Beating Snowmaggedon

Happy February, lovelies! Is today a snow day in your nest? “Snowmageddon” stayed south of us, which is just fine because I really didn’t want Chris to spend another evening shoveling off our roof. Oof.

Although our local big-box stores are already pushing Easter candy, bikinis and grass fertilizer, it’s still very much the heart of winter here in northern Michigan. A friend told me once that we gain two hours of sunlight in the short month of February and this always perks me up a bit. Have you been struggling with the winter blahs in your nest? Cabin fever mixed with a bit of happy-to-wear-a-heavy-sweater feelings around here.

That leads me to the point of this whole post (finally, geesh!). No foreseeable plans to head somewhere tropical this winter?Bring a tiny taste of someplace warm to your nest in the form of exotic fruits! I bought starfruit the other day and for about a dollar-ish, we took a short trip to the tropics. Although this clearly flies in the face of my quest to eat local/seasonal/sustainable, I figured that the investment in our mental health was worth the food miles the starfruit traveled.

Lovelies, how do you like to stay bright and cheerful this time of year? Or do you resign yourself to being a grumpy pants for several months? Do you embrace it or try to escape? A bit of both? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please and thank you.

doing something right

To make up for the moments when I feel like I’m not doing a great job at much of anything, I’m feeling a wee bit smug today. Why? The little birdie is ridiculously excited over a bowl of cottage cheese. I guess I must be doing something right! It’s the little things to this proud Mama. What makes you sit up a bit straighter these days, lovelies?

garden of white

Even though I just recently harvested the last hardy remains of last year’s garden–a lovely handful of beets and carrots, one small daikon radish–I’m trying to beat the winter doldrums by thinking ahead to our 2011 garden. Is it too early? My heart screams, “no!” I just ordered several different seed catalogs (do you have a favorite?) and am anxiously awaiting their arrival in our mail box. Nothing like curling up at the end of the day with a seed catalog to warm you up a tiny bit.

Staring out into the endless garden of white could be depressing because winter really just began less than a month ago, but we’re trying to enjoy the quiet, the dark, the time to dream and plan for greener days. Our blanket of snow makes me think of a clean, bright canvas, waiting for a brush dipped in cadmium green pale, raw umber, veridian. How ’bout you? How do you beat the winter doldrums? Fruity drinks with umbrellas, movies and blankets, a bottomless pot of soup, roasted root veggies, a snowshoe hike with a good friend?

Here’s to finding a sense of balance in the here & now while not pining too much for what’s to come…

birdie 1, egg 0

Where oh where did my baby go? Just recently (yesterday?) she rolled over for the first time and now she’s begging for another hard-boiled egg so she can crack the shell, peel it, cut it in half, put a dash of salt and pepper on it and eat it. All by herself. Makes this Mamma so proud! But oh, so bittersweet. Sigh. How many eggs can one little birdie safely eat in one day anyway? Yesterday’s total egg consumption: 3. Any food obsessions in your nests lately, lovelies?

Tomato jam

Thanks, Internet, and thanks, Food in Jars. My life has so very much been enriched because of this tomato jam. Who knew?! I was perusing the Internet for ideas of what else to do with all this $%^&*@#$#$%^&**!!  (lovely) deluge of brandywine tomatoes and stumbled upon this recipe for tomato jam. It is SO GOOD. I mean, really really good. Spicy, sweet, but not too sweet, just plain delicious. We had it with some cream cheese on crackers. It is a fantastic use of five pounds of fresh tomatoes. Did I mention that this stuff is really good? Have you ever had such a thing? It reminds me of a pepper jelly, but richer, fresher and a bit more complex. Can you say “stocking stuffer” ?!

love me some tomatillos

Growing tomatillos in our garden this year was a really great idea because I love their tanginess and their beautiful little lantern husks, but I had no idea how big the plants would get (yikes!) and how wide their arms would stretch. So wide that they created a roomy bear-hug around the pepper plants and completely shaded them from the sun. Oh well, those didn’t make it.  There are still lots of tomatillos out there on the vine and I’m hoping they hang on another week or two. Or three? 60s and sun should allow that to happen, right? Crossing fingers…

I just added two pints of roasted tomatillo salsa to our nest’s larder. Looking forward to saving a jar for a sure cure to the mid-winter doldrums when our souls are hungering for a fresh bite of summer.

What do you like to do with tomatillos, dear readers?

the Pflaumenkuchen days

Leaves–some orange, most green with the ends dipped in color–danced more quickly across the sidewalk as the needle plunged into the low 50s. I tightened up my scarf and pushed the stroller with haste, purpose. Let’s go home and snuggle up, I said to the little birdie. That’s pretty much all I felt like doing last week when the World’s Worst Cold hit our nest. Oof. The only other thing I felt like doing was baking something beautiful and delicious. Pflaumenkuchen – a German plum tart-meets-cake slice of loveliness. Yes.

I picked up some beautiful plums from the farmer’s market and truth be told, I don’t LOVE the taste (maybe it’s the texture?) of a fresh plum. But I cannot resist their beauty. I love how they perspire when I take them out of the fridge and let them show off their blue and purple swatch books.

Most fruits I prefer in their raw, unadulterated state. But plums? Slightly caramelized in a not-too-sweet crust with a hint of almond? Um, OK, bend my arm. Sooo, I turned to my buddy, the Internet and perused for Pflaumenkuchen recipes. I ended up combining a couple and tweaking them a bit to create this perfect fall treat, which uses simple ingredients and reveals a great plum taste. Aah, fall.

Give it a try!

Pflaumenkuchen

I used a 9 inch spring-form pan, but any shape/type baking pan about that size will do fine.

Ingredients:

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. almond extract
About 15 or so fresh plums, pitted and cut in half.

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and almond extract. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture and combine. Butter your 9 x 9 inch pan. Spread batter in pan and then press the sliced plum wedges into top of batter, cut side up. Yes, I told you I was keeping it simple…

Then bake  your cake 375°F for about 40-45 minutes. Enjoy warm or cold, maybe with a dollop of whipped cream and a cup of hot tea! Or with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a cup of coffee, like I just did. Sorry, waistline. Maybe tomorrow.

I’m thinking of using this post to start an “Ode to Oktoberfest” series. All things fall, German and fun, wrapped up in a Cyber-bundle. What say you, dear readers, does that sound like a good idea? What fun fall things do you have planned?

Best!

Peeling tomatoes? Piece of cake.

I used to read through tomato-based recipes and skip right over them if they involved peeling a fresh tomato first. I groaned, “who has time for that nonsense, anyway?!” Turns out, everyone. It’s so embarrassingly easy. And I’m not one to be easily embarrassed.

Quick and dirty: harvest and rinse, core the tomatoes, throw into a big pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds then gingerly ladle them into an ice water bath. There’s really not even much work to do after that because the skins have loosened and fallen off a bit on their own. Simply peel off the rest and voila, a lovely peeled whole tomato. Wow!

I wish all fears were so easy to conquer. Next on the list? Folding a fitted sheet. Hmmpphh.

Tomatoes. A good problem to have.

Happy Thursday, dear readers. How’s your week been going? I’m not exactly sure where our week went, but I know a good chunk of it has been spent in the kitchen. This makes me smile because it’s been in the 50’s/60’s and it’s a relief to be near the stove again. Without sweating. Without the butter sitting in a pool of its former self on the counter. I’ve been inspired by our garden’s tomato bounty, well maybe ‘inspired’ isn’t the correct word for it. Kicked in the a** by tomatoes. Overwhelmed. Bombarded… tomato salad, BLTs, sliced tomatoes with scrambled eggs, tomatoes for friends, tomatoes for neighbors, a huge batch of fresh salsa, did I mention tomato slices with every meal? When I harvested eight or ten very ripe brandywines while the wind blustered around me, my mind turned to roasted tomato soup. Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 small yellow onions, sliced

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A sprinkle of red pepper flakes

1 quart chicken stock

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

3/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Directions

Step One. Harvest!

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves, a few basil leaves, and onions onto a baking tray. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, red pepper flakes and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Add remaining basil leaves to the pot. Puree the soup until smooth (batches in a blender worked for me). Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from a Tyler Florence recipe.

A big batch of soup has been enjoyed and some frozen for later, but I still have five tomatoes on my counter and at least six or seven ready to be plucked from the garden. Inspire me, dear readers! What should I do with them? HELP?! What’s your favorite way to enjoy them? Should I get canning, or what?

Cheers to you and enjoy this lovely late summer scarf weather.

Best!

P.S. the tomatillos in the first photo? I made our favorite chicken posole recipe from Cooking Light. Hearty, spicy, healthy, delicious. Did I mention that I’m really into soup right now?

looks like you overplanted your garden

Happy Thursday, lovelies! How has your week been going? I’m doing OK, but I’m still suffering from major garage sale hangover from last weekend. I’m working on gathering my thoughts on that front, but in the meantime, I’m turning to the garden (err, tomato forest).

As I was figuring out the best way to climb over the rabbit-proof fence and find a plant-free place for my midget feet, my neighbor yelled to me, “looks like you overplanted your garden!” Um, yeah…, ya think so?! No tomatoes for you, mister smarty pants! Hmmphh.

Here are a couple of photos from early June when I trimmed the lawn using the cheap lawnmower I was recommended by a friend to look on https://www.lawnmowery.com/best-riding-lawn-mowers/cheap/ and the time right after which I first planted the garden. It seemed almost barren with a lot of hopeful space. The tomato cages looked way too big and now they’re ridiculously small and completely inadequate. No exaggeration.

And here it is now, not even August yet! Do not stand too still around the garden or the cucumber tendrils will find a way to wrap around your shoe laces, pony tails and belt buckles; they will take you down. Make haste, grab your veggies and get out! If you have a garden I would recommend getting the best TechnoMono zero turn mower for 10 acres lawn would make the job 10x easier for you. Also I’ve transformed my garden with festoon lighting the landscape lighting specialists, they create a lighting plan that will benefit your property, and meet all of your needs, I loved the work!

If you love gardening but you don’t have enough space for your plants, you can go online and look for listings with the property details you are looking for. You can find more info here.

We love using secateurs nz that are a pair of pruning clippers you can use with one hand, for little branches to keep the garden nice and clean. What scares (and excites) me is that things aren’t even at their peak yet. Oof. Every day we get a bit of this or that, an assortment of fresh, healthy green goodies like this:

The upside to overplanting a garden? Hardly any weeding on the agenda! How is your garden growing, lovelies? Do you have an earwig infestation in your mesclun mix too? Yuck yuck yuck! They give me the heebie-jeebies. How ’bout you? Any advice on how to get them to go away and never ever (ever) come back? I get the chills just writing about them. Did I say “yuck!?”

Happy diggin’ in the dirt!