Archive for November, 2010

Meet My Family …. Sort Of

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Work has been ruling my life for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve not spent much time in the kitchen lately. I’m ashamed to say I actually fed my family take out food twice in the last two weeks.  Truthfully, my hubby suspected I would be tired and surprised me by bring the food home, so technically I didn’t do it.  Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Anyway, the backlog of projects on my camera is quickly disappearing, so I’d better get busy, or this blog is going to experience a dry spell. In lieu of a recipe, I though you might like to meet my family.  The only catch is that my 19 year old son will be making the introductions. I found this highly entertaining portrait of my family on my refrigerator white board.

The youngest member of my Heathen Tribe is my 15 year old son.  He’s almost 6 foot tall, thin, and ripped. He conditions for wrestling almost year ’round, and during the wrestling season sports 8-pack abdominal muscles. He’s also a bit artistic, and was recently chosen as one of the 25 students from all grades in his high school to be included in the art teacher’s advanced art program. I know it might not sound like much, but it’s a pretty big deal. He’ll be allowed to work independently, and many of these students compete in local and regional art competitions. I’m proud of him! Another quality I love about my baby is his wicked funny, super quick, highly intelligent sense of humor. He’s one of those people who can dish out zingers on the spot.  I’d have to think for a month, and still not be able to think up some of the stuff he spits out. Apparently, this is how he’s viewed by his big brother …. a skeleton with biceps.

Now let me introduce you to my eldest son. I could write a book about this boy and all he’s put my husband and I through! Every parent has to have a difficult child.  His kindergarten teacher was convinced he was ADHD (he’s not, by the way), and his first grade teacher told me he marched to his own drummer. He had the same teacher for 3rd and 4th grades, and she gave me hope. She introduced me to a gifted child who operated outside the box the rest of us live in. He’s currently a Computer Networking major on a scholarship at a local college. I won’t bore you with the laundry list of his many talents, but I will say that I wouldn’t be surprised if he went back to school some day to pick up an engineering degree. In exchange for many difficult years of parenting, he’s saved my business a LOT of money by lending me his computer expertise. This is how he views himself. Does anyone know what a Super-FPS 9001 is?

This is my future daughter-in-law, my 19 year old son’s fiance. I love this young lady as if she were one of my own.  She’s my salvation from testosterone. At 21 years of age, she’s perfect for my son …. I could not have chosen better for him.  He had better not screw this up. She’s an English major at a local college, heading for a master’s degree in library science. She has a beautiful clear ivory complexion, and good-naturedly endures lots and lots of albino jokes. For some reason my son has focused on the fact that she loved the Twilight series of books. She and I both hate the movie Edward.

Moving on to my brother-in-law, my husband’s identical twin. I recently introduced you to him in my rant about art. He’s an artist and a one-of-a-kind art teacher. He lives a couple of miles down the road from us, and spends quite a bit of time at my house. Although he and my husband are identical twins, they are a unique type known as mirror twins. They are identical, but instead of sharing the same dominant traits, one has some dominant genetics while the other received recessive genetics. My hubster is left handed, his twin is right handed …. stuff like that. My brother-in-law is a very different type of thinker than my husband, and I enjoy lots of esoteric philosophical conversations with him.  I think that may be what my son was poking fun at when he drew this representation of the “other” twin.

Meet my husband.  One of his greatest joys in life is hunting. I’m not quite sure why my son decided to draw him like Rambo with a machine gun. I think the chain saw must have something to do with the amount of time my husband spends putting in the supply of wood that heats our home in winter. My mom has always said the my husband is the only man on this planet who can tolerate me.  She’s probably right.  I’m a real piece of work to live with sometimes. My husband is one of those laid back, easy going, really likable people. It’s disgusting how easily he makes friends … I say that because I’m jealous.  I’m very high strung, and my husband has a stabilizing, grounding effect on me. Without him I would probably end up institutionalized.

I’m a little disturbed seeing myself through my sons’ eyes.  I told you I’ve been working a lot. He chose to depict me as this faceless, personality-less “It” behind a stack of boxes. He pictured me at the shop with a pile of orders.  One of two things is going on here. Either he’s trying to send me a message, or he is deliberately trying to push my buttons. You have to understand that he’s the child of my heart. We are cut from the same cloth. I understand the way he thinks because he’s a lot like me. My youngest boy is an enigma to me. I’ve never been able to crawl into his head the way I can with my oldest son. I think he was listening in on a conversation his fiance and I were having.  We were discussing what it’s like for a young adult to discover that parents are human. I was challenging her to try to get to know her own mother as a real person …. someone with a personality and a life that had nothing to do with being a mother. I’m choosing to believe my son was trying to push my buttons with this picture.

Autumn Ham Soup With Pumpkin & Barley

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

When I was roasting pumpkins a couple of weekends ago, I didn’t have a lot of fresh ingredients on hand for dinner. All I had left in the garden were some snow peas, a couple of baby fennel, and a few stray San Marzano tomatoes. I really wanted to stay home all weekend, and the idea of a 40 minute run to the closest decent market didn’t hold much appeal.  Between the root veggies and squash I’ve stored for winter, and a well stocked supply of dry goods and staples, and a freezer full of venison and an odd assortment of meats, I figured I should be able to pull something out of my hat.  I was very happy with the results, but I think I’ll try it with cannellini beans in place of the barley the next time. I keep forgetting that my guys aren’t fans of barley like I am.

Autumn Ham Soup With Pumpkin & Barley
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 very small, or 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
12 ounces ham cubes or trimmings
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 cup pearl barley
4 or 5 large roma style tomatoes, chopped (or 1 or 2 cans tomatoes – I highly recommend San Marzano tomatoes, which can be found at some of the better/larger grocers)
2 cups roasted pumpkin chunks (or any other winter squash)

In a large soup pot over medium heat, soften onion, fennel,and garlic in 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

** Bunny Trail Alert ** I have to mention  my enameled cast iron pot. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to Iceland where my parents were missionaries.  While living there, my mom was given this pot as a gift.  She cooked countless meals in the pot over the last 40 years. One of the ways my mom shows her love for people is by feeding them, and it’s a quality she passed on to me.  Over the years, the outside of the pot has become perfectly seasoned. The inside shows the years, and the vitrified enamel coating has some worn and pitted spots.  However, the imperfections in the enamel haven’t affected the pot’s ability to perform.  I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to have the enamel restored. If anyone has information about restoring enamel, I’d love to hear from you.

This pot represents all the love my mom has to give. For years I told my mom that I wanted her to be sure the pot be handed down to me when she was gone.  I was completely shocked and pleased when she wrapped the pot and gave it to me for Christmas last year. Knowing how much I love this pot, my mom wanted the pleasure of watching me cook in it instead of waiting until she was gone. My family is very small, and of the four grandchildren there is only one girl, my sister’s 7 year old daughter.  I hope Emma grows up loving to cook, because it would be a shame not to pass on this pot which represents the love of two generations.

OK, back to our soup. After softening the onion, fennel, and garlic, add the ham and cook for a few minutes longer.

Next add the chicken stock, water, and barley.  The ham trimmings I had in my freezer were rather salty, and after adding the chicken stock I realized that it needed a little water to tone down the salt.  Turn the heat down, and continue to cook the soup on a low simmer until the barley is tender.  As the soup cooks, you may need to make a couple of small additions of water as the barley absorbs liquid, and to account for evaporation.  Once the barley is done, add the tomatoes and pumpkin and cook a little while longer until the vegetables are heated.

While the soup was cooking, I threw together a nice crusty whole wheat bread which was perfect with the soup. As we head into the cold winter months, I’ll be baking bread and will share a few of my favorite recipes and techniques.

First Snow

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Yesterday evening the sky over my house spit a little snow at me.  However, so early in November I expected it to melt on contact with the ground. It was a little shocking to wake up to a  thin layer of snow on the ground this morning. My morning walk around the property involved a wool coat, cold fingers, a red nose, and hot herbal tea afterward.  It’s pretty, but I’m not ready for this.

Split rail fence post at the edge of the meadow.

Grass at eye level. I started my walk with wet knees and elbows. There’s a visual for you.

I believe this is a type of foxtail grass.


I walked back to the house by way of the barns ……

…. past the woodpile …….

… and straight into my kitchen to warm up with an herbal blend I make. It consists of rosehips, hibiscus, mint, and lemongrass.

Now I’m bundled up in my favorite faux fur blanket, sipping hot tea, and the snow is already melting away. I think the weather is very appropriate for the soup recipe I’ll post later this weekend.

Pumpkin Risotto

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’ve been playing around with risotto quite a bit in the last few months, and it has become one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s warm, and creamy, and deeply satisfying. Of all the versions I’ve been playing with, this pumpkin version has to be my favorite so far. Risotto is one of those dishes that always prompts one of my cooking rants.  Let me dispel a commonly held misconception about risotto….. It.  Is.  Not.  Difficult.  Seriously!  It’s actually very simple. However, it is a little time consuming, but well worth the 20 to 30 minutes you’ll spend on it. This is a dish that needs to be stirred most of the time. In this particular recipe I don’t use any wine. I think pumpkin is rather delicate in flavor, and the flavor of wine gets in the way of the pumpkin, in my opinion. If you need instructions for roasted pumpkin, I did that the other day.

Pumpkin Risotto
32 ounces chicken stock (vegetable stock if you would like to keep it ovo-lacto vegetarian)
3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (I’m a little onion crazy and used more)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup roasted pumpkin (I use 1/2 cup cubed and 1/2 cup mashed)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (please, please, Please use freshly grated, and not that horrible sawdust in a shaker bottle. It really does make a difference)
Salt to taste

Place chicken stock in a pan, bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat.  Keep chicken stock just shy of simmering while preparing the risotto.  While you’re heating up the stock, in a wide shallow pan, over medium high heat, soften onion in olive oil .  Once the onion has softened a bit, add the garlic and Arborio rice.   Cook the rice for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly, making sure you don’t brown the rice.  You just want it to be a little translucent around the edges.

Next, add one or two ladles full of your chicken stock, stirring frequently until the stock is absorbed. The rate at which to add the stock is one of those hotly debated subjects among chefs.  Some say never add more than 1 ladle at a time.  Others say you can add as much as 1/4 the entire amount at the first addition.  Personally, I’ve tried it both ways, and didn’t seen any difference in the finished recipe.  Anyway, after your first addition of stock, continue adding one ladle full at a time, allowing each to be absorbed before each new addition. While the rice is cooking, you will need to stir frequently. I know most chefs out there make a HUGE deal out of stirring constantly. Honestly, I stop stirring for a minute or so while I attend to other small kitchen tasks. I’ll wash a couple of dishes ….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll walk over to the table to set out plates and silverware….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll set out the drinking glasses and silverware….stir, stir, stir.  I’ll put away a few dry dishes, wipe down the counter top….stir, stir, stir.  You get the point.  Since I will be serving a meal as soon as the rice is finished, I use the time between stirring to make sure the rest of the meal will be ready.

When the last addition of stock is almost completely absorbed, gently mix in the pumpkin. Cook it another couple of minutes so the pumpkin heats through and the liquid finishes absorbing. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese, stirring until melted into the rice.  Add salt to taste and serve with a fresh grating of nutmeg.

Autumn Morning

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Yes, I know …. I promised that my next post would be pumpkin risotto.  So I just made a liar of myself, but I wanted to share a couple of shots from my early morning walk in the meadow behind my house.  As soon as I’m finished with this post I’ll get right to work on your pumpkin risotto.

I had to walk past my herb and vegetable gardens to get to the meadow. The frost on the snow peas made them look like they had been dipped in sugar.

There’s something about the quality of morning light and the moisture in the air that gave the pineapple sage a watercolor effect.

Drab brown goldenrod was decorated like a tacky flocked Christmas tree.  Somehow, when nature does it, it’s not tacky at all.

Just one more, although it was hard to choose just one. A few apple leaves left on a mostly bare tree.