Friday, February 27, 2015

Hannah Fries: Dragon Breath — A Fire Cider Tasting (Times Two)

Editor Hannah Fries and Digital Features Editor Emily Spiegelman chase the winter doldrums away with a double dose of fire.

A fire cider taste-off: Hannah’s on the right, Emily’s on the left
’Tis the season. Winter has been long and cold. The woodpile is shrinking. Immune systems are battle-weary while viruses are just flexing their microscopic muscles. (Or they would be, if they had muscles.) What do we have to protect ourselves with, besides measly hand soap? Not much.

There is, however, an old herbal remedy that’s had something of a comeback in recent years. Whether it works to repel colds is for you to decide — at the very least, it may repel your germy co-workers and family members, and probably vampires too. It’s not for the faint of heart: it’s fire cider.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Deer Trouble

This winter, it isn’t the weather that’s putting stress on the livestock food supply at Sky Range Ranch. It’s the deer.

Mule deer in the woods. These native deer tend to winter on the hillsides eating sagebrush or in the woods eating brush.
As ranchers, we love wildlife and enjoy seeing animals making themselves at home on our ranch. We have a lot of deer — both mule deer and whitetail. The whitetail are not native here; we never saw any in our valley when I was a child. Then, a few decades ago, they appeared on ranches along the river and gradually expanded their territory up the various creeks. Mule deer range all over the mountains as well as in our fields, but the whitetail prefer the lower valleys, brushy areas along the streams, and the green fields — especially farmers’ fields.

Even though whitetail deer are smaller, they are more aggressive. The newcomer whitetails have displaced most of the mule deer on our creek. We’ve had many whitetail does raise their fawns in our fields and pastures and we enjoy seeing them. But over the last several years, their numbers have increased and they have suddenly become a serious winter problem.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brooke Dojny: Consider the Oyster

On the fence about oysters? It’s time to pick a side (and a sauce).

Oysters on the half shell. Photo © Scott Dorrance, from Dishing Up® Maine
Thomas Fuller famously wrote, “He was a very valiant man who first adventured on eating oysters.” True, it’s not easy for some to get over the looks of the raw object, but upon first slurp, most people are instantly in love with oysters. They taste like essence of ocean — but better. While modern refrigeration makes it safe to eat oysters at any time of year, they are at their firm and most flavorful best in the winter “R” months (September through April).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Andrea Chesman: Picking the Best Varieties of Cucumber

When it comes to cukes, think small seeds and tender skin.

Andrea Chesman’s garden in winter
It’s time to start dreaming about this summer’s garden. Those seed catalogs that came in the mail in December aren’t getting any younger and neither are you. I write this as 3 inches of snow falls today, in preparation of another 3 tomorrow, and following 3 inches yesterday. Yet, spring will come (I think) and the time to start plants will be upon us before we know it.

I’m not one to keep notes from one year to the next about the garden, nor do I race to plant the newest varieties featured in the seed catalogs. But I call myself a cook who gardens, and as a cook and an enthusiastic pickler, I am done with the traditional cucumbers — the slicing, or salad varieties — that everyone grows. There are many different cultivars, but they are all Marketmores to me — and they all have relatively tough, bitter skins and a tendency to be too seedy to make good pickles. They yield abundantly, so if you grow slicing cucumbers, you will have too many and you will make pickles. And the pickles won’t be as great as they should be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ann Ralph: Three Reasons to Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Retire the ladder, the pole pruner, and the long-handled fruit picker. 

Flavor Queen pluots from Ann Ralph’s garden
Fruit trees kept small with pruning are a good fit for the garden and the gardener. Why?

Small fruit trees make fruit trees easy. They lighten the load of pruning, thinning, and harvesting. They won’t overwhelm a backyard farmer with too much shade or work or excessive amounts of fruit. From persimmons to pluots, these trees can be tucked into sunny places, pruned two-dimensionally next to a path, planted against a fence with the back side pruned flat, used as a formal or informal espalier, or aligned in hedgerows. Closely plant two or three similar varieties to more fruitfully utilize space of a single tree.

Three Questions with Craig LeHoullier

The author of Epic Tomatoes talks about the next generation of heirloom varieties and why you don’t need giant plants to get big tomato flavor.

Rosella Purple tomato (Photo by Mars Vilaubi)
With the wealth of tomato varieties available these days, what compels growers to create new varieties? 

That’s really a great question — and, in fact, that’s the first time it’s been posed to me. One answer is “because they can.” Tomatoes are not at all difficult to breed, and with such a rich variety of elements available at the outset, starting new varieties with never-before-seen color, shape, size, and leaf combinations fulfills the joy of creation and discovery. In the case of dwarf tomato varieties, breeding also fills an existing need, as more and more gardeners want to grow tomatoes but don’t have the space for them. In the end, if the results are worthwhile and the seeds are maintained for decades to find themselves in our great-grandchildren’s gardens, those of us who like to create new varieties will have been involved in making “tomorrow’s heirlooms.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pizza Night Fun from Cooking Class

Extra creativity goes well with extra cheese.

With mountains of snow, bitter temps (at least here in New England), and a week of school vacation ahead, no one’s immune to an occasional bout of cabin fever. Whether you’re feeding a group or just a few, individual pizzas with personality are an easy way to put an end to boredom and get everyone involved in meal prep! Try these super simple pizza night ideas from the forthcoming Cooking Class by Deanna F. Cook, or put your own spin on the theme.

Here, Kitty-Kitty Pizza

Pizza Dough + Tomato Sauce + Pepperoni Whiskers + Olive Eyes & Nose
Here, Kitty-Kitty Pizza. Photo  © Julie Bidwell, from Cooking Class

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Laura Erickson: Listening for Songs of Love

Perk up your ears! Romance is for the birds.

Black-capped Chickadees sing a clear, whistled “hey, sweetie!” Photo © Marie Read, from Into the Nest
Valentine’s Day is a time when many Americans focus on romantic love and hear frequent mention of “the birds and the bees,” even though bees and most songbirds are months away from engaging in courtship behaviors. Here in northern Minnesota, where I live, the increase in bird songs and woodpecker tappings we’re hearing now is a result of lengthening daylight hours. The longer days make avian hormone levels surge, leading to courtship behaviors that also induce hormone production. The combination of day length and courting behaviors works together in many species to make the birds physically and physiologically ready to mate and produce young.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valerie Peterson & Janice Fryer: We [Heart] Valentine’s Day Cookies

Cookie Craft authors Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer dress up the classic heart-shaped cookie with some Valentine’s Day love.

Photo by Janice Fryer
It’s already Valentine’s Day and Santa still hasn’t brought either of us what (who?) we asked for this past Christmas. And Colin Firth appears to still be married. . . .

Therefore, we once again must bestow our Valentines — in the form of cookies — on family and friends, for which they are ever so grateful.

Actually, Valentine’s Day cookies are among our favorites to make, no matter who gets them. With three colors (red, pink, and white), the setup to create a wide variety of designs is relatively quick. We typically use our chocolate cookie recipe for a nod to V-Day tradition, and it’s always a hit with chocolate lovers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Stephanie Tourles: A Recipe for Raw Chocolate Turtles

The secret ingredient in these no-bake chocolate treats? Pure bliss.

Love is the most wonderful feeling in this world, isn’t it? And the food that most often symbolizes this emotion is chocolate. Now, I’m not talking about the commercially popular Hershey’s Kisses or Lindt Lindor Truffles, but real, raw chocolate, also known as cacao.
Learn more about Raw Energy.
Described as the “food of love” for good reason, cacao contains an abundance of phenylethylamines (PEAs), a class of compounds produced in our bodies when we fall in love. This could be one of the main reasons we have such a deep association with chocolate and the feelings of love.