So, I managed to sneak in a quick post just as March is coming to an end.  I'm keeping up with my once-a-month schedule, purely by chance that is.  No excuses and certainly no more complaining.  There are many new happy and exciting things keeping my schedule full, and my creative mind inspired.    

A series of events has led me to Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, where I've started interning on weekends.  The farm is owned and run by Nina and Jonathan White.  At Bobolink they make and sell raw milk cheese from the milk of their grass fed cows, and they bake naturally leavened bread made with regionally-grown organic grains, in a wood-fired oven.  It's easy to say that both their bread and cheese, is the best I have ever had.  They also sell items like cultured butter and buttermilk, whey fed pork, pate, custard, ice cream and an assortment of meat.  

You should nosy around their website and check out all the different types of cheese and bread they offer.  And if you are local to the New York/New Jersey area take a look at their farmers market locations.  Trust me when I say it is worth seeking out.  They also offer cheese and bread making classes, which are an amazing learning experience if you are as interested in this stuff as I am.     
I just finished my second weekend and I've already learned so much.  I get to help with milking the cows in the morning, making cheese in the early afternoon and any other projects going on at the farm.  If you know me well, you know that this is a dream job for me.  I'm still amazed at how I find myself waking up early and driving west to one of the most beautiful places in New Jersey.  I also get to work with so many talented and inspirational people.  It only furthers my desires to finally get out of this "super suburban" home and find more open space of our own.

I'm still learning all the cows names, so I'm not exactly sure who I have in these pictures.  But they are amazing creatures, all with their own personalities and quirky habits.  There is one cow that, as she walks into the milking parlour, has to stop and walk backwards before making her way into a stall.  

Right now all the little calves are still with their mommies, and it is so amazing to see what wonderful mothers they are.  I can't help but smile every time one of the ladies moos loudly in an authoritative tone to her calf.  I know that tone quiet well, "Get your butt moving and don't you dare leave my side little boy!"       
Alright, so enough about the cows (I could just keep going on) and more about these awesome cheddar biscuits.  At Bobolink they make the most delicious cheddar biscuits that I could eat everyday.  But since I am only there on the weekends I wanted to see if I could whip up an easy version of my own.  I used the Bobolink cultured butter, buttermilk and their cave aged cheddar cheese (my favorite by the way).

This is a drop version of biscuit.  Which basically means you don't have to worry about rolling and cutting.  All you have to do is gently scoop mounds of batter onto a cookie sheet, pile on the cheese and bake.  Super simple, but super delicious.  You could easily whip up a batch right before breakfast on the weekends (weekdays for me of course).  

It is certainly worth seeking out cultured dairy products.  The regular products you get from the grocery store don't have the beneficial bacteria that real cultured products have.  You might think that you don't have any access to farmers who provide cultured diary products, but like me, you might have one just a short drive away.  It can't hurt to do a little research and find out.

So I guess I'll catch you in a month or so!  Happy Spring :)          

Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 9 biscuits
adapted from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled 
Grated Cheddar Cheese (approximately 4 oz, plus or minus depending on how cheesy you want them)  

Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 475°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Combine the buttermilk and the 8 tablespoons of melted butter in a medium bowl and stir it until the butter forms small clumps (see picture above).  Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and gently stir just until the batter is wet and pulling away from the sides of the bowl.  Working quickly, use a 1/4 measuring cup to scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheet.  Making sure to leave plenty of space between biscuits.  Carefully mound a good amount of grated cheddar cheese on top of each biscuit.  Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  Let biscuits cool for 5 minutes before serving.   
Two weekends ago, my husband and I decided to take a little trip to Woodstock, NY.  The timing might not have been the best, there might have been a little chicken drama (I can't leave my girls), but in the end we needed this trip. I needed this trip.  I needed time to breathe, time to relax and just some time to be happy together.    

So why Woodstock? Why not Woodstock? It is one of the most interesting little towns, with so much to offer. Beautiful and funky art, a fresh local food culture, surrounding beauty and tons of interesting people.  On Tinker Street, you can find stores with so many great locally made items that you won't find anywhere else.  You can visit a Tibetan Monastery or you can hike a few miles to the top of Overlook Mountain (below), which is what we made plans to do this time.

The temperature might have been negative twenty degrees (ok, maybe not that bad), but it sure felt that cold.  It was cold enough that the water in my water bottle was starting to form ice crystals.  We hiked for about three or four hours, but the views were spectacular and the trip together was all the happiness in the world.

"There is no path to Happiness: Happiness is the path."  --Gautama Buddha
So we stayed at a beautiful little B&B within the town itself.  In the morning the owner of the Inn set out a beautiful spread for breakfast.  One of the things she served was her own homemade blueberry banana bread.  I discovered later that she actually posted the recipe for this bread on her website and over the last two weeks I've been wanting to make some. 

I swear it seems like I picked up these bananas a week or more ago, and I still should have let them ripen even longer.  But, I was too impatient due to the arrival of my black walnuts from Hammons.  Even though the banana bread that I had in Woodstock did not have black walnuts in it, I still wanted to use them.  Since this last fall season fell off the face of my world, I never got the chance to collect some.  It's a good thing, (and also a time saver) that you can easily purchase some from Hammons.  If you have never tried a black walnut before, I highly recommend it.   
There are probably a million different banana bread recipes out there.  In fact I probably referenced two or three recipes when I put this one together.  If you take anything away from this recipe, I hope it is an interest in trying this funky and fun combination of blueberries, bananas, black walnuts and coconut.    
Psss...see that mixing spoon...I made that with my husband.  We might have a little surprise (little giveaway) one of these days soon.  Until then, if you want to keep up with our projects, join me on Instagram.

Black Walnut Banana Bread

makes 1 loaf

4 Ripe Bananas
1/3 cup coconut oil (in liquid form)
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sprouted spelt flour
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup black walnuts + extra for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  In a large bowl mash the bananas until smooth.  Add coconut oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Add the baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well.  Add the flours, blueberries, coconut and walnuts and mix until just combined.  If the batter looks lumpy it is ok.  

Grease a loaf pan (I used coconut oil) and pour batter in.  Bake for 1 hour or until bread is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.   

Have you ever been convinced its Tuesday, when in fact it is actually Thursday?  You lost two days from your week, and you're not quite sure where those days disappeared to.  That's how I feel, only in regards to the last few months. Where did November, December and most of January go?  

Lately I feel like I've lost so much time for no good reason.  All my priorities have been thrown against the wall and rearranged so many times that my head is still spinning.  Life has an uncanny way of adding obstacles to our journey. Some obstacles may be little and some may be huge, but no matter what comes our way we learn that we are strong enough to overcome them.  Every fork in our journey is an opportunity to grow, but the time it takes to finally commit can sometimes feel like wasted time.  I've come to realize the last few months are just a moment in my life, and I would like to believe I have finally found my path out of the woods.    

“Oh if life were made of moments
Even now and then a bad one--! 
But if life were only moments, 
Then you'd never know you had one.”  ― Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods           
So pasta is how I've decided to pick up where I left off.   I've been privileged enough to recently have my personality broken down and analyzed to the nth degree.  In the spirit of "learning to accept yourself", I've come to better understand that concept.  Yes,  I may be a perfectionist, obsessing over every detail.  A trait I've always tried to repress, suddenly has the capacity to be celebrated.   Love me or hate me, but homemade pasta, homemade everything is what I'm all about.  The excessive DIY'er, the annoying fusspot who will seek out unhomogenized gras-fed cream for making butter.  The nit-picking compulsive, "the pictures on my website are not 100% evenly spaced" (yes, it still drives me off the walls bonkers, even though I'm the only person who notices it).  

BUT, I have come to learn, there are worse things to be then a passionate perfectionist.    
I'm a very lucky woman, and it's a fact that I try not to loose sight of.  Homemade pasta, as easy as it is, takes time (especially using a manual pasta machine).  Consider the condescending question people ask, "what do stay at home mothers do all day?"  Well, I can't speak for the countless other hard working women, but this is what I choose to do with my day.  I choose to put my time and heart into my passion for food, which subsequently helps meet the needs of my other passion, making the men in my life happy.   

It just so happens that this passionate perfectionist is on a fresh pasta kick lately, and I have jars of fresh summer tomatoes just waiting to be popped open.        

Homemade Pasta

makes about 8 servings

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Semolina Flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the all purpose flour and semolina.  Form the three cups of flour into a mound on a large surface.  Create a well in the center of the mound.  Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt over the flour.  Add the three eggs, one egg yolk, two tablespoons of water, and one tablespoon of olive oil into the well.   

Using a fork, incorporate the eggs and liquid in a circular motion.  Slowly pull in small amounts of the flour while mixing.  You may not require the use of all the flour.  Use what you need to create a stiff dough that will almost seem too dry.   Knead the dough using your hands.  Add as little flour as possible just to prevent sticking.  Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Cut the dough into quarters.  Working with one quarter at a time, make sure to keep the remaining pieces covered with a dish towel.  Pass the first piece of dough through a hand-cranked pasta roller set at the widest setting.  Fold the dough into thirds and feed it through the roller again.  Continue this process twice more.  Decrease the machine setting one notch and roll the dough through (do not fold at this point).  Continue to decrease the machine one notch at a time until you have reached the last setting and have a very long very thin length of dough.  If your dough seems a little sticky you can sprinkle it with a little extra semolina flour.  At this point you could hand cut your dough or pass it through the machines cutting attachment.  I decided to go with a Fettuccine this time around.  Sprinkle the cut dough with some semolina flour and toss.  Mound the cut pasta together and set it on a parchment lined sheet to dry for a minimum of 30 minutes.  

At this point you can cook your fresh pasta, watching it carefully because it cooks much faster then store bought (think 4-5 minutes) Or you can place the pasta into the freezer to store it for another day.  Fresh pasta can be kept in the refrigerator, but only for about a day.  If you don't plan on using all your homemade pasta at once, I suggest freezing the remainder.  
"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."   -Carl Sagan
Have you ever felt the gravity of a task, such as an apple pie?  Actually inventing a whole universe, could on some days, seem easier then putting together a double layer pastry crust.  

Two days ago I woke up slowly, despite the lack of light shinning through the windows.  A dense fog covered the landscape and a slight mist in the air gently caressed my cheeks.  The chickens quietly chirped, excited to scratch through a plate of leftover treats saved from the night before.  My gaze adjusted up, and I realized I was crouched under a forest of glistening spider webs.  It was just one of those mornings, where your heart and the world connect for a second.  As if, all that she is, was screaming at me to pay attention.

My oldest son has been asking to go hiking in the last few days.  A cool morning full of fog might not be the ideal, but not every day can be perfect.  The ability to see beauty on those, not so ideal days, is only within the measure of your character.  So off we went.       
I was determined not to turn around.  To finish what we started that morning.  Ever reminding myself to be positive and firmly supportive.  There were meltdowns, which always happen, but we didn't turn around this time.  That look on my son's face; happy accomplishment paired with "I'm so tired I could die."  I know that look!  I found it once on the trail back down the Na Pali Coast.  

Needless to say we were all a bit tired, a little damp and in great need of a cozy afternoon inside.  The boys retreated to the couch, I, to my kitchen.  The warmth of the oven always makes things better.  Despite the lack of light I decided it was finally time to start inventing the universe, one apple at a time.   
In the afternoon the sunlight started pouring in through the windows.  I sat for a while just soaking it all in, but I wanted to finish this pie with enough light left to take some pictures.  I had to have something to keep myself in the monthly blogger club.  I'm trying hard, I really am....     

I'm trying so hard to hold on to this one last piece of myself.  Even though I frequent this space less then I would like, I refuse to give it up.  Be patient with me my friends.  There is a new rhythm to my life;  a new universe that has yet to be invented.  And all I can say is that I am hopeful and eager to discover what I will create within it.       

Classic Apple Pie

Inspired by Cooks Illustrated 
makes 1 pie

Double-Crust Pie Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

Apple Filling

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
3 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (A mixture of Granny Smiths and McIntosh work well)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar for topping

Place 1 1/2 cups of flour, sugar, and salt together in a large food processor.  Pulse for about 5 seconds.  Scatter in the butter and shortening.  Process for another 15 seconds until the mixtures forms uneven clumps.  Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of flour in and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed, about another 15 seconds.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the vodka and water.  Stir until the mixture sticks together and forms a dough.  Divide the dough into 2 even pieces.  Place each piece into plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.  Place disks into the refrigerator for 1 hour.  

Roll one disk of dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Lay the dough into a 9-inch pie plate.  Wrap loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes.  Roll the other disk into a 12-inch circle and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position and place a baking sheet on the rack.  Pre-heat oven to 500°F.  

Mix the sugar, flour, lemon zest, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice together in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and apples and toss everything until combined.  Spread the apples with all the juices into the dough-lined pie plate.  Loosely lay the remaining dough over the top.  Tuck and fold the edges.  Crimp evenly around the edge of the pie with your fingers.  Cut four slits in the top of the dough to release steam.  Brush the surface with beaten egg whites and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of sugar. 

Place the pie on the heated baking sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 425°F.  Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and rotate the baking sheet.  Continue to bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is a deep golden brown.  About 30-35 minutes.  Let the pie cool on a wire rack until it is room temperature.  Serve. 

    Just about two months, that's how long it's been.  Have you been counting?  I know I sure have.  Every day passes and I think to myself, "It will be ok.  It will still be there when you are ready" (especially since I have auto renew on my domain and hosting).  I am oddly enough coming up to my second year openly sharing my life with people I have never met.  The green tomatoes remind me without fail, but my priorities have left me distant and distracted.

That once ever flowing stream of words and those countless happy moments have been replaced with a dispassionate repose. 

    It is said, there is a time for everything, and these last two months have been my time for silence.  At least from writing anyway.  It was certainly the only thing holding me back.  My camera on the other hand, never ceases to be used multiple times a day.  Pictures flow, but the right words seemed to be stuck somewhere between my head and my fingers. 

    If there is a time for everything, then today was my time to finally sit down and make it work again.  Priorities change, but if something is truly important in your life, you will eventually find your way back to it. 
    School has started for my oldest, which gives my youngest and I some extra time to go on special adventures.  He loves the car, so a long ride through the hills to one of my favorite places seemed like the perfect way to spend a chilly fall morning. 

    Right now everyone has their sights on pumpkins or apples.  But thanks to a little reminder, from one of my favorite bloggers, we were on the hunt for the end of season raspberries.
    He walks slower then I do, firmly grasping one of my fingers.  His head facing down, or up, or behind, just never in the direction his feet should be going.  I make a turn down a row and he realizes what surrounds him.  My children are accustomed to picking things.  What can I say?  It is one of my favorite activities, and I get some free labor out of the deal.  After a quick eating contest, complete with sound effects and open mouthed munching, we get to work. 

He takes his job seriously, picking only one berry at a time.  Most of the time that berry, being the furthest away from the box at the end of the row, will make it to its intended destination.  Most of the time.  What is a job to some, becomes a game.  Something most of us adults sadly forget how to do.   

    We watch tractors pulling visitors around the farm looking to "pick" a pumpkin.  The allure of the ride is too great, especially for a little boy.  So we collect the last of our berries and carefully run towards a bumpy road and a seat made of straw. 
    I know it's been a while since I have mentioned my favorite textile shop for kitchen towels.  If you don't know lilleputt studios, head over and take a look at Annika's beautiful work.  It actually took me a while to start using some of her towels just because I couldn't bring myself to getting something so beautiful, dirty.  But in a small kitchen functional comes first, so they are now finally being put to work.  I'll just make sure to keep them away from beets and turmeric as long as I can. 
    So what do you do with a bunch of raspberries?  Make jelly of course, but looking at my recent (ok relatively recent) blog posts, I realized there is just way to much jelly happening up in here.  Baked goods are pushing it too, but can you blame me.  It's getting chilly, and the heat and smell from a warm oven is just too wonderful to pass up.   

    Last fall I made these black walnut scones.  I effectively just changed around a few of the ingredients.  I know it's like cheating, but only just a little.  The scones themselves are not very sweet, which means you must make sure to have some beautiful butter on hand to spread over every single warm bite.     

Raspberry Spelt Scones

makes 8 scones

1 1/2 cups of spelt flakes
1/2 cup of chopped almonds
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
1 1/2 cups of sprouted spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (5 oz.) butter

6 oz fresh raspberries

    Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Spread spelt flackes and chopped almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 7-9 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant.  Let the spelt flakes and almonds cool completely.  Increase oven temp to 450°F.  Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.  Whisk the buttermilk, egg and maple syrup together in a bowl until incorporated.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid in a small bowl for glazing the scones later.  In a large bowl place flour, baking powder and salt.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.  Stir in the cooled spelt flakes and almonds.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the liquid ingredients just until large clumps begin to form.  Continue mixing the dough by hand until you can gather everything into one large ball.  Dust counter top with some flour and turn out the dough onto the counter top.  Gently pat the dough into a 7 inch circle about 1 inch thick.  Cut the dough into 8 wedges and place them on the prepared baking sheet, making sure to space the pieces about 2 inches apart.  Brush each wedge with the reserved egg mixture.  Bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.  Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving. 

Have you ever come across a food that was so simple, but yet hugely delicious?

    I was growing one little plum tomato plant this summer and it managed to yield a large amount of fruit.  I didn't quite know what I should do with all these beauties, so I did what I normally do: search the Saveur site until I find something I like.  There isn't always something that matches exactly what I want, but this time there was.

    I really could have just pointed you in the right direction and called it a day.  But, it was one of those moments where I had camera in hand, and a few extra moments to spare.

    I have seriously been eating these roasted tomatoes with everything.  Normally they get slipped onto a sandwich of toasted sourdough with ricotta.  They also get tossed in a garden salad for a light dinner.  The next option will be in a pasta or gnocchi dish, but the possibilities are endless.

    If you know me by now, you understand the thrill I get making something that comes completely from my own garden.  In this case all the tomatoes to start, and all the fresh herbs sprinkled on top, came from my backyard garden. 

    My basil plant is just on it's way out, but I managed to snag a few leaves.  I cannot live without parsley so that goes without saying.  And instead of mint I opted to go with some golden oregano.  
    Not a lot goes into making these roasted tomatoes and they are worth every bite.  The first time I made these (yes, I had so many tomatoes that I made a second batch) it was for a dinner party, and we put them on top of this Feta Tart.  Want another direction, make that tart!  Also wonderful on its own or with toppings.
    Another little substitution I decided to make was my Meyer Lemon Salt.  Want to make your own easy peasy citrus salt, Local Kitchen, shows you how.

Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Inspired by Saveur, Oven-Roasted Plum Tomaotes

Plum tomatoes (I didn't take the seeds out)
Extra virgin olive oil (or avocado oil works well too)
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse Meyer Lemon sea salt
Fresh parsley, basil and golden oregano (or whatever herbs you have on hand)

Preheat oven to 250°F.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Cut your plum tomatoes in half and arrange them on the baking sheet, cut side up.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sugar and freshly ground black pepper.  Bake in oven for about 3 hours until the tomatoes are shriveled and wrinkly.  Transfer the tomatoes to a plate and let them cool slightly.  Before you are ready to serve, sprinkle on the sea salt and freshly chopped herbs.  Perfection!

*I keep my extras in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  You can pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them back up again. 
    The time has come.  The table is covered with fruit and vegetables waiting to be transformed into perfect little jars.  Summer peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers and ground cherries.  I purchased a bushel (is it a bushel?!) of peaches.  A lot of peaches!

    This salsa, let me tell you about this salsa.  I fell hard in love.  The jars from last year were only opened upon special occasion and with great hesitation.  Now it is time to restock.  When I purchased my bushel of peaches they were not quite ready.  Processing them is so much easier when they are perfectly ripe.  The skins just peel right off, without having to blanch them.  But, you have to know exactly when to strike.  It just so happened they were ready on a day when I almost started attempting a cucumber pickle.  Finally now with seven pints of peach salsa behind me, I can feel comfortable knowing I can summon a jar in the middle of winter for a peachy fix.      
    The day I made up the peach salsa I really wasn't feeling the camera.  Normally I like to get several photos of " the process" but this time you'll have to just trust me.  This salsa is more of a, little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that, kind of recipe.  I tried to put the amounts of everything below, but most of what you will read is totally adaptable.  Don't like cilantro? You're crazy if you don't, but you could leave it out.  Substitute the types of peppers or onions.  Whatever you do, just don't change the peaches. 
    That, yes THAT, down there.  My very first egg!  It may not be that exciting to many, ok most people, but I can tell you there is nothing like the feeling I got when I saw it sitting perfectly in the nesting box that day.  I'm guessing it belongs to Sunny, and she has given me an egg every day since.  Something else that is pretty special, is that this egg turned out to have a double yolk.  You'd probably never come across one, especially if you buy your eggs from the store.  But for chicken keepers it's a fun little every-so-often surprise.  I just didn't expect to see one that soon, and certainly not on the her very first try.  Way to go Sunny, one more reason why you are our favorite.  Shhhhh...don't tell the other girls.  
My rhubarb is doing great.  Now that the weather has cooled down a bit new stalks are sprouting forth.  Two more years, only two more years. 
    I love saving seeds for next year.  I feel so much closer to the process of growing the food we eat.  Feels like I actually know what I'm doing, but I do, and with each year I learn more.

Peach Salsa

makes 6-7 pints

About 12-15 large yellow peaches, pitted, skinned and roughly chopped
2 large onions (or 4 medium), minced
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
4 red bell peppers, minced
6 jalapenos, minced
Juice from 5 limes

3/4 cup organic cane sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
pinch or two of ground cayenne pepper
1 cup white vinegar

Prepare your water bath canner and jars. 

Place all the ingredients into a very large pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.  The salsa is ready when it has reduced in size by one third and no longer looks watery.  Taste some of the salsa occasionally to see if it needs more salt, pepper, spices or sugar.  Ladle the hot salsa into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Let jars cool completely and store for up to a year without rings.

*This salsa improves with age.  Try hard to wait until you are well past the end of summer to open and enjoy that first jar.
    Finally home after a beautiful week in the Catskill mountains.  I was longing for home, but my heart still always aches to say goodbye.  A full week without internet, phones, computers and tv, can be at the same time both liberating and unsettling.  There is no escaping the voice inside your head. No escaping that yearning desire to remain forever unplugged from a disconcerted world.  It takes time to readjust back to life the way it was.  Perhaps that's why we continually seek for that place where we can simply enjoy every fleeting moment without distraction.             
    We took so many walks through the woods around the lake last week.  A very wet summer created a wonderland of mushrooms and berries.  We found wild blueberries, black raspberries, blackberries and wine berries.  I collected and identified more mushrooms then I have ever seen in one place before, some of which were edible.  We caught frogs and salamanders, and two little boys practiced fishing on the lake every day.  Life was simple. Life was good.  Such as every vacation should be.   
    I arrived back home with only a day to prepare for an upcoming party with some friends.  There are always shortcuts to take when it comes to party food, but the one thing I will always make from scratch is dessert.  I quickly churned some cinnamon ice cream, and found a simple plum tart recipe.  It turned out to be delicious, and we at the whole thing that night.  The next day I was thinking about how easy it would be to make the recipe gluten-free.  In the case of this tart, the only thing that needed changing was the type of flour.   
    Plums are not normally my favorite type of fruit to eat fresh.  The skins are very tart and the insides can be a bit too mushy.  In my mind, plums are always better cooked or baked.  The skins soften and the sweet flesh melds into the surrounding dough.  The first time I made this tart I used regular flour, but the second time around I used a homemade gluten-free all purpose blend.  Sometimes the change in flour will hurt the final product, but in this case the gluten-free flour added an extra depth of flavor that made it far superior to the original.
    A final dusting of cinnamon sugar is all you need to snag a gentle reminder of the coming fall.  The sweet spicy scent filling my kitchen was enough to make me wish away the rest of this summer entirely.  But for now, I'll just dream of cooler nights with star filled skies.       

Gluten-Free Plum Tart

makes one 8" x 8" tart

6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, divided
1 cup all purpose gluten-free flour
2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons milk (any kind - animal or nut)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 lb firm plums, pitted and cut four ways
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Grease and flour the inside of a 8" x 8"baking dish, and set aside.  In a large bowl whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder and sea salt.  Using your fingers work 4 tablespoons of butter into the flour mixture until pea-size pieces form.  In a separate small bowl whisk together the milk, vanilla extract and egg; add to the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until just combined.  Transfer dough to the prepared baking dish and spread the mixture so it completely covers the bottom of the pan.  Arrange the cut plum slices in the top of the dough, pushing them down slightly.  Mix together the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the plums.  Dot the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter on top of everything. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving with or without a spoonful of ice cream.
Salt Preserved Herbs/ Bread and Butter Pickles/ Dried Cress Seeds/ Lacto Lemon Cucumbers/ Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla
    There are weeks that go by when I'm more interested in trying recipes from some of my favorite books and websites, rather than working on my own ideas.  Although, this year I have definitely toned down my canning projects by working in smaller batches.  I've also been freezing a large portion of fruit, thanks to a brand new chest freezer.  By freezing most of my fruit, I'll be able to make more jams and jellies when the weather gets a bit cooler.  It also saves me from having to put up everything all at once, so we can enjoy more time outside.    

    If I had to use one word to describe this summer it would have to be, mild.  We had a few bad days of heavy rain and wind, but overall the humidity has been low and comfortable.  With all this beautiful weather my garden has kicked into gear, and is bursting at the seems.  Herbs are unruly, cucumbers are spreading, and tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.

    So here's a little update from the backyard, and some links to the fun recipes I've been working on over the last few days.     
    Lemon cucumbers have got to be the prettiest variety I've ever grown.  They spread like crazy, and the few vines that I have are producing more cucumbers then I know what to do with.
    Thankfully, I planted some flowering dill this year, in hopes of using it to make pickles.  The flowers just started to turn to seed, at the same time a few of the lemon cucumbers were ready.  I picked a few wild grape leaves and decided to go with a lacto-fermented dill pickle. I used this recipe and added 2 tablespoons of whey to speed up the process.  I'll have to let that ferment for a while before I can let you know how they turn out. 
    My girls are getting so big.  I am still amazed at how they continue to develop.  Their colors deepen, and their combs and waddles get larger by the day.  Even though I'm still another week or two away, I can't help but check the nesting boxes every day in hopes of seeing that very first egg.
    One of my all time favorite spring green is curly cress.  Instead of pulling out the now overly bitter greens, I decided to let them go to seed.  The plants eventually turn brown and right before the seed pods open I collected them so they can be stored and planted again next spring. 
    Each of my four varieties of tomato have started to ripen.  I'm getting super excited for tomato season, but also a bit worried.  I didn't have enough canned tomatoes to last us through this last year.  I'll be devoting all my efforts this next month to tomatoes, and I'd like to shoot for about 400 pounds, which sounds quite ridiculous.        
    This is Luna, the devil chicken.  Ok, not really, but she's definitely not my favorite.  Every family has one, and Luna is ours.  She is our only Easter Egger who sports a beard (cute, right?), but she is also the only one in the whole flock that will peck at me.  Yes, peck at me!  Not just towards me on accident, no, she pecks at me with intent.  She also refuses to go back into her coop after free-range time.  The allure of meal worms and sunflower seeds are not enough for this girl.  Most days, my oldest son and I have to chase her around the yard until she gets close to the coop.  Once we have her cornered, I gently scoop her up, which then causes her to make enough noise to make my whole block think I'm killing a chicken.  I have on many occasion, gently reminded her that if the attitude continues after she stops laying eggs, she'll find herself in a big ole pot.    
    My Mexican sour gherkins are doing great, and they are starting to look like mini watermelons now.  The ground cherries are also coming along nicely.  I can't wait until both of these plants are ready for harvest. 
    I also wanted to give some bread and butter pickles a try this year.  I specifically planted pickling cucumbers for recipes like this one.  This recipe only uses one pound of cucumbers and will make enough to fill a one quart jar.  I used up all of my cucumbers that grew in funky shapes since you have to slice them anyway.   
    I love to grow all my own fresh herbs year round, but when they are outside they grow more rapidly.  There is a recipe in Preserving by the Pint, that I was interested in trying.  You chop up a few ounces of herbs and add coarse salt.  The salt preserves the herbs so that you can keep them in the refrigerator indefinitely.  I'm looking forward to adding some of this mixture to soups, stews, roasted veggies, and anything else I can think of.   
    It is so strange seeing pictures of my own chickens on my site.  I actually thought that I wouldn't be able to have chickens until we moved to a larger piece of property.  Even though there is no mistaking where I live, if I sit in the grass with our fences blocking the view of the surrounding houses, I can daydream about living on acres of farm land.  We actually are currently looking for that perfect place, but finding the amount of acreage we want in New Jersey, is no easy task.          

    I also made up some Yellow Plum Jam with Vanilla from Preserving by the Pint.  It makes only 1 pint of jam and uses only one dry pint of yellow plums.  I know I have said this before, but if you are interested in preserving you really need to pick up this book.  Working in smaller batches allows you to try more recipes, without taking up so much time and space.  I do feel bad that I don't have lots of extra jars to share with friends and family this year, but working in smaller batches has been wonderful, because I feel that I can try many more new types of jams and jellies.
    Hope you are all having a wonderful summer!  Maybe I'll have a great new recipe to share soon, but in the meantime we'll be outside, exploring.
    So have you ever heard of a Wineberry before?  Me neither, until I took some awesome foraging classes this last spring.  They are quite unmistakable, probably one of the easiest wild edibles to identify.  If you look below, this is a picture of what I saw in my class.  Red stalks that are covered in stickers and clusters of buds on top.  If you were to touch the buds you would notice they are slightly sticky.  A very beautiful but intimidating looking plant, right?

    There is lots of great information about wineberries on the internet.  And lots of great recipes too.  They are actually a type of raspberry that was imported into the United States and quickly became an invasive species.  It seems that New Jersey is one of the lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) places where wineberries took hold.  Even though they are readily available, I highly doubt you will ever be able to purchase them in a store or farmers market.  The berries are highly perishable and very fragile.  To top it all off, the process of picking wineberries is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Are they worth it? Absolutely, but you'll have to decide for yourself.                   
    I actually sought out wineberries this year thanks to some advice from a friend.  She knows just how wonderful these sticky berries are, and was kind enough to share her spot with me.  If you are a forager, this is normally something that is just not done.  But, I quickly learned why sharing a wineberry spot is not such a big deal.

    When I arrived at her spot I noticed it was completely covered in berries, and I was so excited to find them that I jumped right in without hesitation.  Now, my friend told me to wear long pants and long sleeves, which I followed, sort of.  I had long pants but no long sleeves, and I decided to go with sandals for some stupid reason.  Big mistake!  I am now covered in scratches all over my arms and feet.   
    The next thing that makes foraging for wineberries uncomfortable is the stickiness of the berries.  With so many berries around, using both hands is unavoidable, so be prepared for sticky and slightly itchy hands.  The next component is the timing of these berries.  The middle of July in New Jersey, means temperatures that can be well over 90°F, with humidity levels that make it feel like you are walking through an Amazon rainforest.  At this point there are so many bugs out, you will more then likely be picking berries and swatting bugs at the same time.  Doesn't that just sound like a wonderful walk in the woods?  When I just couldn't take it anymore, and I was completely drenched in sweat with sticky hands, scratches from head to toe, and pulling bugs out of my hair, I ran for the car, sped home and immediately jumped in the shower, phew!  

        I can now say that I understand why wineberries are not sold.  If I had to sell a quart of wineberries to someone I would probably charge them upwards of a hundred dollars, probably more.  These berries are so delicious, but the process to get them is quite frankly worse then hell.  Don't get me wrong, I had so much fun gathering these berries.  There is some sort of primal satisfaction that must stem from our hunter/gather days, that make picking and eating wild edibles so rewarding.  Either that, or I am just completely off my rocker.
    Speaking of which, you also might be wondering why the heck I have a picture of a quarry in this post.  Well, if you are local, it is a little clue to the location of our wineberry spot.  Even among acres and acres of wilderness and hiking trails, New Jersey is still, Jersey.  It is still a cool view though, and little boys love to watch trucks.     
    My head was spinning with what I should do with all these "expensive" berries.  I really wanted to preserve them, but finding enough information about the levels of pectin they have was difficult.  I know I have been making lots of jelly lately, but that is really how I wanted to go.  The seeds in these berries aren't as bad as most, but I really just wanted the essence of wineberry to spread on my toast or crepes.  My heart was set on jelly, so that's what I made.  
    I made up the jelly that night, but I also went the next day to grab a few more berries for one more recipe that I found online.  I decided to go with some Wineberry Cordial.  You can find the recipe here.  And I'll be sure to let you know how it goes once it is finished.

    As for the jelly, it is the best I have ever made, and the taste is incomparable.  Since I only have a small amount of jelly you can be sure I won't be sharing any! *Except for the jar that my friend gets for sharing her spot.

Wineberry Jelly

Makes a little over 1 pint

1 quart of wineberry juice (I forgot to weigh my berries - I would just collect as many as you can!)
3-4 cups of organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons commercial powdered pectin

Prepare your jars and lids.  To make your winberry juice, slowly heat the berries in a large pot with 1/2 cup of water.  Gently boil the berries until they becomes soft, about 5 minutes.  Strain out the juice by using a fine mesh cheesecloth and hanging it up to drain completely. Place all the juice back in in a clean pot.  Bring the juice to a boil and add the sugar.  Stir until it dissolves.  Add the pectin and boil until the juice hits the jelly set point.  The metal spoon test is the best to use in this case.  Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.