Verbless VVednesdays

July 22, 2015

Frog in hiding.

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— The jewels of the garden. Somebody else’s garden. —

I am not a strawberry person. My tastes run toward the more exotic fruit. The eyebrow-raisers like black currants and damson plums. The exotics I couldn’t possibly grow here like Lychee and loquat.

I started a tiny patch of strawberry at one point, with some of the overflow plants from Wayne’s down the road. But I was a terrible mother to those little suckers. I just stuck them in with the grass at the outer edge of the garden and thought I’d wait to see what would happen. Here’s what happened; the grass won, as grass always does, and that was the end of my strawberry-growing career. 

But I do have a soft spot for strawberry jam. Nothing conjures up images of childlike wonder more than strawberry jam spread lavishly on soft white bread. So when Keith came over and told me he could set me up with a whole mess o’ strawberries, I was in. As you know, Keith’s inside track is always to be trusted. Trusted. And trusted. And this was Keith’s personal stash.

— Keith loves his strawberry patch and it loves him back. —

— Jewels can be found everywhere. —

— Enough for jam? —

Meanwhile, as I was preparing to make my strawberry jam; my mom visited. 

And along with my mom came my dad. Along with the two of them came the Lasners. Along with the Lasners came the Kushners (yes, the Kushners of Burning Man fame.) And along with the Kushners came this:

— Oops. —

— What…how…who…where…when?”

 The scene was quite chaotic out in front of The Muddy Kitchen. What to do about the pretty dead bird, who to do it, how and with what, where, when?

— Lou steps up. —

It was Louis himself who emerged from the crowd like Katniss Everdeen with a pair of field gloves.

— When in the country, bring gloves. —

Okay, then it was over.

So, back to my strawberry jam.

— Hulling strawberries is a heck of a lot easier than cherry pitting. —

My jam guru is Rachel Saunders and her book of impeccable recipes – The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook – is an absolute must-have. If you follow Rachel’s recipes to the letter, you will have perfect jam every time. I, of course, don’t, but my interpretive jam often still comes out pretty yummy. The addition of liquor always turns something originally made for kids into a swoon-worthy treat for grown-ups too! But don’t worry – the peanut butter and Wonder Bread won’t mind.

— Is it jam without the lemon juice? –

— Call me old-fashioned, but sugar is the most magical ingredient to cook with. —

— Magic in the making. —

— Grand Marnier + honey + whiskey = Drambuie? Sure it does. —

INTERPRETIVE STRAWBERRY JAM (Thank you again, Rachel Saunders!)

3 lbs 14 oz hulled strawberries

2 ½ lbs white cane sugar

4 oz plus 2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ½ oz Grand Marnier + 1 dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (Saunder’s recipe calls for Drambuie, but who in the world happens to have a bottle Drambuie lying around? I read the ingredients in Drambuie and winged it.)

Put 5 teaspoons in the freezer before you begin. Combine the strawberries with 4 oz of the lemon juice in a 12 quart pot. Turn up the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, as the mixture begins foaming a little around the edges, gradually raise heat to high, stirring often.

Boil for approximately 20-30 minutes, gently scraping the bottom every few minutes. Like with all jams, the mixture starts to get a darker, shinier look as you go. In other words, it starts to look more like jam! It takes approximately 25 minutes.

Turn off heat and let things settle just a bit. Take all the foamy junk off the top with a spoon. Add the Grand Marnier + dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (or Drambuie, if you’re one of those people who has it hanging about). Return to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently. If necessary, gradually lower the heat to prevent scorching.

After a few minutes of bubbling, the jam should again look glassy and dark. To test for doneness the Rachel Saunders way, “remove the jam from heat and take a small representative half-spoonful (one containing both the liquid and the more solid portions of the mixture) and carefully transfer it onto one of your frozen spoons. Replace the cold spoon in the freezer for 1-2 minutes.”

When you take the spoon out from the freezer, it should be the consistency of jam…not too watery. Strawberries take a little longer to get to this ‘jam-state’ than most fruits. Don’t skimp on the last few minutes of cooking. Nobody likes watery strawberry jam!

Pour into jars sterilized according to manufacturer’s instructions, process for canning or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

— For grown-ups too. —

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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Verbless VVednesdays

July 14, 2015

Insta-girlie office. 

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– Elderflower “Liquor” is bright, lemony and lychee-sweet. –

The Elderflowers are in full bloom at the bottom of our driveway and down at Wayne’s, so I thought I’d take another peek at a post close to my heart:

By the side of the road is my favorite place to find food. Why? Because I’m a sucker for free stuff. A natural swag hag. And an Elderberry bush is especially swaggish because it has two seasons: the Flower Season and the Berry Season. Two projects. One bush.

I look forward to the appearance of elderflowers all year because, along with cherries, they are the first thing I ‘put up’. They arrive in late spring, about the third week in June. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll notice them everywhere and slam on the breaks to point it out to everyone in the car. “LOOK, EVERYONE!! ELDERFLOWERS!!” Screeech!!

– Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see elderflowers everywhere. –

– Along with ramp coordinates and chanterelle spots, local elderberry bushes are on my GPS. –

– I just lost my contact lens back here, Officer. –

You might (like me) start sneaking around at night with your basket, your snippers and a good made-up excuse when your neighbors discover you lurking around their yard in the middle of the night. “Um…Looking for my dog!” “Lost my diamond earring!” “Making some elderflower liquor…want some?”

Honesty is the best policy in my experience – most neighbors will gladly trade a few clippings of their overgrown bush for some delicious Elderflower “Liquor”. And Thank you, Wayne & Ellie! I’ll be down tomorrow with your jar! (We’ll go over what to do with the elderberries in a couple of months including why you should invest in an Afro-pick, but for now, here’s the flowery-stuff.)

– Elderflowers have an adorable fluffy look about them. –

Elderflower “Liquor” is more or less the same stuff as St. Germain, that heavily marketed, very pricey yet delicious elixir that’s on every cocktail menu from Bix to Brix. It’s no wonder – it’s hugely delicious stuff that has a uniquely lemony, yet distinctly floral, almost lychee-like taste.

I make it in large batches and give it to friends at the start of the summer to ensure that everyone has me in mind when they have a surplus of fruits or vegetables in need of ‘putting up’. European friends, in particular, will fall to their knees. They will wonder where you obtained the heady stuff of their youth.

For me, it’s the first thing I tackle; the peas have not yet shown their pods, the cukes are far from poking out from their slumber, the fruits are still the stuff from which dreams are made, but elderflowers are right there…on your neighbor’s property.

Put your kids to work. They hate it but you’ll find it charming.

– Terrible news: you may have to taste it 10 or 12 times. –

– Who needs chewing tobacco when there’s a pinch of sweetened elderflowers in the house? –

– The best projects are the ones that get things sticky. –

This is the basic recipe for any sort of drink ‘syrup’ that you might make: lemon balm, basil, mint, Buddha’s Hand peel. Syrup, of any sort, is great for ice tea, marinades and, of course, gin cocktails. It’s not alcoholic in any way and adding some to a glass of soda water and ice is a delicious, kid-appropriate treat.

ELDERFLOWER “LIQUOR”

45 heads of elderflowers (more or less)

4 cups water

4 cups sugar

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one lemon

Optional: 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid*

*Citric Acid will make your syrup last longer in the fridge. You can buy it in the canning aisle of your grocery store or on cheese-making websites. Despite its Quentin Tarantino-esque name, Citric Acid is nice to have around. It helps with a bunch of weird cooking projects, particularly jam and other foodstuffs that require a longer shelf life, a higher level of acidity and a ‘lemony’ note.

1. Separate the flowers from the stems as much as possible (too much stem can be toxic). Put your offspring to the task. Make it sound fun – like painting a fence!

2. When the flowers are like a big, stemless fluff, put them in a heat-proof bowl or a large Ball Jar (my choice).

3. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the flower pile. Add the citric acid if you have it.

4. Heat the sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until the sugar ‘melts’ into the water. Let the hot sugar-water (aka ‘simple syrup’) cool down for 10 minutes then pour the syrup over your flower pile. Put some plastic wrap over your bowl or your ball jar and leave it on the kitchen counter.

Now you wait. It will take about two to three days until the flower flavor infuses intensely into your syrup. I taste it frequently, a couple of times a day, to check its progress. I try to get it at its peak.

STRAIN THE SYRUP

When it tastes insanely delicious, strain the syrup into a measuring cup (or anything that has a bit of a ‘spout’ for pouring) and toss out the flowers. It’s at this point that I secretly plop a finger-full of cooked flowers into my mouth, but it’s not a requirement. I suck on the sugary stuff then spit out the spent flowers in the sink before anyone catches me!

POUR INTO PRETTY BOTTLES

You’re ready! Pour this yummilicious syrup into a pretty glass swing bottle. Keep a batch for yourself, but give away as much as you can part with. You’ll be rewarded tenfold when your neighbors remember that you know what you’re doing in the kitchen and that you might just turn their over-producing plum-tree into something delectable.

My favorite way to use Elderflower “Liquor” is to add a tablespoon to a martini shaker along with a measure of gin (or vodka, if you’re my husband) and ice. Shake like a madwoman while singing Happy Birthday twice then pour into a chilled martini glass. Add a few flowers on top or something else equally cute.

 

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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2 Things To Do Immediately If A Tick Bites You

June 22, 2015

1. Find and remove the tick. No easy task: the smaller the tick the more Lyme-y they are. In June, the dreaded “nymph” is everywhere. They are about the size of your smallest freckle. I keep jewelers glasses in my bathroom and check out every inch of flesh in the house. I have found one burrowed in […]

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Scapes on the Konro

June 19, 2015

 Chef Tyler Viggiano always has something up his sleeve. Who can forget the time he used newspaper as a flavor? It’s always a surprise, offbeat, delicious and educational. For dinner, I was told to bring green things, of which everyone knows I have a lot. I also offered to bring my 5 crépinettes from Fatted […]

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A Visit to Turtle House

June 4, 2015

Turtle House is where my husband’s best and oldest friend, Frankie, once called home. When Frankie wasn’t hanging out with us at The Muddy Kitchen, or at Rose’s down the way, Frankie was at Turtle House looking out onto the crystal clear waters, reading in the hammock and enjoying his piece of magical paradise.  Once you […]

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Verbless VVednesdays

May 5, 2015

Summer dreams. 

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THIS is Why You Don’t Plant Tomatoes in April

April 28, 2015

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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There’s a New Trout Guy in Town

April 27, 2015

Filling the pond with trout is one of the magical things we do here each spring. I like to think of trout as a gateway livestock. If I start with trout, I might soon be plucking eggs from beneath my flock of chickens, racing piglets through the orchard, and knitting sweaters from my freshly shorn […]

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