Category Archives: In the Kitchen

a summer’s mess

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Finally our kitchen is starting to show signs that summer is in full swing. Padron peppers and shishito peppers are hitting the fry pan. Berries are being put into jam jars and pies. One of our chickens seems to be morphing into a goose…would you look at that egg! Cheap farmers market apricots are being cooked down into sweet jam. Unphotographed cucumbers are fermenting with dill and garlic and grape leaves. And I’m trying to keep track of it all this year. After reading an article about Wendell Berry’s wife, especially this passage, “Mom has kept lists of all the food she has preserved over the years inside a cabinet door in the kitchen; almost 50 growing seasons recorded.” I was inspired to do the same. Surely this kitchen has seen well over 50 years of garden preserving going on, while maybe it was documented it was not directly on the kitchen cupboards. Being doubtful that one day I wouldn’t want to paint the cupboards at some point, I chose to write it on paper.

At the end of the days, the kitchen is a hot mess. But a good kind of mess, a productive, fresh summer bounty kind of mess.

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Whole Foods Kitchen

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This week I started Heather’s Whole Foods Kitchen Workshop. I’ve been following her blog for years, but this is the first time I’ve splurged on her workshop. So far I think it’s worth it.
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We eat well around these parts, however maybe because it is the middle of winter, I’ve been feeling the need for a kick in the rear. Inspiration for eating healthier. We seem to get in a bit of a rut when fresh veggies aren’t as plentiful. We eat plenty of local, grass fed beef, and we’ve been indulging on our freezer stash of local pork and Scott-caught salmon, but also lots of wheat. Lots and lots of bread and bagels and cookies and crackers. Too much.
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To kick off the workshop, the littlest one and I made chai concentrate (though to be honest, I’ll go back to my standard chai recipe next time – too much cardamon made it bitter to my tongue, I think). The next day the oldest one and I made almond milk.
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I’ve been enjoying almond milk chai lattes in the afternoon, when I normally hit my afternoon lull. I’ve been drinking them iced or room temperature since I used raw almonds and raw honey and want to consume them in their raw state.
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Delicious! Are you taking Heather’s workshop too? How has your eating looked this winter?

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Tricky sort of weekends

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Weekends can be sort of tricky things around here. As most of us know, kids thrive on routine and we have that in spades during the weekdays. Finally half way into the school year, our weekdays flow through like a well oiled machine. The weekends however, sometimes trip us up. With no set schedule to follow we often falter through the first part. Should we stay at home and tackle the to-do list? Should we go out and adventure into the world? Should we relax into watching some movies? Usually there is a birthday party or some other event thrown into mix. Often our weekends become a jumble of all those things, which can be hard on the kiddos and us. The strange mixture of being bored, doing chores and then being hyped up by outside entertainment. I, and an assortment of kids, often go in one direction while Scott, and the rest of the kids, go in another. Sometimes the weekdays and their structure feel more relaxing.
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And then other weekends just flow long at a very relaxed yet productive rate. This past long weekend was just that. The weather has been bitter cold every single morning for weeks now. We awaken to frozen ground but then the mid day offers the taste of spring. The littlest one followed her big brothers out into the field, I of course followed her. Flower picking turned into laying down into the flowers, “Lay down mama! Lay down!” While I soaked in the scenery and watched the bees buzz around me, the littlest and her brothers turned their attention to a found frog and a new habitat for him.
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An hour later, when excitement of playing with ‘Hoppity’ died down we came inside and made a Honey Cake from Apples for Jam, a favorite cookbook around here. A very pretty cake with a pretty delicious addition of rosemary and cinnamon.
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If only every weekend could be like last!

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welcome holidays

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Though we held off for a bit, we now have all the holiday decorations out. This weekend was filled with an invitation to an ornament decorating party, a holiday ballet performance, hot chocolate and ornament making and hanging. I hung my little collection of Swarovski snowflakes across my south facing kitchen window this year. My uncle gave these to us each year for Christmas. He passed away quite young and unexpectedly this past spring. It is a beautiful thing to walk in and see hundreds of tiny rainbows all over our kitchen each morning.

I did a little holiday making today too (from the book of course!). As we’ve increased our children count over the years and they in turn have grown older and busier, my handmade Christmas gifts have decreased. As much as I love the idea of making my loved ones all handmade gifts, time is so limited, I try and keep it as simple as possible. There will be many years ahead of me for hand making. These years are about simplifying and enjoying amidst the December madness. Yesterday as we finished decorating the tree, I sat on the couch reading my new issue of Taproot and sipping my hot chocolate while the three kids danced like crazy to Dr. Demento’s Christmas album. It was loud and chaotic, yet cozy and Christmasy at the very same time. Welcome Holidays!

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How to Make Hand Lotion with Preservative

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I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! We had a very nice long weekend and I was so touched by all the ebooklet orders and the sweet emails that came with them. Thank you! Since I’ve been on a body care making kick I have a few things that I want to share with you this week. The first is about preservation.

About this time of year my Hand Lotion post becomes very popular for the DIY Christmas crowd. And for good reason, it’s a great lotion and so easy to make, don’t you think? However because of it’s relatively short shelf life, I started to research preservatives. And I found one that so far I like. Potassium Sorbate. But let’s back up for a moment. There are, as I have learned, three things that can go wrong when you mix water and oil. Yeast, mold, and bacteria can form. None of them are things you want in your lotion and especially on your skin.

To keep your lotion making as sanitary as possible you want to use clean measuring utensils. You want to use pure water, either well water, rain water or distilled water. You want the container you store your lotion in to be as clean as a whistle. Preferably just out of the hot dish washer.

As you go about using your lotion you want to scoop it out using clean dry hands. Even better, keep this lotion in a pump bottle. Store it in a cool place, preferably the fridge. Now personally, if I keep lotion in the fridge, I’d rarely use it as it would surely be hidden behind a jam jar and forgotten completely. So I keep it on the counter top during the winter, and during the summer, I still keep it out, but I make half the amount, so I use it faster.

I’ve found that this lotion stays stable for me for a good three weeks, however it doesn’t hurt to go an extra step and add a food safe preservative if you are giving this as a gift. Potassium Sorbate is an effective preservative against molds, yeasts and aerophile bacteria. It’s cheap (this bag cost me less than $4), it is easily soluble in water and you only need 1/4t. per lotion recipe. I would say that this extends the shelf life of this lotion to about 3 months.

So once again, my Hand Lotion Recipe with preservative!
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How to Make Homemade Hand Lotion with Preservative

1 1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup emulsifying wax (Don’t use beeswax, here’s an easy homemade beeswax lotion recipe)
1/4 cup olive oil (I’ve been using grapeseed oil lately for an even lighter lotion)
1/4 teaspoon Potassium Sorbate
24-36 drops essential oil
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Combine olive oil and emulsifying wax in a microwaveable container and heat until just melted. About a minute in my case. Once it is melted, you may add your essential oils.
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Then heat water to approximately the same temperature as the oil (again about a minute in the microwave). Then add 1/4 t. Potassium Sorbate. Stir well.
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Pour water mixture into oil mixture and give it a good stir with a spoon.
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Pour it into a decorative pump bottle, let it cool and you’ll have a beautiful, longer lasting lotion to enjoy!

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New in the Kitchen

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While I sit here next to the fireplace, working on the Handmade Body Care booklet I’ve promised you and waiting for the furnace repair man to come, I thought I’d show you a few photos from this morning. We had an eventful week as a team of men came and laid down the most beautiful Marmoleum floor in our kitchen, the color of water. Another team of very generous and helpful men came to move an impossibly heavy butcher block from Scott’s childhood home into our kitchen. We scurried to finish painting while the appliances were scattered all around the house and this kitchen is another few steps closer to feeling just like home.

The last bit of stolen sweetness that has been sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks is finally draining on the counter top. Scott’s off for a day of clamming/crabbing/fishing with friends, the kids are in school and daycare. All’s quiet and cold. I hope to be back very soon to share news of a finished booklet for you!

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Putting Food Up

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Putting food up is a lot of work. These pears along with a couple more bags sat in the kitchen a week until I summoned the courage to sit and cut them all, lug out the heavier than heck cider press, grind them, press them and then make pear butter from the pressings.
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Meanwhile Scott’s been slowly plugging away at making marinaras with the tomatoes. 5 quarts are in the pantry, only 19 more to make! A few years ago we made it a goal to put 24 quarts up, which would give us a spaghetti dinner every other week or so until the next tomato season. Just thinking about 19 more makes me want to take a nap. It’s so worth it though when you taste it. Home canned marinara is so much more delicious than anything you can buy. We upped our canning ability this year by investing in a pressure canner. Our first pressure canned experiment was salsa.
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The corn was all harvested, but that’s easy to put up. Just cut it off the cob and into ziplocks for the freezer. I think this year our harvest should carry us most of the way through the winter.
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I had to do a little surgery in one of my hives last week. Somehow, somewhere along the line, someone left a one inch gap between frames in the bottom box and the ladies filled that space up with comb. I spent all summer fretting over having to deal with it. At a recent beekeeping get together a wiser beekeeper encouraged me to just get in and take care of business and I did. Not only did the lovely ladies create an easy to pop out full wall of comb between the frames, but it was almost entirely empty of brood. Phew!
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Last weekend my younger son and I went to a bee harvesting event where we helped harvest honey from three different colonies, all in different locations. We started with the honey from the Sonoma Garden Park. See the color above?
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Well, we ended with honey from Glen Ellen, the next town north, just a few miles up the road for those not familiar with the area. Look how much darker it is! It’s a nice group of beekeepers we have here in Sonoma. Such interesting people. It was a good day.

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Chili Pepper Season

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While this may be our second summer here, we are considering this our first real growing season. It’s been a real delight to discover what does well here and we can say with certainty that peppers are high on the list. We’ve never had such a pepper season.
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When it’s pepper season, it also means it’s chili relleno season too. My favorite season! Early on in our relationship, Scott made me chili relleno from some Poblanos we’d bought at the farmers market. Hands down, that was the spiciest meal I’d eaten to date, but they were so good I ate every last bite. We aren’t growing Poblanos, despite the fact that’s what I bought, instead it turned out to be a Big Jim pepper and a few of those are Anaheims too.
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He still has the knack for making the best chili rellenos, which is why this plate never got photographed when it was decorated with sour cream and salsa, because who could remember to take a picture with that in front of them?
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And now that the corn is ready for harvest, corn kernel have been making their way into the stuffing. Delicious!
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We planted only one Padron pepper this year and that was more than plenty. We are all Padroned out! One afternoon the boys came inside from playing with a shirt full of Padrons asking if they could make some as a snack.
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As I’m sure you well know, when a young child comes to you asking if they can eat a green vegetable, please!, you immediately say ‘yes!’ Seconds later four hands were putting them into the hot skillet.
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Their choice of salt? Pink Himalayan Sea Salt of course. Only because it comes packaged with a little grater. They ate every one!

What’s doing the best in your garden this growing season?

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How to Make Fruit Roll-ups : : A Picture Tutorial

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(a longer tutorial found here)
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1. Find a plum tree.
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2. Pick and rinse 24 plums.
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3. Put on a simmer with a couple tablespoons of water. Wait about 15 minutes.
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4. Remove 24 seeds. Blend with a stick blender.
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5. Add sugar to taste.
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6. Lightly oil two parchment paper lined cookie sheets.
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7. Spread or tip pan until covers parchment evenly.
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8.  Fruit should be about 1/8″ thick. Very pretty.
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9. Place into a warm oven for about 12 hours.
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10. Take it out when it’s done.
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11. Roll up while still warm.
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12. Cut when cool. Store in freezer in ziplocks, should last a year. Perfect for school lunches.

(if skins of fruit are bitter, it may behoove you to skin the fruit first, in which case, use 28 plums)

Enjoy! (again, more detailed fruit roll up directions here)

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A Third Year of Buying Grassfed

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Last week Scott picked up our annual beef purchase. We started buying a quarter of a cow three years ago (talked about here in 2010) from a local producer, Beltane Ranch and we haven’t looked back since. At first we started doing this for the health benefits but over the years we’ve found a number of reasons why this makes sense for our family:

•  Buying beef in this way, we know our money goes to three sets of local people, the folks at Beltane Ranch, the butcher, and the meat market. Our money stays in Sonoma, which, because we vote with our dollars, is important to us.

•  We always have dinner on hand. Now that we’ve moved out of town, this is even more important for our busy family. A quick walk through in the veggie garden and a shopping trip in the freezer almost always gives us a dinner. Our quick, last minute dinner now is almost always hamburgers, which are significantly better than any hamburger you can get in a restaurant.

• We eat like kings. All this beef is dry aged for over 20 days. Doing that lets excess water evaporate and increases the tenderness and flavor. You can’t buy dry aged hamburger in the store and to buy dry aged grass fed steaks in the store, for two adults, would cost around $50. We eat them for around $5/lb. and they honestly are delicious (that comes from someone who has never been a big red meat eater). We taste the difference easily now, going to restaurants or parties the difference between our Beltane beef and feedlot beef.

•  We are more creative cooks. We get a little bit of everything in this order so along with steaks and stew meat and hamburger come bones, shanks, and the entire range of steaks. Scott has now mastered the cooking of all the cuts of meat and I know that then I see beef shanks go in the slow cooker, bones simmering on the stove, or a package of ‘T-bone’ steaks thawing on the counter (my favorite cut of steak), dinner is going to be good. We’ve also learned how important it is to raise the temperature of beef up to room temperature before you cook it. Cold beef hitting the grill or stove top results in livery tasting meat. Cooking with room temperature meat completely improves the flavor.

•  It really is much healthier. “Grass-fed meat, milk, and eggs contain less total fat and less saturated fats than the same foods from grain-fed animals. Pastured animals also contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that some recent studies indicate may help reduce weight and prevent cancer, and which is absent from feedlot animals. But perhaps most important, meat, eggs, and milk from pastured animals also contain higher levels of omega-3s, essential fatty acids created in the cells of green plants and algae that play an indispensable roll in human health, and especially in the growth and health of neurons–brain cells.” -Michael Pollen. Grass fed beef also contains much higher levels of Vitamin E and beta carotene. If we are to be committed meat eaters, we are happy to do so in a healthier way.

You too can eat grass fed if you aren’t already. Check out Eat Wild to find local grass fed farmers in your area. And if you are in Sonoma, Beltane Ranch beef is served at Breakaway Café and you can buy it by the pound at Sonoma Market.
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(In other news, I thought I’d try out a facebook page for A Sonoma Garden. If you participate in facebook, please give us a like!)

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