Culinary Inspirations

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Just to give some forewarning, today’s post is going to be Monday-ish.  You know how Mondays are?  It’s the day when you wake up and have a million thoughts, plans and lists going all at the same time–that’s this post.  Monday-ish.

So, here we go…Give me a good book and an even better piece of produce and I am a happy camper.  Last week, I reached for two of my favorite books and some of my favorite spring-time produce, and I was off.  I have often talked about this book before in past posts, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is a book that will change your world.  Not only is it a beautifully crafted piece about Kingsolver and her family’s journey toward eating locally, but it is also filled with the most delicious recipes! I looked out my kitchen window to find our strawberry and rhubarb bed was overflowing with goodness, so I knew this was the book I needed.  I went with one of my favorite recipes in that book: the strawberry rhubarb crisp.  This recipe is a family favorite, using very little refined sugar, and I love cooking it up in my small stoneware baker because I can cook in it and serve from it.  This time, I chose to dish up this gooey creation in our nourish soup bowls, which I thought looked just lovely because of the matching color profiles.  The other reason I have so many of these bowls on hand is because $2 of every bowl is donated to Feeding America.

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Also growing in our strawberry and rhubarb bed is asparagus.  We didn’t have a great crop of asparagus this year, so we supplemented our own with some from the farmers’ market.  I tried a new recipe, pistachio-crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette, from Ashley English’s Handmade Gatherings to showcase this delicious perennial.  It was absolutely divine.  In fact, every recipe I have tried from this book has been a crowd pleaser.

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Now you may have noticed that when discussing the strawberry rhubarb crisp, I mentioned (and linked to) a few of my favorite kitchen essentials.  Please understand, it is not my intention to lure you to my blog with discussions of holistic living and sustainability and then try to sell you something.  Instead, I would love to share some of the kitchen items I use every day, because they help to make my life easier.  My hope is that in sharing this information, I can also help to make your meal preparation easier.

The other reason in sharing this information with you is to provide a means to contribute to my family financially.  After 3 years of debate, I have decided to leave teaching for good and homeschool my daughters.  I have wanted to homeschool ever since my eldest went off to kindergarten, but always held back because homeschooling was just too very far outside the box at that time in my life.  But as I mentioned last week, I need to do what I believe is best for my family, and for us, homeschooling is where it’s at 🙂  I have never beed more sure of a decision in my life, but the fact of the matter is that there will be a gap in our income.  I have worked (or maybe I should say dabbled) as an independent consultant with Pampered Chef for over five years, and I believe it’s business model is one that is keeping with my family’s belief structure.  It is based in Illinois (where we live), many of the products are made in the U.S., they provide funding to Feeding America and the American Cancer Society, and they allow women and men to work from home and put their families first.  So, from time to time, I will share some products that I use, and it is up to you whether or not you would like to link to them and find out more information.  I hope you understand my reasoning in doing this.

Well, if you have followed me through to this point, you have made it thought my Monday stream-of-conciousness post.  Books.  Produce.  Recipes.  Pampered Chef.  Homeschooling.  Lots of Action.

I wish you all a wonderful week, in which you can work through all those thoughts, follow through on all those plans, and check off all those items on your lists.  Happy Monday, friends.

What do you eat in February?

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Local watermelon.  As strange as that may sound, yes, for dinner last night we feasted on local watermelon we put by way back in early September, and let me tell you…It was delicious!

After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle several years ago, I longed for the days of  “looking at all [those] jars in the pantry [giving] me a happy, connected feeling, as if I had roots growing right through the soles of my shoes into the dirt” that Barbara Kingsolver so eloquently describes in her amazing piece of writing.  And today, many years later, I truly believe I can confidently make that statement with my head held high.  We have established food security for our family.

Our dinner last night was a reminder of this.  With a lovely beef roast from a local grass-fed cow that was processed in October; green beans hand-picked by two adorable Fagan gals, bread and butter pickles made with cucumbers from one of my favorite farmers, pickled beets featuring the dazzling brilliancy of the Chioggia beets pulled from our very own dirt in the backyard, and who could forget that locally grown watermelon frozen in a bit of water and local honey.  Every element on our plate last night came from a place I know and from people whom I trust.

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All of those hours spent hovering over the hot stove, in the sweltering heat of this past summer, seemed worth it when all I had to do was head to my basement last night, grab some meat and veggies from our freezer and a few jars off the pantry shelf.  Since beginning our journey toward sustainability, I am filled with an extreme sense of gratitude that I never thought possible.  It seeps into every one of my pores and I can feel it in every fiber of my being.  The Earth has provided us with so much, and by harnessing these gifts in a conscientious manner, we have been able to provide food for our family, even in the dead of winter.  God is good.

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins

This week I decided to take stock of our basement deep freezer.  I wanted to be sure that we had eaten all of our delicious frozen veg, soups, pestos, sauces and jams from last harvest so I could plan out our storage for this year’s goods.  I had to laugh out load when I looked in the bottom drawer of the freezer to find it filled with bag upon bag of frozen shredded zucchini!  I was immediately reminded of the chapter entitled “Zucchini Larceny” in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when she says, “July is the only time of year when country people lock [their] cars in the church parking lot, so people won’t put squash on the front seat.”  I was indeed still finding myself in this position of having an extreme over abundance of zucchini, even though we were far, far away from the month of July.

I struggle to throw any kind of food out, so I racked my brain for something that would utilize at least some of our zucchini stock.  And the idea came to me…chocolate chip zucchini muffins!  I could use a bunch of the zucchini I had stored, and also use my favorite Pampered Chef stoneware muffin pan 🙂

Like I so often do, I grabbed my two year old sous chef, and got to work.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins

3/4 cup  stone ground wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

juice of 1/2 a lemon

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (with excess water drained off)

5 oz chocolate chips

(A side note on my recipes:  I use all organic products.  And I use local products when available.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar.  Combine eggs, oil, lemon juice and zucchini in a separate bowl.  Mix wet ingredients into dry. Then add the chocolate chips and pour into muffin pans.  Bake for 20-25 minutes. (Note:  I did bake these muffins in a stoneware pan, which often requires a longer cooking time than a metal muffin pan.)

Enjoy!

It’s In My Blood

My great-grandfather, Hans Jacob Untersee, arrived in The United States from Bern, Switzerland on June 8, 1922.  Upon his arrival, he made his way to northern Illinois  to find work so that he could send for his wife and children, who still remained in Switzerland.  It was in northern Illinois that he established himself as a successful cheese maker, and was able to save enough money so that his family could join him in America.

Ever since my youth, I have been drawn to all aspects of my heritage.  I love connecting to my ancestors, whether it is admiring old photographs, thinking of my grandfather while in my garden, or cooking family heirloom recipes.

About three years ago I stumbled upon Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and I must admit that that read greatly impacted my life.  Her discussion of food as a connection to our ancestry drew me in like I never thought possible.  It was while reading this book that I began to think of my Great Grandpa Untersee.  He was a cheese maker by trade, why couldn’t I become a hobby cheese maker?

I used Barbra Kingsolver’s references in the back of her piece, and found Ricki Carroll’s website.  I never looked back.

Yesterday we decided it had been far too long since we had made cheese, so we ventured to our local, natural grocer where we are able to purchase milk from a local source.  We then busted out our New English Cheesemaking Supply Company cheese kit and got to work.

Here we are making a batch of ricotta cheese:

And here we are making mozzarella:

Hopefully Great Grandpa Untersee was looking down on us yesterday and smiling.