Tag Archives: slow food

We Are All Blemished: Lessons from Canning Tomatoes

Big Pot of Tomatoes

Big Pot of Tomatoes

A First Thought

Dear Reader:

‘Tis the season for harvesting and preparing for the long months ahead when fresh produce in our gardens is only a sweet memory. Since my tomato plants do not produce much more than garnishes for a few late-summer salads, I trucked on over to nearby Porter, Maine for a bushel of canning ‘matoes f0r $15. Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever grow that many tomatoes for that price, so I consider this a great bargain. A couple days later–up to my elbows in skins and seeds and juice and pulp, listening to Windham Hill Christmas c.d.’s (yes, a guilty pleasure of mine come fall before the craziness of the real holiday zaps all the fun out of it), and putting up stewed tomatoes–a realization struck:

We are all blemished, and that doesn’t mean there isn’t goodness in us.



See, I was cutting out the bad, dark spots on the canning tomatoes which are, by their very nature, second-best. Flinging skins and blemished fruit into my compost container (an old, blue metal pot that belonged to my grandmother and reminds me of her every single day), I couldn’t help but think about how tempting it would be to throw out the entire fruit because it wasn’t perfect. We like perfect. Somehow, nowadays, we expect perfect. What a waste it would be, I thought, if we missed out on all that goodness beneath the surface just because one of the fruits had a spot or two on the outside!

People, too, are not perfect. Friends have character flaws. Community members drive us crazy sometimes with their idiosyncrasies. Some of us talk too much. Some of us are nosy. Some of us are controlling or passive aggressive or maybe annoyingly passive. Like the tomatoes, though, we have goodness inside us if others are willing to dig beneath the surface and take a look at our sweet, juicy centers…

A bushel of tomatoes and herbs from the garden.

A bushel of tomatoes and herbs from the garden.

Well, you know what I mean.

I like people. I also like to criticize people. Taking a lesson from today’s processing, I am going to try to stop focusing on the flaws and concentrate, instead, on finding the goodness.

Of course, once in awhile you just gotta toss the whole rotten tomato into the compost bucket. Even then, however, there is usefulness. A little time in the elements, a little rain and a little sun, a bit of time to rearrange the old molecules and voila! Up pops a new tomato plant from the pile of refuse. It’s probably not pleasant to be rejected, tossed away, and forgotten; however, there is always hope for change and renewed vitality and goodness. If this happens to you, don’t give up. Use your time alone to let your thoughts and attitudes compost. Let the goodness in you spring up from those tiny seeds.

Of course, if the thought of this doesn’t appeal to you, I have advice: Don’t be a rotten tomato!

All Jarred Up

All Jarred Up

A Second Thought

Canning tomatoes is a fairly easy, but long process. So is developing your character. And remember, we can’t all be tomatoes. Some of us are bitter mustard greens. Others are spicy hot chili peppers. Some are tart lemons, cool cucumbers, sweet blueberries, humble potatoes. Throw a bunch of us into a pot, and something happens–something like this tomato, veggie, and herb soup.



Tomato Canning Tip

To easily peel tomatoes for processing, wash them thoroughly, remove any major blemishes, and put them into boiling water for three or four minutes. Remove them and put them in cold water in your sink for a few minutes. The skin will crack or loosen, and when you take them out of the water, the skin easily slips off the fruit. You are then able to get to your canning.

Or soup making. I will post a recipe for the tomato, veggie & herb soup next time on Localista.

Presto Pesto!

and Other Ways of Preserving Your Bountiful Garden

Homemade herb-drying rack made from a stick and some yarn. From left to right: thyme, French tarragon, chocolate mint, and rosemary.

Dear Reader:

This year’s garden was a great success. One giant sunflower produced fifteen or twenty blossom/seed heads and provided the early autumn garden with a showy display. The straw bale gardens gave the tomato plants a much-needed boost of sunlight along with the nitrogen fertilizer and carbon from the straw, and we had plenty of Early Girl and heirloom tomatoes to slice for sandwiches, chop for salsa, and wedge for salads.

Black-eyed Susans are still blossoming out there along with the deepening pink of Autumn Joy sedum. Even the new female Winterberry is bejeweled with deep red berries!

Bread & Butter Pickles

Cucumbers were so abundant this year I was able to make a few pickles. Pickling was surprisingly easy and amounts to nothing much more than chopping and slicing veggies and herbs, making a brine out of salt, vinegar, sugar and spices, and pouring the brine over the veggies in glass containers. These Bread & Butter Pickles came out very crisp and white where I’d always been used to softer and more yellow, but the flavor was intense and delicious.

I found my recipe in a 1980’s Betty Crocker Cookbook, but Mother Earth News Magazine has a good starter article right here online plus a heads-up about a book outlining small-batch pickle production (say THAT ten times fast).

An excess of tomatoes from my parents’ excellent garden up n’oth became hot, spicy pasta sauce. The process for the sauce is simple. Boil water in a big pot. Dump in the tomatoes and wait 30-40 seconds. Lift tomatoes out with slotted spoon and dump into cold water in the sink. After a minute or two, slip skins off tomatoes and cut into fourths. Throw into large slow cooker pot with onions, garlic, chopped veggies like zucchini, hot peppers, green pepper. Add salt, dried herbs or fresh herbs to taste. Add cooked meat if desired. Let it simmer for about seven hours. You can also add tomato paste to thicken it if you like. The sauce can be frozen in freezer bags or containers.

Calendula in the Herb Garden

Perhaps the most successful of my garden experiments this years was the herb box. Along with the sunflower mentioned above, I planted fennel (see Grand Fennel-ly ), rosemary, and basil. In the front of one perennial bed, a French tarragon comes back and grows bigger every summer, and down at the end of the driveway beneath the forsythia bushes my friend Sandi kindly divided for me, a hardly little thyme comes back year after year after year.

This year, I decided, I would preserve a bit of these herbs to see me through a winter season of cooking. The basil were huge. I grew weepy just thinking about pulling them and throwing them on the compost as I’d babied them through the first rough month of transplant shock, daily watering, and Japanese beetles. One night seemed to be threateningly cold, and so, fearing frost, I gently pulled up the basil and placed each one its own plastic grocery bag. These I crammed into the mudroom until I could figure out when and what to do with them.

Poor basil in the mudroom

Friends, let me tell you, basil fresh from the garden has a powerful odor! Neighbor Debbie stopped by and thought the mudroom smelled like old shoes. Hmmm. Hopefully the basil doesn’t taste like dear daughter’s gym sneakers. I rather thought the mudroom smelled wicked “herbal” and prayed no-one dropped over and came to a wrong conclusion about my gardening activities. All legal, I promise!

Ingredients for Presto Pesto

A week or so later, those basil plants were still sitting in my mudroom and beginning to look a little wilty. The predicted frost never materialized, and I gritted my teeth wishing I’d left my herbs in the dirt until I figured out what to do with it.

I knew I had to come up with something and fast, or else the poor plants would end up on the compost pile after all. A mid-week visit to my good friend, Donna D, prompted me to share some garden tomatoes and a large sprig of the basil. Donna D, in turn, gave me a cube of her homemade basil pesto and–bless her soul–a recipe to go with it. Voila! I had the answer to my herbal error.

The recipe calls for using a food processor and blending ingredients very slowly and deliberately. I don’t own a food processor. I do, however, own a blender. After trying with no success to puree basil leaves, garlic cloves and walnut in the blender with no liquid, I gave up and dumped in the olive oil and grated Parmesan and turned the blender on to puree for about three minutes. Presto Pesto! was born.

Pesto in ice cube trays

The trick to keeping the pesto for future use is simple: ice-cube trays. Empty your ice-cubes into a plastic container in the freezer so your family doesn’t throw a hissy-fit when they are looking to cool down their apple cider/workout water-bottle/iced coffee/red-wine-that-really- shouldn’t-be-chilled-but-whatever. Wash the ice-cube trays and dry them. Pour prepared Presto Pesto into the trays. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When frozen, pop out of trays and store in zippered freezer bags (or leave in the trays if you have extras for actual ice-production).

The pesto can be thawed and used later. I made four batches of Presto Pesto! with my starting-to-wilt-and-wither basil plants, and these batches filled two ice-cube trays. I think it must be fairly economical as those little jars in the grocery store are quite expensive (local big-box supermarket has a 4.5 oz jar for $3.29.) I used only a portion of a bag of walnuts and one wedge of Parmesan cheese. Pesto does take a bit of olive oil, but it is cheaper if you buy it in those big cans unless you are a stickler for extra-extra virgin fancy stuff.

Following is friend Donna D’s recipe just as she gave it to me. But to make it Presto Pesto! simply ignore the persnickety instructions about careful and slow blending at just the right moment and just dump the whole thing together in the blender and let’r go.


1 1/2 c. basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 c. thinly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. olive oil

Puree first three ingredients in food processor until it forms a thick paste. Add the Parmesan cheese very slowly. Then add olive oil and mix until the consistency of creamed butter. Put a film of oil over top. Cover and refrigerate or freeze in ice-cube trays.

That’s it, Dear Reader! Whether you are preserving the garden by pickling, drying, canning or freezing, it is so much fun to go shopping in your own pantry during the winter months…Outside the Box.

Drop me a line and tell us about YOUR preserving projects this year. It’s always fun to hear someone else talk for a change.

Eggsellent Spring Supper

Spring Herbs

Dear Reader:

It may be hard to believe, but the garden, thanks to perennial herbs, produced ingredients for a wonderful, fresh-tasting spring supper before I even sent in my order to Johnny’s Seeds yesterday.

Perennial herbs are a gift of spring. Nestled up beside the first little feather fronds of yarrow and the recently divided rudbekia are the healthy clumps of reliable chives. The first grayish-purple flower heads poke up through the succulent spikes, and a few snips of the cooking shears yield a small handful of spicy, slightly oniony flavor.


Another unassuming, grassy-looking clump perfumes my fingers with the slight scent of liquorice when I roll a blade between thumb and finger. This is French tarragon–useful in soups, sprinkled on roasting chicken or vegetables with olive oil, or stuffed into a bottle of vinegar where it will impart its Mediterranean essence to that humblest of condiments.

French Tarragon

A short walk down to the perennial bed beneath the beech trees, my tiny but refuses-to-die thyme plant has put out new green leaves. I snip a few sprigs, roll a leaf between my fingers to inhale the woody aroma. Thyme is good, of course, in chicken soups and other stews. It is also remarkably yummy with eggs…and this is what I’m intending for this night’s supper.

Fresh Thyme

Bouquet in hand, I stroll to the house. From my ‘fridge comes a carton of locally-raised eggs; delicate shells in various hues indicate a mixed flock. The chickens that produced these eggs get plenty of protein from insects and plenty of fresh air and grass to scratch in. Their beaks haven’t been clipped. They have room to move. The yokes inside the eggs are golden-orange and plump, healthy, reassuring.

If only I’d thought ahead and purchased some local chevre, I think as I whisk a couple of eggs in a bowl and pour them into a buttered skillet on the stove. Instead I make do with some sharp cheddar and feta from the Limerick Market. I vow to try making my own mozzarella soon.

Sprinkling on the chopped herbs, I flip over one side of the set egg mixture. I pop a slice of my homemade bread into the toaster, tuck a handful of organic spring mix (Note to self: next year, use cold frames and start greens early!) onto a large plate, and slide the omelet next to the greens. A little butter on the toast and bon appetit!

Simple Dinner

If I’d started an asparagus bed, could I have added that to my meal, I wonder? Is Maine asparagus ready this early? Another note to self: create asparagus bed this year.

As for greens, I could have harvested all the dandelion any girl could want…wild food is even better than perennial food. (See “Not Your Grandmother’s Dandelion Greens.”) I have the store-bought greens, though, and the dandelions aren’t going anywhere.


Now, imagine some homemade hard apple cider to go along with this meal. Or some home-fries from local or backyard potatoes instead of the toast. Rhubarb pie for dessert. I wanted a quick meal, but the possibility for something more substantial is all right there–inspired by the fresh flavors of perennial spring greens. If you have even a small area in which to plant, these hardy and versatile herbs would serve you well.

Day 5: History . . . Naturally

View from 2nd floor rotunda

Dear Reader:

Another hot and sunny day in D.C. After a morning workout, the Teen and I ventured over to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to see the lions and tigers and bears and . . . the Hope Diamond.

What every girl "hopes" for

The Hope Diamond has a fascinating–if mythologized–history. It is said to bring bad luck to its possessors, possibly because it was stolen from an idol of the Indian goddess, Sita. According to at least one website, Sita is a goddess of tolerance, so I have a hard time believing she would curse anyone who possessed her pretty blue stone, but there you have it.

Before making our way to the second floor where we found the blue gem, we went on safari in the Hall of Mammals, where we saw some animals that were quite familiar . . .


. . . and some that were not. This tiny antelope is just a little bit larger than a rabbit.

Kirk's Dikdik

Many photographs later, we took a trip back in evolutionary time in the Hall of Human Origins. Here we viewed some cave paintings, a prehistoric flute, and skulls and replicas of Neanderthals and other human ancestors. We learned that all modern humans share 99.9% common DNA. In fact, the concept of “different races” is an idea that is facing extinction. The museum is offering an exhibit and programming called Race: Are We So Different? I encourage you to click HERE and see what science tells us about our concepts of race.

Replica of cave painting

For me, throwing away our old schema of “different races” and embracing a schema of “one human race” is a powerful step in the right direction. Maybe once we get that roadblock out of the way, we can begin in earnest the hard work of maintaining our environment, reducing population, developing renewable energy systems that work as well or better than the old petroleum economy.

The “Humans Change the World” area of the “What Does It Mean to be Human” exhibit was a powerful reminder of how we humans affect our environment. Between 1959 and 1999, the human population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion people. If we keep up at this pace, we will be at 9 billion by 2042. Can you imagine the consequences of that on our planet? On our food and water resources? On health care resources?

Prehistoric flute

Talk about “paying the piper!”

Leaving prehistoric humans behind, the Teen and I headed upstairs to see the diamond, the “bone” exhibit, and a beautiful gallery of nature photography–the Nature’s Best Photography Awards 2010. These were fabulous photos. My favorite was Land Crab by Cristina Mittermeier from right here in Washington, D.C. If you go to the link underlined above, you can view the photos. Better yet, send in some of your own great nature photography and enter this year’s contest.

"Four-sided Pyramid" by Sol Lewitt

I had to stop by the outdoor sculpture garden beside the museum. This one is directly across from the Hirshhorn’s. There are free outdoor jazz concerts in this garden on Friday nights. Hope to catch one or two before the end of the summer.

Farmer's Market Booty

Since the Crystal City Farmer’s Market didn’t open until three p.m. I waited for Hubby to get so we could bike together over to 18th street to see what was being offered. Jackpot! Farmers were selling everything from goat cheese to eggs to heirloom tomatoes to cherries to basil to bison. We settled for some veggies and a loaf of honey-wheat bread and some super-sweet Queen Ann cherries from a nice guy from Pennsylvania. When I told him we were from Maine, he said, “You guys are probably just getting into strawberries up there.” “Ayuh,” I said, and I felt a momentary pang of sadness to be missing out on strawberries from Dole’s Farm.

Somehow, though, ripe tomatoes in June helped ease the pain.

Not sure what’s happening on Day 6 other than trying to find my allergist’s office by Metro and bus. Maybe a trip to the local library? A dip in the pool? Doing some sketching/writing in the park? Tune in tomorrow to find out what we did . . . Outside the Box in D.C.

Soup of the Week–Peas Porridge Hot

Dear Reader:

I have no camera. I left it at my parents’ house over Christmas. I’m goin’ crazy without it. I like to take pictures of my everyday world and think up blog topics to match. Pretty pictures give a blog post a little bit of POP! that makes it more special. Today, unfortunately, we will just have to wing-it without visuals.

Luckily, I have a Soup of the Week to share with you. I call it Peas Porridge Hot after the nursery rhyme. Now, I know some of you absolutely hate pea soup. If so, this recipe is probably not for you. However, for those of you who just sorta don’t like pea soup, you may find this “pottage” not only tolerable, but possibly even enjoyable.

My husband tells a story about being made to eat pea soup as a child. Apparently neither he nor his two siblings ever did finish up their bowls despite much parental pressure. He was skeptical, to say the least, when I first tried this recipe, but to his surprise, he liked it!

There are two major differences between this pea soup and regular pea soup:

First, the peas are yellow instead of green. Now, there is probably no real difference in taste between the two, but color plays a big part in palatability. Small children (and some grownups) are suspicious of green food, Dr. Seuss and his green eggs aside. Here, though, we have yummy pea taste in a sunny yellow color. Color-cue alone may account for why my husband didn’t turn puce himself when he looked at his dinner the first time I served this thick, homemade bowl of deliciousness.

Second, I don’t use ham in the soup. Or bacon. Or any other pork-flavored product that is usually associated with pea soup. Without the smoky flavor of pig, the soup takes on a more delicate, carroty-onion character that no one would associate with bad childhood experiences at the table. It is even low-fat!

So, what makes it hot, you ask? Well, a thick soup like this tastes better served steaming from the pot. Eating it lukewarm is about as enjoyable as eating cold oatmeal. Also, I like to sprinkle some cayenne pepper (preferably a sea vegetable/cayenne mix) on top before I serve it or dice up a chili pepper to cook along with the onions and carrots and celery and dried peas in the chicken stock.

Peas Porridge Hot makes a warming, wonderful meal on a cold winter’s night. Try it with thick slices of homemade bread and warm apple crisp for dessert. I think you may be pleasurably surprised!

Peas Porridge Hot

1 1b. of dried split yellow peas
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 large onion, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
chopped hot pepper to taste (optional)
8 cups of water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Organic Kelp with Cayenne granules (optional)

Put peas on a board or in a bowl and pick out anything that doesn’t belong. Rinse peas in a colander or put in bowl with water and swirl around, then drain.

In a large saucepan or pot, mix all the ingredients EXCEPT SALT, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. (I believe that salt makes the peas tough, so we only add it at the end of the cooking period.)

Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring occassionally.

Remove from heat. Mash everything with a potato masher to desired consistency or for a less-textured soup, put through a food processor. Add salt. Serve in soup bowls. Sprinkle individually with sea veg/cayenne granules if desired.

This soup will thicken up considerably in the ‘fridge. You may want to add more water before heating leftovers. It really is like a porridge rather than a soup at this stage!

If you are very adventurous, you may want to add chopped dulse or some large bits of kelp to the bottom of the pot when you begin cooking. When the soup is ready, you can pull the kelp out with some tongs, chop it up and return it to the pot for added color and nutrients.

Sea veggies are full of minerals and, when cooked in a soup, don’t change the flavor in any noticeable way. It’s just a little Outside the Box addition for extra nutrition. (Dr. Seuss, I’m not!)

If you try this recipe, let me know how it turned out for you.

Soup of the Week–Tomato Bisque

Tomato-y Goodness

Dear Reader:

What is better than a bowl of hot, tomato soup on a snowy, winter day? When we forgo the canned stuff and make it from scratch, of course!

I made this tomato bisque last week, and it was so delicious! Now we are in the midst of a big ol’ snowstorm here in Maine, and I can’t stop thinking about making another large batch for tonight’s dinner.

If you would like to try this creamy, rich, thick, tomato-y soup for yourself, here is the recipe. It is a variation of a recipe I found in a book called FABULOUS SOUPS by Johna Blinn. I double the amount of tomatoes for a more sharp, distinct flavor which also happens to stretch the recipe AND makes it less calorie/fat dense. I also use chopped or grated onion instead of onion powder and add sea vegetable flakes in with the basil for added nutrients.

While the ideal would be to grow and jar our own tomatoes, canned tomatoes from your local market work almost as well. Also, if you know how to make your own beef bouillon from locally-grown beef, you could use that instead of processed bouillon cubes.

Add in the butter and milk from a local farm, and sea vegetables from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, locally grown and dried basil, local honey instead of sugar, and you can have pretty close to a locavore meal!


4 (1 lb) jars/cans diced tomatoes
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. salt
one small to medium onion, chopped or grated
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried sea vegetable flakes (dulse works well)
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (I like whole milk from the farm but calorie/fat conscious people could use skim)

1. Combine tomatoes with liquid in a large saucepan with bouillon cubes, sugar, salt, onion, basil, sea veggies, pepper and bay leaves. Simmer thirty minutes.

2. Remove bay leaves and put the mixture through a food mill or blender.

3. Melt butter; blend in flour until smooth.

4. Gradually stir in milk over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

5. Gradually blend in tomato mixture, stirring briskly. Return to heat, stir until hot. Serve.

For the ultimate cold-weather comfort meal, serve with melty grilled cheese sandwiches. (Reubens/Rachels with their hearty rye bread also go nicely with the soup. My friend,Sandy, uses one of those grill pans with the raised lines on the bottom to make her signature Rachels. As an added bonus, these sandwiches incorporate sauerkraut which is loaded with vitamin C to help beat back the winter colds and flu bugs.)

If you decide to make the soup, drop me a line Outside the Box to let me know how it turned out.

Cooking With Shelley

In the kitchen with Shelley

Dear Reader:

In my quest to be more “productive” I decided to start with cooking. I have to make meals anyway, I philosophized. In order to be more productive I could simply do, well, more of it. So, the past couple of weeks I’ve gone a little nuts in the kitchen with mixed results.

First there were the blueberry scones. Good. Then there was the broccoli soup. Nice. Soup needs bread, so I experimented with a bread recipe that didn’t require an entire day to rise and punch and rise and punch and rise again. Eh, just so-so. And since the strawberries ripened just in time, I was finally able to use my rhubarb to make a pie. Score!

Follow along, my apron-wearing, spoon-wielding friends, down my path to productivity in the kitchen. You may be inspired to try some of the recipes yourself. Or you may just like looking at the pictures. In any case, welcome to Cooking With Shelley.

We’ll begin with the scones. Usually scones are dry and crumbly and maybe a tad . . . well . . . bland. I wanted something a little more soft, a little sweeter. Something you might actually enjoy with your cup of tea in the afternoon.

Scone DoughIn my quest for a kinder, gentler pastry, I took a regular Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe (I have the 1991 edition. Click on the link to see how “Betty” has changed over the past seventy-odd years!) and tweaked it by doubling the sugar content, adding frozen blueberries, using farm-fresh whole cream instead of half-n-half, and bread flour rather than all-purpose. The result was SOFT, crumbly, sweet scones. The ladies in my craft circle gave good reviews (okay, there were just three of us at craft time last week, but still!), and I’ll definitely be making these the next time I’m invited to a morning brunch or afternoon tea.

Don’t these just look yummy? The key to pretty scones is an “egg-wash” brushed on top of the scone triangles before popping them into the hot oven.

Now, on to broccoli soup. This recipe I took directly from the latest Weight Watcher’s Cookbook, and is low-fat, healthy, and delicious. Basically, you chop a bunch of celery, carrots, and onion and sautee them in olive oil for a few minutes. Then you add broccoli florets and chicken (or in my case turkey) stock.

Soup, salad, and bread

Add salt and herbs to taste. To make the soup creamy, finish with a can of fat-free condensed milk. If I wanted to make this a more “local” soup, I could substitute the canned milk for fresh, heavy cream from Laura’s farm . . . probably cooling the broccoli/veggie mixture first so as not to accidentally curdle anything.

What made this soup special for me was the addition of fresh thyme from my garden. Just a few little leaves scraped from the stem and voila! Fragrant, delicious soup.

Along with the soup, I served my homemade bread and a salad which included some of the last greens from my garden boxes for a nice, summer meal. The bread was adapted from a Betty Crocker “streamlined wheat bread” recipe. I used molasses instead of sugar which turned the bread a lovely brown color. I also substituted some buckwheat flour and rolled oats for part of the wheat flour. The bread didn’t rise as well as I’d hoped (or else I just got too impatient and put it in the oven too early), so I ended up with rectangular bread, about the size of half a sandwich loaf.

This went fine with the soup, and as I still have some left-over this week, I’ll probably cut it up today, brush it with oil, sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and herbs, and toast it into homemade croutons. For awhile, I was making my own bread regularly, but then I got out of the habit. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. From now on it is homemade bread at my house.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie Filling

After the bread-baking and soup-making, it was finally time for the “piece de resistance” . . . strawberry-rhubarb pie. I spent a lovely morning up no’th picking strawberries with my parents at Tate’s Strawberry Farm in Corinth. (If you click on the link, you can view a video that shows the farm and the lovely strawberries. You just have to wait and get through the car dealership commercial first:)

At $2 a quart, these berries were a bargain. The beds were edged with clover and chamomile, so we had to dig a little to get to the sweet, scarlet gems, but the scent of the berries mixed with the herbs and flowers puts the “aroma” in aromatherapy. Who needs spas when you have berry picking?

Unbaked Pie

Now I’m going to share with you my secrets to making good pie crust: practice and bread flour.

I love bread flour for pastry. In the past, using all-purpose flour resulted in umpteen tough, impossible-to-roll-out, breakable pie crusts in my kitchen. A few years ago I had run out of all-purpose and, serendipitously (how many times do you get to use THAT word in a sentence?) chanced the bread flour lurking in my pantry . . . with amazing results! For some reason, bread flour makes a dough that is stretchy and pliable, pastry that is much less likely to rip apart when I fold it into the requisite fourths in order to lay it on top of the filling. Did I read somewhere that bread flour has more gluten, making it more stretchy? Note to self: research bread flour. Anyway, even this time, when I’d accidentally used the 9-inch pie crust recipe instead of the 10-inch, I was able to roll the dough out thin enough to fit the larger dish.

My rhubarb

Now, I’m not a huge fan of rhubarb, but no self-respecting Mainer can cultivate a garden without a patch of the giant-leafed, pinky-green stemmed plant growing beside it. As a kid, I used to run down to the rhubarb patch in my bare feet where I would break off a stem and bite into it, feeling my eyes water at the sharp, tart, sour taste. I don’t know why I did this. Same reason I used to eat Hot-Balls, I imagine. In any case, when I started my own garden patch, I asked my mother to bring me a division of her plant.

Now I have a piece of home growing just behind the bee-balm.

Rhubarb really does give a nice, tart, complimentary taste to the sweetness of strawberries. For this pie, I used a 1:3 ratio of ‘barb to ‘berry instead of the 2:4 the recipe called for. Both husband and child were generous with the compliments.

One last discovery: pistachio ice-cream goes really well with strawberry-rhubarb pie. I only know this because I forgot to buy the usual vanilla bean and only had pistachio in the freezer. Something about the nutty flavor really complimented the sweet-tart filling. Maybe the Valley Girls were right all along with the pink/green color combo. The dessert was, like, totally awesome.

So, Monday morning has rolled around again, and it is time to figure out my menus for the week. The sugar-snap peas are almost big enough to pick in the garden boxes. Maybe a stir-fry? Tune in next week to find out . . . Outside the Box.

Of Arugula & Lilacs

Dear Reader:

It is the time of arugula and lilacs–a juxtaposition of sweet, heady scent of flowers in the air and the cool, peppery tang of herb on the tongue. We seem to be bouncing between extremes of late. One week it is sunny and seventy-degrees, and the next week we are shivering in the a cloudy, forty-degree chill. One day the stock market is steadily climbing and jobs are added to the economy, and the next day we shake our heads as the Dow plunges a thousand points in a matter of minutes–a drop attributed to a computer “glitch” of all things. The Greek economy tanks, and then it is bailed out. People protest in the streets. Meanwhile, the grass grows, the dandelions turn to fluffballs, and we plant our cool-weather-loving peas and kale in hopes of a good crop in a month or so.

Here at “the cottage” I’m keeping myself occupied by scanning my favorite doom and gloom websites–Whiskey and Gunpowder and James Howard Kunstler’s peak oil/new urbanism blog–and cooking up a batch of homemade beef stock. Last fall, I picked up my beef order and stuck the large brown paper bags into the freezer. Once I found the hamburger bag and the steak bag, I didn’t bother to open the rest until a few weeks ago when I discovered, to my delight, soup bones. Soup bones! Could I learn to make my own beef stock? Why not!

This morning I cut up some onion, celery, and carrots and put them in the bottom of a stock pot with a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, and a sprinkling of dried parsley. I then roasted a meaty soup bone in a 400 degree oven for thirty minutes, pried the bone off the bottom of the roasting pan, and placed it in with the veggies.

Covering the whole mess with some water, I set the pot to simmering on the stove. My whole house smells divine. In a couple of hours, I will be able to strain the stock, skim the fat off the top, add some stew meat and potatoes and carrots and more celery and maybe a can of stewed tomatoes and have myself a fine evening meal.

Baby Arugula Thinnings

In the meantime, I moseyed out to the garden to have a look at my cool-weather crops–the arugula, claytonia, and mache beds. The arugula needed thinning, so I now have a nice bowl of baby greens to go in a salad this evening.

No matter how grim the news in the outside world, there is always something to celebrate and enjoy if you take the time to look around you. Lilacs, for instance. Arugula, for instance.

Coffee with a friend. A favorite book. A special meal. A short nap. A brisk walk. What pleasures have you enjoyed today . . . Outside the Box?

When life hands you chicken bones . . .

Pumpkin Soup and Veggie Salad… make chicken soup!

(The picture here is actually a pumpkin/carrot/sweet potato soup, also very healthy with betacarotene. Sprinkled on the salad is dulse–a sea vegetable with lots of vitamins and minerals.)

Dear Reader:

Tis the season of sniffling–and coughing and aching and shivering with fever. Colds and seasonal flus and H1N1 are spreading thoughout our communities this month, weakening our immune systems, keeping our kids out of school, and making us feel miserable. The television news serves up fresh doses of anxiety every day with stories of severe illness and death and urgent warning to get vaccinated. Of course, the vaccine isn’t even available yet in many communities, so many people feel scared and helpless and stressed. Negative emotions like these do not boost the old immune system. In fact, they wear us down even more. Aside from getting adequate sleep, taking a multi-vitamin, drinking alot of water, washing your hands, avoiding crowded places like the mall, and quarantining your school-age kids as soon as they get off the bus so as not to contaminate the entire household (kidding), what can we do to make this season of sickness a little more manageable?

While waiting for the Swine Flu vaccine to finally arrive and kick in (I heard it takes a week or two), consider the simple power of chicken soup. Made from leftover bones and meat from your Sunday dinner with the addition of a few humble vegetables sitting in your refridgerator, homemade chicken soup is inexpensive, nutritious, and delicious, especially if served with a fresh loaf of homemade bread or maybe some apple muffins. Click here for a good recipe.

So, does chicken soup merely soothe your sore throat or are there some actual, scientific health benefits? According to Dr. Stephen Rennard, chicken soup does contain chemical properties that can ease cold and flu symptoms. The amino acid cystein, found in chicken, thins mucus, helping a sick person clear his/her lungs and nose. When you add onion, the anti-histamine properties of that pungent vegetable can offer some relief. Vegetables contain all kind of vitamins and minerals as well as delicious flavor for your soup.
Read all about it on Sixwise.com.

Also consider purchasing some sea vegetables such as kelp or wakame or dulse, soaking them for a few minutes, chopping them up, and adding them to your soup. Commonly known as “seaweed”, these greens contain concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamins B 6 and B 12, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iodine, Fluoride, Chromium, and Zinc. Maine Coast Sea Vegetables out of Franklin, Maine offer a large variety of seaweeds. Their products can be found in many grocery and natural food stores, or shop online by clicking on the link above. Sea vegetables can add a slightly more salty flavor to your soup, but there will be no fishy taste. If you chop them fine enough, and mix in some herbs such as thyme, parsley, and rosemary, even the pickiest eaters will never know they are eating, gasp, seaweed.

Do you have any immunity-boosting suggestions? Share you ideas and knowledge here, Outside the Box.

Cooking The Old-Fashioned Way

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Dear Reader:

I wanted to use some version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” for my title because while I’d really like to be down at the canoe landing and staring out across the sparkly lake, I decided I had better make like an ant and work before I play. The grasshoppers have been buzzing in the grasses these late summer afternoons, and the sun has finally ripened a couple of my cherry tomatoes. One of the big beefsteaks was starting to turn color, but something took a big ol’ bite out of it. I suspected a creepy-crawly tomato worm but could find no trace of the sucker last evening. I threw out the two or three fruits he/she had sampled (why not eat the whole darn thing before moving on to the next, I’d like to know?) and decided that pests are simply a part of the big picture.

It’s easy to be philosophical when one’s parents have stopped in with a bag of free produce from their larger and much more productive garden.

I digress.

Summer weekends are a fabulous time to shop . . . in your neighbor’s yard. No, I’m not advocating late-night raids of the blueberry bushes and corn rows. I’m tallking about yard sales. Some readers may remember an earlier entry regarding old cookbooks and my quest for pre-World War II tomes. I scored one beauty at an antique store in nearby Cornish village a couple of months back. It is a musty, solid little book entitled LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE: HOW TO COOK ODDS AND ENDS OF FOOD INTO APPETIZING DISHES by Isabel Gordon Curtis.



This little jem was published in 1901 by the Orange Judd Company. The first chapter begins, “Do not throw away scraps of fat” and procedes to explain how to save all the bits of cooking fat and drippings and suet, to clarify them, and to use them for frying ala the ubiquitous vegetable shortening of today. “If only a teacup of fat is added to this supply once a week, it will save the buying of fat for frying purposes, even in a large family.” (pg.1)

The book goes on to give multiple recipes for using leftovers of every type: stale bread, cold coffee, cereals, sour milk, cold potatoes, vegetables, sauces, beef, veal, pork and ham, poultry, stale cake, cheese, and fruit. You know the recipes are old because each one lists only a few simple ingredients and absolutely no canned soup. Take Plain Cabbage Salad for instance: “2 cups shredded cabbage, 4 tbs. oil, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tbls. vinegar. Shred cabbage very fine and leave in ice water for an hour. Drain it and marinate with the dressing. This is a favorite supplement to fried oysters.” (pg. 75)

While the simplicity and lack of processed food products pleased me, I was dismayed by the frequent mention of refrigeration. Isabel Curtis must have been referring to old-fashioned ice-boxes, right? It got me wondering when the first refrigerator was invented. Off I went to cyberspace to find out.

I turned first to Wikipedia. (See here) According to the section on the history of the refrigerator, the first refrigerator coil which condensed aromatic vapours as a coolant was invented in the 11th century. The 11th century! Okay, I just about fell off my chair. Wasn’t that medieval times? The Dark Ages? And yet, in America at the turn of the 20th century, half the population used ice-boxes for cooling food while the other half just used the even more natural method of root-cellaring.

Home refrigerators did not become commonplace until 1927 with the General Electric Motor-top model, long after my 1901 cookbook was printed. Take a look at the frontispiece photograph of young ladies in floor-length dresses and long aprons and little white caps ranged ’round a table at the New England Cooking School of the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Lady cooks from 1901

Lady cooks from 1901

Thinking about refrigeration, or lack of it, one can certainly appreciate the important place of the family milk cow in 1901. At this stage in history, fresh milk meant that morning’s milk, not the stuff in the jug with this week’s date stamped on the side. However, clabbered milk and butter and cheese and sour cream had their place in the home cook’s repertoire. LEFTOVERS MADE PALATABLE includes thirty recipes for using up sour milk, including cottage cheese. (Those of you who read last week’s entry will appreciate this discovery.) “4 Quarts sour milk, 1 tsp. salt, dash white pepper, 4 tbls. cream. Put the sour milk in a large pan and into it pour four quarts of boiling water. Allow it to stand for five minutes, then turn it into a pointed muslin bag like a jelly bag. Hang this up at night over a pan and let it drain. In the morning it will be dry and ready to mix with the cream and seasonings.” (pg. 47)

One of these weeks I’ll order an extra gallon of milk from Downhome Farm and try to make cottage cheese. Maybe when the weather isn’t quite so warm. The old warnings about diptheria and whatnot are hard to purge from the deep, dark recesses of the brain, no matter how much I’ve read on the subject of the nutritive value of raw milk. Is nutritive a word?

Yes. A quick look at the old Webster’s Dictionary confirms it on the page with guide words nuciature – nux vomica. Nux vomica? Sounds just like what I was worried about, n’est ce pas? Or some spell from a Harry Potter book, one of Severus Snape’s conconctions, perhaps. In fact, it is only the latin word for a poisonous seed. See, you never know what you’ll find out here Outside the Box.

Anyway, on the same shelf as LEFTOVERS, I spied another book with the enticing title NEW ENGLAND FLAVOR. Unfortunately, this tome by Haydn S. Pearson turned out to be a charming memoir of a New Hampshire childhood and not the cookbook I was hoping it to be. Fortunately, I also like charming memoirs of New England persons, and so this well-preserved volume with pretty little pen and ink illustrations by Leonard Bosburgh came home with me, as well. It should make for some cozy reading this fall when I sit outside wrapped in the shawl my sister sent home from Venezia this summer and sip Earl Gray from my favorite Monroe Saltworks mug.

So what does this have to do with the formentioned yard sale? I’m getting there, trust me. This weekend on the way home from Parsonsfield to pick up my milk, I noticed a table loaded with cooking pans and decided to check out the yard sale as two of my Reverware lids have recently lost knobs, forcing me to gingerly pick lids off boiling pots with dishtowels in hand to prevent scalding myself at the stove. (Can you imagine trying to diagram that last sentence? Actually, it might be fun. Who needs Sudoku? We ought to turn our kids on to sentence diagrams.)

The Rumford book

The Rumford book

Not only did I find a nice set of stainless steel pots for $5, I also scored a pretty, tatted-edged table runner and a treasure-trove of cookbooks. There’s the RUMFORD COMPLETE COOKBOOK, copyright 1908 in its 43rd printing in 1948. In this book, consomme is made with a quart of defatted meat stock . . . not a bouillon cube. Excellent. The baking powder is, of course, Rumford, which makes me wonder about those Anne of Green Gables books. Was it Rumford baking powder that Ann wrote about? A quick search on the web tells me no. It was Rollins Reliable baking powder. However, I came across this interesting site which gives in great detail how to visit Prince Edward Island and find all kinds of places referenced in the Anne books. Take a look if you are interested in visiting the island.

I may have to revisit Green Gables from the comfort of my couch corner this winter. Funny how this entry on cookbooks into turning into an entry on books-I-want-to-read-this-winter. Must be the Ant in me.

Continuing onward in history, I also picked up Marjorie Standish’s cookbook, KEEP COOKING-THE MAINE WAY. Printed in 1973 by the Maine Sunday Telegram, this book also delivers lovely pen and ink drawings of a girl, eleven or twelve year’s old, I’d guess, stirring a pot, fishing from a pier, canning perserves, and eating cake under the watchful and envious eyes of a large cat. Mrs. Standish was well-known for her weekly recipe column in the SUNDAY TELEGRAM according to the note “About the Author” at the front of the book. At the time of the book’s printing, I was four years old. Here I discover the expected “cans of soup” ingredients . . . expecially cream of mushroom. Flipping through the pages, one encounters “packages of cream cheese” and “packaged stuffing” and even frozen packages of peas. Still, some of the recipes use authentic, whole ingredients, most noteably in the Fish and Shellfish section. The Fillet of Sole with Oysters looks particularly appealing with its quart of fresh mushrooms, sole, oysters, chicken broth, butter and lemon juice. (page 35).

Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook

Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook

Two other books I picked up but haven’t had much time to peruse were the PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH PEOPLE’S COOKBOOK with the charming bird graphic on the front. This one was published in 1978. Also, the WISCONSIN COUNTRY COOKBOOK AND JOURNAL by Edward Harris Heth with some beautiful woodcuts by Arlene Renken. What is it I like so much about these black and white illustrations and recipes mixed together?
Wisconsin  cookbook

Wisconsin cookbook

I guess they go together like, well, cabbage salad and oysters. This book was written in 1956, but I suspect the recipes may be older than the hills, passed down from one country cook to another before Edward Heth captured them for the printed page and posterity. I will review and share, maybe later this winter after I have tried out some of the Potato Pancakes, Dill Bean Roll Ups, Beef Goulash with Red Cabbage, and whatever Lupscush is. Am I becoming a foodie?

Maybe it has something to do with all this talk of impending peak oil doom, but I’m obsessed with food these days. Not so much the eating as the growing, storing, and cooking of it. I’m thrilled to see the yellow summer squash growing on the vines. Picking the prickly pickling cukes from my boxes is a thrill. I’m going out this afternoon and plant the old green bean squares with a late crop of lettuce. We ate the last of the green beans sauteed in a little olive oil and dried garlic with a splash of soy sauce. Delicious hot and even better cold the next day on top of a salad with some lettuce, onions, cherry tomatoes, and a bit more olive oil.

As for leftovers, a few weeks ago I found myself in possession of a half-loaf of homemade bread going stale,a few eggs from Sarah, and milk that needed to be used up. Remembering bread pudding from my childhood (in the 1970’s, but my mother knew a thing or two or three about real cooking), I hauled out the book of recipe cards she gave me at my wedding shower, and proceded to make a good, old-fashioned dessert. I will share it with you, my constant readers. Bon Appetit!

3 cups soft bread crumbs (okay, I took the bread, sliced it, and then cut it into cubes)
2 cups milk, scalded with 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
14 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
(raisins, 1/2 cup if you have them)

350 degree oven. Place bread crumbs in 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Blend in remaining ingredients. Place baking dish in pan of hot water 1 inch deep. Bake 40-45 minutes or until silver knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Serve warm, with cream. (That you skimmed from the raw milk from the local farm, of course. SB)

Still much to do this summer–pickles and blueberry jam, cotton wrap skirts, and finishing my research on “the weed.” What have you been up to in August? What tasks lie ahead. Remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper, take the time to do the work necessary for a comfortable winter, but don’t forgo the grasshopper stuff altogether. Find an hour or two to sing and play in the summer sun. Make some bread pudding, or get an ice-cream maker and churn some homemade blueberry ice-cream. Check out the yard sales around town. Drop me a line anytime . . . Outside the Box.