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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Recycling a tree, Saving a species

My latest contribution to the Charlotte News:

Vermont Tree Goods recycles largest elm in an effort to save species

Tai Dinnan | Contributor

Vermont Tree Goods supervised the taking down of The Vermont Elm, the largest elm tree in the Northeast on Nov. 1. This Bristol business will recycle the heirloom hardwood in their oversized sawmill and use the wood to build distinctive furniture. The 250 year old elm died from Dutch elm disease.Vermont Tree Goods will make a philanthropic gift to The Nature Conservancy based on how much product made from The Vermont Elm is sold. This will allow the conservancy to further their work to save the species by breeding and planting disease-resistant elms. Furniture made from The Vermont Elm will be on sale in the spring. Each purchase will honor the legacy of Charlotte’s remarkable tree and help establish new communities of resistant Elms for future generations to enjoy.

1tree-hugging-ceremony

Before tree work began, a crowd of local tree huggers gathered at the Garrett residence Tuesday morning to celebrate the lives of two elders: The Vermont Elm and Charlotte’s Tree Warden Larry Hamilton who recently passed away. The crisp sunny morning created the perfect atmosphere for a ceremony filled with reverence and celebration.

Heather Furman, Executive Director of the Vermont Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, spoke about her organization’s efforts to breed and plant disease resistant elms in Vermont and neighboring states. John Monks, owner of Vermont Tree Goods, announced his business’ plans to recycle the huge Vermont Elm, mill it into planks using their unique saw, kiln dry it, and bring to life once more as furniture.

img_1905Several local residents and friends of Larry including new Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck, neighbor Vince Crockenberg, Vermont Tree Goods Sales and Marketing Director Tai Dinnan, and neighbor Erick Crockenberg then spoke of the inspiration they found in Larry’s life-long work in support of trees and forests. Larry spent the final chapter of his remarkable life in Charlotte where he served as tree warden, was active in a broad array of town activities, and started the Tree Fund that has enabled hundreds of trees to be planted along Charlotte roads.

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The crowd was then welcomed forward to give the tree one last group hug. Many adults were necessary to reach around the massive trunk that was nearly twenty feet around.

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14crane-strapped-limbs
Tree work began at 10 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. Most of the wood was transported to Vermont Tree Goods’ sawmill by the end of the day. An additional crane and truck was necessary to pick up and transport the bottom 20-foot-long section of trunk, weighing in at about 25,000 lbs.

The red elm’s wood is in great shape and is beautiful, with many rosy tones. Vermont Tree Goods hopes to have coasters made from the elm available by the end of this year. Furniture is expected starting in the spring of 2017. Email info@vermonttreegoods.com to put your name on the waiting list! Visit VermontTreeGoods.com for more information and updates as product becomes available.

19beautiful-stump

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November in the Garden

*Note: In light of the election results, seasonal rhythms, gardening, and food might seem unimportant.  My thoughts: to most effectively champion the causes we believe in, it is crucial that we stay grounded, healthy, inspired, and strong.  When we take time to nourish ourselves, we will find greater success in our work to make the world a better place.*

November is the month to finish up any last “to-dos” in the garden.  Though many of the tasks could be done in the spring, checking them off the list in November is a great way to close the growing season and set yourself up for an easy start to the next one.  November is also a more relaxing time to preserve any last vegetables and fruits from the garden, enjoy stored harvest, relax by the cozy fireplace, and take a bath!

I’m feeling tired but pleased after our first year gardening at our new home.  Years spent as cow pasture, Southern facing slopes, loamy soil, and high ground water all contributed to a huge harvest yield.  Of course, hours and hours of spring time weeding and early summer pest control helped too.

before-garden-to-bed

The garden after our first hard frost

We put the garden to bed this past weekend.  This involved pulling dead material out of the garden and piling it into a compost heap, thoroughly weeding the beds that work best for early spring planting, and covering bare rows and paths with grass clippings and hay.  Our garden site is exposed, so covering the beds with mulch will help keep our topsoil in place and protect it from being washed or blown away by the winter elements.

fallen-and-standing

The fallen (unripe tomatoes and watermelon) and the standing (kale and Brussels sprouts)

compost-heap

Dead plant material to be composted

after-garden-to-bed

Cleaned up and mulched garden rows, garnished with flourishing kale and hanging-on calendula and fennel.

In order to completely clean out their row, I harvested the last few cabbage to make kimchi.  The next day I chopped and pounded the cabbages along with ginger, garlic, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt.  img_6813

After all that pounding, I decided to rest.  Out of curiosity, I started scanning back through this blog, reminiscing about the growing season and remembering the projects, harvests, and beautiful scenes from the past year.  What a surprise to discover last November tenth’s post: November in the Garden and Kitchen.  The subject?: Putting the garden to bed and making kimchi!  For me, this serves as a happy reminder of how settled into our new home and environment we are.  Today I am grateful to feel in synch with the natural rhythms of the home, yard, garden, field and forest I call home.

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End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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