Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Once Upon a Time - FarmBoy's Folly

Once upon a time there was a FarmBoy, as I have affectionately called my husband since we first met,who loves to tap maple trees for their sap. As a consequence on perfectly good winter days that demand that one cuddle up with one's loved ones on the couch in front of a steaming kettle bedecked coalstove, he could be found going out into the cold white north, bundled up. The cats and puppy kept me warm on the couch, with intermittent visits from various children. I blogged here about his maple syrup adventures and took a few pictures, on a warmish day in the winter.

My sweetheart makes awesome tasting maple syrup. He cooks it over a Franklin cast iron wood burning stove, in the back yard. This year, with a new to him stove, he accidentally let too much smoke get to one batch of the sap boiling atop the stove. As it concentrated down, it became hickory-smoked syrup. This is not pancake friendly, to my tastebuds. But after patiently stoking fires for hours while out in the cold, the end product of that labor of love becomes dear to us. After tasting it and realizing we couldn't eat it on waffles, we filtered it and bottled it with "smokey maple syrup" on the lid as a caution.

I finally found the perfect use for it. If you don't have the same mishap in your backyard, you could recreate our serendipitous adventure with 1/2 tsp. of liquid smoke flavor to 1 cup of maple syrup (or pancake syrup if you don't have access to real maple syrup).

FarmBoy's Folly - Hickory Scented Bean and Green Soup
1 pound dried white beans, such as white kidney (cannellini) or great Northern, rinsed and picked over
1/2 pound ham, diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups cleaned and chopped collards or other greens (try chopped swiss chard, spinach, etc.)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup of pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Steak Seasoning (a mix of coarse pepper, salt, and assorted aromatic herbs)
½ teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
2 quarts chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese or parmesan
Put the beans into a large pot or bowl. Bring the beans and water to a boil over high heat and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to stand for 1 hour. Drain. This reduces the flatulence effect of the beans.

Fry the ham in a heavy medium stockpot over medium-high heat to render some fat, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the ham, and set aside. Add 1 Tablespoon of oil to the pot and add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the collards, and the chicken stock, the soy sauce, and liquid smoke, then add the presoaked beans, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Remove half the beans, mash or puree with a hand blender, and return to the pot. Add the maple syrup at this point to the thickened bean soup. Taste for salt, and add molasses or brown sugar a tablespoon at a time, if you desire more sweetening.

Stir in the cooked ham dices, and heat through. Ladle into a warm bowl and sprinkle with the grated Romano or parmesan cheese. This can be served with Boston Brown Bread, or corn muffins, or your favorite cornbread to help sop up some of the pot liquor. If you're vegetarian, you can make this recipe without the ham, using ham flavored TVP or adding hickory smoked tofu at the end and warming it through. Substitute vegetable broth or stock for the chicken broth and you're good to go!

This was the perfect dinner for a cold, wet Spring day. It followed the best Spring Break Ever, if you ask my children, and made for one traumatic let down, weatherwise. Back to school, back to sitting still in class, and back to rain, mud, and dripping jackets. It demanded a warm, filling, heart dinner. The children will tell you that it's the perfect day to have some honey and butter on your corn muffins too, to must make everything feel better.

The morale of this story is, the next time you find you've had a little folly, remember FarmBoy and that old saying your grandmother repeated: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade". She was right, it's very delicious, and we did it ourselves! I may have to use some of that hickory smoked maple syrup as a glaze on some baked salmon fillets too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Little Children that Could

I blogged yesterday about the Little Bake Sale that Could. The Big Sister in need of adoption is now fully funded, her mother tells me before we had the chance to mail our check out. The Candy Cane Club children are looking at sending their $75 to SWAN - Serving Women Across Nations http://www.swanforhumanity.org/about.html The children will send their check earmarked to buy school children shoes to protect their feet from parasites, so they can attend school. http://www.swanforhumanity.org/AdoptaSchool.html

According to their website: "2009 finds Bolivia's political and economical status precarious. The poorest country in South America is seeing inflation gobble up the already meager household incomes resulting in families going hungry. 'The older children understand,' says one mother, but is is hard to see the little ones cry for want of food."

Take a look, it was founded by one of my favorite authors Liz Adair, and my friend Terry Adair Gifford, a girl I grew up with near Ferndale, Washington and her sister Ruth. When I knew Tudy Adair (aka Liz Adair) she was the mom who let us use their barn for barn dances, baked seriously yummy cinnamon rolls, and had this funny to me rule that her children had to eat breakfast before school, or they didn't go that day. Odd what one remembers 20something years later. Terry served a full time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bolivia, a couple of years before I served mine here in Upstate New York. I'm delighted with what she has been impressed to do for the people of Bolivia that she loves dearly. They provide microcredit (small loans) for mothers to be able to begin or grow tiny businesses to feed their families, and other inspirational projects. Well worth our time and money. May God bless them all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Busy Day Soup and the Little Bake Sale that Could

Last night was girls night in.  Or as the rest of the world calls it:  Spring Camporee for the Boy Scouts. FarmBoy, my husband, and our two 11 year old sons went camping overnight.  That leaves me with three girls 8 and under, 4 goats - 2 who need milking, and a very cold spot on his side of the bed.  I do love my sheets prewarmed. The goats were warm at least, but I left after milking.

This was the very first scout campout for Gerard, my second son.  I confess I was a little anxious for him. I want him to enjoy Boy Scouts, and to find a buddy, to feel included, and to not fall into the fire. With ADHD, one cannot assume this wouldn't happen.  He's a great kid, voted most like to say "but I didn't see the great big bonfire there or I wouldn't have walked into it. I was thinking about constellations and astronomy."

Our firstborn son, Andy, had his first campout midwinter, so I've mastered some ability to let the boys go, and not feel as if I need to telephone and make sure everybody is warm enough. Don't laugh, I'm a nurturer by nature.  With a strong secondary component of not wanting to raise a wimpy boy. So I dial the telephone and then hang up, and pray for him instead. Ok, but it got me through the winter campout, where I knew the windchills were 0*.  This time FarmBoy was with them, and I didn't worry (much) at all.

Instead, the girls and I baked double chocolate chip cookies, and as the toddler and I sat and rocked, Grandma baked chocolate chip cookies with Sarah and her new  best buddy BreeAnna.   The girls were getting a little restless earlier this week, looking for something exciting and important to do. They formed a club, The Candy Cane Club, made up of two neighbor brothers who are 10 and 7, and my 5 children, and BreeAnna, our neighbor.  It has been a nice week for Spring break, filled with sunny days and lots of cups of Koolaid and enough snap peas eaten to feed the Russian Army. Ours aren't ready from the garden, these came from the grocery store.  They're pretty addicting I might add. You pick up one and walk into the other room to put a load of wash into the machine, and find yourself going to find the bowl of them to grab a handful.

The Candy Cane Club (CCC) meets daily in the top of my goat barn, and decorated it with some surplus red tape I donated to the cause. I've been impressed with how tender and sweet they are in helping our three year old join them up the ladder.  And at Emma's athletic prowess climbing that ladder.

The CCC decided they were bored, and declined my offer to hang laundry on our outside line, alongside me, with polite eyerolls. Instead, they decided to have a bakesale. That's a great idea, now what should we do with the money we'll make I querried.  They came up with some silly ideas about buying furniture for the top of the barn.  Then I read a blog where an acquaintance of mine was raising funds for a stepparent adoption of her daughter, made more poignant by her recurrence of ovarian cancer.

I read the information to my children, who are two sets of stepchildren with a little 3 year old sister they would hate to be separated from if one of their parents died.  The children took this topic to the CCC and they voted to help raise money for the adoption of a little girl hereafter known as "Big Sister".

Armed with lemonade, Grandma's chocolate chip cookies that she helped them bake, double chocolate chip cookies, and a few dollars of change, the children of the neighborhood made signs and posted them in the post office in our small village, put them up on telephone poles, and told all the neighbors they saw outside in the sunshine. At the end of day 1, they'd earned about $55.00 toward this adoption. At the end of day 2, they had added another $20 to the coffers.  Not bad for 25cent cookies and cups of lemonade. May I interject how proud I am of my children, who develop empathy as well as gratitude from projects such as this? And how impressed I am by the residents of my community who listened to chirpy 8 year olds tell them why they were selling cookies and lemonade?

While we were busy preparing for the bake sale, and then sitting out waiting for customers, this is what we had simmering in the crockpot. It seems appropriate for a Boy Scouting family.  Try it, your family might like it too.  It uses canned food items, and you can easily used items from your food storage to make this during a power outage, while cooking over a camp stove, or using a dutch oven.

The author says:  "This recipe was shared with me by my co-worker Jacque Jensen at a previous job. "Busy Day Soup" was a hit the first night I made it! Because it's mostly canned it's great for camping and on a "busy day" it makes a quick and very savory dinner too.

1/2 lb. hamburger
1/2 onion, chopped
1 can bean and bacon soup
1 can alphabet soup
1 can tomato soup
1 can nibblets corn
2 cans water
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Brown together hamburger and onion, then add bean and bacon, alphabet and tomato soup. Add corn and cans of water and chili powder. Simmer until hot.
Table Scraps: A Collection of Our Favorite Recipes, Primedia, November 2006, pg. 18

I tasted this, and it was good, but a bit bland for my crew. I added some dried garlic powder, some black pepper, and a dash of Frank's red hot sauce. The children liked it, and that's my gauge these days for quick dinners at least. It goes well with rolls, and an icecream sundae for dessert - I mean if you're celebrating girls night in and you're having sundaes so your crew isn't sad that the boys get to do all the fun things while the girls stay home.

One project on my to-do list is to brown and pressure can the pounds of ground venison that fill our freezer, that we haven't eaten yet this year. Canned ground meat makes for super fast sloppy joes, hamburger enchiladas, busy day soup like this, and chili, for example. It's a convenience food that really makes sense. Especially if you have a surplus of free ground meat.

So the next time you know your day is going to be one busy day, maybe you'd like to pop some of this busy day soup into a crockpot, or just heat it up quickly on the stove.  Your tummy and your wallet will thank you.  Buy a few extra cans of things, and put them in our pantry, for that rainy, or busy, day.

I'm so glad that tonight my side of the bed is prewarmed.  And FarmBoy was so gracious as to carry out all those buckets of water to the goat pen. Those Boy Scouts all went to bed early.  I do love a good hike with great vistas. And boys going to bed with tuckered out smiles!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shrimp Stuffed Salmon Fillets

Mouthwatering Monday. That's a challenge I just can't walk away from. You may have noticed that I'm a Washington state raised girl, married to a farmboy from Upstate New York. And yes, Upstate is the important part. You see, downstate is New York City. I know you've seen Law and Order on television, and it just doesn't match up with Upstate New York. I mean, goodness, the goats broke out of their barn after a wind storm blew the hinges and hardware off the 200 year old barn. They wandered 10 yards to the back of our village neighbors greenpatch and gobbled down tender shoots on their blackberry bushes, and topped their rosebushes but good. Did Christopher Meloni and Marishka Margitay pop out of their sedan and tackle the goats and read them their rights? I think not. This was no issue of Law and Order: Caprine Victims Unit, nosirreebobby. Instead, FarmBoy sees the goats roaming the village, in their girly rhinestone goat collars I might add, and came in the house and hollered for the big boys to come help because the entire goat herd was loose.

He hollered for the two eleven year old boys, because Mom o'Five was up several times in the night with 5/5 and was sleeping. But those are my goats, so I was down the stairs in my warm sleeping sweats and into my kelly green rubber boots before those boys had even registered Papa's holler.

Goats were cavorting like ballerinas in Swan Lake. It was hilarious to see grown goats leaping into the air like little kids free... free at last. They startled when I came bounding out the back door to protect them from the imagined dangers. I called them, and like the good Alpine goats they are, they came running to follow me back to the barn. Ahh, bliss, nibbles of tiny sprouts of greening grass in the spring time, followed by a handful of goat chow and a good back scratching. Oh wait, I was going to be sleeping more than 2 hours. Who needs sleep when you have goats? Oh back to the life I left behind when I married my FarmBoy.

I'm from Washington - and it was a farm, actually with goats where I spent my formative middle school and high school years. Goat milk works well for lactose intolerant tummies, and big gardens feed big families, and that's how I grew up - lots of produce and lots of dairy from our goats. Life and employment took me to Corporate America, and jobs in major metropolitan areas, and what is it that I miss in a tiny village in Upstate New York?

Good seafood. Truly. There have been days when my mouth watered at the mere sight of Iron Chef - Fish of your choice. Being from Washington - I love Pacific Salmon. Being in Upstate New York, I can usually find Atlantic Salmon here. A bit drier, and not as lovely red hued, but stil heart-healthy and delicious. FarmBoy informed me he didn't like salmon. I gasped. When I clarifed that salmon doesn't exclusively come from a can, he invited me to try recipes out on him.

Upstate New York has a supermarket chain that excells. Wegmans'. It's a family friendly chain, and voted #1 in Fortune's Best 100 Companies to Work for. I go there for Thai recipe ingredients, and this week, for salmon. Salmon has those heart-healthy omega fatty acids, and that's my excuse for eating it this week. FarmBoy gives it two thumbs up!

Shrimp Stuffed Salmon Fillets
32 oz. Salmon fillets (about 8)
1/2 to 3/4 cup of seasoned Italian bread crumbs
3-4 T mayonnaise (low fat is fine, but not fat free)
2 T chopped fresh basil leaves (I used frozen from the garden)
1 clove of garlic, pressed or finely diced.
1/4 c shredded parmesan
1 cup chopped shrimp (cooked)
1 roasted red pepper (capsicum) peeled, then finely diced
First, thaw your salmon if using frozen. Lightly salt and pepper the fillets, then make a pocket in each fillet by slicing most of the way through the fillet, leaving both ends uncut. Open a little wider with your fingers. If a single fillet is cut thin, instead, roll up in pinwheel fashion, rather than cut a pocket.

Place chopped shrimp, red pepper dices, chopped basil and garlic, and 3 T of mayonnaise in a small bowl. Mix lightly, add parmesan and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. Take tablespoons of stuffing, and press together in clean hands to make a stuffing ball. Add a little mayo or breadcrumbs to make it just right, to hold together fairly well. Put a stuffing ball into the pocket in the salmon fillet, and mound a little on the top.

When you've stuffed all 8 pockets, put on an oiled baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes, or until the salmon begins to flake. Remove from oven, and cover with foil for another two minutes, until salmon temperature rises to 130* or fish flakes easily with a fork.

Delicious with spring asparagus, young peas, and pierogies with browned butter. Because Upstate New York pierogies and Washington state (pacific) salmon are a match made in heaven. Just like FarmBoy and me. If you're not feeding lots of little ones like we are, you might even want to add some cajun or creole seasoning and kick it up a notch.

Now that's good food, well earned, after saving the village from a herd of marauding goats. Eat your heart out.