Monday, December 5, 2011

Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni

A side of pasta warms the belly on a ho-hum day.

Cannelloni ready for the oven

I enjoy making my own pasta because it absolutely melts in your mouth, but occasionally I use pre-made pasta tubes to speed the plow. Store-bought (gasp) cannelloni tubes were put to the test today. Not bad. Give them a little boil, drain and cool before stuffing and baking.

Homemade Ricotta
Chopped Spinach
Pinch of Salt

Crushed Tomatoes
Chopped Garlic
Chopped Onions
Italian Parsley

Smear baking dish with layer of plain tomato sauce. Lay the cannelloni in, smother with the spiced tomato sauce, sprinkle with a cheese topping of your choice.

I used a mix of Parmesan, Mozzarella and Asiago

Bake 25 - 30 minutes in a 325 oven.

Melty, crispy, saucy and warming. A nice side for a meal

My well stained baking stone is seen underneath the baking dish here. You don't need one, but I like them because they help the oven retain its heat if the door is ever opened during baking.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brussels Sprouts

It's getting dark so early, I was out picking sprouts in the pitch tonight. Hence the slightly blurry photo.

The great thing about having sprouts in the garden is, just like lettuce, you only have to pick what you need for dinner. The plant happily keeps on producing despite repeated "de-sproutings."

I've seen several reports on the web suggesting that this vegetable get tastier after it has experienced a frost or two. Truer words were never spoken! It's like eating candy. De-lish.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lentil Soup

Sure feels like a lentil soup/cornbread day.  Carrots, freshly plucked from the garden....

And into the soup they go.

Bay leaf from the garden will season, along with freshly snipped marjoram, thyme and parsley. The herb garden has done well despite cooler nights. I dressed the bed with hay and leaves. This is the first year I've had bay leaf in the garden. Boy have I ever used it.

Finally, canned yellow cherry tomatoes from the pantry. The only thing I haven't grown are the lentils and the sherry finisher.

Life is good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Warm Bread

Every week I stir up a batch of dough after dinner and let it rise in a warm corner.

I give it a punch down before I turn in for the night, even though this is totally unnecessary because I am using Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread Recipe, which is by far, the fastest, simplest way to make a loaf of bread that I know of. A child can manage it.

In the morning, I shape the dough, and soon it's ready for a hot 450 degree oven. Into a cast iron pot it goes. Lid on for 30 minutes.

When the timer dings, off comes the lid. Back into the oven for a few more minutes.

Ten minutes later, we have hot crusty bread for breakfast.

The house smells like a home, and all is well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cookbook Mania

Every fall I am seized by cookbook mania. One author I am really enjoying this season is Nigel Slater.

Tender, Volume I and II are a great read. With subtitles such as: "A sprout in the garden," and "A Brussels Diary," Slater's managed to make reading recipes a literary experience. He starts in the garden, takes us off to markets, educates us with culinary history and peppers entries with personal memoir. Volume I focuses on vegetables. Volume II on fruit. Two delightful, informative books.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homemade Ricotta

Fresh warm ricotta is easy to make and worth every second of effort.

Ricotta from 1 Quart of Milk

It's so delicious, sometimes it's difficult to resist eating it all before you make your pasta dish. All you need is milk, salt and citric acid (or lemon juice.)

I used a quart of milk, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp of citric acid for this batch. (Decrease amount of citric acid/salt for creamier texture.)

Heat milk, salt and citric acid in a non-reactive pot (stainless steel is good.) Keep just under a boil, until you see the milk begin to separate into curds. Remove from heat. Cool for around 15 minutes, then drain through a tea towel over a bowl. Let it drip for a while.

Keep the whey for soups or stews. Or, serve to your critters.

post script: I made a second batch using cider vinegar instead of citric acid and found the consistency to be much creamier.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Color

The Smoke Tree and Japanese Maple are just spectacular today. Every season has something to offer and this autumn the brilliant colors have been a feast for the eyes.

Smoke Tree
The black kitty next to the Japanese Maple in the photo below just showed up in the yard one day. He moped around, clearly in grief. If you've never seen a cat in grief before, let me tell you, it is palpable. I took a photo of the cat and put up signs but no one claimed him.

Japanese Maple
Weeks later I learned that his owner (a neighbor I did not know, in her early 50s) had passed away suddenly. Unfortunately the late woman's family just abandoned the old guy, who is 12 years old.  He has a home here now, which breaks my one-house-cat rule, but what can you do.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Slow Down

Aussie blogger, Rhonda, at Down To Earth, has a wonderful feature on Fridays called On My Mind.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is the unsound notion that - faster and easier - is better. It is not better. It is not even good.

These two words - faster and easier - seem to be at the root of a myriad of bad decisions by the captains of industry and the politicians who enable them. Case in point. - Ontario, Canada.

I've lived my adult life in the U.S. but was raised in Canada. My memories of Ontario were ones of a pristine and bucolic land. How wrong I was. The land I revered as unspoilt was actually doused in Agent Orange during my childhood so that the New York Times and Washington Star could more easily harvest the black spruce they printed their Sunday issues on. Millions of acres of Crown land were poisoned. The intent was to defoliate the "weed trees" (birch, maple, poplar) amongst the spruce. This, according to this Toronto Star news report.

Maple is a weed tree? I always thought of it as the source of pancake syrup. (Not to mention the prominent symbol on the Canadian flag.)

Maple "weed tree" Leaf

The Canadian government, naively, also gave the thumbs up to an energy company, which sprayed Agent Orange all over the province to easily clear the corridors for power lines as fast as possible. The result: residential neighborhoods were sprayed with Agent Orange. It's downright depressing. See this report. I'm starting to wonder about those mysterious empty barrels that occasionally floated down the river we used to swim in as children. The river would get downright frothy when that happened.

Even as a young child I knew that poisoning the land was a bad idea. I fought my parents relentlessly about their decision to spray our lawn every season with pesticides to rid those pesky dandelions faster and easier. My protests fell on deaf ears. How can a child be wiser to the ramifications of chemicals than adults and leaders? Do they not fully process the consequences because the faster-easier principle has taken root in their psyche?

Faster-easier has brought us the fast food industry and a generation of obese, pre-diabetic Americans. Faster, easier has brought us the microwave. An appliance reported to change the molecular structure of foods and increase the potential for migrating chemicals from plastic to the foods being "nuked" in it.  I don't know about you, but I have never found that the use of a microwave has improved the taste or quality of any dish.

Yummy Slow-cooked Chicken Stock for Homemade Soups
Faster-easier has also brought us the leaf blower. A handy garden tool that not only creates noise pollution, but also airlifts mold spores and dried rodent feces while scattering rich topsoil hither and yon. Leaf blowers may make the job faster and easier but they are not friendly to asthmatics. There's been a drastic rise of asthma in the U.S. since the early 90s. One in 12 now has respiratory disease. Guess when sales of leaf blowers took off. Is there a correlation? You decide.

Discussing this horrendous Canadian Agent Orange event with my mother, she responded... "All in the past. There's nothing you can do but strive to make the future better. You are doing that." She's right. I compost, plant heirloom and organic vegetables, recycle religiously and share the delicious fruits of the garden with everyone I can in hopes of leading by example. But we need to do more to help others understand the ramifications of faster-easier when it comes to the environment and our health.

We have to spread the wisdom of sustainable living and importance of stewardship of the land, so that the next generation won't have to swim in a toxic soup. Exposing young minds to the joys of organic gardening and home cooking is a start.

White Carrots in my Garden
It's also a sound economic choice. And isn't that a timely topic?

Homemade Scones

Rhonda, at Down to Earth, mentioned an article reporting that new immigrants to her country who were in the habit of growing food in their gardens, tended to pay off their homes faster than those who didn't.

Fall Organic Beets, Carrots, Broccolini & Tomatoes from my Backyard Garden

Saving $25 a week by merely serving food from your garden would save $32,500 over the course of a 25 year mortgage. That's a staggering figure, and when you consider the cost of organic produce these days, you realize it doesn't take much to hit that $3.57 a day figure for food.

Potato Leek Soup made from Garden Veggies

Edible LandscapingI've recently read Edible Landscaping and it is an inspiring technique for designing a gorgeous and fruitful garden sanctuary. If you don't buy it, pick it up at your local library and take a look... and better yet, read it to your children. There are some very pretty pictures inside.

So what am I saying in this lengthy, earnest post? Simply, slow down. The food will taste better, the air and land will be healthier, the kids will make a few bucks raking leaves again, and the economy will begin to equalize once we come to terms with the fact that quality of life isn't found in the value of a stock... unless of course, that's chicken stock.

A Friend of Mine

Unless I get a hobby farm soon these relationships are going to keep happening. The Hen Cam is only of so much comfort.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


The leaves are falling but the fennel is growing fabulously.

I love a lemony fennel salad. It's not bad in a stir fry either.

Fennel is a much under-used vegetable in this country, likely because of the licorice-like smell the fronds emit. Don't let this deter you. Slice the bulb paper thin, add thinly sliced mushrooms, dress them with a lemon vinaigrette and you have a fabulous French-inspired starter salad.

Fennel can be roasted, added to stews or made into a tasty gratin. Save the fronds. They are a perfect garnish and if you dry them you have a free spice for the larder.

Whenever I serve fennel at a dinner party there are remarks about how special the meal was. I highly recommend that gardeners add this versatile vegetable to their kitchen garden.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Quick Slaw

It starts here:

And ends here:

Keeping a garden is a beautiful thing.


Shred 3 carrots, a whole cabbage and half an onion (Walla Walla, Maui or Vidalia preferred.)

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 Tsp salt
2 Tbsp oil
3 Tbsp Mayo

Store in fridge. Slaw gets tastier as the cabbage marinates.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

National Homesteading Education Month

Mother Earth News is inviting readers to begin planning a celebration for National Homesteading Education Month (September 2012). Mother Earth News will help publicize your event, workshop, homestead tour or open house.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rooftop Gardens in Venice California

A stroll along the Venice Canals in California is an agreeable way to spend an hour on a sunny day.

There you can enjoy the recherche' architecture of the rich who have plunked down millions to squeeze in hip to shoulder in their all-house, no-land domiciles. This is a community with close ties and an alternative spirit.

Small kitchen gardens with protective netting aimed to dissuade hungry seabirds, sit on rooftops.

The view is a tranquil one, despite the sour smell of the water in the man made canals.

My preference is natural waterways and true green space for gardening, but fresh organic vegetables are not an issue for those in Venice Beach or Santa Monica.

Farmer's markets are only steps away and arrive twice weekly.

It's always a festive social gathering, where more than just food is shared.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Backup Solar Lighting Tip

A quick tip for those suffering power outages in the northeast from the early snowstorm. If you have solar accent lighting in your garden, bring them inside. They are safer than candles and better than flashlights. I lit up my whole house with garden lights during an earthquake power outage once.

... Of course, if you are in a blackout, you probably can't read this tip. But you can add it to your bag of tricks for next time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today's Haul

Last season I couldn't grow a carrot for the life of me. This year... well, witness the evidence. Proof that my life's motto: never give up, never give up, never give up, is of some worth. Next year.... peppers!