Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pantry Challenge Preparations

I've been preparing for the December Pantry Challenge I wrote about in a post a few days ago. Next month, we will only spend $30 a week on food. The rest of what we eat will come from our pantry, freezers, and refrigerators. I've done a thorough inventory and stocked up on staples. Earlier this week I purchased 20 pounds of Bob's Red Mill organic white whole wheat flour, 5 pounds of BRM organic whole wheat pastry flour, and 10 pounds of BRM organic unbleached white bread flour, all on sale for $3.99 per 5 pound bag at New Seasons this week. (This is a pretty good deal on BRM flour--less expensive than 5-pound bags direct from Bob's.)

For fresh fruits and vegetables, we have about 30 pounds of apples on the front stoop along with a stalk of Brussels sprouts, 2 pounds of parsnips, 2 acorn squash, 2 delicata squash and 2 butternut squash. I have 20 pounds of Asian pears on order from Azure--they're a bit more expensive than apples or pears, but the kids love them and they keep well. Other than the occasional pomegranate (another kid fave), that's all the fresh fruit we eat this time of year, though I'm looking forward to the end of the month when oranges, especially blood oranges, come into season. I also have 5 pounds of beets (which I plan to ferment immediately), 5 pounds of carrots, and 5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes on order.

For dairy, we will continue to buy 2 gallons of raw milk every other week, at $10/gallon (crazy, I know, but it's good stuff). I use most of that to make Neufchatel and yogurt. I have 5 pounds of raw milk cheddar and 1/2 pound of Parmesan coming from Azure. We used to keep a greater variety of cheeses on hand, but Azure doesn't carry stinky cheeses like Gorgonzola and brie. I could go get some if I really want it, but I don't find myself craving the more exotic flavors that my palate used to enjoy and I definitely don't relish the idea of going to New Seasons "just" for cheese (as I know much more would wind up in my cart). Rather, I find myself enjoying the simpler dairy products that I make at home: multitasking yogurt, tangy Neufchatel, and irresistible mozzarella.

With that and everything else we have in the house, I will hardly need to buy anything except some fresh green veggies. Just think how much time I will save not shopping during this busiest shopping month of the year. I loved that I hardly had any shopping to do for Thanksgiving and with the money we will save this month on groceries (and I may continue with this challenge in January), we'll be able to afford Dungeness crab for our Christmas Eve feast, something I look forward to immensely.

As I have become less and less dependent on the grocery store, I find that any extra time I spend in the kitchen is well worth not having to drag myself around fluorescent-lit markets full of stuff my family does not need. If I was the kind of person to keep track of such things, I believe I would find that I'm actually spending less total time on food procurement and preparation that I was a year or two ago. Some of that is because I have simplified meals. We don't eat the same 10 things all the time, but we eat about 10 basic meals most of the time, along with some seasonal and meat variations, special occasion menus, and the couple times a year that I made sushi.

What I am most looking forward to next month is planning meals solely around what we have at home. I believe this challenge will push me to greater heights of culinary creativity and to learn more of the ways of my grandmothers, who knew how to prepare meals from leftover this and that and throw together their pantry treasures into satisfying, healthy meals.

Friday, November 28, 2008

T-Day Report

True to form, our plans changed midstream yesterday. Instead of simply roasting our turkey, Mike suggested smoking it. Great idea! The only downside was no roasting pan drippings, so the gravy was kinda weak. I bolstered it with sage, parsley, and lots of butter. The turkey was quite good, though. Nicely done, Mike!

The sweet potatoes were fantastic. I love plain roasted sweet potatoes and don't feel they need a lot of dressing up, but the ginger, touch of maple syrup, and coconut milk were nice additions. I might try molasses next time. I liked the stuffing recipe overall, but it didn't call for any moistening or binding ingredients, like broth or egg, that I am accustomed to using. I had some leftover chicken gravy, so I added that and a couple eggs. Who likes dry, crumbly stuffing?

The biggest disappointment was the green beans. I was totally winging it as the recipe I was trying to replicate is at my mom's house in Maryland and my mom is at her Winter Estate in Florida (this would be a double-wide in a trailer park full of snowbirds, lest you get the mistaken impression that their winter home is a Palm Beach McMansion), so no access to said recipe and I could not find one like it on ye ol' Internet. Plus, the kids were anxious to get out of the house just as I was getting the beans ready, so I totally slopped it together. Literally, I put frozen green beans, half a chopped onion, and homemade sour cream in a 9" x 9" baking dish, tossed it all together, topped with grated cheddar cheese, and put it in the oven with the stuffing and sweet potatoes. Mike, smart guy that he is, said that he liked them. And they were not bad, just too raw on the onions and I should've added some bread crumbs on top for texture. Oh well.

We did go on a nice walk, stopping at our neighbors to wish them Happy Thanksgiving. The kids and I had done leaf rubbings earlier in the day and wrote messages of thanks on them to people on our street. We taped them to the doors of people who were not home and visited briefly with everyone who was home. We returned to a nearly-finished dinner and set the table with the silverware my mother-in-law gave us a couple years ago that we almost never use, plus these tiny "escarglow" candles made with beeswax in snail shells that I picked up at Gossamer, and poured a sparkling riesling from our favorite German winery.

The best part of our meal, which I forgot until I was halfway through my plate, was the cranberry sauce. I didn't get the apple cider for the recipe I had planned to make, so I peeled and chopped two Fuji apples instead. I also added the flesh of the orange as well as the zest. And I spiced it slightly differently, using a dash of cardamom, cinnamom, cloves, and ginger. I accidentally managed to replicate my Granny's cranberry sauce! There's nothing like the taste of food that takes you back in time, is there? That sauce transported me across 3000 miles and 30 years, directly to the steamy warmth of my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother's kitchen. Truly, it was just magical. There's a whole 'nother pint of it in the fridge and I plan to slather it all over my turkey and cream cheese sandwich today.

Lastly, the marbled pumpkin cheesecake didn't marble as well as I would have liked, mostly due to the lack of contrast between the pumpkin flavored cream cheese and the not flavored, but OMG it was really tasty! I added crystallized ginger to the pumpkin-flavored portion, but I don't think it improved the cake overall. The gingersnaps were quite good fact, we had real problem keeping our fingers out of the dough while it cooled to a slice-able temperature before I baked them. I'm not usually a cookie dough fan, but that gingersnap dough was yum! Definitely a keeper recipe and Mike tells me his mom loves ' I have a new food gift idea in mind, too.

After dinner and dessert, I played Uno with the kids while Mike washed dishes. Luc had terrific beginners luck, winning more round than Annabel or me. It was really nice to be home for T-Day this year...there were some stressful moments, like when I was about to start making the cheesecake and realized the beater for my mixer was missing (and still is), but overall, it was a low-stress, enjoyable day of wondrous aromas, terrific tastes, and family fun. Annabel and I went to bed early, like 8:15, and as she tucked in with me, she said to me, "This was a great day, Mommy." Who cares about not-quite-perfect green beans and missing beaters!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My First Thanksgiving

This is the first year I'll host Thanksgiving at my home. I'm excited to start some new food and non-food-related traditions with my family. The menu will be fairly traditional, but the green bean casserole will not have canned cream of mushroom soup and instead of pumpkin pie, I am making pumpkin cheese cake with a homemade gingersnap crust, because I have two pints of cream cheese leftover from the cheese making class I taught last Friday. As I review the recipes, I'm feeling quite pleased that most everything we'll need is already in the house (or on order, in the case of the turkey). Here's my menu plan:
With our pantry, fridges and freezers stocked, I don't have much shopping to do. I pick up the turkey from the Decks Tuesday afternoon at the Moreland Farmers Market, as well as some cranberries. Wednesday morning. I'll make the cranberry sauce, bake the sweet potatoes, steam wild rice for the dressing, and make the gingersnaps. That evening, I'll take the turkey out of the brine, then air dry it in the refrigerator over night. This makes for a very crispy skin.

On Thursday morning, I'll start with the cheesecake, so that can bake before the turkey and then cool while the turkey roasts. That will leave me with the sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, Brussels sprouts, and dressing to assemble while the turkey roasts. They'll go into the oven while the turkey rests, then it'll be time for our first Thanksgiving feast in our own home and for me to collapse in a heap!

Since this is supposed to be a holiday for expression our gratitude, I would like to start some new traditions. Something simple, like going around the table and naming something that we for which we are grateful. While dinner is cooking, I want the kids to work on cards for our neighbors, thanking them for all they've done for us and our neighborhood this year, as well as family and friends. As difficult as things are right now with Mike unemployed, we have felt so fortunate to be surrounded by such supportive, encouraging people.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pantry Challenge

One of my favorite food blogs, The Nourished Kitchen, is hosting a Pantry Challenge for the month of December and I'm going to participate. Our pantry, freezer, and refrigerator are all well-stocked now and copy of the out-of-print Fancy Pantry arrived in the mail yesterday. I am set!

To prepare for the challenge, I need do a more complete inventory than the one I did for a recent post, then I'll need to store up on few things before the end of November. Off the top of head, I know I need to stock up on
  • fresh cranberries, apples, pears, pomegranates, chestnuts, russet and fingerling potatoes
  • Rapadura and organic cane sugar, organic milk powder, chocolate chips, Celtic sea salt
  • white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, white bread flour, maybe white pastry flour
Also off the top of my head, my clean out goals for the month include
  • make applesauce with half bushel of apples on the front stoop
  • making desserts, sauce, chutneys, or jams with fruit that is in the freezer
  • use up frozen soups and stocks
  • render frozen leaf lard
  • make beef stock with frozen bones
  • make hot cocoa mix with cocoa in freezer
The difficulties I foresee are keeping our food budget to $30 per week given that we spend $40 per month just on raw milk. With our chickens on a laying holiday, I'm also spending about $28 per month on eggs--maybe less. That leaves about $13 per week for fresh vegetables, but do think we can manage on that as most of what we buy this time of year, kale, chard, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, are relatively inexpensive.

So, we're on for the challenge. How about you?

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Lawn Is Your Lawn

Richard Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, has planted an organic garden in front of his white house and has started a movement to persuade our next president grow a kitchen garden on the White House lawn. You can join the movement and learn more about it at Eat the View.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Preparing for Winter

First off, Lost Arts Kitchen is officially open for business! While visiting my family in October, I was came up with a name for my new business, wrote a business plan, and built my web site, which is now up and ready for constructive criticism. I will begin offering classes in January, though I may offer a holiday food-gift-making session before then if there is interest.

On to the topic at hand. The New York Times did a piece on root cellaring in its Home & Garden section today. My friend Harriet Fasenfest, a local restaurateur turned urban homesteader and owner of Preserve, is pictured and quoted in the article, which offers some good tips on storing vegetables over winter. We didn't grow or put up nearly as much food as I would have liked this year, but considering my health issues, I'm pleased I was able to do as much as I did. I've been building up our stores with food from local farms, markets, and Azure, and I am glad, with Mike out of work and prospects being slim, that we have a house full of food.

In the pantry we have or will have after today's Azure Standard delivery:
  • 10 quarts home canned tomato sauce
  • 10 quarts home canned peaches
  • 20 pints home canned apple sauce
  • 10 half-pints home canned raspberry jam
  • 10 half-pints home canned strawberry jam
  • 5 pounds black beans
  • 2 pounds lentils
  • 1 pound dry garbanzo beans
  • 50 pounds rye berries
  • 25 pounds wheat berries
  • 12 15-ounce cans pumpkin
  • 12 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans
  • 12 15-ounce cans black olives
  • 5 28-0unce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 18 6-ounces can tuna
  • 5 pounds brown basmati rice
  • 5 pounds brown jasmine rice
  • 10 pounds whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound dried cranberries
  • 20 pounds unbleached white flour
  • 10 pounds unbleached pastry flour
  • 1 gallon olive oil
  • 2 pounds tapioca pearls
  • 1 pound milk powder (I use this to thicken yogurt)
  • 1 pound cacao nibs
Most everything in the pantry is organic, local and/or fair trade, except the black olives and tuna. In our "root cellar" (that is, the basement bathroom) we have or will have soon:
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 5 pounds beets
  • 5 pounds fingerling potatoes
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes
We store alliums in the stairwell to our basement. It's quite dry there.
  • 12 pounds yellow onions
  • 1 pound garlic
Since I'm getting pretty good prices on these bulk produce items from Azure, I haven't felt compelled to buy say 50 pounds of potatoes. I might next month though, just to see how well they last in our cellar. I would like to get fresh apples and pears soon to store as well.

In our freezer, we have or will have within the next couple weeks:
  • 90 pounds grassfed beef
  • 90 pounds pastured pork
  • 50 pounds venison
  • 10 pounds grassfed lamb
  • 5 whole pastured chickens
  • 9 pounds halibut filets
  • 9 pounds salmon filets
  • 10 pounds butter
  • 10 pounds beef bones
  • 2 pounds chicken feet
  • 2 pounds leaf lard
  • 5 pounds cocoa powder (hot cocoa season is almost here!)
  • 5 pounds sunflower seeds
  • 2 pounds pecans
  • 2 pounds walnuts
  • 1 pound almonds
  • 3 gallons blueberries
  • 2 gallons green beans
  • 4 quarts asparagus
  • 3 10-ounce bags cranberries (I plan to can cranberry sauce with these soon)
  • 20 pounds white whole wheat flour
  • several pounds miscellaneous flours and meals
  • several gallons berries that have been in the freezer for over a year that I plan to turn into syrup or jam soon
All of our meat is local. The beef and pork comes from the Deck Family Farm. The chickens come from Deo Volente Farm. The lamb comes from a friend in Happy Valley. The venison comes from my husband's first Oregon deer, that he finally got last weekend after seven years of hunting here. Yay, Mike! He butchered it yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning, he helped slaughter and quarter our lamb from Mary. He and I will butcher that today. We have so little room in our freezers now that we will be selling some lamb to folks in our buying club. We also have a pastured turkey on order from the Decks, which we will have to cook whenever they deliver it because we won't have space to freeze it whole.

And in our pickle fridge, we have:
  • 2 half-gallons sour cucumbers
  • 3 half-gallons sauerkraut
  • 1 quart pickled beets (plus more that I will pickle soon)
  • 1 quart sauerreuben (pickled turnips)
  • 5 pounds raw cheddar
With all this food in storage, plus what we have in the kitchen cupboards, refrigerator and freezer, all I have to do is buy fresh fruits and vegetables every week or so and milk every two weeks. Buying groceries in bulk from Azure and buying meat in bulk direct from local farmers is saving us both money and time, and gives me piece of mind. Come what may, my family will at least have plenty to eat.

Relief, Elation, Hope, Gratitude

I'm relieved that an indisputably fair election has come to pass in the US.
I'm elated to see an African American elected president in my lifetime.
I'm hopeful that a genuinely good man will lead our nation with intelligence, compassion, and integrity.
I'm grateful to everyone who voted, who volunteered on the Obama campaign, and who worked to register new voters.

My faith in our electoral process has been renewed. What a great day.