Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

I just heard about a new show that’s debuting on the Food Network called “Pioneer Woman.”  In it, an Oklahoma home schooler and rancher shows you how to make chicken fried steak with white gravy and mashed potatoes with cream cheese and butter, while herding kids and cows.

It should have been me on the screen.  For years, Ben has jokingly referred to me as Pioneer Woman, particularly while we go camping.  I love to go hunting for stuff that’s edible in the area where we camp, and frequently come back with treasures:  wild blueberries, raspberries, wild garlic, and more (we will not mention the time that I found poison ivy berries and thought them a delicious edible, and chastened, was sent to the stream to scrub my hands with sand!).

There’s something just restorative about being in a raspberry field (from which I just returned, with nearly two pounds of gorgeous, organic raspberries).  Later today, these berries will be turned into jam, which we – and my catering clients – will feast on all fall and winter and spring.  Tomorrow I’ll probably be back in the field for more, which I’ll turn into a crisp, or mix with gooseberries, currants, and blueberries to make four-berry preserves.

Doing all this reminds me of the years when we walked my grandparents’ farm, picking wild strawberries or potatoes, as we ran after the horse-drawn plow…or days spent near Glacier Park with my friend, Connie, harvesting huckleberries or picking cherries from trees growing on the Flathead Reservation.  It’s an incomparable delight – the combination of being in nature, harvesting the goodness that the sun, wind, rain, and soil provide, and knowing that we can provide for ourselves and our families with what we harvest.

And my pioneering adventures in campgrounds have brought other memories to mind.  I like to jokingly say that I won my husband’s heart on a camping trip.  It was our first together, and I was not about to settle for beans and franks (although we like them) or something out of a can.  I produced appetizers, chicken with a peach-sauternes sauce, rice pilaf, a hot veg, salad, and some dessert I can’t recall.  Ben, and our daughter Emily, were snowed.  On another trip I made a complete lobster dinner at the camp site, and then followed it the next morning by providing blueberry pancakes (picked in Acadia Park) and sausage to the family, all during a driving rainstorm.  And I loved doing it.

I travel with a camping kit that I wish was stored in a chuck-box…but I make do with a couple of stackable totes, and bring a complete array of spices in small containers, olive oil, worcestershire, and all the condiments you’d need to produce really good camping food.  And it all comes out hot at the same time – four or five dishes.

I know all this started when I was a tiny girl visiting my mother’s Uncle Arthur and Aunt Laura, on their farm.  The low blueberry bushes kept me busy and fishing for sunfish and catfish in the pond did as well.  So even though my mother would have none of camping (“too low class,” she sniffed), I come by this yearning for the preparation of food in an outdoor setting honestly.

Yep, I’m the real Pioneer Woman, at least in our family.  And as for that new TV show — well, it should have been me.

Read Full Post »

Last night we drove in from nearly a week on the Ile d’Orleans, a lovely island in the St. Lawrence River opposite Quebec City.  This was the fourth time we had been on the island, the last time four years ago when – very suddenly — we found ourselves not going to Star Island and determined to spend a week somewhere that would be interesting, relaxing, and in sight of water.  Last time, we stayed in an apartment rented by a lovely Quebec couple, Lyse and Gus Droin, but the other times we’ve come, we’ve camped, and we love it.

So we made another camping reservation with Camping Orleans, acquired roof racks for the Prius to save on gas, pulled out our gas lantern and cooking stove, and packed off.  We knew that it was likely to be the last big family vacation with Abby before she graduates from high school next year, and we wanted to make it a good one.

It was.  My family laughs at me for turning rhapsodic after we cross the Canadian border and locate ourselves in some charming area – usually, either Quebec or the Maritimes.  I love the absence of obnoxious billboards, the politeness, the signs in French first and then English (or only French), the charming villages, and — on Ile d’Orleans — the simply remarkable produce that is there for the asking. My foodie friends will start nodding their heads and perhaps, drooling, as I continue.

Ile d’Orleans is known as the garden of Quebec, for good reason.  The island’s rich soil and temperate climate support farming on most of the island.  Here, strawberries aren’t just around for a few weeks, nor do they have hollow white cores.  They grow, sweet and delicious and juicy, all summer long, joined by blueberries and raspberries and currants.  So literally, every 50 yards or so, another stand has the signs up:  “Fraises.”  “Framboises.”  “Bleuets.”  Our objective is to buy early and often, and eat these goodies all the time, accompanied in the evening by chocolate from the St. Petronille township’s Choclaterie de l’Isle d’Orleans,which is also terrific.  We found potatoes, squash, tomatoes, corn, beans, lettuce, garlic, leeks, onions, kale, all along the roadside at small stands, all over the island.  And we delighted in these goodies.

But there was more:  fabulous homemade breads and pastries, freshly butchered lamb and duck and foie gras and bacon, really fresh eggs, pates, and of course, maple syrup.  We also enjoyed Charlevoix cheese — a kind of cross between camembert and brie — and another — the first cheese made in North America — from Les Fromages de l’Isle d’Orleans, which you could wash down, if you wished, with biere d’epinette (spruce beer, and no thanks, I passed on that one).  We also returned home with samples of the other alcoholic beverages made on the island:  award-winning rose wine, along with Kir (an aperitif), ice cider, and ice wine from the Vignoble Isle de Bacchus, one of many vineyards and orchards on the island.

Lest you think we came home having gained tons of weight on the trip, we did not.  There are beautiful paths for bicycling and walking, swimming to enjoy, and walks to Montmorency Falls and through the Centre-Ville of Quebec, not far away.  For those who treasure locally-sourced food and want to see local farming endure and prosper, Ile d’Orleans is worth a visit.  For those who are fans of North American history and want to visit the site where battles on the Plains of Abraham were planned from across the St. Lawrence, this is your island.  If you love to paint or draw and want beautiful sights to inspire you, from nearly any direction, come to this place and be inspired. And for those who wish they were in France but just can’t make it but want the charm and the language close at hand, drive north for a day, and it’s yours.

I love coming home, but there are so many reasons to fall in love with our neighbor country to the north.  Life is slower there, and hard, but — I dearly hope — rewarding.  While we love using our high school and college French — and you really do need it on the Ile d’Orleans, along with a French-English dictionary — for the most part, people are very patient as you work to explain, en francais, what it is you’re wanting to do or buy.

I’ve just come home again, but long to return.  And, as the official Quebec motto says, “Je me souviens.”

Read Full Post »

Labor Day is the ‘unofficial’ end of summer, but of course, summer continues for some weeks – thank goodness!  I am, among other things, a caterer, and as the end of summer approaches, I am filled with ideas for what to do with the goods of the garden which continue to come in, in abundance.  I learned so much about cooking from the garden from my grandmother, Norma Racine, and a number of the recipes I use were hers, dating back 100 years or more.  There’s also one real prize-winner from the other side of the family that’s great for the High Holy Days coming right up…thank you, Estelle Weiner, of blessed memory.

So here are some suggestions for what to do if you’ve got too many of a few of those great things:

ZUCCHINI:
– Zucchini Relish –  delicious, tangy and sweet, very easy to make with a food processor
– Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles – just like grandma used to make but with zucchini instead of cukes
– Zucchini Cinnamon Brownies – just fantastic, moist and delicious, even better with a few butterscotch chips thrown in
– Zucchini Bread – spicy and chewy and a welcome change from banana bread but made as a loaf
– Zucchini Pancakes – tiny little fritters, turning what can be a bland vegetable into a delicious accompaniment for your dinner
– Zucchanoes – scooped out zucchini ‘boats’ stuffed with chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, bread crumbs, olive oil, cheese and spices, then baked
– Zucchini/pear soup – delicious cold or hot, and all-vegetarian
– Zucchini parmesan – just like eggplant, but made with thin-sliced zucchini (which I grill rather than bread and fry)
– Zucchini/potato/dill/shallot soup – almost like a vichysoise, and again, good hot or cold

CUCUMBERS:
– Cold cream of cucumber soup with fresh dill – our family’s favorite summer soup, just wonderful served with crusty bread, cheese, and a salad
– Cucumbers sliced with fresh dill and yogurt dressing
– Cucumber/radish dip –  shredded cukes and radishes with a little onion, whizzed up with a mixture of cream cheese, sour cream and a little mayo, spices.  creamy and crunchy at the same time
– Bread and Butter Pickles – Gram’s original recipe, easy when you have a mandoline or food processor handy
– Dill Pickles – Great way to use just a few extra cukes, because you can make them up several jars at a time.  Add a little alum to the brine mix to help the cukes stay crisp

TOMATOES:
– Country salad:  tomatoes (cherry/grape are the best) sliced in half with diced red onion, cucumber and green pepper chunks, and a lime/olive oil dressing
– Corn, tomato, red onion salad, jazzed up with some fresh jalapenos and a citrus dressing
– Chili Sauce –  Gram’s recipe, email me for copies:  tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar, mustard seed, celery seed, sugar, and a little more – fantastic with pork or chicken or baked beans
– Homemade tomato soup, to which I add some half and half to ‘lighten’ it up
– Shaker chowder, with corn, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and cream
– Tomato Quiche and/or tomato pie – made with ricotta or cheddar or a mix of cheeses, sliced tomatoes on top, fresh herbs, and just delicious.
– Aunt Estelle’s Brisket –  perfect for your Rosh Hashanah dinner, and sooo easy to make.  It’s got essentially five ingredients:  brisket, onions, tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, and oil (plus salt and pepper).  How easy can it get?

EGGPLANT:
– Baba Ganoush, with roasted eggplant mixed with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices – a to-die-for appetizer
– Eggplant Parmesan –  one of Carmela Soprano’s faves, and mine too:  I slice and grill the eggplant, rather than fry it.
– Moussaka –  from a recipe I learned while living in Greece, made with ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, and a bechamel sauce on top (but NO potatoes!!!!)
– Ratatouille –  the classic French vegetable stew which will use up those other things in the garden as well:  tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini and summer squash, cooked slowly with red wine, spices, bay leaf, and just wonderful with a baguette and butter and a salad.  If you need meat with it, add some grilled chicken sausages and you’re all set!

Many of these things will also use some of the herbs you’ve been growing all summer.  Right now I’ve got African Blue Basil, Italian Basil, Pineapple Sage, Garlic Chives, conventional Chive, Rosemary, Tarragon, Italian Parsley, Dill, Cilantro, Borrage, Lovage, and Shallots in my garden.  Use ’em in these dishes to pump up the flavors!  And if these ideas appeal to you and you just don’t have the wherewithal to make them yourself, let’s talk:  I might be able to make your culinary dreams come true!

That’s my end-of-summer food reverie.  Happy cooking!

Read Full Post »