Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A gradual thaw

This winter has been perhaps the most bleak, dreary, cold, miserable season of my life in so many ways. I don't say this lightly, considering that I once lived in a northern valley, where the wind would suck the warmth out of every nook and cranny. Where snowfall was recorded in feet, and roads would freeze with black ice in seconds. No - not even then was there a time that I remember this exhausting daily pursuit of simply surviving the darkness.

In the fall, we planted some carrots and lettuce as an experiment to see if they would take on the cold weather and flourish in the spring. In our defense, we had no idea what they were in for. Like us, they suffered with the cold - hunkered down against the snow and bid their time until the days got longer, and the dark didn't seem quite so deep.

And yet, despite (or maybe because of) their struggle, they have emerged triumphant - became whole again as they surfaced to the sun to welcome a new season.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A fond farewell

I really love new beginnings. The clean-slated opportunity to put everything in place always brings me comfort, even in the midst of chaos. The start of a new school semester, the first day of the month, heck - even a reorganized closet will put my mind at ease. So a new year always feels like the grandaddy motherload of opportunity. My first instinct is to plunge full speed ahead into the promises of the 2009, but I think it's a better idea to give tribute to one big change that the new year will bring.

The last Farmers' Market of 2008 marked the end of an era for one of our most loved vendors. Mr. and Mrs. Don Gilbert of Gilbert Farms are taking a well deserved retirement and will not return in 2009. The two of them have been a presence at the market since its humble beginnings under the Water Street parking garage in the mid-1980s. Their friendly service, good stories and lovely fruits and veggies will certainly be missed. Mr. Gilbert says he plans to catch up on some fishing and yardwork, but might send his surplus produce to the market with other vendors when he gets a chance. We wish both of them the best of health, happiness and renewed spirits in their exciting new beginning!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Winning isn't everything...but it helps.

Sometimes a rainy day can breed laziness, but today's constant drizzle/downpour managed to inspire productivity around our household. On a whim, I decided to whip up an entry for Tidal Creek's 3rd Annual Pumpkin Cook Off, being held at their Fall Food Fair. I had read about the fair in the newsletter and thought it would be a nice leisurely thing to do on a dreary Saturday. So I knew there were three prizes to be had in the cook off: Best Looking, Best Tasting, and Best Vegan - and the winners were to receive a $25 giftcard and goody bag. I figured, what the heck - who couldn't use free groceries in this economy?

I was torn between a couple of recipes, since I love pumpkin in just about anything, but settled on our tried and true rainy day staple, Black Bean Pumpkin Soup. I changed up my original recipe to make it vegan friendly and put it in a crock pot to keep it warm. We headed out in the rain to try and make the entry deadline of 12:30 - at about 12:28, Sal hopped out of the car with our soup and dodged puddles while I tried to find a parking space. It was like a circus in there! A fun, earth friendly circus. Alas, in my hurry to get out the door, I forgot my camera, but hopefully the Co-op will post some soon.
In addition to the Pumpkin Cook Off, there were tons of free samples, a raffle benefiting local organic farmers, and good folks lobbying to keep Titan cement plant out of our county.

As for our soup, it was #7 of 7 entries, and made it just in the nick of time. I barely managed to get the recipe on paper before the judges sat down to eat. In the meantime, we meandered around the store, sampling food and picking up all kinds of useful freebies, like Burt's Bees facial cleanser and organic cat treats. By the time we had stuffed ourselves and our pockets full, the judging was done and the entries were opened up for everyone to try. As we waited in line, they put out labels by the winning foods. Sal peeked around the corner and...we won for Best Vegan! Okay, so I had close to a 50/50 chance of winning something, but still - I was proud. We sampled all of the other dishes, and there were some very tasty entries there. I got lots of compliments on the soup, as well as an awesome goody bag with the gift certificate, a Tidal Creek travel coffe mug - and some of my absolute favorite local Little Red Wagon Pumpkin Patch granola. Yum! We left the store carrying our samples, prize, and an empty crock pot. A very nice day indeed.
Here are both the regular and vegan versions of the recipe. I use mostly local ingredients, such as my own canned tomatoes, our homemade chicken stock, local butter and produce - but I'm writing each version in general terms so you can do whatever. You can also use baked butternut squash instead of pumpkin puree as we sometimes do:

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup (Non Vegan)
4 cans of black beans
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 stick butter
1 med. onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tbs cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken broth
16 oz can pumpkin puree

Puree tomatoes and 3 of the cans of beans in a food processor or blender. Heat butter in a large pot and saute the onion, shallot, garlic and spices until onion is soft. Stir in the bean puree. Mix well, then stir in the broth, pumpkin, and remaining can of beans. Simmer on low for about 25 minutes or until pleasantly thick. Serve topped with sour cream.

***For the Vegan version, omit the sour cream topping, substitute 2 tbs olive oil for the butter, and vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Photo: Jessica at Tidal Creek was nice enough to package up two bowls of soup for us before it was devoured.

Sal likes it hot.

To continue in the productive theme of the day, Sal came home from the Food Fair and got busy making some homemade hot sauce. He had been meaning to do so for awhile, since we had some extra tomato juice from canning, and a bumper crop of peppers. I am not a hot sauce kinda gal - I'll always pick "mild" when given the choice between levels of spiciness, whereas Sal has been known to calmly request the "Super Hot Atomic Killer Volcano" like version. He'll put hot sauce on anything. ANYthing. So it's only appropriate that he used his crazy hot jalapenos to make his own sauce.

These are the jalapenos that once made a friend cry and subsequently whisper to me through scorched lips: "Jessica, Pull. Those. Plants. Out. Pull them out. And burn them." Sal has since dubbed them "Salapeños" (pronounced with an accent on the PAIN), but continues to pop them in his mouth, fresh off the vine.

As for the sauce, the fumes alone sent me into a coughing fit and made my eyes burn. I rigged up a fan in the kitchen to blow the devil air back in, but still it was killer. He had just enough supplies to make one good pint of sauce, which he plans to unleash on his friends next weekend. Here is his recipe, if you're brave enough to try it. I recommend anyone in the vicinity to vacate the premises, unless you like feeling like you've been maced.

Salapeño Hot Sauce
7 jalapeño peppers, quartered
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove elephant garlic, chopped
2 tbs olive oil
1 pint tomato juice
1 cup white vinegar

Saute the jalapeños, onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened. Add tomato juice and vinegar. Simmer on low until reduced by about 1/3. Remove from heat and let cool until room temperature. When cool, puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.