On the Cusp of Spring

When I looked at this blog I was a bit shocked to see that it has been 2 years since I’ve written here. I posted about knitting a quilt for my daughter for college and I did it out of guilt because I was woefully late on that too. Before that, it was months since I’d posted. Sometimes you just need to hole up. When you go through a transition – when you move from one self to another self- you gotta hunker down, focus – keep your eye on the ball and not disperse energy. Even if sometimes that energy gives you joy. Concentrate on getting your footing and get yourself out of the situation. One foot in front of the other – forward march.

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We are people of extremes as my daughters like to say. We like extreme urban or extreme rural, not the grey pasty normal of suburbia. So I decided to buy a farm – for many reasons. It was the necessary path to take. It felt like the only viable path for the times. So I’m splitting my time between the Loisaida homestead and a 21 acre homestead in Schoharie County in upstate New York. There is a white farmhouse that was built in 1800. In the basement you can see 200 year old bark covered logs with their ancient axe marks that are the foundation beams of the house. There is a green barn that houses 4 goats, 5 hens and 6 ducks, all girls. Animals that inhabit the farmhouse include the 2 New York City Toy Fox Terriers Lolo, s spry 17 years young and the no-eyed Mille, Then there are the two big young black lab mix rescue dogs Rowan (who belongs to one of my daughters) and Maybelle who just turned one. There is the feral cat that I adopted to be a rat killer barn cat who could not hack it in the barn and who now occupies a bedroom to herself – story to come.

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I will keep the blog title of Loisaida Nest but I will write about the farm too, which will now be my main focus as there is lots of work to do and things to learn. I will however continue to share stories and photos of my beloved Loisaida.

At the edge of spring we are still under snow after 3 Nor’easters dumped more than 4 feet on us in a month. The days are getting longer and my flock of birds have started laying in earnest. The 8 month old ducks have laid their first eggs. The first eggs of the Black Cayuga ducks were charcoal black and looked like stones. Now they are becoming a a lighter mottled grey.

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My first dish made with duck eggs was an egg salad. Duck eggs have more yolk so the egg salad was very rich.

SAVORY DUCK EGG SALAD

4 hard boiled duck eggs (or 6 hard boiled chicken eggs)

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot

1/2 teaspoon capers

1 teaspoon chopped Kalamata olives

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 squirt of Siracha (or other hot sauce if you like a little heat)

Chop up the eggs and mix all the ingredients together.

forest ramps

Its ramp time. A fleeting moment in the spring when ramps are in season. They are one of the first green things of the growing season along with nettles and asparagus. They are wild and you see them on the forest floor, bursting through the remnants of the brown lacy leaves left over from last autumn.

There is a concern that ramps are being over harvested due to foodie culture demand. They are delicate things in every way, from how they look, fragile brilliant green leaves and pearly pinkish white bulbs, to how they taste, to how they reproduce. The plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds and then the seeds take 6 to 18 months to germinate.

I’ve decided just to eat the ones that we harvest. For the fleeting wild thing that they are. Just once per year, you get a little taste and that is all.

Ramps in a Vermont forest

Ramps in a Vermont forest

A sustainable harvest for the home cook

A sustainable harvest for the home cook

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Oona, who picked these ramps, made up a delicious recipe using ramps and plantains. See it here (and cook it).

sugar time

In New York City, its pot hole season, this time between winter and spring when the streets are pitted with holes from the ice and salt of winter. Not romantic. You have to watch out for the holes when you are on your bike. In the country, it is mud season. Also sounds not romantic except that it is sweet and magical because it is also the time for maple sugaring. I have visited my daughter at her college in Vermont when the snow is melting and the sap starts flowing in the maple trees.

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

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As I’ve always said to my daughters, there is nothing more energizing or more beautiful than to be amongst people who think they can change the world. Oona’s college is such a place. Sterling College is one of the seven colleges in the Work College Consortium, a tiny school with a big community spirit dedicated to environmental stewardship. The students work with both their hands and their minds. They have a farm. They eat the food they grow. They have their own sugar house where they process the sap collected from the maple trees and turn it into maple syrup. In the small village every maple tree you see has buckets attached to collect the sap.

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the sugar house at Sterling College

the sugar house at Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

It is vital to support small farms and the people who are working them where ever they are. And so…

Our dear friend Rob Handel, Chef at Heather Ridge Farm in Schoharie County, New York generously sent me these maple recipes to share with you. Thank you Rob.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

4 Tbs Dijon mustard
5 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs pink peppercorns
6 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brewed tea
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
optional – 1 tsp summer savory

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified. Store in the fridge for up to one month.

Maple Parsnip Chutney (Chef Rob says this chutney is fabulous on pork, chicken and cheese)

3 Tbs butter
1 diced onion
2 cups diced parsnip (1 to 2 parsnips)
1 apple peeled and diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cracked coriander seed
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a medium sized skillet and add onions, parsnips and salt. Cook over medium low heat until well caramelized about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until everything is softened and most of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Maple Panna Cotta

Chef Rob says: This panna cotta recipe only involves 10 minutes of prep time, can be made in a single pot and it is fabulously rich. Here we go.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla or 1 Tbs rum
1 package (1 Tbs) unflavored gelatin
pinch of salt

Place milk in a medium sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved and pour into molds. Allow to set for at least 2 hours or prepare ahead and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

1/2 c popping corn
2T maple syrup
2T rendered bacon fat
2T brown sugar
2tsp salt

Combine all ingredients except salt in a stovetop popcorn popper and stir over medium low heat until the popcorn begins to pop. Keep stirring vigorously until the popping slows. Immediately tip into a large bowl and toss with salt, adding more if necessary

tree trimming party 2014

The weekend before Xmas is busy with parties. We had our annual tree-trimming party on Saturday. Oona is home from college and she has a good eye for picking out a good Xmas tree. Saturday morning we set out on foot to our usual Xmas tree spot on Houston St. where the French Canadian guys will deliver the tree to your apartment for ten bucks. Oona was lamenting about how much fun it was when we used to carry the tree home ourselves on foot. We reminisced about the time we brought one of our Toy Fox Terriers with a tiny Santa hat on his head and he was so cute walking next to us while we carried the Xmas tree, that we were not only photographed multiple times but also filmed by a passing video crew.

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A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat - Millie

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat – Millie

We carried the tree home this year. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. When people in New York see you schlepping a pine tree, they smile and wish you a Merry Xmas. Random men offer to help you carry it. People sitting in restaurants smile and wave to you from the windows. It’s a jolly trek home when you are carrying a Xmas tree in New York city.

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This year’s party featured cocktails made with drinking vinegars or shrubs. Shrubs were popular in colonial America as way to preserve fruit and make a refreshing drink. Oona had concocted some at school and so we decided to make wintery shrubs for our guests.

Beet Balsamic Shrub (recipe from Ashley Marti of Local Haven)
2 cups raw beets, peeled and sliced
½ cup maple syrup (I used sugar)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Put beets in a quart mason jar and cover with sugar or maple syrup and shake it up to coat the beets. Put into the refrigerator for 24 hours and shake occasionally. After 24 hours, add the two vinegars and shake it up. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Then strain the liquid into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

This makes a syrupy drinking vinegar which we then added to seltzer. Make it as strong or as mild as you like. This was especially good with vodka and a slice of lemon.

Cranberry Sage Shrub (adapted from Jerry James Stone’s blog Cooking Stoned)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 fresh sage leaves

It is the same steps as the beet shrub, except you should roast the cranberries to soften them up first. Put them on a baking pan and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven till they are mushy. Then put them into a quart mason jar, shake with sugar, let sit, add vinegar, shake and sit in the fridge – then you’ve got the wonderful syrupy tart sweet shrub to add to your seltzer and cocktails.

The flavor combinations are endless. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, the experimentation will begin. Happy Holidays, dear readers.

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how to make peppermint bark

When you bite into a piece of peppermint bark and close your eyes, you might see multi-colored Xmas lights, the diamond like sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight and maybe even smell pine needles. It is much nicer to make your own, but in a pinch, any peppermint bark will do and you should eat it all winter because it is definitely a winter only sweet. Its cold sweet bite illuminates dark nights.

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Here is my recipe for peppermint bark:

1 1/2 lb – good quality semisweet chocolate chopped into small pieces
1 1/2 lb – good quality white chocolate chopped into small pieces
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
5 or 6 candy canes

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Line a 9×12 baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Using a double boiler or put one pan on top of another pan with boiling water in the bottom pan, you slowly melt the semisweet chocolate in the top pan. Stir continuously and be careful that the chocolate does not burn. When the chocolate is melted, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, mixing well. Spread the chocolate out onto the lined baking pan, smooth it out with a spatula and give it a little shake so that it is even. While this is cooling, it is a good time to crush the candy canes. I used an old ice crusher – one of my very good yard sale finds, but you can wrap the candy canes in a dish towel and simply pound them with a hammer or a heavy spoon.

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Once the dark chocolate is cool, you should put it in the fridge so that it hardens a bit more before you put the white chocolate layer on it. Now, melt the white chocolate the same way you did the dark. When the white chocolate is melted, add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir. Then add the crushed candy canes and mix well. Spread the white chocolate on top of the dark and put it into the fridge. Once the top layer of white chocolate encrusted with peppermint candy is hardened, you can remove it from the pan and break it into pieces. Merry peppermint. Merry winter, dear readers.

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canning pink

I tried my hand a a little bit more canning. I love radishes, especially because you get to put a lot of salt on them. I once heard someone say “the radishes are a vehicle for the salt”. I didn’t realize radishes were spicy until I tasted one from the farmer’s market. After that, I never bought another supermarket radish again. I discovered watermelon radishes at a Supper Club in Brooklyn hosted by Nan of Toast Home Cooking. The radish was beautiful and so I scoured the farmer’s market in Union Square till I found some for my first experiment in canning something that is not sweet.

Their beauty gave me pleasure when I sliced them

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I just had enough for a couple of half pints which I will use on salads and sandwiches in the dead of winter. This is how I did it.

I boiled half water and half vinegar with a little salt. The sliced radishes and a clove of garlic were put into the hot jars and the hot brine was added. Then I processed the jars in the hot water canner for 15 minutes. Everything turned pink.  Here are instructions for safe canning.

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the honor system vegetable stand

In New York City you must be ever vigilant for thieves. You’d better chain up your bike just so and don’t even think about slinging your handbag over a chair in a restaurant.

I am enjoying letting my guard down in the country where you don’t even have to lock your car in the shopping center parking lot. There are many vegetable stands that still use the old fashioned “honor system”. The stands are unmanned and the produce is set out with pricing on hand-written signs. Sometimes they don’t even have the pricing, they expect you to leave what is fair. There is a metal cash box for you to leave the payment in.

I get my corn from a dairy farm where they set out piles of just picked sweet corn and the metal cash box on a wooden wagon in the driveway. I like to buy vegetables and eggs from my friends and neighbors Martha and Richard’s stand. When you chop their kale, it smells as strong as wheat grass juice and your fingers are stained green. Martha says that sometimes she thinks the cash is a bit low when she goes to pick it up, but then the next day there is more money than expected. It is because the day before someone didn’t have small bills. That’s the honor system.

the roadside sign

the roadside sign

the mountaintop garden

the mountaintop garden

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the honor system vegetable stand

the honor system vegetable stand