal and another meal elevated to something special by a pan of cornbread.


2 cups cornmeal
2 eggs
1-1/4 cups buttermilk or thinned yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter

Add the oil or butter to an 8-inch or 10-inch iron skillet and set in preheated 450ºF. oven while preparing rest of recipe.

Combine remaining ingredients in medium mixing bowl. Pour hot oil or melted butter from iron skillet into batter, stir quickly to blend then transfer to hot skillet for baking.

Bake 20 minutes at 450ºF.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Packed lunch the OLS way

This was a busy week and it ended with us taking a day trip on Saturday to attend a homeschooling convention. There was a scheduled break for lunch between workshops but from past experience we've learned to pack a lunch to enjoy at the car instead of relying on the pre-packaged sandwiches available on site. Since the garden harvest is continuing to gain momentum, it seemed a good idea to build the menu around local, even homegrown food.

So today's lunch easily turned into our weekly all-local meal in the One Local Summer challenge. We just ate it in a parking garage in Richmond instead of at home. A few folding lawn chairs, a cooler serving as table and, in DS's case, a book purchased at the convention's used book sale, and we were all set.
In preparation for Saturday's meal I'd boiled eggs from our hens on Friday and used just-made mayonnaise to bind the resultant egg salad. Kept cold in the cooler with our frozen water bottles it was perfect with homemade crackers made from local wheat and Sugar Snap peas and peeled turnips, both from our own garden.

I liked dipping the peas in the egg salad but DH preferred scooping the egg salad onto crackers then sprinkling minced chives (again from the garden) over top. The last of our strawberries made a perfect sweet finish to the meal. And I appreciated that because it was all finger food we didn't need silverware beyond a butter knife for getting the egg salad out of the glass jar I packed it in.

As in years past, we weren't the only family tailgating in the parking garage but I bet we were the only one eating all locally-produced foods.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Garden harvest update

Welcome rains this spring are fueling our garden's explosion. I've been trying to weigh all the produce as it comes in but some days it's a hit-or-miss proposition what with the regular chores plus preparing or preserving all the veg. Here's what I've recorded so far this spring:

17.5 pounds - Sugar snap peas
5 pounds - Green cabbage
13 pounds - Beets
6 pounds - Turnips
7 pounds - Swiss chard (Ruby red and regular, combined)
16 pounds - Lettuce (Cos and Buttercrunch, combined)
12.5 pounds - Spinach
3 pounds - Daikon radishes
6 pounds - Bok choy
1.5 pounds - Cauliflower
8 pounds - Egyptian onions
8 pounds - Strawberries
18 pounds - Rhubarb

The list isn't complete but I'm pleased with my count so far -- over 120 pounds of produce so far. Most of the spring harvest went straight onto our table or the table of friends or family but I've frozen several pounds of sugar snap peas, rhubarb and greens, dried a few pounds of beets, and canned eight quarts of rhubarb punch for later use.

DH is still setting out hillbilly tomatoes and second plantings of summer squash among other things so the garden's shaping up to have a great year. Now if only I can hold up my end of the bargain by staying on top of the harvest, thinking of tasty ways to serve it up and preserve the extra for the winter months. Some days those seem like daunting tasks but when I can see the results totaled here, it motivates me to keep plugging away.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Daikon radishes - 2nd planting

Daikon radishes make great fresh pickles but before I could get a picture of our first crop, we ate them plain. Just peeled and sliced which left none for pickling.

Last week, DH started pulling radishes from the second planting so I gathered a handful to make pickles. They aren't too hot this year, probably due to the wonderful spring rains we've had. Some years they bring tears to my eyes and I pickle them in self-defense. A day or two in vinegar may make them sharp but it tones down the heat.

The idea for this recipe came from a Vietnamese restaurant in a nearby town. The restaurant's been gone for years but we still miss it and the founders. They served an appetizer comprised of thinly sliced, marinated beef rolled in grape leaves then grilled. It was accompanied by lettuce leaves and a daikon-carrot pickle. I loved the grape leaf skewers but would often ask for additional pickle to go with the main course, too.

The pickle's great on cold sandwiches, served with crackers and cheese or alongside a main dish. DS likes to cut the vegetables with a wavy knife but matchstick pieces look good jumbled together on a lettuce leaf, too.

The recipe's very simple. Use a 2-to-1 ratio of unseasoned rice vinegar and sugar (or about half as much honey, if desired) and add a dash of salt. Make enough liquid mixture to cover whatever amount of sliced radishes and carrots you have on hand. I put the veg in a quart jar then I can judge the amount of liquid by covering them with water and then pouring it off into a glass measuring cup if I'm unsure how much liquid mixture to make.

So the recipe looks like this:

Daikon-Carrot Pickle

1/2 pound daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey
1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir vinegar, sugar (or honey) and salt together till blended. Pour over sliced veg to cover and chill several hours before serving. Will keep a week or more in the fridge.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

One Local Summer 2009

As usual for this time of year, we're eating primarily out of our garden but this week I made a point of planning one whole meal comprised entirely of foods produced within a 100-mile radius (excepting oils, salt, pepper and spices) in order to celebrate the return of One Local Summer. I still relied on our garden's produce for the vegetables and berries but sourced the pork, cornmeal, wheat, honey, and dairy products locally.

It started with a huge dishpan of Swiss chard and bok choy which DH cut along with a couple heads of garlic and a few Egyptian onions pulled on the way to the house. I sent DS out to pick the sugar snap peas and strawberries and as usual a lot went directly into the picker before the rest were delivered to the kitchen. Fortunately this is shaping up to be the best year ever for peas and strawberries -- lots of rain has made a big difference in production amounts for both so DS's been able to eat his fill at each picking without causing any problem for the cook's supper plans.

The pork came from Staunton's BackDoor Butcher, a shop located one street over from the Staunton/Augusta Farmers Market. They don't seem to have their own website but the link will take you to their listing on the Eat Well Guide site. I cubed 12 ounces of meat and set it aside to marinate in a mixture of 1/2 cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sherry, and 2 teaspoons honey while I prepped the vegetables. The honey came from an apiary only a mile away as the crow flies -- who knows? Maybe the bees who produced the jars I have gathered pollen around our homestead...

I came close to exceeding the 100-mile radius with the soy sauce. It's brewed in Richmond, Virginia and I buy it locally but depending on the company's exact location in Richmond (I didn't look that up), it may exceed the desired distance by a mile or so. I decided to include it in the meal anyway for several reasons. We like soy sauce and I often use it to marinate meat destined for a stir fry plus I already had it on hand and one reason I like to participate in the OLS meal planning is to expand my knowledge of what I can find locally and then continue to buy those local foods as available year-round. So for the last couple of years I've started keeping a large bottle of San-J Organic Shoyu Naturally Brewed soy sauce on the pantry shelf in addition to my stand-by gallon-sized can of Kikkomann. I like San-J's slightly lighter, and I think, vinegary taste in lots of recipes.

So, if the soy sauce most likely falls within the allowed radius for OLS, I know the sherry I used doesn't. Again, it was from a bottle I had on the shelf but it hails from California as, tho Virginia vineyards almost always can provide me with great wines for drinking or cooking, I haven't been able to locate one that makes anything close to a sherry. If anyone knows of a Virginia winery that does, please let me know.

After washing the Swiss chard I chopped the stems and the first inch or two of each leaf for the stir fry. The bok choy leaves showed some insect (probably slug) damage so I treated it similarly. The garlic and onions were cleaned and chopped and I snapped the stem ends and pulled any tough strings from the peas. The rest of the chard leaves went into a pot for eating as cooked greens.At DH's request, I also scrambled three eggs from our hens and made a thin egg pancake to shred and toss with the stir fry before serving.

Before I started the stir fry I mixed up a batch of cornbread to go with the meal. Usually I would rely on brown rice as an accompaniment but I don't know of any rice still being grown on the East Coast, much less within 100 miles. Cornbread's always welcome here in any case and I even think some days DS would eat cornbread as the MAIN dish if he could get by with it. As always I used my mom's recipe which makes a hearty, non-sweet cornbread and uses more cornmeal than wheat flour. I soured the batter's milk (sourced from Homestead Creamery, Burnt Chimney, VA by way of a local market) with a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar I made from last year's cider. Generally I can just transfer the vinegar mother from one jar over to a new jug of cider and let it sit till it's turned to vinegar, too.

The cornbread takes about 15 minutes to bake so once it was poured into the hot skillet and went into the toaster oven, I heated the wok for the stir fry. With everything chopped and ready, it didn't take long to drain the marinade from the meat, pour a tablespoon of peanut oil into the almost-smoking wok and quickly cook the pork, removing it from the pan as it cooked. I wiped the pan out after cooking the meat as the marinade leaves a slightly sticky residue which, with the high heat, often burns before I can stir fry the rest of the ingredients. So next in another tablespoon of oil and then the peas quickly followed by the garlic, onions, bok choy and chard. I'd also covered the separate pan of still-damp chard leaves and set it on the burner to steam for a couple of minutes. I tossed the meat back in with the veg, added the egg strips and called it ready. We served ourselves straight from the wok with a separate bowl for the cooked greens topped with a splash of cider vinegar. With a side plate of cornbread, the table was loaded and it was all produced within a 100-miles. (See note below for final breakdown of local vs. non-local.)

For dessert I whipped almost a cup of top cream with a few tablespoons of honey to sweeten and served it on top of the hulled strawberries DS had picked. The cream for the berries and butter for the cornbread both came from Homestead Creamery, too. And the corn and wheat I ground for the cornbread both came from Wade's Mill in Raphine, VA. They more normally sell the local grain already ground but will accommodate a home grinder if they have the whole grain on hand.

Locally sourced ingredients (H-produced at home, LP-local producer):

Garlic (H)
Walking onions (H)
Swiss chard (H)
Bok choy (H)
Sugar snap peas (H)
Pork (LP)
Eggs (H)
Honey (H)
Cornmeal (LP)
Wheat (LP)
Butter (LP)
Milk (LP)
Strawberries (H)
Cream (LP)
Vinegar (H)

Non-local ingredients:

Peanut oil (2 tablespoons)
Sherry (3 tablespoons)
Baking soda (1 teaspoon)
Salt (1 teaspoon)

Honey-sweetened Whipping Cream

1 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons light-flavored honey
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional

Beat cream till soft peaks form. Slowly add honey and vanilla. Continue beating till stiff peaks form. Makes about 2 cups.