Friday, February 25, 2011

Tiny Packages

Recieving mail is special these days, especially when a hand addressed envelope appears in the mailbox. Even more so when the hand addressed envelope holds within it the sweetest of cards with hand crafted mini-envelopes filled with seeds. What a beautiful way to anticipate spring! Thanks D and J!

I love how they made a few envelopes from international billfolds.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Orange Walnut Scones

Every now and again, a pillowy biscuit or scone is an absolute must. Usually on Sundays. I recognize that eating baked goods often is not a fabulous habit to fall into, but I live in the South after all and mindfully let myself succumb on occasion.
These orange and walnut scones are perfect with a side of pastured Canadian bacon, poached eggs and a large cup of tea.
Sit back and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. It will start your week off right!

Orange Walnut Scones: (makes about 10-12 scones)
*1 cup organic all purpose flour
*1 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
*2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
*4 Tablespoons high quality unsalted butter
*2 fresh eggs
*1/3 cup raw cream
*1 Tablespoon orange zest
*1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 425.
Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Blend butter into dry mixture with fingertips until well incorporated. Add the eggs mixing gently after each addition.
Pour in cream. Blend. Add the orange zest and chopped walnuts. Gently incorporate into mixture.
Place dough on a floured work surface. Roll out into a disk, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into triangles and place on baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Serve warm with butter and local honey.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tanning a Deer Hide

I was raised under the influence of Foxfire books and scratch-made meals. My dad hunted elk, venison and goose in the Colorado wilderness, keeping the freezer full year round. I have a loving memory of my mom's house made venison jerky among other hearty meals she crafted from the stash.
It wasn't until much later in life when I realized how special it was growing up on wild game. I didn't know it then, but venison, elk, goose and wild turkey became part of who I am. To this day, eating venison is like going home.

When I was a teenager, my father continued to hunt deer each season. I would ask him to save the hide for me to work with. Many many hides were reserved for my idealistic pipe dreams, only to dry out and harden in the garage. I had by this time begun flipping through the Foxfire books myself, and envisioned a pair of homemade mittens made from my father's hunt, until I fully realized how difficult working a raw hide really is.
Last year, my friend Dana offered to show me how to tan a deer hide in the traditional fashion, using the animal's brains in place of harsh modern-day chemical conditioners to soften the leather. I was thrilled.
It began at my place with a fire and some simple tools. My husband and our friend Jeff joined the tanning team. After pre-soaking the hide in lime and water, Dana instructed us on the first step of scraping the hide. We worked at it for hours, taking turns by the fire. I prepared beef stew and buttermilk biscuits to keep us going. Dana brought chocolate truffles.

Once the hair was scraped away from the supple leather, it was soaked in a conditioning brain and water solution for the next session, which included stretching and working the hide. At the end of this second session, we took the hide down to the stream and weighted it with stones. It remained there overnight to rinse.
We carefully folded and wrapped the hide the following morning to store in the freezer for future sessions. A year passed (we got busy).
Last weekend the hide was thawed and reawakened for the last stages of working. This session was held at Dana's place by the river in the gorgeous NC mountians. The day was bright and warm. She had made carrot soup and a batch of brownies in keeping with the tanning/eating tradition of our little group.
We were instructed to stop by the store for some canned brains before arriving. It is not as difficult as you might think to locate such an item in your typical southern grocery.
After another soak in the brain tanning slurry, the hide was rung out.
The final steps included working as a team again, pulling and stretching the hide to make it soft. Halfway through, we paused to sew up the bullet holes in the leather. Afterwards, we continued to stretch, pull and pumice the hide as it slowly dried by the smoke of the fire.
We laughed, told jokes, a few others dropped by, and enjoyed one another's company by the beautiful river while we worked.
In the end, the hide became incredibly soft in most places, but appears to need another brain soak and a bit more working before completion.
I have tremendous respect for the people who used to rely on this process for lodging and clothing needs. It is not an easy task, and best preformed with a group.
I am thankful to my friend Dana (she carried the brunt of the work) for bringing this traditional technique back to life, and teaching a few of us along the way. Can't wait to see what she makes from the gorgeous leather. Perhaps a purse. . .or an apron for that matter?

Pictures from along the way:

Brain soak

Wet hide

Dana instructing

Ringing out the brain soak

Sewing the bullet holes shut

Jeff holding the wet hide

Group stretching

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Winter Tonic and My Thoughts on Juice, Sugar and Fats. . .

I am not a fan of bottled fruit juice. I do not like how it is made, marketed, and guzzled by health seeking individuals and primarily, by children. When kids visit my house, they almost always ask for juice when they are thirsty. I sometimes have some cider lurking in the back of the fridge, but almost always my answer is "I don't have juice, would you like some water?" Because what I hear when they ask for juice is really a request for liquid sugar. Sugar, and its effects on the body's insulin response has become one of my main interests in nutrition.

Fats have been unrightfully criticised for far too many decades as the culprit to cardiovascular disease, obesity and high cholesterol levels. Yes, some fats are to blame. Modern fats, mainly from seed oils. But as we look closer, mainstream nutritional advice is finally unable to ignore the crucial importance of traditional healthy fats for maintaining a healthy system. Children especially need appropriate ample fat and cholesterol rich foods for their growing hormonal and nervous systems. Without it, many many health issues follow suit, including the inability to absorb enough vitamin D which has been linked to 17 different kinds of cancers, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, inflammation, birth defects and heart disease (just to name a few).

Sadly, due to a continued increase of childhood and adult diabetes as well as obesity, the USDA still suggests a far too simplistic guideline of high carb, low fat diets for children and adults. Don't even get me started on how convenient this advices happens to be for government subsidies. This advice is not working. Where is the warning on sugar (especially the highly refined forms), the substance at the root of almost every ailment? The industry needs sugar to make empty products taste good. Without it, they would be unable to mask the lack of substance in the "foods" they are selling.

Back to juice. Juicing fruits and vegetables is a modern convenience; another way for us to eat something that was once a whole food as a portable, chuggable drink. What ends up happening when we forgo the whole fruit or vegetable for the ease of juice drinking, is that we miss out on all the fiber once present. When the juice of a fruit or vegetable is eaten in combination with its fiber content, this slows the insulin response (plus we are likely to consume much less). In other words, eating a orange instead of drinking a glass of OJ gives our bodies a little more time to deal with the fructose. More time to process glucose in any form is a gift in this modern world, since we all cause our bodies to deal with too much sugar too often throughout each and every day.

In addition, "most processed juice sales are controlled by Coca-Cola (owners of Minute-Maid) or PepsiCo (owners of Tropicana). What the consumer is not hearing is the bad news about processed orange juice, which often contains heat-resistant fungi and pressure-resistant E coli." (International Journal of Food Science Technology, 10/95).
Conventional fruits and vegetables used for juices are also sprayed heavily with a broad spectrum of pesticides (see sources below). The rinds of oranges in particular are pressed along with the fruit's flesh as part of the commercial juicing process. Unfortunately, the pesticide residues stored in the rind end up as part of the juice as well, making conventional OJ not only sugary but toxic.

Here's the dilemma: citrus in the wintertime can be a lovely tonic. An organic grapefruit or orange is such a breath of fresh air in the middle of February is it not? Given all the conflicts mentioned above, here is a solution:
* Purchase organic citrus fruits for juicing as a occasional treat at home, making sure to include the excellent fiber rich pulp.

It's that easy. When juice is handled as a special treat rather than guzzled from a jug, it can be a bright winter tonic. I love a grapefruit juiced with an orange, served cold from a little glass. It will wake you right up. I guess we can drink our juice and eat it too!

Winter Tonic: Pulpy Organic Grapefruit and Orange Juice (serves 2-4)
*2 ripe organic grapefruits
*2 ripe organic oranges

Chill fruits. Cut each fruit in half. Over a medium bowl, place a fork in the center of one fruit half, and begin twisting and rocking it back and forth to encourage all of its juice and much of the pulp away from the rind. Continue until each fruit half seems well juiced. Lift away any seeds from the top of the bowl of juice with a spoon.
Divide juice into glasses and serve immediately. Enjoy!


Monday, February 7, 2011

Perfect Hot Cocoa

First, thanks to those of you who took time to share about what kind of cook you are in the last post. I cherish the descriptions of what goes on in your kitchen. To say thanks, I devote this next recipe to you dear hard working home cooks. It is not always easy keeping food on the table. No matter how much you enjoy it, there are times when cooking can be more of a task than a delight. Then there is always the sink full of dirty dishes waiting for you after the last savory bite.
We live in a busy world that seems to just keep getting busier with text messaging, high speed internet, images racing faster and faster across television screens with campaigns so slick we can hardly tell they are advertisements. I have my ways of trying to ignore these facts of life (I love keeping my cell phone on silent mode too often), but alas, facts are facts.
So here is a little treat for you. Turn off the tube, stuff your "smart phone" under the mattress, and take a moment all to yourself.
Gently heat some whole, creamy milk, add some cocoa, maple and vanilla. Pour the steamy mixture into a delicate mug (perhaps one your grandmother gave you), sink into a big chair by a window, and sip away. This one's for you!

Perfect Hot Cocoa: (serves 2-4)
*2 cups whole (raw if possible) milk
*3 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
*2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*pinch of sea salt

Place milk in a small saucepan over medium/low heat. Add cocoa powder. Whisk. Add remaining ingredients. Whisk until liquid is smooth and frothy and all cocoa is dissolved. Heat until just steaming making sure to remove from heat before bringing to a simmer. Pour into mugs and enjoy.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Kind of Cook Are You?

I have been sharing recipes and thoughts on the world of food for over a year now. The time is ripe for some reader input. I have become more and more curious about those of you who are tuning in. What is your relationship to food and cooking? Are you a busy working mom cook? Is cooking a chore or a creative way to unwind? Do you cook for yourself, a family, or enjoy entertaining? Do you like challenging recipes? Are you a slow-food die hard? Are you just learning how to hold a knife? Are you a local food guru? An opening a can of soup guru? Do you omit certain groups of food from your diet for specific reasons? What got you inspired to cook more at home? Has your health improved by cooking more for yourself? What are some of the struggles and joys of cooking for you? Do recipes inspire you to play or do you follow them like a military recruit?
I am sincerely interested in your foodie life (however broad or slight). If you have a moment, give me a brief peek. Try describing yourself in as little as one sentence. Example: A busy, do-my-best, love recipes for inspiration, fall into bed at 9 pm kind of cook.
My goal is to learn more about the cooks behind the various aprons so I can continue to learn and grow in hopes of diversifying this blog even more in the coming year.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Four Bean Salad

My friend Lindsay was kind enough to share her recent batch of bean salad with me. After polishing it off perhaps a little too swiftly (I saved a tiny spoonful to photograph) I asked if I could please have the recipe. She insisted that it was so easy I would laugh, but here are my thoughts on easy dishes:
1. We are all busy and could use a easy recipe more often than not.
2. Simple does not have to mean it can't be good for you.
3. If you don't have time to soak and cook beans, it's okay, open a can. Dishes prepared at home will always be better than the majority of food we buy preprepared elsewhere.

Four Bean Salad: (feeds a crowd as a salsa for tortilla chips or great served over greens)
*1.5 cups prepared black beans
*1.5 cups prepared kidney beans
*1.5 cups prepared black eyed peas
*1.5 cups prepared great northern beans
*1 cup sweet corn kernels
*1 cup pitted black olives
*1/4 cup marinated roasted red bell pepper, diced
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1/3 cup sweet onion, diced
*1-2 green onions, rinsed and chopped
*lemon or lime juice to taste
*sea salt and pepper to taste
*1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
*pinch cayenne pepper
*fresh or dried cilantro to taste

Rinse beans throughly. Gently toss all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve cold with homemade tortilla chips or spooned over fresh greens.
Thanks Lindsay!