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Any Suggestions?

September 20th, 2010

This fall, Mr Chiots and I are planning a trip up through New England. We’re hoping to take in all the wonderful scenery, spend some time hiking, enjoy some delicious local food, see some interesting local things and of course visit LLBean, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and King Arthur Flour. When we go on vacations like these we usually tent camp and enjoy the quiet simplicity of that kind of vacation. Sitting by the fire in the evening, waking up with the sun, enjoying a relaxing time sans technology.

We were talking about things we wanted to do and thought perhaps opening it up to you for suggestions would be a great idea. No doubt some of you live in New England and some of you have traveled there and discovered wonderful little treasures that we wouldn’t want to miss. We don’t have a specific route picked yet, so any suggestions you make are a possibility. I was hoping to visit Elliot Coleman’s farm stand, but it’s closed at the end of Sept, so no such luck at getting some of his delicious produce, perhaps at a local grocery store. Maybe I’ll visit anyways to take a few photos of his winter garden.

So any suggestions of things to do, places to visit, must see things or local eateries that we must make time for on our trip?

Quote of the Day: John Ruskin

September 19th, 2010

“There is no wealth but life.”
~ John Ruskin

Everywhere We Go

September 18th, 2010

“Everywhere we go we end up foraging something” said Mr Chiots yesterday as we were picking up chestnuts at the family cabin.

Several years ago when we harvested them it was a huge pain, literally. The spiny husks weren’t easy to open and we were constantly yelling “OUCH” as we were picking them up. I donned leather gloves and removed the nuts of most of the ones we gathered. They nuts were rather small, not nearly as nice as the ones we picked yesterday. It was a great year for chestnuts, they’re all nice and plump and 99% of the husks were already popped open on the ground, no yelling involved.

Several years ago we roasted some at the family Thanksgiving meal, but none of us were really huge fans, except one of our nieces who enjoyed them. I’m never one to check something off until I’ve tried it many times and in a variety of forms. So, I’m hoping to roast some and I will try my hand at making some chestnut flour to use for pasta, pancakes and maybe some gnocchi.

We ended up with about a half a bushel of chestnuts, they’ll need some attention here in the next couple days. I think I’m going to try a variety of preservation methods from drying, storing in the fridge, freezing the roasted ones, and boiling a few to freeze as well and of course roasting some, drying them and grinding them into flour.

They’re a healthy treat, not technically a nut, they’re classified as vegetables since they’re a starch. They contain fiber, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. Hopefully we can learn to love this classic healthy food, especially since we can get it every year for free.

Any experienced chestnut eaters out there?
Any recommendations for ways to eat or store them?

Peppermint for Beneficials

September 17th, 2010

The peppermint is blooming in my garden right now and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators are loving it. I’m so happy that it’s blooming at this time of the year when nectar and pollen are quite scarce. I love watching the peppermint patch as it’s abuzz with all types, sizes, and colors of pollinators.

I must divide these plants and add more clumps around the gardens. I know they can be invasive, but in my woodland gardens invasive things barely hold one against the saplings and wild flowers. I find myself trying to incorporate more and more plants that bloom and provide nectar or pollen throughout the season just to provide sources of food for these lovely little insects.

Do you have any plants blooming for the pollinators? Do you plant with them in mind?

Stocking the Pantry with Tomato Soup

September 16th, 2010

I’ve blogged about my home canned tomato soup many times. It’s one of my most popular posts, people are always writing asking the recipe and telling me how much they love the soup. It’s one of the few things I can every year without fail. The first year I canned only 30 pints of it and it was gone way too soon. Last year I did 31 quarts and 7 pints and we only have 2 quarts left.

Yesterday I made the first batch of soup this season, most of the remaining tomatoes will be used for soup since I already have 44 pints and 8 quarts of crushed tomatoes. I’m hoping to get at least 35-40 quarts of soup again this year since it makes a perfect quick meal that’s healthy and delicious. It’s also great added to chili and vegetable soup.

I use an old Squeezo to make my soup, this one was handed down to me by my mom. It’s the one we used for applesauce & tomatoes growing up. It’s a relic but still works great, and I love that it doesn’t have any plastic parts. I love pulling it out, I even use the same block of wood on the counter that we used growing up.

I only made one batch of soup yesterday, I’m hoping to make another tomorrow or Sunday. I prefer making double batches so I don’t have to spend as much time canning, but I only had enough tomatoes for one batch. In case you’re interested in the recipe, here it is again. Yesterday I changed it slightly by using whey instead of lemon juice (didn’t have lemon juice but had plenty of whey in the fridge). I also added a few sprigs of fresh Italian parsley since I had some in the garden.

6 onions, chopped
1 bunch celery, chopped
8 quarts fresh tomatoes (or 5-6 quarts of juice) *I coarsely chop mine in quarters leaving the stems on them since I’m putting them through a food mill. (10-12 lbs of tomatoes)
1 cup sugar (I find this is too much and I use less usually 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup salt (I usually add 2 T and then taste before I add more)
1 cup butter
1 cup flour*
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. Chop onion& celery. Place in large kettle w/ just enough water to keep them from burning. While this simmers, cut tomatoes (remove stems if not using strainer).
2. Add tomatoes to kettle & cook until tender.
3. When tender put through Victorio or Squeezo (or similar food mill) strainer. (reserve 2 cups for mixing with butter/flour)
4. Return to kettle, add lemon juice, sugar & salt.
5. Cream butter and flour together& mix thoroughly with two cups of reserved juice (chill so it’s cold), until dissolved (or blend together in a blender), to avoid lumps of flour in the juice. Add butter/flour mixture to warmed tomato juice. (Add before it’s hot, to avoid lumps of flour!). Stir well.
6. Heat just until hot. (If it gets to a boil, it can make the flour lumpy). Just prior to boiling, turn off the burner. (It will continue to thicken as it cools.).
7. Ladle into hot jars with 1/4 headspace, close securely with lids.
8. Put in canner & process 30 minutes (start timing when it’s at a ‘rolling’ boil).**
9. Remove from canner & allow to set until sealed (approx. 12 hours) To serve, mix equal parts tomato concentrate to milk, and add 1/2 t. of baking soda per pint as it cooks (1 t. per quart). I actually prefer to add chicken stock to mine instead of milk & baking soda. I serve with a sprinkle of freshly grated romano cheese, a sprinkle of cayenne and a little freshly ground black pepper.

*feel free to omit flour if you don’t want it in your soup, the soup will be a little thinner.

**Some people say this isn’t long enough in a canner, some people say you should only pressure can this recipe. I’m happy with it and am quite comfortable making it and processing it in this way. If you’re uncomfortable with this method use whatever canning method you’re comfortable with.

This is one of our favorite quick meals throughout the year, each quart gives us two meals. I usually make mine with half chicken stock and half whey and we enjoy it with some crusty bread. My pantry will never be without some home canned tomato soup.

What item is your pantry never be without?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.