Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes, your souffle just won't stand up.

I made mulled cider at 5:30 am today. Senator Jeanne Shaheen is coming to one of my job's offices today for a press conference. One of my part time jobs is for a company I adore, I worked in marketing and inside sales here for a few years before the cooking bug got the best of me. To omit a very long story, I'm back here part time while I get my own culinary affairs in order.

So, Senator Shaheen has always been a decent advocate for local energy production, especially biomass. Debating the legitimacy of biomass in our lives here in the Northeast is not the point of this post, however.

It's fall in the Shire and everyone has a craving for all things Autumn-ish, including the staff here. Wouldn't it be nice if we had some fall-fun waiting for the gang when they get here? And so, while working on the job site I got a call from the office enlisting me to this task ... I did some quick browsing online and found that every recipe I came across was pretty consistent. Recipes for this kind of thing are as consistent as apple pies. Cinnamon, all spice, clove, nutmeg. There it is. To think, I had all of these sitting in my "spice rack" in their whole forms. In fact, spices stay usable longer when stored in their whole forms. That's pretty much the lay of the land for all ingredients.

My friend Kyra and I picking apples last year.

As it turned out, the cider was a big hit. Everyone loved it- at least, several people told me they did- and I felt accomplished and a tiny bit proud. 

I got home around 4-ish and decided to throw something together for our cook book club tonight (Mondays are our thing.). I have a pretty raging ear infection- that whole thing is a long story- that was bothering me most of the day and my mind set upon creating something for the gals was along the lines of, "Oh shit, I have to make something fast. What's fast?? Apple Gallette? That's fast! How do I make that again??" I dug out the recipe and read it too quickly. The crust is easy:

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
a pinch of salt
three table spoons of ice water

I at least pulled that off, to some extent. It was fairly rough and my counter space these days is reflective of the fact that we're moving- there's crap everywhere. I had a limited space with which to roll the dough out (and it showed in the final results). The apple portion I got down, but neglected to remember/read the part about the apricot preserves that are supposed to go underneath the apples. Yikes! I assembled the damn thing and read farther down into the instructions. Nope. No preserves. Oh, well. I crossed my fingers and popped the thing in the oven. The apples went like this:

1 1/2 lbs. apples
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

I pretty much pulled all of this out of some no-man's land in my brain. Once I reread the recipe, it barely looked anything like what's written above. I was too concerned with timing and baking temperature. I had set myself up for unexpected outcomes, which in the cooking world is never a good thing. ESPECIALLY with baking!

A few years ago I got to see a woman speak about Kitchen Witchery. Yeah, witch craft in the kitchen. Yes, it might sound kind of hokey, but her rationale was on the money. Her business is called Cucina Aurora and what a riot ... fun to listen to, engaging, interesting. Really worth checking out.

There is a point to all of this. Stay with me.

Intention was the magic word. Whatever your intention is while you're preparing a meal is what dictates the outcome. The cider I made was awesome because I gave myself the time to think it over. I had all the ingredients I needed; I created a space for myself to make it with success. My mind set said, "I'm going to kick this cider's ass and everyone is going to love it!"

My apple-gallette-turned-mound-of-dough-and-fruit was the complete opposite. I didn't have everything I needed, I was rushed and my mind set was detrimental. My intention wasn't to make something amazing, it was just to make something. Tada! I made something, alright. It's still baking as I speak and though it smells pretty awesome, the looks of it scream otherwise. 

I will be bringing my Franken-pie and I know my foodie friends will laugh along with me. I also know they'll eat it with me and let me know their honest opinion of it. These women keep me on my toes and remind me what my intentions should be ... at the end of the cooking process is a meal. That meal is important for sustenance, but it's also important because [most] meals are shared. They are a celebration of the people around the table. If I was more concerned about celebrating than not showing up empty handed, my results would be different.

Remembering that when in a rush is true magic.

Happy Monday, everyone. May all your souffles rise and inspire awe in those that eat them. xo

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Chicken Dance

Let's talk birds, shall we?

When I was little ... let's say, 4 years old or so, my family lived in Weare, NH- a spacious and lesser populated town somewhere between Concord and Manchester. We had a large yard and no neighbors for miles, the closest of which kept turkeys. Now every once in a while those turkeys would break out of their respective pens and wander the woods nearby ... which eventually let to my parent's yard. On one sunny Autumn afternoon, while my sister Melissa and I were playing with a pink Barbie convertible on the grass, we heard a warbling off in the distance. We instantly knew what was coming. We have no idea why they were notoriously violent birds. Chasers. They were chasers. Like fat, squat, feathered demons. And when we heard them coming we started to run for the house, sacrificing our toys for our own safety. Damn those birds were fast. They chased us up to the green house that lead to the living room. They chased us into the house. Melissa made a b-line for our bedroom and hid beneath her bed. I cowered in a corner of the living room. My mother was startled by the commotion and came running from the kitchen to see the most brazen of the feathered mob perched precariously close to our baby sister, Melody, asleep in her baby chair on the couch. Mom probably grabbed a broom, a shovel, a spatula- I can't remember- but she went into Mama-Bear mode and shooed the offenders back through the green house and on to the granite steps. Once they were safely outside I grew brave enough to peer at them beyond the large glass doors. I have a visceral memory of placing my hand against the glass and watching the largest male peck violently at it.

So now you can understand why I don't like turkeys. Or really birds in general. I like hens; docile, well handled hens. I have no doubt that when I someday own chickens I will have no problem killing them for meat. All I'll need is some instruction on safety, the rest will come from somewhere in my subconscious.

What's the whole point of this, you might be saying to yourself right now?? I like cooking birds. For myriad reasons. The primary of these being that they are delicious. They are also multi-faceted. There are few foods that can go as far as a chicken or turkey can. I recommend roasting them when possible. I did so this week and have finally used the last remains to create some healthy chicken soup with wild rice. Here is the evolution of my chicken conquest:

1) Roasted. Rubbed in olive oil and whatever spices I feel like tasting- the chief of these is garlic. I like to roast all birds with a combination of potatoes (both russet and sweet), onions, carrots, and garlic cloves. Then I'll add some chicken stock to keep the bird moist and add more flavor without wigging out on sodium.

2) After devouring most of that as dinner, I'll take the meat off the bones (which I save in the freezer until I'm ready to make more stock) and separate the veggies. I like to make a curried chicken salad right away, save a bit for sandwiches, always saving some for soup later.

3) Those veggies go a long way. I like a nice mash out of them to eat as a side with another meal later.

4) SOUP! Glorious cold fighting, digestion warming, memory invoking soup.

A roasting bird is the hallmark of a kitchen owner that knows how to stretch a dollar in the healthiest of ways. When you can get a free-range, humanely raised and organic bird. You'll find that they're slimmer than their agro-business cousins, but that's a good thing. They're healthier in spirit as well as constitution. And that means tasty results.

The weekend is finally here and we're faced with packing up our lives and moving to a new house. It's all very exciting, but slightly exhausting. Wish us luck! Happy weekend, ya'll!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cheese, Gromit!

Cheese. I think it's my favorite food. Well, it's in my top five. Cheese was the first food that brought me out of Veganism. I like cheese the way Wallace likes cheese. 

Has anyone seen A Grand Day Out? If not, please do. I'm a huge fan of this pair. Classic cheese loving right there. [Spoiler alert: They fly to the MOON. For CHEESE.] So awesome.

Why a cheese posting? 

A) My cousin John posted this on his facebook page today: Cheese or Font?
      Cheese or font is a game. A fun one. Working in both journalism and culinary fields makes this an ideal geek-out for me. Thank you, John, for being so on top of things. 

B) I had a meeting with my friend (and current client) Katie regarding the menu for her 30th birthday, which is right around the corner. We decided some cheese fondue would be a nice middle-of-the-evening appetizer. Because it is both fun and delicious. 

C) I was planning on sharing a fondue recipe. With the nights getting colder and our cravings for comfort food growing stronger (I mean, c'mon, that's all I've been writing about lately!), it seems fitting to talk about warm, gooey, cheesey, veggie-dipping delight!

In doing some research about cheese fondue, I came across - a great little site with lots of classic recipes and a little background on fondue for all my fellow cheese junkies.

All cheese is not created equal, by the way. Fondues require melting cheeses. Gruyere is the primary cheese in traditional fondue. It's oh-so melty, with a flavor that's reminiscent of Swiss cheese (also known as Emmental cheese across the pond). If you don't have Gruyere, it isn't real fondue. Cheddar is a fine cheese for most applications, but it isn't great at melting. There's a high oil content in Cheddar that makes it a poor fit for our purposes today.

So, with no further adieu ... fondue:

1 cup Gruyere cheese
1 cup melting cheese of your choice (Swiss works, brie is a nice twist, get creative!)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I like chardonnay) 
a splash of lemon juice (around one tablespoon)
1 clove of garlic
 2 tsp. corn starch
1/2 oz. Kirsch (Kirsch is a clear liquor from Germany, made from black cherries. Kirsch is NOT sweet, so any replacement should omit sugars. I would try a pinch of almond extract instead.)
Spice ... this is per your taste ... I've used nutmeg before ... some folks like paprika ... Don't use too much, just enough to add a hint of flavor.

How does it work?? Rub the inside of your pot with the garlic clove. A cast iron pot would work really well for this. Add your wine and lemon juice. When that's hot, add your cheese and stir like a crazy-person. When it's starting to melt, add the corn starch and Kirsch (you can just use a water/starch slurry instead). Let all of this cook for a few minutes, then transfer to chafing dish. TADA!! That's a meal right there! Dip bread cubes, your favorite vegetables, meats, whatever you want covered in cheese! 

I think some fondue is in order this weekend. With a glass of that chardonnay. :-)

Happy hump day- we're halfway to the weekend, ya'll!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gnocchi is not pasta, it's squash

I love carbohydrates in all shapes and sizes. Pasta is one of those culinary treats that aren't frequent in our household because I like to make it from scratch. That process has been made MUCH easier with the gift of a Kitchen Aide pasta attachment (thank you, Mom!). Despite even this, pasta is a labor of love. There is a fine line between good and bad pasta dough. Too sticky, too stiff ... a change in the weather can mean a lot when it comes to your pasta. Regardless of that caveat, pasta is one of the easier things in life to put together. Flour, eggs, salt, POW- pasta.

And then there's Gnocchi. 

Anyone familiar with the Ronnie Johns show? The Aussies out there must ... it's like SNL, Downundah'.

I love that damn show. Watching it reminds me of John and Sharon back in Manitou Springs, CO. I laughed so hard and loud the neighbors complained (granted that neighbor was our friend Erik, but that's beside the point). 

Paulie is right. Gnocchi is actually an Italian dumpling, but goodness me does it taste great with pasta sauces. Rich, dense and decadent, gnocchi is a favorite of mine. And it's hell to make.

But, I had to try it anyway.

"Ricing" potatoes (which is really just mashing them, but to a smoother consistency ... a Ricer is a piece of equipment made to get potatoes to the perfect texture- I just use a regular food mill) is no easy feat, but when you need an ingredient to be "just so" ... you have to just roll with it. A food processor works alright, but nothing compares to a food mill. Nothing. 

My first foray into gnocchi had less to do with potatoes than squash. Butternut squash. I've pulled this recipe out of the vault (courtesy of an old school Bon Appetit issue) because this time of year there is nothing better for an intimate dinner for two than hand made "pasta" ... or dumplings ... whatever. You get the point.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Note: It's okay if this is a sticky dough, that works in favor of the end result.

1 pound butternut squash
1 Tbs olive oil
1- 12 to 14 oz russet potato, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh sage (some whole leaves for garnish looks really nice)
More cheese. You can never have enough cheese!

Special tools:
Potato ricer (but a food processor or food mill will do)

Roast that squash (cleaned and quartered, then rubbed with the olive oil) with the cut side up. Really roast it, until it practically falls apart (some brown spots will indicate that you're almost there). After that cools for a bit, blend it or food mill it. Whatever gets you to a smooth consistency. At that point you have to further reduce the squash. A medium sauce pan should do it ... on medium heat for a few minutes. Measure one cup of that stuff. You can save the rest for all kinds of dishes.

In the mean time, cook the potato. Boiling, salted water for 20 minutes will get you there, then rice the crap out of it. Measure two cups of that stuff. See, gnocchi really IS potatoes ...

Next mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup parm, egg, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Gradually add flour. Knead dough until it holds together, then divide into 8 pieces.

Now comes the tricky part. First line two baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle them with flour. One piece at a time, roll those 8 dough balls into 1/2 thick ropes. Cut those ropes into 3/4 inch pieces. One piece at a time, roll the gnocchi along the back of a fork dipped in flour. This makes those famous ridges on the dumplings. Cover all of these little beauties loosely with plastic wrap and chill them for at least an hour ... they can be made up to 6 hours ahead.

When they're ready, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water- the gnocchi will float to the top of the water, but they may not be done ... 15 minutes should do it, don't be afraid to taste test! When they're done, use a slotted spoon to put them back onto those lined baking sheets. Now, let them cool again, this part can be done 8 hours ahead of time.

Now the sauce! Cook all that butter over medium heat, until golden. Add your sage and stir for a minute. Then add the gnocchi and let them heat through (about 5 minutes or so). Season with salt and pepper. Dust with the extra Parmesan. Pair the whole thing with a floral white wine. Let your dinner companions oooh and ahhh over your gnocchi accomplishment.  Ask them to make dessert.

It is a bit of work, but there is nothing quite like gnocchi. Great, now I'm hungry. And I'm craving pasta ... or is it dumplings?! 

Wishing you all a fantastic week full of love and wonderful food. xo

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It's been interesting trying to balance my new working situation with life at home, trying to pack up an apartment, helping to renovate the house we're moving in to, and studying for my chef certification - all simultaneously. My text book came in yesterday ... a whole 3 inches thick. It gave me goosebumps. Mark and our friend (my sister from another mister), Nicole, have been helping me devise marketing tools like business cards and postcards for my future endeavors. She had me buy the URL for my future business at 1am the other day while she was visiting. A few drinks at the bar, some lofty conversation about our futures and *poof!* I was paying GoDaddy for the pleasure of a name.

This whole experience is teaching me about balance. What things in my life hold precedent? What needs to get done NOW? What can wait a few days? Balance is a fine skill that I am weakly trying to master. It's balance that will let me have a family and a career at the same time. And balance is what will help me be a better chef.

Mirepoix is the term for the "holy grail" of French cooking. Carrots, celery and onions. It seems so simple end yet it is the balance of the flavors in these three ingredients that gives layered flavors to stock, soups, stews, roasts. If you do not have these items in your kitchen, I ask that you consider stocking them on the regular. There is little that can replace them. Garlic should also be included in this equation, but it isn't necessarily called for in all recipes. As a garlic grower I'm quite fond of the stuff. I put it into everything I can.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I'm finding that just as in life, the best food has balance and harmony. None of this, however, is achieved instantly. A balanced diet and menu is what keeps our bodies (and our minds) healthy and vibrant. When our diet is out of balance everything else could follow suit. Nature has great ways of reminding us how harmony can be achieved by utilizing our own skills and the resources around us. I like to think of the "three sisters" concept of gardening as an example of this ...

Corn. Beans. Squash. These three vegetables provide all of the nutrition and energy a human being needs. When grown together, they produce an alliance that helps them with pest and disease resistance as well as appropriate room to grow. Native Americans have grown these three "sisters" together for hundreds- thousands- of years. Besides helping each other, the plants aid in healthy soil maintenance. The bean plants climb the corn, making them sturdier in times of harsh weather. Beans also provide nitrogen (which is why they're just a fantastic plant to use at all times ... legumes are powerful nitrogen fixers). Squash grows low and spreads out, creating a healthy weed barrier that allows all three to grow freely without competition. Squash also discourages larger pests from invading your garden and ransacking that lanky corn.

Nature is full of these examples. There is no "silver bullet" when it comes to our diets, or our lives. There is no magic berry in the rainforest that will make us instantly thin. There is no supplement that will solve our aches and pains by itself.  Success is never achieved alone. Greatness is accomplished when we recognize our strengths and the strengths of others- and when we use these to elevate those around us, as well as ourselves. Community brings about health and wellness when we utilize it the way we should.

There is still so much more to learn, so much more to do ... and I couldn't do it without the help and support I've received from family and friends. This is a beautiful life and the future is bright.

I know folks have had some trouble leaving comments on this blog. I'll run a few tests to see what's going on ... Please don't give up on trying to add your two cents- I would love to hear from all of you!

Be well, love much, dream big!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Food as medicine

They say chicken soup is perfect for a cold. I agree, to a point ... what I agree with more is that food can be powerful in curing what ails us.

I had a stomach ache this morning after breakfast- there was no reason for it, just felt nauseous. Our home remedy for such things is ginger ... luckily we had some ginger chews in the cupboard. A few minutes later, I felt just fine!

And so came about my inspiration for today's post. What are your home remedies? What are the tried-and-true things you do at home to stay healthy and comfortable? I could write a novel about this, but I figured I would share just a few with you as a starting point. I also want to share some books that Mark and I invested in that have changed the way we look at getting healthy.

1) Ginger Tea
     *Ginger has a way of making everything right in the world. When a cold is lurking, a stomach ache is rumbling, this is the stuff to turn to. We boil some water and add a strainer full of freshly ground ginger, a slice of lemon and a spoonful of honey. It's a delicious brew that warms you from the inside out. Should help nausea, congestion, respiratory rattling, etc. This tea is also helpful when having trouble getting your extremities warm on a cold winter morning (New Englanders, you know what I'm talking about).

2) Apple Cider Vinegar
     *I am a huge fan of this stuff as both a health supplement AND as an ingredient. Slightly briney, super delicious, you can't go wrong. Two teaspoons full of apple cider vinegar added to 8oz of water (1 cup) is said to help promote healthy bacteria in the digestive system, boost your immune system and help you loose weight. I use BRAGG Organic, which you can learn more about here.

3) Clove Oil/Lavender Oil ... extracts in general
    *Using Clove Oil was a no-brainer after a friend used it directly on a sore tooth to cure his toothache before going to the dentist. His testimony was all we needed to try it ourselves. Mark has used Lavender Oil to help ease my migraine symptoms. When we feel a cold setting in, we start adding some Grapefruit Seed Extract to our juice in the morning. It helps boost our immune system and keep harmful colds at bay. When helpful foods are present in a high concentration they're incredibly effective. Our go-to-gal on the subject of such things is Rosemary Gladstar, the mother of modern herbal-ism and food as healing. We keep a copy of this book within reach at all times:

The woman is a genius. We've been able to watch her speak and create some of her more famous remedies when we went to a Samhain (pronounced sou-wain) festival in Peterborough, NH last fall. Come to think of it, it is that time of year again. Time to get my kitchen altar in working order. :-)

I could go on and on about using food as medicine, but I think by now you get the point ... A lot of food remedies lean toward prevention rather than resolution. Eating right and keeping tabs on your homeostasis is important in keeping your healthcare costs low. Before we go to our doctor we try to find an at-home remedy that might alleviate symptoms. If we do, we are richer for it. 

**Just a caveat, I do not advise that you not see your Personal Care Provider should you have a medical ailment. We use these remedies for conditions that are not serious. If you have a serious health problem, see your physician immediately.**

I hope everyone enjoyed their "holiday" weekend. It's nice to have the day off, but we all know Columbus was a jerk. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The whole is a sum of its parts

I love making bread. Big giant loaves of it. Sourdough, French, Dinner Rolls, Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread ... There is little in this world that rivals the first slice off of a fresh loaf of bread right out of the oven. It's heaven.

My in-laws gifted me a sourdough starter a few Christmases ago ... It's the ancestor of a 250 year old yeast culture, which means there's a good chance that one or two grains of yeast in there are at least that old. Back in the early days of bread making (we're talking hundreds of years ago), yeast wasn't really an option for baking. Most historical (and now culturally significant) breads were dense and unleavened. Then one fine morning some baker left his flour and water mixture out overnight, as the oral history goes ... maybe he was being lazy? Maybe it had been a really difficult week and he threw his hands up and said to himself, "That's it! I'm going home for a glass of wine." The next day he noticed that the pre-dough he left out had doubled in size. So he baked some of it. And it was delicious. 

What he had done is capture a wild yeast. Yes, they exist. No, I haven't caught one. I keep my starter fed in a clay crock in the fridge. You can get sourdough starter from all sorts of places. If you get in good with a baker at your favorite high end restaurant, they might throw you a tablespoon of starter - and that's all you need to begin. There's a process of feeding, cutting down the mixture, feeding it again. It seems complicated at first, but it's as simple as tossing a cup of flour and a cup of water into the container and letting it do its thing. 

We've come a long way since starters were the norm for leavening breads, cakes and other baked goods. So why keep up the practice, especially if it requires so many steps and keeping a microscopic organism alive? 


The flavor of a rustic sourdough bread is hard to compare. So, I figured I would share my favorite recipe for sourdough bread. Don't have a starter at home? You can catch a batch of wild yeast at home, if you're so inclined ... or you can buy some online (the MUCH easier route). I recommend this website, Sourdough Home, which is pretty comprehensive on the subject. They have links to help you buy a reputable starter from a few different suppliers. They'll come to you in small amounts and it's up to you to feed it and keep it alive until it's ready to bake with. Think of it like an edible chia pet? Or a guppy or spider plant that feeds you after you feed it. Now that's a pet worth having in the refrigerator. 


[I told you I like King Arthur ... my starter comes from their original batch, caught 250 years ago. My mother-in-law, Dianne, noticed I was baking a lot at home and decided this was a perfect gift- and was it EVER. Their guide is comprehensive, but not overly-so. The rules are simple with starter and once you have it  nailed, your bread will never be the same.]

1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
5 cups all purpose, unbleached flour

Mix all of that together and knead to form a smooth dough. Put your dough ball in a greased bowl, covered, and let it rise until doubled ... that'll take around 90 minutes- give or take- depending on the temperature of your kitchen, etc. You'll know it's doubled when you go to press your finger into it and the dough doesn't bounce back to shape. If you leave a dent, it's ready to knock down.

At that point, divide the dough in half (unless you're like me and feel daring enough to make one, GIANT sourdough loaf .. the result is huge, but just as good) and shape into two oval loaves. Let these rise again, for about 60 minutes, until doubled. Slash the tops and bake at 425 for 30 minutes. For a nicer crust I like to put a baking dish of water in the oven while the bread bakes. It creates steam that cures the crust and adds a great bite to the bread.

I'm sure you noticed how simple the ingredients are for a baking bread. Artisan bread really is that simple ... there are no preservatives (so you should eat it quickly!) and no chemicals. If you buy bread at the grocery store, have a gander at the ingredients on the label. If the consist of just flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast- that's awesome. Please share which bread you buy. I'm sure it's awesome. Sandwich breads add eggs and milk for protein and to create a different crumb, but outside of that breads shouldn't vary much. I decided to stop buying manufactured bread when the healthiest loaves were twice the price of others. Making bread at home costs just a few cents. We haven't bought a loaf since ... and it's been a great way to eat healthier.

I know not everyone can bake their own bread, but you should consider that most of the work is just waiting for the damn thing to rise. I hope to have bread as part of the menu I can offer clients. I have quite the arsenal of bread skills. And there's just something special about sharing bread fresh from the oven. 

In coming posts ... less about baking, more about cooking. It's this change of seasons that's got me all baking happy. Our apartment is small and baking anything helps us supplement our home heating. Ha! 

I think a braise should be next. Something that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. With sweet and savory roasted vegetables.

Now I'm hungry again ... and I just had breakfast! (Muesli to be exact. Love that stuff.)

Be well, enjoy your Friday!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


If you've ever visited Mark and I, we've probably given you the worm tour.

Yes. Worms. Lots of them.

Our large, green Rubbermade tub sits just outside the kitchen. We covered the top with black weeding fabric to keep out light and allow for circulation. Inside lay thousands of Red Wigglers amid a mixture of newspaper, peet moss and various vegetable scraps. The return is the best compost we've ever used. We also cut our garbage haul in half. It's been impressive, to say the least.

Lots of folks wrinkle their noses when I tell them we have worms at home. I can imagine it sounds gross at first ... they must smell or take up a lot of room. My father can barely get over the concept- his daughter keeps worms as pets. For the record: They don't smell. They don't take up a lot of room. They don't make any noise. Best. Pets. Ever.

For the past four years Mark and I have lived in apartments, mainly on the second floor. We're urban farmers and utilize a community garden plot between Clinton St. and Iron Works Rd. We want to compost, but when you don't have a yard to speak of, that part gets complicated. Worms were the answer.

That's where Joan came in.

Joan's Famous Composting Worms to be exact. We bought two pounds of them from her at the Concord Farmers' Market several years ago. They've been happy, healthy and well fed ever since.

Joan O'Connor has managed the Concord and Manchester Farmers' Markets for as long as I can remember. She has a dynamic personality and it is clear that she loves what she does. I consider her a true embassador for Concord's environmental community. And she was delightful when it came to setting us up with our new leg-less brood.

We've been thrilled with the results thus far and our worm collection has steadily grown. As long as we have enough to feed them, they control their population well.

This vermicomposting is one component of keeping our eating habits sustainable. Sure, there's little guilt in throwing out compostable food waste ... it'll break down eventually, right?

The problem with sending *anything* to a landfill is always the same- if air can't get to it, it won't decompose. Landfills hinder natural processes for the most part. Composting is the most efficient (and affordable way) to dispose of biodegradable material. And it's fun! What a killer science project for your kids- or, for teachers, your classroom?? Personally, I like the idea of harnessing a powerful force of nature hidden in some of its smallest and more helpless life forms. They eat the food that we eat. They create nutrients for our soils, which helps grow new produce. We've got our own "circle of life" happening in a Rubbermade storage container. The whole concept makes me giggle. And it's beautiful.

I want to bring this kind of sustainability to other people. No, I don't want to put a bucket of worms under every kitchen sink, but I sure don't mind having them. Why can't I give my clients the peace of mind that their food scraps have a higher purpose? I would like to think I can give people a chance to eat the way they've always wanted to - to have a deeper connection to their food and the land that it comes from. There's a lot of power in that. And from those small gestures come bigger ideas; greater movements toward connection and preservation. ... All because you threw the apple core in the worm bin and not the garbage. How da'ya' like that?

We'll be harvesting some compost from the worms soon. I just threw a good two pounds of apple waste in their bin yesterday after making a batch of apple sauce. I need to give them a few days to pick them apart.

In the mean time ... there's more cooking to do.

Love to all!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


In the spirit of building more healthy habits than I started with, I've tried to get some reading in before bed every night. Mark and I went to the closing of Borders after most of the shelves had been picked over, but I found a few gems in the rough ... A biography on Ferran (the elBulli super genius ... if you've never heard of him, do a Google search. His food is groundbreaking), a story about Fanny Farmer (of Bostonian cooking ledgend), and one that I really can't put down ...

American Terroir, by Rowan Jacobsen

The book is written in the style of "The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan, but the focus of each ingredient is its origin and why that origin is important to flavor and the future of the area in which it is produced. The hook was the first chapter, which focused on maple syrup production in Vermont. I haven't been able to put it down since ... just got through the coffee section. Brilliant!

All of this focus on place and origin brings my thoughts to where I live and work and eat. New Hampshire has a bounty that's often forgotten by modern eaters. Come to think of it, it is rare for me to taste food that is native to this area. My cousin Greg Trahan is a mushroom forager - fungi fun-guy if you ask me - and he's done me the service of finding Black Trumpets and King's Beard the past few weeks. Black Trumpets are really black chanterelles and they are delicious. Earthy, savory, with a firm bite. They are the best mushrooms I've ever tasted. And they came from the woods. He even found a hand-full in my parents yard the last time he visited.

I want to incorporate elements of this into what I offer as a personal chef. How I can do that on a larger scale has yet to be figured out, but I know it's possible. New Hampshire's soil is notoriously rocky and mineralized. That's a problem our friend Josh Trought has had to deal with while he develops the soil of his organic and educational homestead in Dorchester, a beautiful place named D Acres (you can check them out here). I could write a novel about D Acres, and I will someday, but not this post ... but Josh has been rebuilding his property's soil with a mixture of composting, wood chips, permaculture, and time.

Minerals might be overpowering in a large growing situation, but what they do provide food is flavor and depth of character. We can taste the earth where something is grown if we taste carefully enough. Terroir was made famous by the wine-growers of the world, why shouldn't we apply it to the beautiful food we create here at home? Our terroir is our history and our identity. And I find it fascinating. With all the rocks we've got in our soil around here, I'm sure you can't help but taste all the Live Free or Die that exists in our farm fields and herds.

Over the course of my culinary "education," I've found that I prefer a simple approach to food. 20 ingredients in a recipe isn't necessary for it to be delicious. If your ingredients are high quality, so is their flavor. No need for additional fats to make all of it palatable. Good, clean food is prepared simply. The flavor is built in. That means healthier meals. That means having a better grasp of where your food comes from. Over my career I've had the pleasure of making connections with some fantastic food producers. Venison, garlic, wine, cheese; I've done my best to seek out finest ingredients where I live. This is a service I can offer to future clients. I want to work with people who know food. In their busy lives they might not have the ability to travel to four locations to get all of their food items. But I can. And that's what I want to do with my life. Connect people to the land around them. Give them the best of everything. Show them that in and on our rocky soil there is beauty and health and life ... all richer than the fluorescent din of the grocery store can provide.

Now that I've found my vocation I really have to step on the gas. It's time to get moving. And move I shall.

Hope you're all well. Enjoy this sunshine that just came about. It's just what the end of the harvest needs!

Love. xo 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I've officially started on my new path to financial and creative independence. It isn't without the help of some amazing people. It's comforting to know that in the toughest of times there are always people there to lift us up- if we're willing to ask for their help. This is true even in the most dire of situations. Even when we are at our lowest.

I've taken up running again now that my schedule allows, but today is dreary and it feels like the rain has been falling for days instead of hours. Days like this call for comfort food. Something warm, savory ... New England's Autumn never fails to dish out cold and clammy days that remind us of the snow just beyond the horizon. Our seasonal foods are shifting with the temperatures. Squash, root vegetables, kole crops, are all taking center stage as the last vestiges of heirloom tomatoes and crunchy greens bow and exit stage left. In my mind the whole thing is bitter sweet. Summer foods are satisfying and plentiful. Though I make an attempt to eat seasonal foods to the point where I'm sick of them until the next season rolls around, I can never shake the craving for a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad. It's a weakness of mine.

What we do have in spades at home right now is apples and squash.

My husband Mark and I made a trip to Poverty Lane Orchards a week or so ago. These are the folks who produce Farnum Hill Cider in Lebanon, NH. What a beautiful property! Rolling hills of orchards with a less restricted feel than more commercial orchards. Leafy and inviting, picking apples there was a treat. We did pounce a bit early this year .. their heirloom apple orchard is ready for picking around the middle of October. Their website sports a spreadsheet 6 pages long listing each kind of apple tree they have available. It's mind blowing, to say the least ... check it out here.

We left with a hefty bag of Cortlands, Macs and Empires .. all the early apples. For this weeks Clean Plate Cook Book Club I made a yeasted apple cake. It came from an old recipe in the King Arthur Flour cook book. If I ever need a new and creative baked good, I turn to that book first. Their recipes range from modern to ancient and this one was definitely in the "old school" category.

I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was lovely. And devoured.

Here's the recipe ... simple, pretty, perfect for a Sunday brunch.


(Side note: According to the King Arthur folks, yeast doesn't usually show up in cakes, or hasn't since the development of baking powder in the middle of the 1800s. So, the original version of this cake presumably has its roots deep in the last century.)

2 cups tart, firm apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 to 3 Tbs water
2 heaping Tbs brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs butter

** Mix all of these ingredients together in a sauce pan (except for the butter) and cook until the apples are just tender. Take them off the burner, then add your butter. Let this sit while you mix the batter. **

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar, white or brown
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk (I've found it helpful to buy this along with my flour lately. It goes a long way.)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbs active dry yeast
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup water, hot from the tap
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

** Mix together your wheat flour, sugar, dry milk, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and yeast. To that, add your butter right on top of the mixture. Pour your hot water over the butter to melt it, then mix this for a few minutes. It helps to give it a rest before you move on to the next step ... Next, add your egg and half of the all-purpose flour. You should add the remainder of the flour only to create a stiff batter ... not a dough. If you've ever baked before you know that weather, barometric pressure, all kinds of things effect baking. It's science for hungry people. You might not need all of your flour. **

To assemble your cake ... grease a 9" square baking dish or a 10" pie plate (that's what I used ... I greased it with butter) and pour your batter into the pan. Next, arrange the apple slices you cooked as best you can. This is where you get to pretend that your a food stylist for Bon Appetite ... get fancy- show off your skills. Once finished, cover with plastic wrap and let the whole thing rise for an hour to an hour and a half. This is where the yeast does the work that a more modern leavening agent would do in the oven.

Once the batter looks like it's growing around the apples, it's ready to bake. 25 - 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven aught to do the trick. My oven is off a bit, so it took longer than that. Once the cake springs back when you touch it, it's ready.

This got rave reviews from the cook book club and the room full of poker players down the hall. Better served as a breakfast treat than a dessert, this would be decadent served with a hot cup of coffee.

I've been long winded enough for one day. This rain has me contemplating soup making ... We do have a whole butternut squash I have to deal with. It was on sale at Hannaford. Love that place for fitting in as much local produce as makes sense for their dynamic. They're no farm stand, but they're good in a pinch.

Now if we could just get Whole Foods up here. Dammit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New and improved

It has happened. I've found a way to work closer to home, part-time of course, so that I can finalize my new business plans.

Forever Feasting .... that's the name we're going with. My husband came up with it. I think it's magic. The concept is to create meals for people that are healthy, seasonal, sustainable, and delicious. The final steps include some testing on my part, acquiring some insurance and promoting my new endeavors. Being a personal chef will give me the tools I need to build the future I've only dreamed of. It feels powerful to have so much riding on intention alone. I am invigorated, energized. This life of mine is blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

Life is good.

I am blessed.

With that said, my future will depend on me reaching out to people who are in need of my services. A personal chef is an affordable luxury and few people realize just how helpful it can be. Most of the successful folks I know are plagued with a work schedule that makes their diet suffer. Then their waste-line swells, their organs get uncomfortable, their mood declines. I have multiple friends who subscribe to Weight Watchers in hopes of managing their consumption and stay healthy. Wouldn't that be a lot easier if they had their meals made? Wouldn't these folks get to spend more time with their kids if a warm meal was already waiting for them when they got home? The foundations of a strong family dynamic can be re-established and re-rooted around a dinner table. One of my parent's rules at home were that every had to have dinner together. The strong bonds we created at meal times in my youth are even stronger today. I'm lucky to have had that experience and I hope to allow people to have the same satisfaction in their own homes.

It all sounds idealistic, but the truth of the matter is that money rules people's decisions. It certainly controls how I spend my time and energy. I'm starting to learn that people who eat out in restaurants at least three times a week could afford what I have to offer ... better numbers will come soon.

There's a lot of great stuff to share and I'm excited to really get going.

Look out, world, 'cause here I come!