Thursday, June 24, 2010

Strawberry Jams

This is the fourth and final batch of strawberry freezer jam for the winter.  It is slightly staggering to see how many jars we go through, but I know winter would feel a lot longer without them.  Strawberry season feels like a race, a race to pick and preserve enough before the season is over.  Often the season can be unpredictable, with the U-pick farms suddenly closed.  Happily this year the season started early, due to an early heat wave and then, thanks to plenty of rain and sunny heat, is continuing.  Now when I pick strawberries they can be eaten gluttonously without fears of running out of jam in January.

I have shared my Strawberry Freezer jam with Cointreau and Drambuie recipe here before, however I wanted to point it to new readers while reminding long time readers of how good it is.  If freezer space is limited I also have a Traditional no Pectin Strawberry Jam with Cointreau and Drambuie Recipe.  Both recipes are lower in sugar then what you will find in the grocery store.  Other then making you feel smug and condescending to people who eat the higher sugar variety, this gives the jams a truer strawberry flavor.

In between picking strawberries and making jam the boys and I went to the library to register for the summer reading program.  This is the first year both my boys are old enough to enroll, a milestone that I have been looking forward to.  Now both the boys will meet with a volunteer to talk about the books they have read.  This means I will not have to chase the youngest as he tries to play with the computer wires and rearrange all the books.  To celebrate the start of the program there was face painting at the library.  Sebastian has spent weeks planning what he would be.  When we walked home he grimaced at everyone we passed only to be disappointed that nobody freaked out.  Maybe they were trying to avert their eyes from the purple garden devil walking with him and his water devil brother.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mesclun sauteed with Garlic and Optional Rhubarb

Lately Julian has been asking me when it is summer, my answers to him are complicated.  How do you explain to a five year old that summer "officially"  begins on the summer solstice but many folks mark the beginning of summer as Memorial day?  However for me the start of summer coincides with our first summer CSA pick-up at The Intervale Community Farm.  For all his incessant questioning on the meaning of summer I know that Julian feels this as well.  Both Sebastian and Julian where counting down the hours to our first pick-up and telling me about all the areas of the farm they planned to explore.   Our CSA is not the kind where you drive somewhere and are handed a bag or box and leave.  Instead there are tables set up with produce and signs that say how much to take.  Some items involve a choice, while others just require you to weigh out your share.  There are also pick your own crops such as this weeks strawberries and herbs.

Our first pick-up last week was truncated and short as it was not yet school vacation and that evening I had to rush off to principal interviews at The Integrated Arts Academy.  Happily the principal interviews and search committee meetings are over.  I will not be running out to attend interviews where I can hear why a candidate believes "Art is a defendable value in education." or how they create "A positive school culture."  The search committee met on Monday and we selected 2 candidates that we all would feel comfortable having as our interim principal.  Now I am just waiting to find out which candidate the superintendent chooses.  I have a favorite, so being the patient person that I am (ha!) I have been checking the district website obsessively to see if there is an update.

The end of this process means maybe I can spend a little more time in my kitchen.  I feel like dinners around here lately have often consisted of finding food to fling at my children.  But with the beginning of the CSA and the weekly food assignments it creates, plus the end of additional outside commitments, it is time to get creative.  Creative because at this point we are not receiving the glut of produce that I know is coming.  For now we have been greeted by heads of lettuce, a greens choice, garlic scapes and mesclun mix.  All of these items I can use up quickly except the mesclun mix, (okay, I may or may not have problems with the lettuce as well).

The mesclun mix is a battle that in the past has gone on all summer.  I have a basic character flaw that prevents me from not taking my share.  After all there are signs on the mesclun bins that say, "Please weigh accurately."  Obviously this is a valuable item and I should treat it with respect.  However my children do not eat salads and I don't love salads enough to keep up with the mesclun all summer.  So I end up using most of my mesclun mix to slowly feed my compost all summer.

However this last week I went to prepare dinner one night and found we had no vegetables left in the house except the bag of mesclun.  As I stood grumpily staring at the assorted leaves I had a sudden inspiration to treat them like any of my favorite greens (spinach, chard, kale, lambs quarters...) and cook them with garlic and olive oil.  I decided to play with some rhubarb as well and added some at the end of cooking.  The result was good enough that Julian happily ate some, although he did complain about the rhubarb pieces as he did not like the tart lemon and artichoke flavor of them.  Tonight I served it again, this time without the rhubarb.  Julian took thirds.  With or without the rhubarb I am happy to know I will not need to compost my mesclun mix this summer.

As for Thursdays pick-up at the farm, it was just what the boys and I needed to celebrate the first day of summer vacation.  For the last several years my boys have been allowed to roam free at the farm once I walk them through the parking lot.  They have special hide outs as well as elaborate projects they coordinate with their friends.  While they are playing I pick up our produce and practice adult conversation skills.  This week they began, with a group of friends, discovered a wonderful mud puddle and began by transporting shovels of mud to the sand box.  Eventually Julian and his friend Casey decided to stay and play in the mud.  Slowly their group of friends began to migrate over, one by one, where they all dug, and splashed and explored.

Now summer has begun because we have started weekly visits to our farm.  Last year a fierce argument waged when Julian and Sebastian were talking about "our farm" to our neighbor Ada, whose daddy owns and runs another local farm.  She insisted it was not their farm, she has a farm, but they do not.  I stepped in because I know how fierce my children's attachment is to the farm.  I explained that now the ICF is a co-op and so we own one share of the farm.  I was not going to try to explain to her that it is theirs because they love it so much.

Sauteed Mesclun Mix with Garlic and Optional Rhubarb

This is one of those dishes that is more a technique then a prescription.  The basic idea is to saute some garlic (you can use green garlic, garlic scapes, regular garlic, or even omit the garlic and use onions or shallots) in olive oil or butter, then you add the greens and stir until the greens are completely wilted.  If you want to use the rhubarb just chop up a handful and add it for the last few minutes of cooking so it softens but stays firm enough that it retains its own character and 5 year olds can pick it out.  Please treat this as a guide only.

2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Butter or other favorite oil
1 minced clove of garlic (or 2 scapes, 1 small shallot, 1/2  a small onion, 2-3 scallions chopped)
1 lb mesclun mix (or whatever your CSA has gifted you with)
1 large or 2-3 small stalks rhubarb chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces (1/8 to 1/4 cup) optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the oil or butter.  Add the garlic or onions and saute until fragrant, then add the washed and dried mesclun mix and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, mixing and wilting as you add it, if it seems dry add more oil.  Once the mesclun mix is all wilted add the rhubarb and put the lid on briefly until the rhubarb is heated through and softened.  Check the seasonings and serve.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dark Chocolate Rosemary Muffins and Schools

I was not originally planning on posting this recipe here.  The recipe it is based upon has already appeared on several food blogs but got mixed reviews from my family.  Lewis and I both thought it was pretty good but neither of us loved it, that might be because we are not huge rosemary fans.  Sebastian and Julian both felt it was a complete waste of chocolate, I think they questioned my sanity.

The day I served them for breakfast, there was a potluck to celebrate the last day of preschool for Julian's class.  I looked at the 14 muffins that remained after breakfast and decided to take them as our contribution for the many adults who would appreciate them.  The muffins where a huge hit with the staff, one of them "stealing" one to bring home to his wife and asking hopefully if I was going to feature them here.  I told him how to get the recipe and then listed most of the changes I had made.  I liked them better the next day as a snack instead of breakfast.  The rosemary is really very subtle, hard to even pinpoint what it is.  I know I will be playing with the recipe even more later.  For this week though I will be spending time away from my family and kitchen to attend interviews for a school principal at an Elementary school in Burlington.

The principal who is being replaced is stellar and she does not want to leave her job, the school, school board and superintendent do not want to replace her either.  She has no choice and neither does the school system thanks to federal legislation that desperately needs to be rewritten.  We need legislation that will help our schools instead of penalizing schools who serve the populations most in need.

The short story is please call your congressmen and senators and demand that No Child Left Behind and ESEA do not penalize schools for low test scores, especially as the legislation does not take into account individual student growth, home language or in the case of a child with an individualized education plan (IEP) the students actual goals.  How can a child who has moved to this country a year ago and does not speak English at home score well on a standardized test?  What if that child's home language is Mai Mai, which is not a written language?  Why are the tests administered in the fall when children's learning often loses ground over the summer?  Why are we expecting all students to reach the same goals at the same times, rather then looking for each child to make progress in their learning based on where they started.

If you are still here for this rant, thank you.  Now that you have read all the way through please make your voice heard before this legislation requires another top rated principal be replaced.  I attended a town meeting about this legislation with Senator Bernie Sanders where he was saddened to hear she needed to be replaced.  After the meeting his chief of staff, Huck Guttman spoke with myself and 2 friends and described her as,  "One of the top ten principals in Vermont."  She spent her free time working to improve her school, she helped in the cafeteria at lunch every day to help the students make healthy choices, because she understands how nutrition impacts learning.  She spent forty minutes on a parking lot telling me about her school and the exciting changes they have done as one of 2 magnet schools in Vermont.  Changes that will take years to show up in the test scores because children are not cars built in a factory.  When you change what you are doing on a factory floor the new products will be rolled off the line right away.  A school has to start where students are and help them to achieve more.

And now, if you are still there, let me reward you with the muffin recipe.

Dark Chocolate Rosemary Muffins
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (I still don't have a copy so feel free to send me one, perhaps as a belated 40th birthday present.  I actually found the recipe on The Wednesday Chef.  You should go check out her post as well, she has the recipe posted as written, with spelt flour.  I would have used the spelt if I had it on hand.  Although I would have then subbed in white whole wheat flour for half the white flour.)

3 eggs
1 cup extra virgin olive oil or olive oil (the better the oil the better the cake)
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp fleur de sel (I am currently out of kosher salt)
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary very finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
6 ounces bitter sweet chocolate chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces (the original recipe calls for 5 ounces but I did not want to save the last ounce from the bar)

Preheat the oven to 350° and place liners in 18 or fewer muffin cups (I made 18 muffins with this recipe but wished the muffins were larger.  Next time I will make 16 muffins.

Whisk the eggs with the olive oil, milk, vanilla and rosemary until thoroughly blended.  Add the sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk to blend.  Add both flours and gently fold them in until just combined and then stir in the chocolate.

Divide the batter (it will be thinner then most muffin batters) between the prepared muffin tins and place in the oven.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester comes out moist but without any wet batter clinging to it.