I finally found a good source of pork sausage (good meaning the pigs have been fed what they are supposed to eat, not what they will eat). So, to celebrate, I thought I'd make some Sausage Gravy on Christmas morning to celebrate - a real treat, since I don't know when I last ate sausage....
Source: adapted from Bob Evans
1/2 lb. bulk sausage
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. milk
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Crumble and cook sausage in large skillet over medium heat until browned. Stir in flour until dissolved. Gradually stir in milk. Cook gravy until thick and bubbly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over biscuits or toast.
A sewing customer stopped in today when I was in the midst of baking Christmas cookies. The kitchen was a wreck(I did NOT take a picture for you!) - cupboard doors hanging open, the sink full of dishes, bags of groceries in the middle of the floor, the table piled high with containers, cooling cookies, ingredients, etc., etc. She asked, "What time did you get started? You've been at this all day??! Are you almost done? Oh my, you always have a project going, don't you?" All of a sudden I felt embarrassed. I knew she didn't get it, and answering her questions wasn't going to help her understand this deep need inside me to bake cookies every Christmas. I felt a little like my nephew, who just told me that he pretends he doesn't believe in Santa Claus so the other kids at school won't pick on him. My heart broke for him, and a bit for me as well....
Why do we have to be embarrassed about such things?? Why do we respond in shame? I love food, I always have, and I love to cook. Yet I hesitate to talk about it in certain circles because it has this "Becky Home-Ecky" or better worse, "Martha Stewart" connotation. What exactly is that all about??!!!. What has happened to our culture that women respond in embarrassment about the enjoying the fundamental skills of food preparation that other countries value? Why do I have to be ashamed to admit that I love Martha Stewart Living magazine (she has fabulous local, in-season recipes, doggone it!)? Or, why do I feel like I'm from outer space when I mention that I used lard in my pie crusts this Thanksgiving, and that lard from good pigs just might be better for you than commercial butter??
No, we don't all have to be good cooks. And no, not everyone of us will enjoy cooking. But, the feminist movement did a great disservice to far too many woman and robbed them of the simple joy of cooking.
So, why do I bake Christmas cookies every single year that I am physically able or have the money to buy the ingredients??
Because I feel like I'm carrying on a long line of tradition. I feel connected to my great aunts who were wonderful cooks and loved to have us for dinner to shower us with delicious meals.
I feel connected to my mother who baked sand tarts every Christmas and finished the job, even though we kids petered out and left her to finish up, and even though she didn't really like to bake or cook.
No, Christmas cookies aren't good for your health, absolutely not! Eating sugar on top of sugar will never be good for your health, but it does wonders for your soul,
like when I use the same cookie cutters my mother used over 40 years ago.
Or the same Tupperware container with the adhesive tape label that my Great Aunt Mary Kinsey used. Or when I use the same recipe for Sand Tarts that my mother used, her yellow Pyrex mixing bowl, or her Chex Mix recipe from the 60's.
I fully believe that there's something magical that happens when we actually use our hands to create food vs. doing the quick-and-easy or even cheaper approach to food. I believe we were meant to participate in food preparation vs. eating ready-made food most of the time. I feel connected to my Creator, feel like I'm partnering with Him when I do the Slow Food thing, feel like I'm honoring Him by spending time with His produce or at least putting some ingredients together.
So, I'm going to keep talking about food, even in circles where I'm viewed as a little extreme. But, I'm determined to find ways to talk about where I can inspire, encourage and motivate people to return to their food roots. I'm going to continue to expose my nephew and other younger folks to the wonders of food and food preparation. And, I'm going to ENJOY food and cooking, no matter what others think!
OK, now that I'm done ranting and raving(!), below is the list of cookies and candies I strive to make each year, as well as the links to the recipes. I thoroughly enjoy sharing them with friends and family who get the same thrill out of them as I do.
Hopefully the thought of using lard for pie crust doesn't give you a stroke!! Unfortunately, it probably does.... Sadly, we've been misled into believing that hydrogenated shortening or even commercial butter is healthier than lard, but that is not the case!! Lard from a conscientious farmer is far safer to eat than commercial butter, and most definitely better than shortening (please, please, please toss that hydrogenated shortening!!).
Since I volunteered to bring pies for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I decided it was high time to make the switch to using lard in my pie crusts.
Oh my word, the dough handles beautifully - I couldn't believe it! The dough seemed to know exactly what to do and happily cooperated.
And, look at the way the lard is wonderfully marbled throughout the dough - that's what gives the crust its flaky texture.
Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in lard with pastry blender until small pea-size particles are obtained. Sprinkle with water a little at a time. Mix with fork until flour is moist. Press into a ball and turn out onto a floured board. If making a two-crust pie, divide dough in half.
Roll out with rolling pin. Take care not to use too much extra flour because it can make the crust tough. Roll out to desired size, usually about 1" larger than pie pan. Fold pastry in half and transfer to pan. Unfold and place pasty into pan. Try not to stretch the pastry so that it doesn't shrink while baking.
Follow baking instructions for your particular pie recipe.
*Note: I bought my lard at Shady Acres, but since then I've discovered Rooster St. Provisions in Elizabethtown. Rooster St. sells "leaf lard", a higher quality lard from a specific part of the pig which is especially nice for baking since it doesn't have much of a meaty smell.
I store my lard in the freezer. To make access quick and easy for pie crust baking, I measure out 1/3 c. portions and freeze it individually. That way, I can simply pull out what I need the night before and let it thaw in the refrigerator.
This was a project I should have tackled before the weather cooled, but of course I didn't get to it until now. I've been wanting to update my living room curtain rods with a creamy white shade of paint. Although it was a lovely day and warm enough, it was too windy to spray paint outside. So, I got started, but then had to clean up and head to my sister's for Thanksgiving dinner before I finished. AAAHHH - another unfinished project - the story of my life!!
Lightly coat a 5x9" loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large saucepan, melt 3 T. butter over medium heat. Add 4 c. miniature marshmallows and 1/4 t. salt; stir until melted. Stir in 3 c. cereal and immediately transfer to pan. Coat an offset spatula with cooking spray and firmly press mixture into an even layer.
Rinse saucepan. Repeat step 1 twice: To second batch, add orange zest and enough yellow and red food coloring to tine marshmallow mixture orange before adding cereal, then press into pan. To third batch, add lemon zest and enough yellow food coloring to tint marshmallow mixture yellow. Press third batch into pan.
Let set 2 hours (or overnight). Run a small knife around edges of pan and invert loaf onto a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut loaf into 10 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise.
Using your hands, gently mold each treat into a candy-corn shape.
... for planting garlic! At least, for me anyway! I still don't know the exact planting date to aim for - every gardener, every gardening book, every website has something different to say regarding when to plant garlic - anywhere from 6 weeks before the last date of frost (which would end up being the being the beginning of September for our area) to the shortest day of the year (December 21). Of course, what zone you live in plays a key role in determining when to plant. So, I've been keeping track of my planting dates each year, and earlier does seem to make a difference in the size of the mature garlic bulb. It's often not an option for me to plant in September because there's usually something still growing in the spot I plan to plant garlic for the following year's harvest. And, even if I aim for a date, it's usually at least two weeks after that that I actually get around to it. This year I procrastinated, because I just wasn't sure where I wanted to plant based on next year's garden layout (which I haven't figured out yet!). And, I wasn't sure which of my various garden boxes would give it the ideal growing conditions. (Am I wearing you out yet?! Gardening isn't meant to be difficult, but I have a tendency to make it more complicated than it needs to be because I so want everything to turn out well....) Anyway, a friend's husband said Columbus Day (October 8) is a good time to plant for this area, and I think he's probably right.
Except for knowing when to plant it, I think growing garlic is the coolest thing. And, once you start growing your own garlic, if you plant enough the first year and save enough bulbs for the fall planting, you never need to buy garlic again! (How's that for a deal?!) I intentionally planted enough last year so that I would have some extra to share with other gardening friends, so they in turn could start their own garlic crops and become sustainable garlic growers too. Most commercial garlic is imported from China and has been infested with who-knows what and who-knows-how-many chemicals, so growing your own garlic or at least buying local garlic is a very, very good thing, not to mention a flavorful endeavor!
separate them into cloves, then plant the cloves 1-2" deep with the pointed end facing up. I use the square-foot gardening method and plant 9 cloves per square. They behave similar to a spring-flowering bulb - they get planted in the fall, get a start on their growing if they are planted early enough, they take a rest over the winter, then send up their green stalks in the spring, then send up their lovely flowers (otherwise known as garlic scapes) sometime in June, and the garlic bulbs are harvested shortly after that (when about 1/3 of the foliage has turned brown).
In addition to anticipating an abundant garlic crop next year, I'm also looking forward to trying out some more garlic-scape recipes in June!
This is what I missed when I was gathering up all my garden produce in the dark the other evening! At first I was distressed, thinking the frost had damaged them too much. But, on closer inspection, they seemed to have survived well enough, although the green beans should have been picked over a week ago; I didn't even realize I had another picking waiting for me. I was afraid the beans would end up going to waste, but then I remembered my foodie friend Julia telling me about a Cream of Green Bean Soup she makes with beans that are on the mature side. So, that's what these are destined to become!
This is the haul from last night - frost was in the forecast, so I gathered up all the frost-sensitive produce (with the help of my forehead flashlight since it was dark by the time I got home!). I always hate to pick my produce and end its growing season, just in case the forecast wouldn't come to pass, but I'm glad I did...
... since it was a record hard frost for this area.
But, there's lots more frost-hardy produce waiting to be used in my garden in addition to the broccoli that doesn't mind the cold - arugula and baby lettuce (they survived the frost with some protection), Swiss chard, kale, beets, carrots and even a few sugar peas.
I'm pretty zealous these days about eating local, in-season produce. I so believe in this approach to eating, and have come to love local produce over exotic fruits and veggies. BUT, I simply could not pass up a 40-pound case of organic bananas for only $6.00 at Root's this evening!! They make the best dehydrated bananas, or banana candy, as my nephew likes to call them. So, now I know what I'll be up to this week! :)
At my request, my soon-to-be-87-year-old father was gracious enough to grow some popcorn for me this year. I just don't have enough space to grow corn in my garden, but my dad has a large garden and is still agile enough to exercise his green thumb.
He grew two varieties for me,
a Strawberry popcorn which can be used for ornamental purposes OR for eating,
and the Snowpuff variety.
We had no trouble shelling the white popcorn, but we had a terrible time with the Strawberry. In fact, my dad insisted that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that the Strawberry wasn't meant to be eaten. But, I double checked the Rohrer Seeds catalog when I got home, and indeed it said it can be popped into fluffy white popcorn. When I get hungry enough, I'll work at shelling it. But for now, it's being used for decoration.
I just came across the article "Better Brown Rice" in the September issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine and was intrigued - their food editors say to ignore the cooking instructions found on most brown rice packages and use less water and cook it for a shorter period of time, yielding "fluffy, nutty-flavored grains that hold up well in the refrigerator or freezer." I can never seem to get my brown rice to turn out right - I usually end up burning it or end up with a mushy mess. And, because of my dilemma, I was considering purchasing a rice maker, even though I hated the thought of adding another appliance to my cupboard. So, I thought it was certainly worth giving this method a try. And it was definitely worth it!! It resulted in almost a totally different product! I'm eager to try this with fried rice and several other salad recipes using cooked rice. Hooray!
1 c. long-grain brown rice
1 1/4 c. water (1 1/2 c. if using short-grain rice)*
1/4 t. sea salt
Bring rice, water and salt to a boil in a wide, shallow pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and reduce to a slow, steady simmer. 30 minutes should be plenty.
After 30 minutes, remove from heat and let the cooked rice sit for 10 minutes, covered, to absorb maximum moisture. Remove the lid, and fluff the grains with a fork.
Yields about 2 1/2 c.
*Note - I found that I preferred using 1 1/2 c. water even when using long-grain brown rice. Also, you may wish to add more salt, depending on how you will be serving the rice.