Winter Weekends Around the House

This winter we’ve had the luxury of being able to enjoy calm weekends at home.  Our time is structured with projects and forays outside supplemented by plenty of relaxation and reading by the fire.  Having time and lacking garden surplus foods that must be used up has given me the space to experiment with some new recipes.  We also enjoyed the results from our first attempt to process garden-grown dent corn into authentic tortillas.  Yum!  Here are some (food-focused) glimpses from our winter weekends at home:

defrosting-elderberries

Elderberries defrosting in the sun (Elderberry Syrup recipe here)

sweet-potato-brownie

Sweet potato brownies: we’ll definitely be making this again! (recipe here)

brownie-plate

Oops: meant to take a picture of the beautiful brownie plated on strawberry sauce with a drizzle of maple syrup sour cream on top… 

saved-cilantro-seeds

Sorting seeds and making our order for the 2017 garden!

windowsill-herbs

And then planting a few for some early spring windowsill cilantro

bone-broth

Bones defrosting for crock pot broth (recipe here)

skiing

Two amazing things happened last week: it snowed AND it was sunny

sauerkraut-angel

Appreciating this beautiful cabbage angel while making sauerkraut (recipe here)

making-tortillas

Homemade garden-grown blue corn tortillas (recipe here)

homemade-tortillas

Success!

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Tracks in the Snow

RaccoonPath

A favorite children’s book in the after school program read, “Tracks in the snow, tracks in the snow.  Where did they come from, where did they go?”  Whenever I’m out on a walk in the forest and see tracks in the freshly fallen snow, these lines play cheerfully through my mind.

In this past post, I discussed how amazing tracking with children is.  Animal tracking is truly a magical tool that encourages curiosity and problem solving.

However, the benefits can extend to adults too!  Too often we forget to stop and examine the beautiful and interesting details that surround us in our everyday life.  This is especially true when trying to fit exercise and outside time into a busy day.  Mindfulness, curiosity, life-long-learning, and wonder are especially important when there is a need to counteract stressful situations in other parts of life.  Following animal tracks is a wonderfully energizing way to be present in the moment with all senses alert.

My challenge to you: Walk outside in a natural setting, deeply breathing in the fresh air, as often as you can.  If there is a dusting of snow or patches of mud, keep an eye out for animal tracks.  Take time to observe and question: What kind of animal was it?  How did it move?  Where did it come from?  Where did it go?

turkey-wing-track

RaccoonPrint

Bobcat

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Squoodles

It’s not new news that we tend to have and abundance of vegetables.  Even now – at the end of January – we have about 15 butternut squash and a bushel of onions stored in the basement.  The long growing season allowed many plants to yield far more produce than we are used to – it really was a year of abundance in the garden!

Therefore, I was really excited to get a spiralizer for my birthday.  This gives me one more tool in my arsenal for preparing and presenting veggies in a totally different form.  The spiralizer takes any round or cylindrical veggie and “spiralizes” it into spaghetti cut (1/8th inch), fettuccine cut (1/4th inch), or ribbon cut noodles.

squoodles

So far I’ve experimented on beets, onions and squash with great results.  Here’s our new favorite way of eating butternut squash:


Roasted “Squoodles” (squash noodles)

  1. Preheat your oven to 45o degrees F.
  2. Cut the bottom bulbous part off the butternut squash and refrigerate for later use.  Peel the cylindrical part and cut off the very top, making sure both ends are flat and parallel to each other.
  3. Assemble your spiralizer. I used the fettuccine cut blade.
  4. Press the top end of the squash into the Food Holder (covered in a bunch of pokey things that will hold the squash in place), and push the other end against the center of the blade.  Apply pressure against the blade by using the side handle while turning the handle.
  5. squash-noodlesOut come the squoodles!
  6. Toss squoodles with olive oil and salt (they want to have full coverage of olive oil but not be dripping in it).
  7. We’ve had great luck putting a cookie cooling rack in our roasting pan, and then putting the squoodles on top.  This allows air to circulate around them, making them more crispy and less limp.
  8. Roast for 20-30 minutes.  We like a few of ours to get slightly burnt, which allows the entire batch to  get crispier.  Turn on your oven light and keep an eye on things without opening the door.  They are very thin, so can go from crispy to burnt quickly!
  9. Enjoy!

roasted-squash-noodles

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Winter Recipes

I love cooking in the winter.   Darkness comes early, leaving plenty of time for food prep before I get hungry for dinner.  Warmth and good smells contrast with the brisk cold outdoor air.  And the final result is a hot delicious meal.

Though I’ve cooked a bunch of new recipes recently, I failed to take any photos or document the ingredient tweaks made as I adjusted each dish to taste.  Oh well.  It turns out I’ve already documented many of our go-to recipes that incorporate stored, frozen, and canned garden harvests.  Here are some favorite recipes for the depths of winter:

Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup: Two of our favorite get-well-soon foods.

elderberry-syrup

Squash:  A variety of simple flavor combinations that allow you to enjoy last year’s bountiful harvest day after day.

Butternut squash

Winter Sweetened Kale & Brussels sprouts: Sweetened and tender from frost, these brassicas are nothing like the peppery and sometimes tough summer versions.  You can’t go wrong with these simple go-to recipes.

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

Chili and cornbread: Nourishing and delicious.  Perfect for enjoying in front of the fireplace after a day filled with snowy adventures.

chili-up-close

Tomato soup: A standard in our household.  This is our favorite way to use tomatoes canned in the height of sunny summer.

Tomato-soup-with-toast

Ginger and Turmeric recipes: Miso squash bisque, curried broth, and Golden milk tea: Warming, comforting, delicious, and SO good for you!

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Cream of cauliflower soup: So creamy you’ll forget it’s packed with veggies.

cream-of-cauliflower2

Enjoy

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Better Bitters

homemade-bitters

Our pantry, freezer, and fridge are stocked with organic whole foods.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality ingredients, many originating here in Vermont and some from around the globe.  Cooking everything from scratch (and barely ever eating out) allows us to spend more on the raw materials, making incredibly high quality meals quite affordable.

Then one day out of curiosity I took a peek at the Angostora Bitters ingredients panel from our cabinet… Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavorings, carmel color and added colors.  Not the worst things in the world, but I realized that I could do way better!  Why hadn’t I thought of making my own bitters before now?

It turns out, making bitters is incredibly easy.  Simply steep ingredients like citrus peels, herbs, or spices in vodka, strain, and enjoy!  But what to steep?

Inspired by great new companies, like Urban Moonshine and Salud Bitters, I wanted my bitters to be functional and delicious.  I had also been meaning to take advantage of the collection of herbalism resources I’d been accumulating.

medicinal-herb-books

Browsing through my books, I started to list combinations of herbs, spices, and citrus peels that would promote health or ease ailments.  I’m no herbalist, so I don’t guarantee results.  I know that herbal remedies need to be used regularly over time to be effective and I’m not planning on having bitters every day.  The herbalism lens, however, was useful to me in concocting some intentional blends from millions of possibilities.

A simpler option, of course, would be to start with single or two-ingredient bitters.  Orange, cardamom, or ginger bitters would all be great all on their own.  I was ready to make a project out of it, however, so I pulled tons of ingredients out of the cupboards and got to work.

bitters-ingredients

I filled each jar about 1/3 of the way up with herbs, spices, and peels (dried ingredients will expand and you want everything to stay below the level of the vodka).  I then filled each jar with vodka, labeled each with its ingredients list, and let them sit in a dark corner of my kitchen.  I shook them daily (sort of… on the days I remembered).  After two weeks, I strained and rebottled into old hot sauce jars.  Perfect for pouring small amounts!

bitters-steeping

Though my concoctions were blended without really knowing how they would taste, I love the unique flavor of each one.  I now have a diverse selection on hand for adding to seltzer, water, or cocktails.  What an easy way to upgrade this versatile cupboard ingredient!

homemade-bitters

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Quick, before the deep freeze!

brussels-sprout-winter-harvestFrom afar, it may seem like I’m completely on top of my house + garden chore list.  In reality, things are never quite as perfect as they seem in blog posts.  Though I’ve already switched gears from harvest season to calm quiet cozy indoor holiday preparations, there are still a few last things to do outside.  There’s nothing like a weather forecast for motivation!

This week’s temperatures are predicted to dip to 0°F – the tool gathering, parsnip digging, and last harvests can’t wait any longer.  Of course, it would have been ideal if I had done these things before the last snow storm, but life isn’t perfect.

winter-parsnip-harvestFrom the rocking chair in front of the wood stove, it looks pretty frigid and uninviting outside.  However, after I suit up and get to work, it feels as if a switch has flipped.  Snow sparkles around me.  My cheeks, warmed by digging, feel refreshed by the cold air.  The air smells incredibly fresh.  It is great to be outside!

The parsnips dug, frozen kohlrabi and cabbage rescued, Brussels sprouts plucked, stakes hammered in, and tools gathered, I head inside.  I have some kitchen work ahead of me.  Luckily, there is plenty of time in December afternoons between dusk and dinner time.

I clean up the less-than-perfect half frozen kohlrabi, cut them into sticks, and leave them on the counter in a salt water brine to pickle.  The completely frozen cabbage is sliced up for this tasty dish.  Brussels sprouts are trimmed and put in the fridge.  Parsnips, still dirty, are packed into a bag for cold storage.  The few that got cut by my shovel are scrubbed off, chopped up, fried, drizzled with maple syrup, and eaten for dinner.

brussles-on-cherry-board

Ahhhhh…. I am grateful to be able to enjoy the comfort of my cozy home as temperatures drop.  AND to not feel the burden of an incomplete “to-do” list of outdoor chores.  Stay warm everybody!

To read more about my favorite ways to cook winter-sweetened harvests of kale, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips, check out this post from December of 2013.

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Preparing for the Holidays, Naturally

The holidays can be a time of crazy consumption, extra trash, and lots of spending. OR, they can be an opportunity to celebrate nature’s wintery beauty and pour positive energy into homemade gifts made for loved ones.

winter-greens

Yesterday’s new snowfall set the scene for the start to my holiday preparations.  Without the garden to tend, I’ve had time to rest from major projects at home and recharge.  I cheerily began to gather ingredients for gift making.  A walk outside yielded foraged materials for decorating the house and a handful of greens (and edible flowers!) pulled from the snow-covered garden.  Back inside, with a fire crackling in the wood stove, I got to work.

sprays-and-bouquets

Click here to read about my natural holiday decoration suggestions.

herbal-teaClick here for a great list of ideas for homemade gifts you can make in the kitchen.  Additional delicious gift ideas I’ve written about include homemade crackers, dukkah, herbal tea mixes, homemade vanilla extract, all-in-one soup mix, and homemade apple sauce.

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