Eat Local – and the Children Insist

We’re seated at the dinner table as a family, a cozy little scene, when my oldest daughter takes a bite of her vegetables, screws up her face and says, “Mama, there’s something not right about these vegetables!”  A usual comment at dinner tables across the country I’m sure, but not with this daughter.  Chloe likes vegetables, she loves kale, broccoli, steamed spinach and asparagus.  Hasn’t always, but does at twelve.

“They taste fake.  Wrong.  Chemically.”  Yes, they do, I admit.  Once again, I can’t sneak anything by her palate.  The vegetables of which she speaks are ones that were given to us by a well meaning relative.  You pop them from the freezer to the microwave and 5 minutes later or so, you’ve got your so called vegetables.  The problem is they are terrible and don’t taste real.

These veggies were part of my I’m-not-going-to-the-grocery-store-until-we-eat-more-of-what-we-already-have campaign.  It usually lasts a few days, occasionally nets an oddball dish, but mostly leaves me feeling frugal and terribly accomplished for not breaking down at the first sign that things are getting low and rushing to the store only to find, weeks later, sodden, unrecognizable things on which I spent money, but have now wasted due to my lack of either attention or perseverance.

Fast forward to another dinner where, again we are all gathered, this time having a “snacky” dinner, which is to say, cheese, baguette, sliced sausage, apples slices, homemade mustard and… a cheese loaf.  You know, the kind that is really a cheese spread rolled in nuts with a shelf life of small children.  I love these things.  I don’t care if it’s not politically correct in the food world.  I do.  They remind me of home, my mom, my grandparents and bridge nights when I would fall asleep to the laughter of ladies playing bridge in several rooms of our down stairs.

Not so Chloe.  One taste.  “Ugh! Mama, how can you eat that!  It’s chemical cheese!”  I now realize I’ve created a monster.  A food snob.  Truly, we don’t go around criticizing this food or that.  I am, however, finding it interesting how she’s echoing our unspoken endorsement of handmade, local, organic.  They watch, they watch, they watch…


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Cook the Book – Braised Lamb Shanks with Thyme, Cinnamon and Fennel

We hauled yesterday evening to a chilly, darkening sky.  It’s now drizzly wet and not too cold and everyone is down working on the through hull fittings, spraying the bottom with the pressure washer to remove a year’s worth of muck and growth and setting up staging for the sanding and painting portion of the program.

This is exactly the kind of day that calls for one of those long, simmering stews while the oven gives off the welcomed radiant heat that warms chilled fingers and bones.

If I were a nicer boss, I’d be making this for my crew tonight.  But I’m not, so I won’t.  Instead, I’m off to test some baking recipes which they’ll get to have for an afternoon break.  And hey, I did whip up dinner for them last night though, in all honesty, I tried to whip up a store bought pizza from our local pizzeria about 10 minutes before closing time.  And then got the busy signal for the next 1o minutes.  Trust me.  No restaurant is that busy at 7:50pm.  On a Thursday night.  In Rockland, Maine.  And then, of course, at 8:01 I got the machine.  I’m blonde, but I’m not that dense.

So, instead, we had the perfect comfort food – sloppy joes.  Good mama.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Thyme, Cinnamon and Fennel

4 lamb shanks, 3/4- to 1-pound each
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 medium onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 large parsnips, chopped
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 whole garlic heads; unpeeled, cut in half horizontally
1 cup dry red wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 large orange, peeled, quartered and pith cut away
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375°. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in large, heavy-duty, ovenproof pot over high heat. Add the lamb and cook until brown on all sides (about 10 minutes). Remove the lamb and keep warm. Add the butter to the drippings in the pot. Add the onion, carrots, parsnips, thyme, and garlic.  Sauté until the vegetables soften and begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and boil until the liquid is reduced almost to a glaze, about 4 minutes. Return the lamb shanks to the pot, arranging them in a single layer. Add the stock, orange, cinnamon sticks, and fennel seeds; bring to boil. Place the pot in the oven and cook, uncovered, until tender, turning and basting often (about 2 hours 15 minutes). Transfer the lamb to a plate and keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into a bowl and spoon off the fat. Return the liquid to the pot.  Simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot; cover and warm over medium-low heat 10 to 15 minutes, until the lamb is completely reheated. Serve.

Serves 4

Off to test recipes

Photo credit (as always!) Elizabeth Poisson

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Easter Dinner the Sequel

It’s the first time in the history of Easter dinners that we’ve spent more of it outside than in.  We have several friends, none of whom have family in the area, with whom we often celebrate holidays.  Typically we all gather with our winter coats on to watch the kids find their eggs and then either pretend it’s warmer than it really is by staying outside with our shoulders hunched and our hands in our armpits, or giving up to rush back inside because it’s even too cold to pretend.

This year?  Bliss!  Sun shining on our faces, children running barefoot in the green grass, music, such good food and, of course the Easter cake.  The cake itself is a tradition as is the conversation and discussion that surrounds the cake.  Apparently, it is a childhood memory for one of our friends, but as memories are faulty and the ability of wives to recreate what a sainted mother made, well, less than perfect.  Which of course it is because no one can meet the rosy expectations of a dreamy childhood memory.  The cake itself is supposed to resemble an egg.  It requires some construction, and here in lies where the “conversation” happens.

“How does it go together again?”

“Not like that!”

“Mama, you aren’t doing it right!”

“Okay, you do it.”

“No.  The parents are supposed to put it together and then the children come to decorate.”

Just press play to repeat the five to ten minute conversation on a yearly basis.  I was trying to explain to E how it goes and I just couldn’t do it justice.  And then it happened.  Just like clockwork and there was such a sense of rightness about the whole thing.  It felt like putting on a cosy pair of slippers after a long summers break.  Like catching a whiff of my childhood home or my mom’s cooking.  Rightness.

Oh, and I should tell you that the column ran today – using up leftover lamb from Easter dinner to make lamb meatballs. Of course you can use freshly ground lamb as well.

Curried Lamb Meatballs
Roasted Peppers with Curry and Fennel
Brown Rice with Lentils

Blown eggs on our egg tree.

In the sun.  Sigh.

Hunting for eggs.

The famous Easter cake.

Cutting the cake by Ms. “I hate blogs” Cindy.

Maine windjammer sailing vacations

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Maple Syruping with the Children

At our girls’ school, maple sugaring is the responsibility of the third grade.  I don’t know if it’s a Waldorf tradition or if its just our school, but the process and the history gets passed down from one class to another.  The sugar shack was built a number of years ago by that year’s third grade and this year we experienced first hand why maple syrup is called liquid gold.  It’s ridiculously time consuming, that’s why.  Dang, it takes time to collect the sap, lug it from here to there and then boil it down!  And oh my goooodness is it delicious! And how homesteady did we feel when we were tapping trees and carrying 5 gallon buckets, one handle in each hand, down to the sugar shack?  Pretty darn Little House on the Prairie.

I kept saying to Jon how much fun it was to be trouncing in the woods when we were tapping trees and setting up the lines on a gorgeous winter day when we could be outside without completely bundling up.  We’d drill the holes for the taps in these majestic trees and they generously began seeping or gushing sap.  Each time, I got a little burst of excitement when I gently smacked a tap into the tree and the sap immediately began to run down the line.

I had such excitement on my face, he looked at me with trepidation, “oh, great, now I guess you want your own maple trees too, huh?”  Weeeell.  It WAS FUN!  I think he’ll add that to the list – goats, cows, maple trees…

The cutest sugar shack ever.

The God of Maple Sugaring – he’s been sharing his extensive knowledge of the process since the shack was built, working with each successive third grade class.

Ahh… a wood stove, now that looks familiar!

Doling out maple syrup by the teaspoon

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Cook the Book – Butterscotch-Topped Gingerbread with Sautéed Apples

Love this cake.  It’s like a warm, cashmere cardigan that you can dress up or down but always feel comfortable wearing.  And it’s tops for evoking memories of Grandma in the kitchen with her ruffled apron wrapped around her waist.  I can almost feel her enveloping me in her arms, my face mushed into her chest, as I write this.

The cake flour matters here.  I have made it without, using all purpose instead, because, well, as I’ve said before, actually following a recipe isn’t my strong suit.  The results are not so stellar though and aren’t you glad you have me as your tester so you know to be sure and have cake flour on hand?

Butterscotch-Topped Gingerbread with Sautéed Apples

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2  3/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup molasses
1½ cups boiling water
2 large eggs
Apple Topping:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch wedges
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 300°.  Butter and flour the sides (not the bottom) of a nine-inch round cake pan that’s 3 inches deep, tapping out the excess flour.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, stirring until smooth. Pour the mixture into the cake pan and swirl it to cover the bottom.  Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Set aside.  Using a fork, stir 1 teaspoon of the baking soda vigorously into the molasses, until the molasses has lightened, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the molasses to the creamed butter and sugar then mix until fully combined.  Stir in the flour.  Stir in the water; mix until just smooth. Finally add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly each time. The batter will be very thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan; bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a serving plate. Allow the cake to cool, but serve warm. Just before serving sauté the apples over medium heat with the butter and sugar. Allow the apples to cool slightly, then top the cake with the warm apples and serve with whipped cream.

Serves 12 generously

Thinking of Grandma…

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