(Belated) Dark Days: Weeks Two, Three and Four

Things always get crazy around the holidays. December 2011 has been crazier than usual for a bunch of reasons, including changing jobs, CRFM special permit hearings and our furnace dying. Oh, and flying squirrels in our roof. Really. Apparently they are native to our area – not tropical. Who knew? Initially we thought they were chipmunks, until Jon chased one up the stairs one night only to have it sail over his shoulder. If they were just looking for a warm place to stay, that would be one thing, but chewing in the ceiling over my bedroom at 3am? Let’s just say if our sleepless nights aren’t over, I may reconsider my stance on firearms in the home.

Through it all, we’ve been able to squeeze in at least one SOLE meal per week, but unable to squeeze in time to blog about it. Typical. Anyway, here is a brief recap:

Week Two: Braised Shortribs with Mashed Potatoes. Our go-to braise for shortribs and brisket. It’s low dairy and really satisfying without being overly rich. Easy to adapt in the crockpot for weekdays, too.

Week Three: Breakfast for Dinner. Local eggs, thick cut applewood smoked bacon, and Dragon’s Blood Elixir Chipotle Hot Sauce. I don’t know why, but when all else fails, I default to eggs. Something about that almost-orange yolk mixed with DBE Chipotle is unreal. I am not ashamed to say I end up going full-on scarpetta – all but licking my plate clean.

Week Four: Potato Leek Soup. The last of the CSA potatoes and 18th Century’s leeks cooked in homemade chicken stock. Season well with salt and pepper, and blended with an immersion blender. I like mine still a little chunky – not all the way smooth – it keeps it interesting. No butter or cream – easy on my stomach and never better than when topped with some aged cheddar and local bacon.

The weather is (finally!) getting cold here – I think Mother Nature finally figured out its December – so I suspect the next couple of weeks will continue to be hearty soup/stew fare. I need (knead?) to get on more bread as well – thanks for the prodding Michael and Joel. I was fortunate to get both a pasta machine and ravioli mold for Christmas, so homemade pasta is also on the list.

Pimp That Preserve 2011

Tis the season… for gifting your preserves! And if you are going to go through the trouble to preserve the best of the season and design a label for it – why not go one step further and decorate the jar? If you are in need of some inspiration, Joel and Dana from Well Preserved are hosting Pimp That Preserve again this year. The idea is straightforward: dress up your preserves for a night out on the town. Use anything that doesn’t affect the contents of the jar and let your imagination run wild! They have some ideas up already to help get your creative juices flowing – I LOVE their pickled garlic label. Note to self: pickle more garlic next year.

After the PTP finalists are selected, the winners will score some awesome prizes. Kate Payne donated an autographed copy of her book The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking. Another winner will take home a copy of  We Sure Can by Sarah B. Hood that features many fellow preservers. The last prize is an archival print of the Periodic Table of WaterBath Preserving from Joel and Dana themselves (the one I’ve got my eye on!)

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I like to dress up jars with the flavors of what’s inside. I made a Plum Cardamom Almond Conserve in October with plums from Easy Pickins Orchard. It was a great year for Italian Prune Plums, and the flavor of this one was nicely enhanced with cardamom and cinnamon and a handful of crushed almonds. Hence the cinnamon stick, almond and cardamom garnish – just dont sneeze or the almond might fall out! For actual giving I am going to have to tie it in better.

I always make a lot of cucumber pickles. Too many, in fact. This year, I made a bunch of sweet zucchini pickles with brown mustard and fenugreek to try and mix it up a little. They were nicely spicy but still had enough zip to be interesting. Have you heard of the German pickle ornament tradition? Whether its true or not, its fun to gift a gift of pickles with a pickle tradition that goes along with it. Just dont try to hide the pickle up the angel’s skirt – that one’s been done before.

My favorite entry this year is naturally the snowflake themed one. Not that you would know its wintertime by looking outside… I think you guys know by now that I am a fan of winter. I bought the wooden tags on Etsy last year, but got overly attached to give them out on gifts. Then it dawned on my how great they would look on a jar. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Good luck to all of those entering PTP this year – the deadline is Monday December 12 at midnight!

5th Annual Dark Days Challenge: Week One

I am once again participating in the Dark Days Challenge, now going into its 5th year. It challenges its participants to “cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients.” At the same time, each blogger determines what SOLE means to them.

Like last year, I am lucky to have the Coventry Regional Farmers Winterfresh Market quite literally down the street. Somewhat unluckier than last year, I once again find myself incomeless. Such is the life of a recent grad searching floating internship to internship.  While I have planned accordingly – it is going to be harder than ever to eat SOLE.

So what does SOLE mean in Connecticut this time of year? Prepare to be linkified.

Cooking Fat: Well – I am going to use olive oil. At times I am sensitive to dairy so exclusively butter as a cooking fat is out. And I am just not ready to use bacon grease for everything. The butter I do use will be from Cabot Creamery Cooperative or Wildowsky Dairy.

Flour/Bread/Pasta: I will be using flour from King Arthur Flours in Vermont. There are more local sources of wheat – it is grown in the town where I live and milled not too far away in Massachusetts – but the price is not achievable on my current budget. King Arthur has a great range of flours that I really like to work with. And when I don’t have time to bake, Farm to Hearth out of Salem, CT has fabulous breads, scones and cookies made with the local organic stuff. As far as pasta goes, I took a pasta class this summer and have not made pasta since. That’s something I want to work on as part of this challenge.

Milk/Yogurt/Ice Cream: Farmer’s Cow and Mountain DairyLadies of Levita Road when I don’t want to make my own yogurt.

Beef: New Boston Beef in Thompson, CT. Amazing short ribs and soup bones!

Seafood: The Fish Market in Willimantic, CT. Most of their seafood is locally sourced, we will be concentrating that as much as possible.

ChickenGormAvian Farms in Bolton, CT. I haven’t had the pleasure of their chicken yet, but I am excited to try it soon.

Produce: Wayne’s Organic Garden, 18th Century Purity Farms, Highland Thistle Farm, Chaplin Farms and the other vendors at the Winterfresh Market. Beautiful chard, spinach, squash, onions, apples, greenhouse tomatoes and more – all winter long.

We did two quasi-DD meals this week, though only one of them was eaten whist remembering to snap a photo. First: PEI mussels from The Fish Market in a Windham Gardens (Granby, CT) garlic, wine and herb sauce, with local Cabot Creamery butter and Hopkins Vineyard (New Preston, CT) Duet wine. Oh – and a generous dash of Dragon’s Blood Elixir thrown in for good measure. The mussels aren’t particularly local, but truth be told I am unsure about shellfish harvesting in Long Island Sound, and even if they are allowed to fish this year. It’s come a long way and is fishable now, but I am not sure about mussel harvesting – I know they have been changing the lobstering regulations. I know they do oysters. I really should know that in my current line of work…  anyway served alongside F2H bread it made an excellent dinner.

The second meal was totally an easy way out. Summer Hill Catering out of Madison, CT is a vendor at the Coventry Winterfresh Market. Their fabulous chicken pot pies are just the thing to throw in the oven when I get home from a long day at work. Though it’s a little dairy heavy for every night of the week, I can adjust my diet elsewhere to compensate. Alongside a salad and a glass of wine, this meal requires almost no effort and sometimes, that’s just about perfect. Especially this time of year.

Looking forward to what the DD challenge has in store for this year! Are you joining in?