Winter Blues + Lemon Ladies Giveaway

What a strange winter we’re having. It’s snowed only twice. I mean, actual accumulation on the ground snow – not wintry mix quasi flurries freezing rain stuff. Twice. Once during Snowtober, once last week. Its a running joke that I have reverse seasonal affective disorder – but not in 2012. I’m just as cranky as the rest of you this year.

Cranky for a bunch of reasons, but also cranky because of my pantry. It’s the same old story – too much jam. Too many pickles. Not enough other stuff. Typical, but still frustrating. Luckily, I stashed away some fruit in the chest freezer. (It even survived Irene!) I’m even luckier, as I have the California secret weapon to eliminate all winter crankiness. Its guaranteed to cure what ails ya this time of year. I dare you to breathe in the scent of fresh-picked meyer lemons and not feel instant relief from the winter blues.

I was introduced to Karen’s fabulous lemons last year, and I am as hooked as ever. Before I order this year’s batch, I’ve promised myself to finish last year’s. That’s right – lemons I ordered a year ago – preserved in salt and spices since last February. Smoked paprika, cayenne, sugar, cinnamon, salt, peppercorn and bay leaf have worked their magic and transformed the meyers into something completely different. These lemons are my favorite use from last year – they bring an an amazing amount of flavor. Blueberries and lemon are one of those epic combinations – and this compote is no different. Best served over ice cream or yogurt, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Winter Blues Compote
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup dried blueberries
Rind of one whole preserved lemon (4 quarters) chopped fine
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients over medium-low heat. Cook until it reaches desired consistency – but be careful – blueberries will set up quickly. If you’re feeling impatient (ahem) mash the blueberries to speed up the process. Remove cinnamon to serve. This will keep well in the fridge, though I am equally sure it would transition well as a shelf-stable recipe with the addition of a little lemon juice.

To help cure your winter blues, Lemon Ladies Orchard has offered a meyer lemon gift bag to one SK reader. Let me know how you beat winter crankiness – leave a comment with a valid email address below to enter. Giveaway will end at 11:59pm on Saturday February 4.

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Dark Days: Week Six

This is the time of the year where I eat soup. I mean, a LOT of soup. All three of my meals seem to come out of a bowl these days. Yogurt or oats for breakfast. Lentil soup for lunch… lunch that is totally around 2:30. A bowl of beans soaking on the counter and a request for tortellini for dinner lead to another bowl of soup with some crusty ciabatta garlic basil bread tonight.

On top of my inner demands for soup, January is usually when the National Soup Swap takes place. Last year, I came home from our local soup swap with six quarts of soup and it fed me for months. Its kind of like dating: you might come home with a soup you want to try before you decide, a soup with a great story and maybe even a soup that you decided to take a chance on. Luckily, I am fortunate to swap with some great cooks, so I always come home with at least one soup I am in love with.

But until Soup Swap weekend, I am left to my own devices. I tend to make chicken stock in six quart batches, so I almost always have some on hand. I also freeze trays of slow roasted tomatoes in August and September. Cut in half, roasted at 170° for about 5 hours – they’re perfect to freeze in a quart jar. Sure, you could dehydrate them all the way and store them on the shelf. I don’t have a dehydrator, and like them ready to drop into soup or risotto. Plus, pre-freezing they’re concentrated bits of flavor perfect for a mid-summer salad.

This soup was spur of the moment, and really hits the spot when the heater is struggling to maintain any degree of warmth and I sit under not one but two blankets. Jacob’s Cattle Beans, chicken stock, slow roasted tomatoes, spinach, garlic, onions, and some frozen chopped basil from my garden. All of the produce homegrown or put away from this summer’s CSA. Seasoned with decidedly non-local but very necessary salt and pepper, it was just about perfect. I’d even say a soup you’d want to go home with.

Twenty Twelve

I’ve been searching to find a word to describe 2011. It was a strange year. It was a difficult year. Mentally, its been  “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, 2011” but I don’t know if its something I can admit to publicly. Even though I sort of just did. Still – there were good things. Great things. Most of them revolved around the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. Kate Payne came to visit and I got to meet Kaela in person. I grew beans, chard, and onions for the first time, and though the garden met an early end (thanks Irene!) it was still fairly productive all things considered. We CSAed. There was (no-knead) bread – from naan pan fried on the stove to a boule baked in a dutch oven. I tried out the whole small business jam thing for the first time. And, lest I forget, I have a roof over my head and can pay all of my bills. At the moment.

Yet, 2011 was rough. Three vastly different jobs and loads of financial-induced stress, two natural disasters and we can’t forget about flying squirrels invading our roof. My dad had a pretty serious heart attack in May. Our furnace died a quiet death on a cold December morning. The power lines to our house are sagging once again as a big branch came down on them in last week’s storm. I’ve been struggling with the blog too – my drafts folder is overflowing yet I have trouble saying what I really want to say.

But that’s the best part about this time of year, isn’t it. You can take stock, relax and reflect with a cup of tea. Let the bad parts of the year fade from memory while you dream of all that is in store for the next 365 days. Or in the case of 2012, 366 days. Does anyone do resolutions anymore? I’ve never been a fan of the standard eat better, exercise more stuff. I’m more of a goal setting person. Like one giant To Do list. Maybe it also has something to do with semi-compulsive list-making. Hm…

Anyway, starting 2012 right with tea and a greek yogurt/clementine curd/cranberry/pepita concoction. And jotting down a few priorities for the next year. Because I am all about looking back in 2013 and checking things off my list.

Garden Resolutions Grow more beans and figure out how to dry them for winter storage – this did NOT happen in 2011. Get better fertilizer, too. Grow less tomatoes and more herbs. Hopefully a lot of this changes when we move into a new place, because the tiny poolside container garden is getting old.

Home Resolutions Start saving for a house. So many dreams are on hold until we have our own place. I have plans for an orchard, a real garden with raised beds, a beehive or two… Hopefully with a savings account, this can be the year to get (half?) of our downpayment saved. If we do move, I need to downsize things before we get there, because moving last time was a huge pain.

Health Resolutions Eat more fish. Maybe start taking fish oil? And more meatless meals. Try to find time to walk at least a half hour a day.

Kitchen Resolutions No more excuses –  go get the pressure canner gauge calibrated and start the pressure canning. Make more cheese and yogurt. And bread, and pasta, and condiments.

So here’s to all the good things 2012 has in store. And here’s to making those good things happen.