Strawberries Finally Ready


My son and I went and picked strawberries the other day. It took us no time at all to pick eight quarts. It was a warm day but the berries were plentiful. We ate a few but brought most of them home. Norris Berry Farm in Hinesburg did us right.

We have about two quarts left. I used two of them to make jam. It is the best strawberry jam I have made yet. I canned five small and five tall jam jars. I only had seven lids (thought I had more) so did would I could. I scooped the jam that wouldn’t fit into jars into a bin for the fridge. I would have had more left over but I had a kind-of enormous boil-over. That was a bit of a mess–sticky strawberry goo all over the stove top. I had thought about using a larger pot but did not. I won’t make that mistake again. Gotta love experiential learning.

I froze two quarts and we have eaten a couple of quarts. We had a fresh quart from the market already when we brought home the ones we picked. I have been eating them with yogurt and granola for breakfast and then having some straight up with lunch, and I am not the only one in the house who is painting his teeth pink. If the season doesn’t end too quickly I may have time to go pick more. The season does not last long in any case, so I want to eat as many as I can in the present. Can I get strawberries other times of the year? Sure, but in January they taste like wood with just a hint of strawberry flavor. That just isn’t what I’m talking about.

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun

Good Day for Baking Bread

Yesterday I baked up a loaf of bread as one element of our dinner. We had a bit of a pot luck–fresh bread, soup thawed from the freezer (potato leek), black bean burritos, reheated homemade pizza, fruit. Hot from the oven, the bread was good. It was quite tasty in fact. But it wasn’t the “Oh my hot yeast-risen delights this is inspirational” good. So I thought I might try again today.

At sunrise the thermometer read zero degrees. That is cold. I was hoping for colder, but one gets what one gets. An hour after sunrise, in opposition of the typical, the temperature had dropped two degrees. Now, mid-day, we are one degree above that. The sun is out now, but the air was filled with ice crystals earlier. Sublimation, that’s what we had. So it is cold–a good day for baking bread.

The dough rises now, in a big yellow bowl that works well for just such a project. Yesterday it rose less that expected. Perhaps I added too much wheat flour, or too many oats. So I added less of both of those today. Plus more honey. I find it difficult to have enough honey in my bread. It’s not like I follow a recipe. I just start with measured amounts of water and flour and mix until it has the right consistency. In a few hours we shall see what comes of it. It will rise and we will eat it hot from the oven, in any case. On a day like today, that really can’t be beat.

Fresh Salsa

Finally today I was able to make the salsa I have been hoping to make this summer. I had wanted to make it fresh, with ingredients I grew myself. I almost succeeded. I tossed together your classic pico de gallo. This calls for just a few ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, onion, pepper/chiles, cilantro, salt and lime juice. I do not have an active salt mine here at the house, and limes just don’t grow well here in the northeast, so those were added, but all the other ingredients were my own.

And it was, I don’t mind saying, delicious. Of course, fresh salsa is pretty dang good food anyway, but this had the benefit of being near and dear and personal and all that business, so I thought it was particularly tasty. I brought it to a potluck party and it did all get consumed, so there must have been something more than my own eager ego at work. I will make it again if the cilantro pulls through. I picked pretty much all of it from one small plant. This plant had been munched to nubbins more than once by our friendly neighborhood Silvilagus, that cute little long-eared mammalian rascal. Several other cilantro plants are happily growing now, but they are small. I need time, I tell you. Last year we had lots of cilantro but no tomatoes. This year the opposite is the case. Timing is key and that isn’t happening in my garden.

I will make the stuff–pico de gallo–again. I may have to find some other cilantro, however, to make it happen in the near term. Did you know that pico de gallo means “rooster’s beak” in Spanish? What the hell is that all about?  Maybe I’ll just call it salsa.

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

I had the idea recently to use some of the mint we have in our herb garden to make some ice cream.   I found a recipe by another blogger with a recipe she tried that involved using fresh mint.  I tried it myself, with a little variation.  I used cream, of course, but also skim milk.  And I used good chocolate.  I chopped up a couple of bars of Lake Champlain dark chocolate and added that.

Chocolate Chopping

Chocolate Chopping

It was very minty.  My wife described it as having a “Kapachow!’ right when you tasted it, but then a mellow finish.  It has a fresh real mint taste.  I might use less mint next time, but maybe not.  I wouldn’t want to lose too much of the flavor I was after to begin with.  Overall, I think it tasted about right.  Here is the finished product:

Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream Ready for Snacking

Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream Ready for Snacking

Here is recipe I used, (a variation on this one), which makes about 1 quart:


1 cup skim milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups cream

pinch of salt

2 cups packed mint leaves

5 egg yolks

6 oz. chopped good quality dark chocolate


1. Mix the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup of the cream in a saucepan and warm it gently.  Submerge the mint leaves in the liquid and set aside to steep at room temperature for an hour.

2. Pass the mixture through a strainer into another saucepan, pressing on the leaves to remove as much liquid as possible.  Toss the leaves into your compost bucket and rewarm the liquid.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until fluffy (a couple of minutes).  Slowly pour the warmed mint liquid into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time.  Then pour the egg cream mint mixture back into the saucepan.

4. Stir the mixture over medium heat with a silicone spatula that can take the heat, scraping the bottom, until the mixture thickens and sticks to the spatula.

5. Pour the 2nd cup of cream into a bowl and place a strainer over it.  Pour the warm liquid through the strainer into the cream.  Mix until blended.

6. Cool your ice cream mixture thoroughly, several hours in a refrigerator or chill in an ice bath and then cool an hour in a refrigerator.

7. Freeze in an ice cream maker, adding the chocolate bits at the end and mixing them in well.

If you try it, please let me know how it comes out for you.  Next up on the ice cream circuit:  peach.  We are off to go camping overnight so it will have to wait until at least later in the week.  We do have to get through this batch first, although I can’t imagine that will take very long.

Tomatoes Up

I planted tomatoes in foam cells a few days before we went away for a few days.  I was hoping they would be popping out of the dirt when we returned.  They were not.  They were still buried.  Pokey seeds.  I was worried they might be duds.  The next day was eight degrees plus.  They started to rise then.  I guess they like it hot.

No peppers have risen yet.  I planted those at the same time as the tomatoes.  Pokier seeds.  The leeks and onions are doing fine, curling all over.  I had to give them another haircut tonight.  That smelled pretty dang good.  In two or three weeks I will plant all this stuff in the ground.  I am looking to plant other things earlier–peas, lettuce, carrots maybe.  Pumpkins.  We’ll have to see about the weather.

I planted an oak tree from an acorn with the children last June.  It was a father’s day gift.  I never planted it and then winter came.  I thought i would plant it this spring.  When we returned from our trip it was dried out.  I thought watering it would help it bounce back.  It isn’t dead but it is still pretty limp.  I guess you shouldn’t treat your trees like dirt.

The tomatoes are pretty wiry at this point.  I’ll need to bury them deep so they grow well.  I decided not to repot them this year to see what happens.  I thought maybe I wouldn’t lose as many that way.  Last year I repotted once, the year before twice.  I’m all about efficiency.  I still need to prepare the garden.  It is in pretty good shape but the lawn keeps encroaching.  Too bad we can’t eat that.  Tomatoes are tastier.

Things are greening up all over the place.  I am again amazed at how winter turns to spring and then all of a sudden it is summer.  I can’t imagine ever getting tired of that.  I say “wow” a lot this time of year.  I watched a vulture swoop low over the field tonight.  My son and I said “wow” together.  It was in the eighties again today.  That is a wow in itself.  We watched snow fall last month.

So things are growing.  Hopefully I can translate that into some food and some beauty in our garden.  I can almost taste the tomatoes and lettuce and onion sandwiches on homemade honey oat bread with Cabot extra shart cheddar cheese.  Oh crap, I just drooled on myself.  Keep growing tomatoes.

What’s for Dinner

Last night I had the time to make a good dinner.  I whipped up cream of celery soup and fresh dinner rolls.  With fresh pears on the side.  It was wholesome and tasty.  The kids hated the soup, of course.  “This looks like throwup,” says the boy of joy.  He was serious.

OK, it did look a little like throwup, but only some kinds of throwup, not the gross kind.  Well, not the grossest kind.  But it did taste good–salty and fresh and creamy.  I guess you can’t have everything in a soup.  Especially one that your kids think looks like something your body already rejected.

At least the rolls were good.  They ate plenty of those.  So tonight I wondered what to make.  I had a lot less time.  The rest of the fam was off to the library where my daughter met a friend from school for some friend time.  It was me deciding and me making and I had had a long day.  I didn’t feel like making anything complicated at that point.  I just wanted to eat it.

But of course I wanted my family to have a quality dinner.  I had to make something fast that had no resemblance to bodily fluids.  So I made spaghetti.  We don’t have that all that often.  It is easy and we all like it but I tend to make things that are fresher if I can, or that are just more fun to make.  Spaghetti is just too easy.

My savior was the table.  Instead of the easy pour it into bowls at the stove approach, I set places and we had some spot lighting and we sat together and talked about our day.  I love that.  I remember eating spahetti as a child but more than that I remember eating together as a family.  I want my kids to remember that.

The bummer is that I had really been looking forward to making the soup yesterday.  I had never made cream of celery soup before.  Mostly because, well, it’s celery for god’s sake.  But I had all this celery since you can’t buy just what you need and I needed to make something with it.  I’m thinking next time I toss in a few carrots.  It will give it a little sweetness but, more importantly, some color.

But then again, do I want to hear my boy of joy say “This looks like…?”

Baking Bread

Fresh Bread, Baby

Fresh Bread, Baby

Last night my wife and I sat down (and stood around, and paced) and talked about our finances. We are in fine financial shape overall. When we look at how we can immediately cut out expenses, there isn’t much that jumps out in the no-brainer category. We don’t have cable or satellite television. Our electric bill is low. We get a discount on the oil we use. We keep the thermostat at about 62. The price of gas is low. Still, we feel like we need to balance things better.

Our conversation about bread make me think about bread, if you know what I’m saying. One area we might cut expenses is our grocery bill. We don’t spend a fortune on frozen dinners or junk food. The problem is that we want quality. I was raised with the knowledge that teh generic or store brand version of a product is the same as the name brand, and this was and often is true. But I have entered another league since those days. I don’t want just the whatever, GMO, artificially colored, high-trans-fat margarine. I want the local, all natural butter. It tastes better and it works better when cooking.

I know we could save money if we were willing to compromise on quality, but I am determined not to do that. I buy Green Mountain fair trade coffee, and that is a compromise of sorts. I prefer that to Maxwell House by a long shot and I know that it has benefits far beyond my budget. I also don’t want to pay for coffee in a paper cup every day. When I bake bread, I know it will be better bread with good flour and butter and even salt. Quality matters.

I also know I trade time for money. I could buy a five dollar loaf of bread, or I could bake a loaf of bread. The freshly baked homemade loaf is just as good if not better but takes more time. I just popped a loaf of bread out of the oven that I started this morning. A few hours of work means some damn good food and a big savings. If I can take the time to make what I eat, I will save money and have quality grub.

For dinner we will have fresh bread and fresh soup. That is good stuff. Yes, it takes time. I need to make time when I have it to prepare so I can eat well every meal, not just boil up some pasta because it is quick. I need to whip up dinner in a hurry sometimes when the children and I get home late. Prepping in advance can help us eat sooner and still eat well.

Maybe that should have been a New Year’s resolution: eat even more freshly made food for taste, health, and the the old pocketbook. I suppose I can make it one now. Bread once per week? That might be doable. I’ll have to see what I’ve got for time, as soon as I finish eating this pasta.