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    The Deconstruction of Divan (a conundrum of casserole & cultural heritage) 

    In a satchel of relics, accompanying the aforementioned slow-cooker, my mom enclosed Grandma Mimi's Recipe Box. Secured with a singular imposing speck of scotch tape, vital family secrets lurk within.

    I hadn't opened the thrilling volume for quite some time

    ...since a notable day, circa 20 years ago actually, when I first discovered the place in this world where Miracle Whip and strawberry Jello comingle; the place where "ham" and "loaf" exist in the same sentence....

    And I have been searching for my real family ever since. 

    Unearthing that "Tuna n' Rice casserole" recipe card was the exact same thing as stumbling upon surprise adoption papers. 

    My older siblings never played the orphan trick on me. But casserole did.  

    I wanted to be like the rest of the fam and adore those condensed cream of chicken soup and mayonnaise-margarine conglomerations with all of my heart 

    (Looking back, maybe that is when I learned to listen to my own heart rather than following the crowd... because it is still beating and quite honestly the chances of that would be pretty slim if I had been a fan of the Crisco-centric menu... How is everyone else doing!?)

    *Note the unbridled display of sheer glee, above right, even a desperate hand reaching in to snatch a morsel from the banquet of white edibles. Note my face––this is what it looks like when 11-year-olds are simultaneously storing casserole in their cheeks just before they manage a stealthy napkin-disposal operation and terrified as to what could be so wrong as to deny them part in the collective frenzy of margarine laced ecstasy...  

    I don't think anyone ever noticed how many napkins I stashed. I don't remember ever having to talk to Mimi about my anti-casserole-ism. I do remember that there was always my special little tiny glass of orange juice waiting for me in the morning when I spent the night and that she always made lemon meringue pie for my birthday as that was the only pie I liked... (clue #329--I didn't care about pie.  Pie is a religion on that side of the family... and of course the only one that I requested, no one else really cared about) But she put the types of candies in her candy dish that I liked.  So we had some things in common.  

    But I think those were the only candies I had ever had.  Much to the terror of my mom, Mimi was the one who gave me sugar when I was three and ruined my pure little hippie soul. My mom says I look like an "exotic" (read "ethnic" read "adopted") version of her... 

    I think that is very kind of you to say mom...

    Mimi was a natural nearly platinum blonde with the palest blue twinkling eyes.  She could sew absolutely anything and was unbeatable at the game of Scrabble.  She had an insatiable passion for cigarettes and an enormous Buick with sinking burgundy velvet Benson-and-Hedges-scented seats.  She said "zee-ro" (zero) and "warsh" (wash) in her sunny Kansan intonation.  She cooked food that matched her complexion.  The iconic dish requested by every single person in my "family" aside from me for their special birthday dinners, was actually a very old family recipe; a throwback to her Austrian ancestry (taking it WAYyyy back because both her family and Papa's family were definitely Conestoga-wagon-to-the-wild-west people). She would roll out thick homemade noodles the length of her entire kitchen counter and hand-cut them into long lengths. The accompaniment was some sort of white sauce "sawws"... shredded white chicken meat and a white mashed potato mountain with bright yellow "butter", known fondly as "chicken and noodles"... Maybe this photo illustrates a previous generation rendition of chicken and noodles... Arminta "Minnie" Odessa Riner, my great-grandmother, is at the head of the table. I am straining to see what is being served...

    hmmm the fervor displayed in our generation's dinner photo, is absent her... noteworthy, as this crew was not fired up on condensed soup nor artificial colors and margarine... quite the contrary actually.  I wondered if there were any of Minnie's generation's recipes in that box... 

    Opening the vault 

    I became increasingly panicked.  Particularly disconcerting: the frequency of the word "surprise"

    I am all for surprises... but some inner voice told me to be weary of those accompanied by "casserole" I do understand the idea behind hiding" a suspect vegetable such as eggplant in lasagne to show a weary child that such suspect vegetables are in fact delicious in the right context... but "hiding" a "surprise" of condensed soup (ie: poison) !?!?...enlighten me here please!

    I dialed my mom "AreYouAliveOhMyGodHaveYouHadYourHeartChecked!?!?!" 

    Its a good thing she fled to the Caribbean when she did

    Or I wouldn't exist.  And she might be in a mumu in Wichita, Crisco-ing her way to an early grave...

    I've never seen a casserole in the Caribbean... Maybe my anti-casserolian crusade along with penchant (bordering on addiction) for coconut, curry, spice... can be attributed to my Caribbean origins.

    I asked mom about the evolution of Mimi's culinary roots... how did such an INSANE collection of recipes come to be?... Minnie, Mimi's mother, was apparently a gardening and preserving bad-ass who kept a grandiose orchard where my mom would go when she was a little girl to sit in persimmon trees.  Minnie made everything from scratch and was a canning maniac; mom said her entire back porch was towering with pickles and preserves. What a glorious site. And a lot of work... Ah-ha!! Historical trends making sense and roots I can get down with...I mean, I have a long way to go before I'm at bad-ass level but

    things were looking up.  I remembered that sometimes traits skip generations... (I duly noted "what will become of this casserole gene!?" in my research to-do's column).  

    So Mimi grew up on delicious, fresh food... Mom said she was amazed by the recipe box because she can't recall her mom following many recipes.  (OK so we have that in common too! Score!) Like many depression-era children, when "convenience" foods became all the rage in the '50s, they were more of a status symbol than a testament to flavor...  Rather than question the taste of condensed soup, an upper-middle-class house wife in Wichita would go to bridge club and trade recipe cards with her buddies (and smoke long cigs and drink a little Scotch... ooh Scotch! We have that in common!!) I wish Mimi had cut out the Benson & Hedges-Crisco regime so that I could roll out homemade noodles with her now and sew all the elaborate polyester creations that I visualize, like those flash mumus

    No no, don't worry woodsman, I don't see myself jumping on the mumu train...

    But she had good style... and we both wore hats on our wedding days! So we have that in common.

    Things were looking up, but I still cannot sort out how in the world my own bloodline could sing the praises of pointless amalgamations of overcooked mush.  

    I thought I had a decent chance of swaying my baby sister

    (Coincidence that I appear to be of a different race?)

    But as it turned out, genetics were against me again and with the exception of frozen peas, she only liked white food items from day one.  I had waited nine years for a little comrade and I was still a culinary outlaw.  I was probably too dramatic... (tact becomes moot when the subject of casserole is at hand) and I got pegged as The Food Police early on... She spent the majority of her young life taunting my hippie food and microwaving Hot Pockets to spite me.  The summer after I graduated college, when she had sprung up to my 5'7" eye level (at the age of 12) she breezily declared that "mom had gotten much more lax" and let her "eat white trash food"........(enter memories of chopsticks and Nori rolls in my lunchbox...)

    and then

    she grew up

    turned platinum, went from "white trash food-loving" to just "really, really white" and together we decided to join bridge club and drink Scotch with umbrellas.

    Don't you love these mystery stories, you never know what is going to happen! 

    Ha ha (that was the woodsman's "creative white" themed surprise birthday masquerade last year)

    Now she's almost done with college.  Her class put this cool anthology together and she even started to write about her own food adventures here. And I cried tears of joy.  She goes to the farmer's market!! She likes green things!! My anti-Bagel Bite rants and vehement rage for all "processed cheese food products" had successfully influenced the future of food awareness! Hallelujah!!!!! It was a proud moment in my 31 years of Real Food Evangelism.

    And then she called me up and asked me to write about casserole. 



    The joke was on the outlaw once again. They all think it is funny to watch me physically writhe at the mention of "moist mayonnaise."

    There is nothing funny about casserole.  (OK its sort of funny when my woodsman says "my baby don't make casserole, she makes CLASS-erole" when he is angling for any one-dish-wonder that I actually would participate in... such as a tagine or a fritatta or a wild mushroom tarte.

    But there are a lot of absurdities surrounding the notion of casserole (the American definition of casserole that is); How did the innocent word go from defining the actual dish in which food is baked, in France, to a heinous conglomeration of overcooked mess in this country? 

    I did some research on the history.  And then some further interviewing––more than one southern woman said "well, whyyy should we slave away in a hot kitchen all day" ie: the "one-dish-wonder" was a breakthrough for housewives...allowing them the freedom to go play cribbage and drink, come home, pop a casserole in the oven, spend a good couple of hours doing their hair and voila' dinner was on the table at 5:30 and they were dressed to kill with the children sorted and ready for daddy. The AMERICAN dream!

    But things weren't lining up.  I was seeing a trend in those casserole-making directions (besides the canned soup and margarine rule).  If casserole is the ultimate in "convenience food"... I thought...what the hell is convenient about doing all the work of preparing perfectly acceptable ingredients and then combining them with some disgusting form of "binding" ie: condensed canned creamed soup and if you are lucky, both margarine and mayonnaise) and further overcook into a pile of mush? 

    Why not just do step one: prepare good ingredients seperately (don't bother with the work of opening cans, just pick fresh food from your garden or buy it from your local farmer) and prepare them seperately... 

    Other things I cannot understand about casserole include why on God's green earth anyone finds it acceptable to ever:

    a) use condensed cream-of anything in anything that is intended for human consumption 

    b) (over)cook vegetables into oblivion

    c) how jello exists and WHO decided it was a good idea to put things like olives IN IT!!?! 

    In a way, this whole casserole conundrum echoes the sheer absurdity surrounding much of American food policy.  How can so many man-made chemicals be lawfully served under the guise of "food"?

    "[Trans fats are the] biggest food-processing disaster in U.S. history... In Europe [food companies] hired chemists and took trans fats out... In the U.S., they hired lawyers and public relations people."                  --Prof. Walter Willett, Harvard School of Public Health

    Take for example the history of Crisco! In the 1890s, the price of lard & tallow for soap & candle-making skyrocketed and an alternative was sought by Proctor & Gamble... A French scientist had previously developed the hydrogenation process (when unsaturated liquid oils are blasted with hydrogen atoms, which artificially transform them into solid oil to resemble LARD.) Meanwhile electricity was becoming widespread, rendering candles increasingly obsolete... so P&G, with a stroke of marketing brilliance, decided that since this hydrogenated product resembled food, they could sell it as food. Crisco was born and marketed as a healthier, cheaper replacement for lard and butter... Saturated fats were demonized and Crisco manufacturers dedicatedly spread the word that animal fats caused heart disease, hence the widespread belief that vegetable oils were superior to natural fats (unadulterated delicious lard and butter)... The full story is here  

    **Remember: real food is always, always always better than fake food; use lard or butter, not vegetable oil in any form.

    So I meandered further into The Recipe Box...

    As has always been my retort when taunted by my "comfort-food"-praising family members (don't ask me how it is considered comfort to ingest a cup of margarine...)  I state that one can still have the flavors that supposedly transport you back to your carefree childhood...(or whatever nonsense I hear about the need to perform dangerous Crisco-laced traditions on occasion)

    But we can remake the recipes with REAL FOOD. Imagine. I am not promising that my curry-laced bechamel will hold a candle to the original Chicken Divan recipe above... I am not claiming there is a replacement to be found in nature for a 1/2 cup of margarine and a can of cream of mushroom soup... but I will say that this dish below is actually a legit "convenience food" as it is simple and quick, yet offers a hint of the "classic" "comfort food" essence AND it is healthy. 

    My mom, juggling her roots in combination with the methodologies learned at the onset of her Caribbean escape in 1975, did offer us a hybrid version of this casserole growing up, more of a class-erole, as she opted for the addition of brown rice... and opted out of the margarine.  I have two heroes.

    ©Faye Murphy

    And they both enjoy a delicious 

    Chicken Divan, Deconstructed.

    1/2 organic chicken (I did two thighs for aesthetic purposes)

    1/2 cup-ish mustard (I used partly a good French Dijon and part grainy)

    A bit (1 cup-ish) of white wine (all I had was an ancient bottle of Riesling that someone left in my fridge... which was fitting to honor Mimi's Austrian roots and too sweet to drink but worked nicely. Any white wine would work)

    Cooked Brown Rice - I do it this way (but don't pay attention to measurements)

    1 crown of Broccoli

    Olive oil, sea salt, pepper

    *Organic potato chips to garnish... if you want to be historically accurate...

    Curry-laced Bechamel

    2 tbsp butter

    2 tbsp cornstarch or AP flour

    1 1/4 c. warmed (whole, organic, obviously!) milk

    1-2 tbsp good Madras curry powder (depending on the strength of flavor you prefer)

    1 tsp lemon juice (or more to taste)

    Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

    *If you wanted to be historically accurate you would grate a bit of cheddar cheese into the bechamel... I couldn't stomach that notion so I opted out... 

    1) Make your brown rice however you like (I roll with this foolproof recipe) and don't burn it...

    2) Preheat oven to 350 and place your chicken pieces skin-side up in an appropriately sized "casserole" dish so they fit somewhat snugly

    3) Spread mustard all over them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

    4) Pour the wine around the chicken in the dish and put in the oven to bake until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. 

    5) Chop broccoli into good-looking pieces however you like them and toss with enough olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    6) When the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and turn up the heat to 425. Place your broccoli in the oven and roast for 10 mins, then toss and roast for about 10 more minutes, until it is a bit browned on the edges and a glorious bright green color. 

    While your broccoli is in its last 10 mins, make your Bechamel

    1) Melt the 2 tbsp butter in a little sauce pan over medium-low heat. 

    2) When it is entirely melted, sprinkle in the 2 tbsp flour or cornstarch and whisk quickly. If you haven't made bechamel, you might be alarmed at the weird mass that is formed; don't fear. Gradually pour in the 1 1/4 c. milk, whisking all along. Add the 1-2 tbsp curry powder and the 1 tsp lemon juice. Whisk Whisk Whisk. Your sauce will smoothen. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for about 2 more minutes. Add salt and pepper and fresh nutmeg to taste.   

    Voila'! You have successfully deconstructed Divan before you had to construct it! You can serve any way that you like....

    Any questions or concerns!? 

    I want to know your thoughts on casserole, what it means to you, and if you have ever felt like a culinary outlaw in your family...!?!?

    Do tell.



    Inspiring days of VT Awesomeness (& Asian Persuasion Pulled Pork Tacos)

    I like NPR. I like to get informed while I'm driving or gardening... You know that rush of modern-day euphoria that comes with successful multitasking... (usually the time-saving is a false reality) but sometimes... I listen to too much and go into a panic... things such as asinine conflicts of interest, preposterous injustice, mainstream America's penchant for tastelessness and choosing wealth over health... when coupled with dandelions and damn GNATS massacring one's gardens and greenhouse, can result in a dicey state of frustration and overwhelm...

    I'm not claiming this is some sort of farm-wide epidemic or anything

    Clearly we all have different coping mechanisms.  

    Some of us are granted nine-inch long ears.

    I was granted a mother who exemplifies calm (enter fear of adoption creeping back in here). So I, rather than hiding under a silky-smooth built-in eye mask, take a deep breath and think of my mom (who is the protagonist of a famous quote originally verbalized one fine Caribbean sailing day by one fine old sailing buddy probably circa '76-ish... "I could take a xanax, or I could just hang out with Dana") reminding me to calm down and that all I can do is one thing at a time and I might as well quit stressing out, because stress in itself is a royal waste of energy.

    ACTION, on the other hand, is the preferred modus operandi: When you can't save the whole world in five minutes.... You may as well begin with your own plate! So what better idea than to sharpen your knives and head down to your local USDA-inspected Food Hub and butcher some pigs. You know, as one does... 

    when they have a USDA inspected facility right around the corner!?  (How cool is that!) The Mad River Food Hub. Actually, it is so cool that Barry Estabrook wrote about it already (I think Barry is awesome... I'll even forgive him for referring to my husband as "Don" ....Don von...!? oh dear...)  Oh, and the knife bit, above, was just for effect; I don't really care for sharpening knives AND the beauty is that I didn't have to; butchering knives were included in our rental of the facility... extremely sharp knives tended to by this meat master--Food Hub manager Jacob Finsen, who led us through our double-hog day with encyclopedic knowlege

    And style. And grace. And humor. 

    He wasn't even phased by my inordinately-excited-bordering-on-diabolic-and-obsessive enthusiasm for my future prosciutti... Or at least he made me feel like I wasn't alone in my world... which, I think, is what one really should look for in a butcher. 

    Cut-by-cut, we made our way through two VT Whey-Fed Pigs. Notice the spotless backdrop; contrary to popular layperson's belief, butchering is not bloody or smelly or yucky.  It is clean and scientific and extremely interesting. If you are afraid of blood and guts don't participate in the killing part... or at least work up to it. And please for the love of meat remember to dress for the occasion

    If you've never butchered before for fear of a gruesome bloodbath... you'll be pleased to know that by the time your animal is ready to be cut up, all the blood is drained out and you are simply working with food.  I wouldn't last for five minutes if butchering were a more "medical"-type situation... You see I have a fainting tendency... so if I can comfortably and enthusiastically spend a day cutting up large animals who used to be really cute, then I am confident you can too.  

    The prizes are a major bonus too... There are expertly tied roasts of all sorts, there were pork bellies which we turned into incredible pancetta and the dreamiest bacon ever, there are country-style ribs and baby-back ribs and huge hams and ripping rib chops and gorgeous loin chops

    We learned how to remove aitch bones, we saved leaf lard which I later rendered (easy as pie) for making pastry, we saved skinlets for future chicharrones, we made hot sausage with cayenne and smoky paprika and fennel, and sweet sausage with maple sugar and sage and black pepper... 

    And we learned that the key to spice dispersal in sausage is adding a touch of water to your spice blend and making it into a slurry. (ew, can we get a better word for that please!?)

    Sausage is the easiest thing in the world to make.  The simplicity : addiction ratio is favorable... probably dangerously favorable (I've seen drug-like mania-inducing attachment to sausage, many a time)

    We didn't do any weinies or anything in a casing... (I believe we discussed my opinion on tube-shaped meat units last time and the fact that all sausages in stores are cased in industrial slaughterhouse-generated intestine casings, even if they claim the USDA organic label... ((sorry to burst your bubbles tube shaped meat unit fans but "all-natural" means nothing.  Please do let me know if you find a source but I have searched high and low and will be making muslin tubes to use for saucisson experimentation in the future...)))

    So we have delicious ground sausage... that we can form into any shape we please...(ducky shaped sausage bits anyone?!) and a vast array of new knowledge. Thank you Mad River Food Hub! 

    High on hog meat and enlightened by our positive food supply control action (those always bring enlightenment; trust me on this and try raising your own animals or planting a garden!) moonlighting season began (the span from April through November when "diversified" farmers attempt to invent more hours in the day and go through too many headlamp batteries despite the fact that night doesn't fall until after 8pm....

    On Sunday we do things like this

    And feng-shui the laundry room to be much more inviting...


    And then I dug up approximately 10,613 dandelions.  And listened to more NPR. And became infuriated with politics.  And considered inventing our own favorable strict religion that forbades work on Sundays. 

    And then, voila'! The RAD people over at NEKTTA (Northeast Kingdom Travel & Tourism Association) informed me of their upcoming 2nd annual Farm & Food Summit at Jay Peak. Before thinking about the perpetual shortage of time, we just jumped in the car.  

    Two hours later I was renewed with unwavering optimism regarding the copacetic future of Vermont's evolving collective food system.  

    I was in a giant room with a ton of people who care so much! My smile was hurting my cheeks.  I didn't even have time for my usual wonderments about why the carpet in every large hotel or conference center is, without-fail, nothing short of heinous. Always. Nope, I didn't even think about the carpet once. I was too busy scribbling ideas and picking up my jaw that kept dropping uncontrollably during Tamara's presentation. Tamara and Rob Martin are total badasses.  They run the 600-acre organic Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock, VT. As she described their incredible and diverse farming operation that includes: running a CSA and a farmstand and selling at farmers markets, vegetables, hay, pigs, turkeys, broilers, eggs, Devon beef, bottled raw Devon milk, pick-your-own strawberries, sugaring, flowers, hay rides & a play group, hosting Feast in the Field dinners... and oh yeah, homeschooling three kids and even doing a bit of teaching at Lyndon State College in their "spare" time... I: 

    a) Had a new role model

    b) Wanted her to organize my life

    c) Googled how many hours exist in a day in the "magical" Northeast Kingdom...

    d) Thought that she should create some time in her light schedule to give motivational talks all over the world to inspire future stewards of the land

    e) Have reminded my dear woodsman at least eight times that the Martins went on vacation for three weeks this winter. 

    Thanks Chandler Pond Farm; you guys rock. 

    Thanks NEKTTA; you guys rock.

    The only time I thought about the carpet-er-rather the lighting... was later on when I attempted to document another cool presentation is never inspiring to take photos inside window-less conference halls.  That is Michelle from Michelle's Spicy Kimchi in Craftsbury.  She and several other cool food producers, utilize the awesome Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) in Hardwick.  VFVC is a "shared-use kitchen incubator for value-added and specialty food producers." A similar model to our Food Hub. Small scale sustainable food production! I'm so happy! 

    My dandelion anger is no longer... Theres nothing like overwhelmingly inspiring spring days to remind me that yes there is a long way to go in the sport of collective food system consciousness, but, we have also come a long way and the Northeast Kingdom is doing a damn fine job of spreading the word.

    I realized I really shouldn't be angry at such a miraculous plant... and the woodsman is still not that into dandelion greens... (secret: fry bacon first, then sauté dandelion greens w/ sweet potatoes. Douse with red-wine vinegar, tarragon mustard & olive oil)

    I left the dandelion out of these tacos but I say go for it... nothing like pork and sauce to mask bitterness...

    So let's talk Boston Butts. Contrary to the name, a Boston Butt is actually cut from the pork shoulder... go figure... and makes for some glorious pulled pork.  And who doesn't like pulled pork.  Well actually, in my opinion pulled pork is no good unless the sauce is good... Its all about the sauce.  But I have very rarely had anything different than your normal old (yummy) barbecue sauced pp. You can easily make a mountain of pulled pork and have a number of varying experiences simply by switching up your accoutrement. Yay! 

    Asian Persuasion Pulled Pork (Tacos) ie: you obviously don't have to go the taco route but I do recommend!

    1 Boston Butt (or any pork shoulder roast) approx 5lbs

    Spice Rub (Anything comprising salt & sugar will be good... use your imagination here!)  I used: approx. 1/4 cup Sucanat (dried cane juice that tastes deliciously molasses-y), 1/8 cup sea salt, 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp mixed freshly ground peppercorns, 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder, 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger...I wanted Thai basil as well but it hasn't come up yet...)

    Braising liquid: 1/4 c. Tamari or soy sauce; 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar; cilantro stems & leaves; lemongrass and/or Thai basil if you have it :) 

    1-2 apples (I think apricots would be a sublime replacement here if you have them!) 

    1-2 Red onions

    Asian Persuasion Sauce for Pork

    (as usual, I don't measure, I taste, but I just listed approximations for those measuring types) 

    1 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp Hoisin sauce (normally I'd make my own but it is moonlighting season and I don't live in the NE Kingdom where days are 2x as long...) Season with cayenne & sugar to taste. 

    Taco Accoutrement

    Cabbage & apricot salad: slice 1/2 head of green cabbage very thinly and toss with: a handful of thinly sliced dried apricots, a few sprigs of cilantro and drizzle with apple cider vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Salt & fresh black pepper to taste. 

    Good organic corn tortillas (I like Sonoma brand or make your own!)

    1)Toss your spice rub ingredients together in a bowl and massage into the meat thoroughly. Let sit in the fridge overnight. (Or a couple of hours)

    This was my first time using a slow-cooker... I was skeptical to say the least. But I thought it would be wasteful to have the oven on for 6-8 hrs... So I went for it. And do highly recommend. I just put it on "high" (there were only two options on that thing...) It was a bit of a tight fit...

    If you don't have a slow cooker, you can braise this thing in a Dutch Oven, so preheat to 325. 

    •Slice the 1-2 apples (or apricots) and 1-2 onions in whichever shape (ducky!?) you'd like and place them in the bottom of the slow-cooker or Dutch oven. 

    •Place your pork on top. Roughly chop or tear a handful each of cilantro and Thai basil if you have it, and sprinkle on top. Slice 2 stalks of lemongrass (if you have it) into 1-inch pieces and mix with other braising liquid ingredients. Pour liquid over meat, add enough water so that the cooker is filled to 2/3. Cover and slow cook... I flipped this meat every two hours. At hour 5 I had to pour out some of the liquid as I was worried about an overflow.  At hour 6.5 the meat registered an internal temp of 195 and was falling off the bone...

    •Place meat on a platter to cool. Meanwhile, make the cabbage salad and Asian Persuasion sauce. 

    •Pull the pork. Literally, just pull it apart into strands, with clean hands. 

    •Heat a bit of coconut oil (or other) in a pan and crisp up the tortillas

    •Fill tortillas with pork, drizzle with sauce, top with salad

    Do it again. 

    Report back with tales of food enlightenment, tacos, dandelion greens or small-scale sustainable food production. 



    Just give the people what they want: (stand-up) BACON!

    So you probably just assumed that my disappearance was due to a pork-product-induced sloth-like state of quaalude-esque relaxation, providing opportunity for me to spend my days reclining upside-down in Rainforest canopies...

    Naturally. Me and little Slothy up there, the slowest mammal on earth, basking in the Amazonian sun, two peas in a pod...

    Ha. Contrarily (though I am definitely high on home-cured bacon

    and pancetta and guanciale and maple-sage sausage and LARD!)

    relaxing calmly in a tree... we can go ahead and add that to the "Big Goals" list...

    My life is a tornado.  And not the "act of God" kind of tornado... (no there is nothing merely coincidental about bringing "God" into this bacon-based spiel ) But I take full responsibility for the chaos and hope that someday I will add to my vocabulary words such as "no, I can't actually do that, or anything else, until 2020 because the next eight years are overbooked and I haven't allotted any time for sleeping..." 

    Exceedingly important duties

    such as molding festive ducky butters,

    tying knots around various shapes of various meats

    and watching food grow

    are of paramount importance...

    Clearly there hasn't been much time for dancing as of late...

    (Hello lovely dusty boots, don't worry I haven't forgotten about you....)

    Those are the nice parts of the tornado.  Somehow I don't have photographic evidence of the harrowing bits. For example, nothing says tragicomedy like me standing in the back of a pick-up as the sun goes down, shivering whilst pitch-forking fresh manure... tears, screaming... trophy wife envy, oh yeah, I experienced the whole gammut of emotions... 

    Then there was Tuesday, when I swore for at least the 50th time that I will never-ever-ever do taxes again... there is a limit to my previously-thought-of-as-insatiable quest for knowledge and it stops right there. I have no desire to learn anymore about taxes.  Nor can I possibly endure waiting to tell the person on the other end of the "Help" line that they must, for the health of the vast body of "help"-seekers who clog the lines and cause 15-minute wait times, change the hold music... KENNY G. IS NOT A LAUGHING MATTER (KENNY G!!!!) It is NOT 1990... I can't. I'll take it as a sign.  I shall start a piggybank with the dedicated mission of purchasing the services of a professional.

    I blame those taxes and that load of sh*t for many ailments, including the reason I have barely been able to type for a month. My arm has been acting like it doesn't belong to me. Mind you it could have something to do with heavy-lifting

    But probably just too much time on the computer.

    Maybe I'd save time if I was a vegetarian...

    Ha. I'd have to quadruple the garden spaces... and

    vegetarian farm bosses still have to split wood.

    I should not be joking like this. My husband is probably reading and probably shaking in his boots, envisioning his onion-chopping duties quadrupled...

    Besides, there are scarier things than acts of God and vegetarianism. Like this

    You know, just to give you an example.

    The scary part of that is actually (forget that instantanious mirage of blue Mountain Dew, Nascar and Walmart that just assaulted your mind) climate change. This (lovely) crimson neck is the product of a middle-March afternoon of standard woodsman chores. Yes, I said MIDDLE OF MARCH!!!!

    In a previous lifetime, spring in Vermont (read: the season that spans from when it stops going dark at 3:30pm––until June, when it is considered safe to plant one's garden without the threat of frosty nights) offered up some seriously good skiing

    If you are familiar with the soul-stifling feeling that accompanies vast layers of turtlenecks and so-called high-tech layering systems which proclaim to allow the believer to enjoy a -20degree ski day, you may be in full accordance with my penchant for April ski jaunts...

    However, it looks like the concept of 70-degrees with plenty enough snow to ski, is a historical relic; as of Friday, them mountains were in fine birthday champagne drinking form, sans snow!

    (this photo is much funnier if you put your hand over us and GusGus is left alone with the bubbly haha)

    Due to the fact that milker guy surprised me by coming home from work early (a rare feat in the realm of milker guys and farmers and workaholics) toting whiskey, chocolate, tulips with major pizazz (red striped on yellow=so rad) and some lovely new cheese from Scholten family farm, then proceeded to cook me lunch, and whisked me off to scale a mountain with champagne... I momentarily forgot about the tragic nearly ski-less "winter" and accompanying climate change terror... 

    I remembered some rule I heard somewhere sometime about the importance of farmers taking one day OFF every single week... (oh yeah it was from these live-off-the-land legends, Helen & Scott Nearing, who lived to be 100 years old!)

    One day off, meaning one day away from farm work to spend QT with your hero and do something adventurous

    ©Duncan Hipkin

    such as petting sharks. 

    Obviously. (note flat palm & tucked feet due to state of petrification)  

    How did I get to shark-petting? Oh, right, the guys at Compass Cay were tossing little toes toe-shaped bits of hot dog in the water around my feet so that the sharks would come up and nibble... 

    Beyond the fact that when sliced into bits they look alarmingly similar to toes, I find hot dogs repulsive and did not add them to our agenda of hog meat experimentation categories...

    We had a lot of ground to cover.

    Two pigs & 12 hours of butchering lie ahead, plus a multitude of big dreams in the home-curing department... maple & sage bacon, pancetta, prosciuttos, guanciale, spiced slow-smoked hams and a heap of boston butt (which is actually shoulder, just to keep things fresh...) 

    Furthermore I cannot figure out the necessity of jamming perfectly delicious spiced ground pork into tubes of intestine for the sake of making tube-shaped meat units.  That is WEIRD! And weirder yet, through quite extensive research, we found that it is impossible to find a source for organic sausage casing; thats right, those "organic" sausages that you are buying are not cased in intestine from organic animals... The USDA allows 5% of "certified organic" products to be non-organic, which, of course makes loads of sense.  I also found out, in my research, that if a truckload of steaming manure brings me to tears I might not want to volunteer a day to hosing out intestines of dead animal in hopes of making my own organic casing... It is a messy job and must be well separate from butchering areas; for this reason only industrial slaughterhouses in the US have the space to house a separate intestine processing quadrant... No thanks on the tube shaped meat units for moi.  

    So the saucisson and cappicola will have to wait... But honestly, as is the title of this post, people really just want BACON.  I mean, I like bacon with dates, I like bacon with peas, you can wrap bacon around anything and that anything will be delicious no matter what it was like in its raw state... but bacon, needs nothing and no one.  Bacon (provided it is good bacon) does not beg accessories.  

    And it is this school of thought that birthed the phenomenon of stand-up bacon.  It is a preposterous oversight that bacon is so often treated as an accessory itself.  And we weren't about to let that continue, not us, the formidable duo of my one-and-only roomie and I.  

    There she is, soul-sistah Nicki, rocking the seating chart and glassware on the morning of my wedding day.  I am thankful for my college experience for many, many reasons but the genius who was in charge of matching up freshman roommates in '99... well I'd like to find that precious soul and send him/her some of this bacon. Or a note. Or a serenade. Or all of the above.

    The fateful evening we founded the following knock-your-socks-off app, Nick had an elegant menu planned and a freezerful of bacon slab to boot.  It was her (total bad-ass) husband James' 30th birthday and we had a hell of a party to throw.  With the first toast of our martinis, a moment of recognition struck: the enhancement of every guest's life was in our hands.  We also needed some height for one of our famous crudité platters... and why on earth would we give our guests willowy celery fronds when we could offer robust bacon sticks!?!?! Brilliance.

    This hors d'oeuvre will never, ever go out of style and will always, always be desirable. Hows that for a multi-faceted, never-fail, less-than 30-minute dish!? 

    Stand-up Bacon (and pancetta) in mind, the woodsman and I took home two pork bellies from our day of butchering last month (which I will describe in detail next time) and consulted the Charcuterie book ... We personally decided that chemical nitrates/nitrites are nasty (yes I know that they are "naturally occurring"  in celery) but after extensive research we decided we trust Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as well as our own home-grown piggies and watchful eyes, (and besides, with bacon, you are going to cook it fully so there should be no botulism fear!) so we opted out of the chemical pink salt but based our bacon off of the Charcuterie Book's basic home-cured bacon recipe...

    but added in a generous portion of fresh sage.  And rather than cooking in the oven like Michael does, we opted to smoke it outside in the smoker. 

    *Oh, and if you decide to delve into some research, you will read many, many accounts telling you that it is the pink salt that gives bacon its "bacon-y" flavor... and replaces a would-be unappetizing gray colored cured meat product with the familiar pink tone we are all used to... well that's a load of BS. Our no-chemical-preservative version of bacon is BY FAR the best I have ever experienced and there is nothing gray or unappetizing about it. 

    Even if you don't want to start from scratch and kill your own pig, butcher it, and cure the bacon, you can rock Stand-up Bacon at your next soirée... It is sure to be the most sought-after hors d'oeuvre. 

    Stand-up Bacon

    •A LOT of strips of bacon (Id recommend a couple for each guest) *If you are slicing your own, adequate length makes for better display & 1/4inch thick is just about perfect. 

    •Maple Syrup (the darker the better)

    •Freshly ground Black pepper (you can also use cayenne, sage, paprika... whatever spices you want to stick to your sticks!)

    1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay your bacon slices onto a rack over a sheet pan.  Bake for about 15-20 mins or until the bacon begins to brown. Remove from oven and brush slices with maple syrup.  Sprinkle/grind your spices on top and bake another 5 minutes or until perfectly crisp. Place on paper towel until stiff. Find appropriate vessel (mason jar, glass, shotglass) and stand up the bacon in the vessel. 

    2) Watch it disappear as sheer bliss enraptures each and every participant. 

    3) Repeat.

    I can rest easy knowing the guard-dog is protecting our stash from any wayward bacon bandits. 

    I want to hear your tales of tall bacon! Please report back! 



    Majestic Maple Gelato.  

    I boinged out of bed in the pitch dark today... well okay, it wasn't exactly a "textbook" BOING like say, this

    (©Lori Anderson) (airborn dad & me upon first glance down the "aisle" on wedding day)


    And I suppose it wasn't quite like this either

    (©Dana Jinkins) (Note champagne nonchalantly standing by in lower right corner...)

    Anyway, I was up and very awake well before dawn with my "milker guy" (his self-coined title as of 9:07 last night when he was all tucked up in bed, informing me that really, contrary to my giggling wonderment, 9 was a perfectly suitable bedtime for "milker-guys" like him...he is just trying to milk these last few days of "winter" because when real summer strikes we don't even think about coming in for dinner until 9 when it is beginning to get dark!) 

    Milker guy had other living things to attend to today

    So ole twinkle eyes made his way out the door, chuckling at me as usual.  As for me, other than the fact that my hip is in questionable form after some surprise pre-dawn Chuck Norris-esque roundhousing (in my case the result of a fit of unpredicted excitement rather than defense of the universe) which took place well before the copious dose of espresso that I am now flying on, March has been astonishingly majestic

     Pictures speak louder than words.

    I will presume the above home-cured maple & sage bacon on a backdrop of sprouting ARTICHOKES, cilantro and Etc., lures you into accordance with aforementioned buoyant antithesis of peaceful slumber. 

    Contrary to my (hero) milker guy, visions of fresh, delicious, hard-earned, organic latte (... or more accurately his responsibility to do his part of the chores over the hill at the family dairy farm) were not actually what levitated me out of dreamland at an ungodly hour.

    Maybe it was knowing that there are finally two prosciuttos evolving in the basement (a personal dream of mine)

     Maybe it was guessing that, with a forecast of 78, Popsicle Season 2012 may well begin today.....! (and managing to relish in that joy without it being overshadowed by the sheer terror of the implications of climate change... for a minute anway...)

    (Fresh garden strawberry and non-garden mango-yogurt-ginger popsicles, Popsicle season opening day, June 2011)

    Or the existence of other Spring things

     such as the arugula forest thriving in the greenhouse


     Delectable overwintered parsnips... The ground is unfrozen to the depth of at least 1ft in one of the gardens... as I didn't even have to pull out the Hercules card to dig these beautes on Saturday...

    The baby onions and leeks are literally growing faster than the weeds

     (It is so cool how they sprout up––like they are touching their toes––then they straighten up from the "waist" and stand tall...does that make sense?)

    But really, it was probably The List. No matter how efficient I think I am metamorphosing to be, my list of to-do's grows exponentially each day. I suffer from a (beneficial in some cases) parasite by the name of chronic ambition. And another by the name of NO PATIENCE.

    AND then there is the maple gelato that I made the other day, that was and is burning a hole in my mind... the deep, tree-y, sweet, smooth, outrageous-tasting dessert, all perfect in its little jar with a hinge top and spicy glazed sage-y pecan garnish... 

    That is what dreams are made of.

    And dreams, of course, would not have been possible without milker guy and the milk that he brought home with the three inches of cream on top.  You might be wondering why I didn't just go with milker guy to help harvest my key ingredient...

    (other than the fact that I have about 8 actual jobs including such pressing tasks at the top of said list as editing a couple of books ((not my own)), planning a wedding ((not mine, obviously), figuring out how to come up with the "match" part of the matching grant that we just became the lucky recipient of, not to mention frantically ordering the fruit trees and wondering if I shouldn't plant things in the garden two months early... what if winter comes in August this year!?!?...etc., etc., etc.

    Well, because I did just that, twice; tried milking. Rest assured that I do understand, in detail, where the milk comes from... Due to the multifaceted capacity of the white elixir in the realm of culinary magic... and the fact that I just like to try things, and the fact that for someone (me) who would rather eat gelato (& regular old ice cream in some cases) than anything else, with cheese being right up in the top 5 most adored consumables, I thought it was ridiculous (especially being the wife of "milker guy" who grew up on a dairy farm, and being from* a state who boasts more cows than people ((which is rumored not to be true anymore)) not to have even tried milking a cow in my 28 (at-the-time) years of age... 

    So once upon a time I did go with him.

     ... As evidenced by this vintage photo of my dashing saucy. emblazoned coverall-sporting milker guy.

    I, did find out however, that I am not a milker gal. 

    I also found out that I believe everyone who enjoys dairy products should try milking cows. 

    And, I think that milk should be a lot more expensive. And I have 0 patience for animals, zero. Oh yeah, sure, baby animals are cute.  But notice how SMALL they are... think about their brain size...

    ...I also am one of those people who recommends trying things, even if you have a preconceived notion of what it will be like, well, especially if you have one of those. 

    And no, don't get any ideas, I don't mean try everything ie: do not try out things like lying or drugs, or Blue mountain Dew but DO try things like milking cows and combining unexpected flavors and tasting things that sound really strange and throwing hay bales and smiling a lot and being thankful and learning from every experience and quitting a habit like TV or cigarettes and putting all the $ and time you save into a piggy bank and using it to go on a cool adventure 

    Ok, you're right, we've never had a television habit (or a television actually) nor a cig habit, well, except for one night

    ©JC McIlwaine

    We had it all and more that night. Even a camoflauge PBR holster.  Check out those nails; my sister and I split a packet of them. 

    It took us 3 days to get out of character after that NYE party... (and to get those nails off) habits are apparently hard to kick.

    How did I get from MILK to Virginia Slim menthol light extra lengthy-you've-come-a-long-way-baby-120's?

    No matter how little I used to appreciate milk, after tasting that slim, I can think of only a few items with a more heinous flavor.  From where is menthol derived?

    Not that I condone addictions, but if you are going to have a fetish for a dessert item, the following one is actually quite healthy for a sweetie... and definitely worth a taste AND I know you can make it, even if your kitchen track record is less than stellar, you can do it, go on, give it a try.  It is quick, simple, and amazing.

    (*And, oh, the only thing that might make this MORE delicious, is the addition of a bacon topping... which we will cover in the next post... all sorts of interesting hog-related antics.)

    Majestic March Maple Gelato

    1 cup maple syrup (as dark as you can find... I roll with grade C or at least B for that Fiiiine powerful unmistakably maple flavor)

    2 cups milk (ideally whole, raw, organic––trust me there is a HUGE difference in flavor and nutrition)

    2 cups cream (see above recommendations)

    generous pinch good sea salt (I like sel gris)

    4 egg yolks (preferably organic & pastured)

    I have made this with varying ratios in the milk and cream dept. and it has been wildly successful each time.  If you change the ratio to 3 cups milk : 1 cup cream, you will have a slightly icier texture, especially if there is any left that you end up storing in the freezer (doubtful).  If you go with 3 cups cream and one cup milk, you will have a denser, creamier texture.  All ratios are delicious.  I think all gelato is better when it is freshly churned and soft and billowy.... I don't understand why most recipes tell you to freeze it for awhile before eating, which is impossible with this one anyway, it is way too delicious; I recommend starting the churning right after dinner and voila' 20 mins later you will be ecstatic.  Oh, AND contrary to popular belief, gelato is so simple to make.  If you curdle the yolks by accident, just bust out the immersion blender and buzzBuzz the mixture for two seconds and it will be back to smooth.

    1) Pour 1 c. maple syrup into a small saucepan and heat over medium at a simmer for about 5-7 mins, until it reduces slightly.  Add the 2 c. milk and 2 c. cream to the pan and continue heating over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 7 mins.  Remove from the heat.

    2) Separate your 4 eggs and place the whites in a jar in the fridge for later use... (Im thinking meringue for a springy key-lime tart...) Place the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a medium-size bowl if you have a hand-held beaters.  

    3) 4) Beat the 4 egg yolks with the whisk attachment (or by hand) until they are light yellow and frothy.  Very gradually pour your hot milk into the yolk mixture while the machine is running.

    5) Pour the whole shibang back into the saucepan and stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 10 mins). If you over do it and the eggs scramble, as I said above, just buzz with the immersion blender for about 2 seconds until it is a uniform liquid again.

    6) Chill for a long time... if you are short on time start it in the freezer for the initial cool-down and then move to the fridge before ice crystals start to form. You want it to be cold before you put it in the ice cream maker.

    7) Retrieve cold custard from refrigerator (it won't be really thick like an American idea of custard) and pour into your ice cream machine. I have the one that attaches to the kitchenaid.  I turn it on and pour in the mixture while it is running or else it will freeze up! (Or follow the directions for your machine).

    While it is churning, make these simple and amazing nuts. I would recommend quadrupling the recipe and using them for a snack, as a cheeseboard accoutrement...

    Spicy, Sweet, Sage-y Party Pecans (can use walnuts and or rosemary here!)

    2 cups pecans or walnuts (or any mix of nuts!)

    1/2 tsp cayenne

    1 tsp sea salt

    1/2 tsp ground black pepper

    1 tsp (or more to taste) minced fresh sage or rosemary or a combination

    Drizzle of maple syrup (approx. 1/8 cup)

    1) Preheat oven to 375. Rub a baking sheet with butter if you don't want it to be caked with maple syrup crystallization.

    2) Place ingredients in a dish, drizzle with maple syrup, spread evenly on the sheet.

    3) Bake for approximately 10 minutes; do not walk away like I always do or else you will have black nuts and have to start over...

    4) Watch them like a hawk, they are ready when they begin to smell delicious. Remove from oven and cool.

    5) Scoop ice cream into dishes and top with nuts. Swoon.


    Springy & Minty & Exuberant Sweet Pea Soup (now that winter actually decided to arrive...)


    Back when I first sat down to start writing this post, things like this



    (pea shoots boinging up out of the dirt in the greenhouse) were causing me to boing around and do things like this



    (those are not brownies, they are soil blocks in which artichoke SEEDS were planted!!) Soil blocks rock. No need for annoying little plastic seedling containers that bust and then promptly fill up the landfill. I highly recommend getting a soil blocker. I only have the 2-inch guy and that works just fine––it is less labor-intensive than starting out with a mini blocker and having to transplant your seedlings into the 2-inch size a couple days later.  Check it out

    I had started to think about things like this



    (glorious ARTICHOKES)

    And this



    (aaahhh zucchini blossom/itchy skin from haying/popsicle weather!)

    And obviously things like this



    (I don't think an explanation is needed here)

    I was dealing with things like this



    (More grass than snow in February when we should be skiing up a storm, and an entourage of robust robins for your ornithological enjoyment)

    Hi little mini beer-gutted guys! (did they even have time to arrive at their winter destination between November and now!? And how did they get so round already, must've been good scavenging down in the dirty south)

    Everything was boing boing boinging! It appeared that spring was en route!

    It was looking like the whole of my precision-cut pieces of firewood toothpick collection



    would end up constituting a big enough woodpile to keep us warm for two years, since the notorious six-month VT winter was clearly a thing of the past.  And beyond the sheer terror of climate change and threat of ski-less winters, I was even looking on the bright side––I had discovered a new favorite sport and my skis wouldn't need wax for another couple of years...

    Boing boing boing!

    I made this, twice, and I'm going to do it again as soon as I get up from this chair



    BOING! Springy-looking minty and pea shoot-y (and fancy if you want it to be) deliciousness.

    I ordered more seeds and planted more sprouts.  I am wild about pea shoots. Sprouts are delicious in general (erase those brownish tinted fuzzy units from your mind and try planting some pea shoots or sunflower sprouts; you will then understand my joy. You can grow them in a flower pot or a wooden box or a tray, just put an inch or two of organic compost or potting soil down, sprinkle the seeds on top ((really you can use any old pea seed you might have or you can buy those that say "pea shoots seeds" on the packet)) cover with a little soil, water and in no time you will have these gorgeous salad greens!!)

    I love them because of their boingy flavor and mostly because they grow vibrantly in winter when everything else struggles and gasps for light, which is all but nonexistent in the height of Vermont winter.

    I'm not saying that pea shoots are exciting for every Tom, Dick & Harry, or that the hint of spring in the air was alighting a boing in everyone around here



    There are generally less bones available in the spring than in the fall...

    Because fall (customarily) means harvesting.  

    And spring, on the other hand, means babies.

    I mean baby animals people. And yes that was an automatic disclaimer, as there has never been such a reiterated, tired old question as "when are you guys gonna have babies!?" (haha I am exaggerating a little, I am not really that bothered by the question).  It's not that I don't like babies



    Look at this one for example! Gardner! He is an angel. I have never met anyone so lovely. (I can't tell how he feels about me in this photo... maybe a slight hint of skepticism but he was probably just cold... and oh, doesn't it look like I was squeezing him a little tight!?... he is irresistably snugalicious)

    And yes, we would actually like to have some of our own at some point, but, as I wrote in response to a lovely friend who happens to be in the midst of baby fever, "my life is overflowing with fulfillingness and I hate poop."  That sounded like a perfectly decent response to me because



    this is what happens when I have to clean up poop.  I cry. (Am I allowed to say "poop" on the air?) 

    For us, children are not THE paramount goal in life.  They are cool as hell and very important and we'll just have to see what happens but we have a lot of goals...  And in response to the "oh you will change your mind about poop, it isn't so awful when its your baby"... that sounds like the biggest load of... let's just say I'll believe that when I see it... Ew... though my dear friend Nicki did, at that very low point of gagging-with-bandana-over-my-face-dom due to doggy disaster, assure me that dog doo is a million times worse than baby poo.  Nicki is amazing for many reasons.  She was my first roommate ever, at college, and I love her.  And I will never forget those fine words, they will help me through some rough times I am sure... when we do decide to have munchkins, I am not under any sort of false assumption that it will be a piece of cake... I really don't know where I could've come up with that idea...



    (Our gene pool, documented above = exhibitionist rascals who hid our clothing) That is me on the left, probably scaling a giant hay stack to leap off the top; woodsman on the right most likely photographed .2 seconds before he stripped off his knickers and threw them in the sea).

    What I do know, is that this fine springy soup that I've been meaning to tell you about, was extremely popular with my homegirl Harper (Gardner's big sister) at the age of 8 months old...



    I am willing to bet that it has the power to proffer a joy equivalent to the above, to you... (I guess I hope you have more than two teeth if you are reading this but even if you don't, do not worry, you can still eat this soup!) 

    There really are a ton of selling points to this glorious green bisque.

    Harp earned her saucy, having displayed such a sophisticated palate from such a young age



    And even though it snowed a foot (I hope the birds don't give up on Mo' Nature and retire in a nice midway point with plenty of leisure activities and less threatening sporadic climate, like Maryland or something)



    I don't see any cozy place for a bird's nest out there...

    Wherever you are, in whatever season, whether with fresh peas available or not, I recommend you

    go and get your saucy on



    We did.  And you can too! (that is my dear Katie, Harper & Gardner's mama on the left!)

    Go whip up this lovely green dish! The color is fab.  And of course, the recipe is so adaptable; you can use frozen peas from your garden or from a bag or organic frozen and mint of any kind... I actually had to use dried mint from this past summer (I dont know what kind it is... the kind that proliferates into a 6ft hedge and I often have to weed-whack it down but it makes delicious smelling mulch) Anyway, my point is, as usual, you have to TASTE your food while you are cooking it if you want it to taste right.

    The trick here is not to overcook the peas, let them be that brilliant springy green.  Oh, and did I mention this can be made in 30-45 mins! woohoo!


    Springy & Minty & Exuberant Sweet Pea Soup (I think it is an ideal first course to precede the Sexiest Chicken Ever... or anything else. It is unique, simple and glorious. I am going to go make some right now.

    2 tablespoons butter

    1 sweet or yellow or red onion (or 2-3 leeks)

    1 lb-ish sweet if it is mid-winter and you never save enough spring peas to freeze your own b/c they are way too delicious fresh, use frozen organic peas. If you have fresh peas then use them!

    4-5 cups chicken stock (yes you can use veggie if you're a veggie :)

    1/2-3/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint (the quantity really depends what type of mint you are using, some are stronger than others and, as I said, I successfully used dried mint in a pinch as well!)

    Fresh thyme if you have it (approx 1 tsp.)

    1/2 cup cream (or whole milk or half&half)

    1/2 cup whole plain yogurt (preferably Greek or homemade or homemade Greek!)

    Plenty of coarsely-ground black pepper and sea salt to taste

    Fresh pea shoots to garnish! (and Bacon, of course, is an optional garnish as well)


    1. Place 2 tbsp butter in a medium-size saucepan and add 1 roughly chopped onion and a pinch of salt.  Sauté over medium for a few minutes until onion is relatively soft.

    2. Add 1 lb peas and enough of the stock to cover the peas by about a half an inch. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes. The peas will brighten in color and soften.

    3. Turn off the heat and add the fresh thyme leaves, mint leaves (start w/ a 1/2 cup) and enough stock to purée successfully... ie: I like to start the immersion blender and as the soup thickens as it is blending, I add in a little bit of stock at a time to reach my desired consistency.  Or if you are using a blender, the same rule of thumb applies––add the mixture to the blender and add additional stock as it gets thicker.

    4. Taste. Add more mint if you want it mintier. If you are after a particularly suave, smooth and velveteen green soup experience, strain the mixture through a fine sieve at this point, pressing on the solids to get all of the green magic out.  Save the "bits" for pea & mint ravioli filling at a later date!

    5. Whether you chose the velvet or the slightly thicker consistency option, whisk in the 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup yogurt at this point.  If it is too thick for your liking, add more stock and whisk.  Taste. Add more mint, salt and/or pepper if you desire.... and crispy little bits of BACON.  If you like bacon, this is a perfect opportunity.  If you don't like bacon, I don't know you.

    Just kidding, just kidding, just kidding!! There are (a few) vegetarians that I love. A lot.

    6. If you are saving the soup for later (ha, it is too delicious, you'll have to have some now :) just put it in the fridge and when it is time to warm it up, do so over very low heat, stirring constantly.  Watch it like a hawk and do not let it overheat or curdle.

    7. Serve garnished with fresh pea shoots, a bit of yogurt or cream or sour cream or creme fraiche and cracked pepper. 


    I am aware that you might not believe that my enthusiasm for this simple little recipe is justifiable... but trust me. Try it. Tell me how you like it.


    What are you looking forward to in the realm of springtime?

    Do you think I can convince you that you CAN grow a garden (no matter how tiny or enormous) and enjoy it to the max? I hope so.