Showing posts from September, 2009

Harvest Fest: Celebrating the Island Way

The weather was perfect and people were out in droves at the 16th annual Festival de la Consecha. The event, sponsored by Nuestras Raices at The Land of Providence in Holyoke, Massachusetts last Saturday afternoon, was a grand success.

So much so that my son, JP, and I worried we’d never find a convenient spot to park. The on street parking situation looked unlikely and the nearby high school lot was not full but fairly packed with cars. On our second sweep we were lucky enough to find an available opening just a few hundred feet from the festival entrance. We were feeling great.

The piquant aroma of island cuisine, grilled chicken and penil (spicy pork shoulder) greeted us at the gate. Live music while strolling through the exhibits and gardens made for happy dancing feet. There were lots of fun things to do and watch throughout the afternoon. Succumbing to a plate full of grilled adobo chicken with rice was inevitable.

Adobo is a seasoned salt generously sprinkled or rubbed on chicken,…

Sick as a Dog?

My friend Shawn has been reporting on Facebook to all of us about how sick he's been for days now. He's missed work during the day and his favorite televison shows at night because he just needs to sleep.

When he finally wakes up, he's going to be hungry but might still have a tender tummy. So, let me suggest that his spouse consider having a pot of this recipe waiting for the poor guy to sip on over the weekend. Scott? Are you reading this? And no cheating with a can of Campbells chicken noodle, too much sodium!

Nani's Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 whole medium onion
1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds), cut into pieces
Dash of salt
1 small bay leaf
4 large peeled and chopped tomatoes (1 16 oz can diced tomatoes)
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into carrot coins
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 cup soup pastina (The Silver Palate Cookbook, pasta glossary, page 67)
Ground black pepper and salt, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (1 tablespoon dried)

Heat the oil over medium-…

Something Special

Something special is happening in Holyoke, Massachusetts. A 25 acre parcel of farm and woodlands situated alongside the Connecticut River will become the newest reservation in the Pioneer Valley under the stewardship of The Trustees of Reservations.

The Sisters of Providence, a religious community with deep roots in the city of Holyoke, donated the land in June of this year and tomorrow marks the official dedication. A portion of the property is farmed by Nuestras Raices (Our Roots) a vibrant urban garden that helps immigrant communities grow harvest and provide fresh ethnic crops while training and supporting immigrant farmers.

At my house, Farmer Paul has a golf tourney on Saturday having pretty much hung up his hoe for this season. We're cleaning out the garden in readiness for its well earned winter's nap. But this weekend you'll find me and my JP at the 16th annual Festival de la Cosecha (Harvest Festival) taking place on September 26th from noon to 6 PM. Live music, tr…

A Nice Warm Cuppa Tea

No sooner has our garden's harvest come in and there is a sudden turn in the warm days and comfortable nights. It's feeling downright chilly around here in western Massachusetts.

Our backyard crops are slowing to a trickle. The yellow beans produced a single serving in the last three days and the tomatoes are nearly gone, the cherry tomato plant still offers modest clusters to brighten the flavor of store bought mesclun mix tossed with raspberry viniagrette. But I know it won't last much longer.

Farmer Paul climbed his way to the uppermost limbs of our apple tree earlier this week and we wrapped the less ripe in newspaper for cold storage, gave away about two bushels worth of some pretty nice fruit and still managed to leave a generous number of beauties on the lower branches for friend Laura's little guy to snatch in an apple adventure today. It was an awful lot of fun to share our garden with so enthusiastic a picker.

There is consolation in seeing the ripening butternu…

Buying, Growing and Eating Local is My Bag

There are still a few weeks left to this year's summer crops harvest season in my neck of the woods and longer in other parts of the country. Apples and winter squash are just coming in and root veggies, potatoes and turnips and the like will be appearing at roadside stands and farmers markets soon.

Finding your area’s local harvest hot spots is trendy and socially responsible. But if being hip isn’t reason enough for you to jump on the locavore bandwagon and join the In-crowd at your regional Farmers Market and roadside stands then read on, you’re bound to find a good excuse to Buy Local!

Top 10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

10. Eating local means more dollars get pumped into the local economy.

9. Locally grown food is thousands of miles fresher.

8. Buying, eating and growing local fruits and vegetables is politically correct.

7. Eating local is better for air quality -- fewer miles driven for delivery, less exhaust.

6. Buying local food helps our awareness of each seasonal bounty.

5. Buying…

Keep Austin Weird

I am willing to bet the only landfill in the country, maybe the world, where you can have a beer and eat some barbeque all while listening to live music from Little Joe and La Familia is the Texas Disposal Systems’ facility just outside the Austin city limits.

Not to mention the signs that advise your driver (in this case me) to be aware of the animals grazing away on either side of the narrow gravel road leading to the Exotic Game Ranch and Pavilion. I’m told that many of the animals aren't indigenous to Texas or even North America, and include several varieties of deer, bison, wildebeest and the highly endangered addax. At the first antelope sighting we burst into a chorus of Home on the Range.

TDS, Inc. rents the pavilion to selected groups on an invitation-only basis. Often, groups are outdoor-oriented organizations, law enforcement or young nonprofits in the early phases of fundraising. Last Friday night, the Texas Democratic Party hosted a bash honoring the Democratic National…

Hoping for a Knockout Punch

Last year a friend brought over a mason jar of homemade raspberry vodka made by our mutual friend, the mayor of Easthampton, Massachusetts. The concoction was flavorful enough to be iced and sipped with a splash of Sprite.

I've been hankering for a grape infused vodka this summer and have purchased two different brands for summer cocktails that have sorely disappointed. Grape taste should not be perfumey and so I decided to take a chance on trying Mayor Mike's instructions for infusing store bought vodka with fresh picked fruits of the vine instead of raspberries.

As you can see from today's garden photo, our grapes are nearly ready. If the experiment is a success I'll give you the details on making your own fruit infused vodkas. Meanwhile, I'll just share my new cocktail recipe created in honor of an anticipated successful infusion.

Grape Punch-tini

2 ounces grape infused vodka
1/2 cup lemonade
1 ounce orange flavored liqueur
1 ounce crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur…

Apple Crazy

Came home late last night from Austin, Texas. Had a blast but have no time to tell you about it today. There are apples everywhere here. I've been at it all morning. Canned 'em in cinnamon sugar, made applesauce and baked yet another galette. Raspberries instead of blueberries added for color and taste because our backyard raspberries are abundant this week.

As for my adventures in Texas: for a hint go ahead and google "Pinetop Perkins" and I will regale you tomorrow or Tuesday - once the apples are under some kind of control!

Cinnamon Sliced Apples

4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
10 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Half fill a large pan or bowl with cold water. Slice a whole lemon and drop into cold water. Peel, core and slice enough apples to fill 6 quart or 12 pint jars already prepared for home canning. Drop sliced apples into the cold lemon water as you go until you have enough slices to begin packing.

Make a syrup of sugar, salt,…

Fish Treat in Cattle Country

Arriving last night in Austin, Texas I was too late for making a dinner meeting on my schedule. Alternate route to a quick bite: the Renaissance Austin Hotel cocktail lounge to settle for a glass of wine and a selection off the bar menu to tide me over.

What I found were the friendly faces of three women I know from the far away places of Washington, DC, Nebraska and California sipping wine and munching on two dollar (yup, two bucks) mini-fish tacos. Great company, decent wine and delish snacks that didn't cost a fortune - is there a better way to start three days of meetings?

1 small soft corn tortilla
1/8 cup finely shredded cabbage
2 ounce "finger" slice cod loin
1 tablespoon creme fraiche - The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 339
2 tablespoons salsa (or chopped fresh tomatoes)
dusting of any good cajun fish spices

Spoon creme fraiche and shredded cabbage in center of corn tortilla. Set aside. Lightly dust fish "finger" with store bought cajun sp…

In the groove 'til you make a mistake

This is the hot chili pepper jelly and classic cheese platter I brought as a hostess gift to a Friday night patio party at the start of the long holiday weekend. Homemade goat cheese spread on good quality store bought crackers, cold cooked shrimp, crudites and veggie dip complimented classic Kir making for a pleasant evening with friends.

I told you about my first canning season failure with that soupy apple jelly and today I had another flop. A new batch of pepper jelly jelled into a rubbery consistency. Tastes good but is basically unspreadable. The apple syrup was pretty good on French toast the other day. Now I need to come up with an idea for this over-jelled jelly. Maybe if I use it instead of marmalade to make the glaze for plum chicken? I hate to waste it but I think I'll just toss it and try again another day.

Jams and jellies can be tricky businesss. Like I've said before, nobody's perfect. But I have no intention of giving away an imperfect product. That's wh…

What's a patio picnic without brownies?

I am so going to miss the cheery summer table settings.

Today was lovely but the temperature has dipped below 50 degrees every night for the last week. Nearly time to try out the fire pit we bought at Cabela's on sale at the tail end of last year. Wait until you see it, a very cute woodland motif - little moose and bear figure cut outs all around and a firescreen top to keep the sparks from flying.

Meanwhile, we're up to our eyeballs in apples. Good thing my favorite brownie recipe has applesauce in it. If anybody has other great apple or applesauce recipes, please, send them my way!


3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream …

Summertime Blues

Earlier this week, Holyoke Home asked that I post my award winning Spicy Blueberry Barbeque Sauce recipe. Good timing for that request as tomorrow is Labor Day and like most Americans, my little family will be celebrating with a traditional last gasp of summer backyard cookout. On the menu is grilled chicken, corn on the cob, broccoli slaw and of course, decadent dark chocolate brownies for dessert. Tomorrow we eat, so today I shopped.

It's a short pleasant country drive to find supersweet corn at my favorite farm stand in Whately, Massachusetts. A dozen ears later and it was three miles down River Road to visit Pasiecnik Farms. Four quarts of pre-picked but fresh late season sweet-tart blueberries were exactly what I needed for a triple batch of my now famous sauce - some for now and a few jars put up for later. Who says there's no cure for the summertime blues?

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
3/4 cup ketch…

Ratatouille Update

Turns out there are several versions of ratatouille that include yellow squash in addition to zucchini. I love Google. I have never bothered to look for ratatouille recipes because I had a perfectly good recipe developed over many years and committed to memory.

In the end what I chose to do in making my veggie stew was to fall back on familiarity. But I did do one thing differently than usual. I'm not talking about the fact that I substituted yellow squash for traditional zucchini. For once, I wrote down the recipe measure by measure.


1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
3 medium size meaty tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium size eggplant, about 1 lb.
2 medium size zucchini squash, about 8 oz. each (yellow squash tastes great too!)
1 medium sweet bell pepper, cut in thin strips
1/4 cup carrot coins, thin sliced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil (1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fre…


It started at about ten o'clock last night. My head hurt, my shoulders ached and my throat went scratchy. This morning I'm in full blown seasonal allergy mode and miserable -- a terrible way to end a perfectly productive week and start a holiday weekend.

To make matters worse, there's this basket of fresh picked veggies sitting on my kitchen counter that need to be cooked into something. Feeling the way I feel at this very moment all I can think of is tossing them in a pan and hoping for the best.

A vegetable toss exactly describes the traditional French side dish known as ratatouille. The translation of the French word touiller is to toss and/or to stir. As it happens there's a great recipe for ratatouille on page 167 of The Silver Palate Cookbook. Summer squash is not an ingredient but I have only one zucchini and it's not exactly a daring substitute. It'll probably taste great. I'll let you know later or over the weekend.

For now, I'm going to Starbuck…

Apples and tomatoes and pears, oh my.

Paul peeled while I cooked and crushed about a half bushel of apples into apple sauce. Our first failure of this canning season happened when the apple jelly wouldn't gel. Four eight ounce jars of what has the consistency of maple syrup instead of toast ready jelly. We might try it on pancakes this weekend. The whole apple cooking and canning endeavor kept us busy for several hours and still, we've barely made a dent in the fruits of our harvest. As much as we've given away is replenished daily. I'll miss the bounty when it's gone but for now it's slightly overwhelming.

All this talk about apples probably has you wondering what's up with the pizza picture. There was no time for flipping open The Silver Palate last night. It was pizza right out of the Almost Homemade cookbook instead. One of our local bakeries sells great dough for two bucks, add a jar of supermarket sauce, a handful of shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat cheese, a few fresh toppings from the …

The Apple of My Eye

My husband, Farmer Paul (aka Fisherman Paul, Hiker Paul and all variety of other vigorous and productive activities), and I sat on the patio after dinner (The Silver Palate Cookbook, page 187 - Red Snapper with Butter and Shallot Sauce), sipped a little white wine and admired our garden. A plopping sound cut through the quiet. "Apple down," he said, jumping up to snatch a beautifully ripe and pretty big Macintosh from the grass under the laden branches of our supposedly (another story for another day) dwarf variety of self pollinating apple tree. "Let's go in and bake a pie."

I haven't made an actual pie in a long time. My youngest son hasn't lived home since college and a whole pie is just too big for three of us to eat before the crust goes soggy. What you see in the picture here is a piece of last night's Apple Blueberry Galette with a side dollop of homemade creme fraiche. Galettes are my specialty. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? So around here …

With Sheila on my shoulder ...

This week our garden has exploded and I am required to be a cooking, canning, crazy woman to keep up with the harvest.

Thirty-eight pints of tomatoes and 6 quarts of cinnamon apples so far. Not to mention eight small jars of hot pepper jelly, four jars of applesauce and six pints of farm stand peaches I brandied. And there's more out there waiting for my attention. If you don't have a garden, you can buy fresh local grown at farmers markets or roadside stands a short drive from home. Even city dwellers can manage to find local fruits and veggies.

Admittedly, I'm not so nuts about canning when it's hot outside and I'm boiling a batch of jars inside. Thank goodness for my A/C. But canning is not hard work, easy to follow instructions are readily available. When winter comes, the bubbling pot on the stovetop will be the result of home or local grown bounty. Then I'll be happy.

It's important to keep in mind that hot water bath canning is only safe for high acid …