Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All of last week was insane. One night home, I believe. I'm teaching a class at night, so is Will, plus soccer one night.  This week has been close to the same already.  Will made eggs for the kids one night--his one dinner specialty.  One night Kira and I had tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Not much going on weekdays in this kitchen!

So over the weekend I felt I needed to get some good cooking going in the kitchen.  I love the Fall harvest foods from the CSA, and really wanted to showcase them.  Plus Will's brother George had come up to do some pike fishing, and he appreciates a good meal too!

I still had fresh spinach from the last CSA, plus a new bag, so I decided to make Creamed Spinach.  Back when we lived in CT, Will and I used to love to get it from Boston Market.  But really, those kinds of things taste good for the first few bites, then not so much.  A few years ago I had made a recipe for Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd try to remember it.  I also had a lot of leeks, so that had to go in whatever I was preparing.  I chopped them up for both the spinach, and decided to make a Pumpkin Black Bean Soup with leeks also.  And while I was at it, why not a pumpkin dessert?  Only downer was realizing that I only had enough fresh pumpkin for one, so the dessert was actually made with canned.

Anyway, what's better than fresh leeks?  I love to cook them in place of onion in anything I make.  Cooking Light had this to share: "Leeks were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, mentioned in the Holy Bible, used by the Romans, and even spoken of by Shakespeare in Henry V. Introduced into Great Britain in the Middle Ages, leeks became the national vegetable' of Wales after Welsh warriors affixed the plant to their helmets to distinguish themselves from their enemy, and beat the Saxons in battle."

Cool, huh?

While I was cooking, Kira needed something to eat, so we made some homemade smoothies. She's been stuck on drinking Odwalla juices at $3+ a pop, so I decided we'd start making our own. We puree french vanilla Stonyfield farm yogurt, white grape juice, and frozen mixed berries. She's loves it. Healthy, organic, and some protein too.
Earlier in the day, we were driving back from Wells (where I go to get my hair done), and decided to stop in at this dairy farm we've driven by every time.  They have a sign out for cheese, so I was curious.  Plus, once we got to see their cows cross under the road through a tunnel and it was soooo cool!
The cows cross where the road bends!
When we went into the barn, a farm cat ran in behind us. I wish I had brought my camera in to take his picture, he was so funny!  It was self-serve, so when we opened the fridge, he jumped in! They had samples, and it was delicious. 

Expensive, but worth it.  It is a traditional Swiss Raclette cheese.  Kira turned it into a Halloween Raclette while we were cooking and snacking on it.

For the soup, sauteed a garlic clove and the leeks, added my favorite Pacific vegetable broth, then pureed roasted pumpkin until smooth.  Add in two cans of black beans, a can of coconut milk, some fresh parsley, salt & pepper, and you're good to go!  I didn't have limes, or I would have put some juice in too. I'm not sure you really know it's pumpkin in there, but it gives you a really different take on the traditional black bean.  And I'm telling you, it's the leeks that make all the difference!  Here's sort of the recipe here and a good vegan looking one here.

The other half of the garlic and leeks I had chopped went into the sautee pan for the creamed spinach.  I added some butter, then wilted the spinach.  Add a bit of Organic Valley half and half, and a bar of Organic Valley cream cheese, let it all melt, and threw in thawed artichoke quarters from the freezer.  Do you know they really taste different frozen as compared to out of the can?  Next time I'll chop them first, but it was a great combination!
While we were cooking, Kira actually said she would try it.  "When I help cook, I know exactly what's in it, so I'm more willing to try it."  Exactly the idea!   Would you believe she's the one who requested the pumpkin black bean soup?

And the finishing touch--the dessert.  If you've never had bread pudding, you're totally missing out.  My mom always made it at my father's request, so of course I invited him over to try it with the pumpkin. It was a big hit, especially with the caramel sauce and homemade whipped cream!

Tomorrow I'm heading out with the kids on a field trip to visit the Heifer International learning center in Massachusetts.   I'm really curious to check it out! I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Arrives and Gets Me Thinking...About Milk!

Thursday morning I rushed out to the driveway, running about 10 minutes late for work, only to come face to face with the first frost (insert expletives here)!  I was totally unprepared as I had no idea where the ice scrapers were in the chaotic mess that makes up the garage.  I turned on the vehicle and tried to run the defrost and the windshield wash, but to no avail.  I headed down the hill with a tiny circle of visibility before pulling over and waiting.  How much time would I actually be saving at the risk of ignoring basic safety?

But so goes my life this Fall, a rush of activity from one thing to the next, never feeling like I have a moment to take a breath or be leisurely about anything.  Last weekend I realized I had been operating like this since the two weeks before school officially (we had so much professional work beforehand). I had developed this crazy skin infection on my back and didn't know it was so bad, and was doing all the craziness of the start of school while feeling extremely ill (my Facebook status update one day was the observation that September is for teachers what April is to accountants.) Finally got myself to the doc and got some antibiotics two weeks ago.  It's sad the level of health I'm willing to accept as "normal."

I know this is not the most appetizing way to start a food blog post, but the background may help you, kind reader, to see why coming home Friday night to unpack the CSA share was so comforting.  I just felt like I had a little down time and was feeling good.  (Last weekend I did nothing, but it was while feeling like crap!) The kids had gone to the house of a family from their school who does a great recycled art activity with the kids after school, so I had some mental space to myself.
Autumn Bounty!
The colors in the CSA room were just beautiful. I wish I had three shares! I got so much, but I didn't have enough share to get any brussel sprouts, beets, or varieties of squashes. Something to look forward to for next week, I guess! I tried to get things I knew I would cook this week, and since it was such a rainy, damp, cold evening, the new kale veggie chowder I had made last weekend (scroll down for directions) seemed ideal, so leeks, carrots, kale & potatoes were a must.  We always get fresh eggs, the spinach is to die for, my mouth waters for the fresh anise, and I also picked up a pie pumpkin (what says Fall better than pumpkin pie?).   The Maple Skyr is my new favorite item I buy while at the CSA. It's from a small dairy farm operation down the hill from MFF.  It's like the creamiest, most decadent--but  made with skim milk!--yogurt you've ever tasted. It's been in the Icelandic diet since the Vikings!  Last year I bought one of the mugs a local potter had created for them, so it seemed fitting to have my English Breakfast in it.

When I'm feeling low and ill, I get so emotional, so I'm sure that was part of it, but I had a bit of a dairy issue last weekend. Ever since Food, Inc. I've been trying really hard to be a conscious food consumer. We've been buying organic milk (despite its cost!) for awhile now, but I really wanted to think carefully about which brand after watching an episode of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days.  

He's the director who achieved critical acclaim with Supersize Me.  He had a few seasons of his series 30 Days on FX for awhile, and apparently it's been picked up by another network so we may see more episodes--I hope--in the future.  My teaching partner shows parts of the first season to our students--there's one about a Christian who lives with Muslims for 30 days, and another about meat eaters who live on an organic, vegan farming commune. This was a rerun from Season 3, where a hunter had to live with a vegan family who are animal rights activists. 

It was an incredible episode. After about 20 minutes in, maybe a week for the hunter, you think there's no way he's ever going to be effected by these activists. But by the end, he's standing up for animal rights. He's not giving up hunting, but he's clearly been moved by the plight of a calf he helps rescue in the middle of the night from a large dairy farm that has left it to die outside the grounds of the farm.  He names the calf "Sugar" (even though he's a male cow, you see how moved this guy is), and he bottle feeds it back to life. If just that brief summary has you hooked, wait until you see the show.
So I made a resolution to buy milk from humane dairy farms.  I just never knew how inhumane it was. We're fortunate to live in small town Vermont, where we can buy milk from small dairies.  The folks that make the Skyr only sell raw milk, and I'm not sold on the benefits of non-pasteurized.  But we do have this sweet little Mennonite store called the Market Wagon, and they sell milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery.  It's not that expensive and is sold in returnable glass bottles.  I bought the skim this week, but the whole milk and especially the chocolate milk are to die for.
McEachron Family Farmer & Calf: check out more farm photos

I decided that in the grocery store, I'll buy Organic Valley milk. They have a statement on Animal Care on their website.  I had been buying Stonyfield Farm, but that has been bought by a larger food group, and it if their policies are on its website, I couldn't find it.  Check out one of their videos on animal care:

I also found a site that you can use to find products from certified humane farms sold in your area! You put in your zip code and it lists products and where they are sold.  Unless you're like my poor friend Shana living in the heart of Wyoming, you should see some products from your local supermarkets and grocers.  (Her solution: farmer's markets!)   Now if only my husband, the on-again-off-again vegetarian (who's off again and eating meat), would join the vegetarian wagon and bring my son along with him.  I don't push my son as I'd like him to come to the decision on his own.

I also don't want to push you, dear reader, but...
And here are the steps for my Kale* Veggie Chowder to get you started! 
(*Read about the health benefits of kale!)

One or two bunches of fresh kale.  I like the flatter, broad leaf style better than the curly one you see as garnish.
Here's my fresh kale, and last week's sad looking wilted bunch. Still tastes good for soup!
I chop up one clove of garlic, three skinny leeks (or one large one), about three or four carrots, and one celery stalk.  Sautee these in a stock pot, stirring, until the leek is nice and soft and clear. While it's cooking, you can chop up your potatoes. I use about a pound. Use small, organic potatoes or it doesn't taste as good!
I used these pink ladies (not sure if that's a real name!). Aren't they beauties?
Add about two tablespoons of butter and the same amount of flour.  Stir up in the pot until everything is nicely coated, making sure it doesn't burn.  Then add in four small or one large container of Pacific Vegetable broth.

Pacific Natural Foods Organic Vegetable Broth, 8-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 24)
Add the potatoes, and cook at a low boil, stirring frequently, until potatoes are just soft.  While the potatoes are cooking, prepare your kale by taking off lower stems and chopping the leaves and upper stems into strips (or smaller depending on how you want it on your spoon.  I like it in strips! You could chop it in a blender if you want it to be less of a stew look.)

When the potatoes are ready, scoop out a cup or two of the soup, depending on how chunky you want it.  Add milk to the pot to desired creaminess--maybe a cup or so? Lowfat milk works fine.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup pot ingredients (or transfer to blender carefully).  Add back in the chunky soup, and the kale.

Put the top on the soup pot so the kale can steam.  I like it cooked just past wilted so it's not mushy.  Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and serve with delicious crusty bread.

Thanks for reading. I worked extra hard on this one this week. Won't you pass the link to my blog along to a friend?  Just click those little buttons below. And I'd love some comments! I reset the page so that you can comment even if you do not have a google account.

Here's one more sweet look at the cows of Organic Valley:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Goodbye Summer! It was so nice having you visit!

This morning we woke up to a 58 degree house.  Summer is officially over.  You know it's true when you begin that argument about whether or not we can get by without turning on the heat. If it's like this a couple of days in a row, we'll have to turn it on. I think last year we gave in October 1st--maybe we can stretch it a bit more...

So as Kira and I were making what we called "Fall Harvest Chowder," I was thinking about all of the photos I took for posts I never wrote.  Boy, August just got away from me! (Besides we started school the 23rd!)

Here's a recap of some of the joys of August.  I post them as an homage to the summer harvest.  If it was a film, it would be a montage with a tear-jerking/rejoiceful soundtrack in the background. 

Summer Gold.  Cherry Tomatoes at MFF.

Farm Kitty!

Campfire S'mores at Halfmoon Pond


Trying to make healthy eggplant parm.  Baked.  Tastes okay, but not GREAT.

Awesome locally made Fresh Mozzarella. Perfect for summer tomatoes.

Two of my favorites: potatoes roasted like chips, and summer squash sauteed with garlic & oil, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.

Gotta love the pick your own flowers at MFF. I'll miss them all winter!!

Owen egged & breaded ALL the eggplant!! We made so many parms this month!

Garden vegetable sautee for pasta. Holy moly, sooooo good.

She likes the soup! (a la Ratatouille)

One of my favorite summer things is making green minestrone with pesto.


Nicole, my hair stylist, sent me home with a mother load of beautiful garden tomatoes. I spent an entire day cooking!

Aren't they LOVELY??

Fresh salsa TO DIE FOR!

Kira ate it with a spoon. We also made delightful gazpacho.     

 Here's a good song for the soundtrack.  (Notice Mike Mills on piano!)  ""I'm pining for the moon..."