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Beach Plum Crazy

Beach Plum Jelly

I recently had the pleasure of attending a fabulous beach plum canning workshop with the Trustees of Reservations and Appleton Farms. Beach plums can be found growing in the wild along the coast from Maine to Virginia.

Purple Beach Plums

The shrub-like trees grow in sandy areas and produce sweet, cherry-sized fruits in purple and golden varieties.

Golden Beach Plums

Beach plums can be eaten raw, made into jams and jellies, used in baking or in cordials and liqueurs.

Beach Plum Harvest

I’m told that this year’s yield was unusually large, so we were able to pick enough fruit for the canning workshop plus some to take home.

You need a permit to pick on Trustees’ land so I’m not going to give up our harvesting location. The leaders of the workshop were really passionate about the importance of keeping sand dunes intact because they protect our beaches. If you decide to go out in search of the beach plum on your own, please respect their habitat by staying on marked trails and trying not to step on the vegetation that keeps the dunes in place.

Straining Beach Plum Juice

In the workshop, we made a delicious beach plum jelly. After boiling down the fruits, we strained out the juice and combined it with sugar and pectin. The result was tart and sweet with a distinctly “plummy” flavor.

At home with my extra fruit, I decided to try making two varieties of beach plum cordial. I couldn’t decide between a vodka-based recipe and a brandy-based one, so I tried both. We won’t know how those turned out until I take them out of their “cool dark place” in March. I’ll let you know…

I’ve got a few cups of whole beach plums stowed in the freezer to get me through until next year’s harvest. Now that I’ve had a taste, I have a feeling that beach plums are going to be a yearly tradition.

Here is a link to the recipes for beach plum cordial and beach plum jam. You can find more great beach plum recipes in Elizabeth Post Mirel’s book, Plum Crazy: A Book About Beach Plums.

Sweet and Salty Watermelon Salad – CSA Week 12

It seems that I’m a bit behind on blogging. I must admit that August was a tough month for writing CSA-focused blog posts. For one thing, the weather was gorgeously sunny but not too hot and made me want to be outside all the time. Ever tried to read a computer screen in the sun? On top of that, 90 percent of the late summer produce from the CSA has been the type that’s best enjoyed raw or very simply prepared. Deep crimson heirloom tomatoes, peppery arugula, perfectly crisp bell peppers, sugary sun-gold cherry tomatoes, bright green basil, delicately bitter cucumbers…all of these things were ending up in my belly before my mind could even begin to formulate a recipe!

I hope you all have been enjoying the lovely vegetables and fruits of August as much as I have. My return to the kitchen is guaranteed as fall ushers in crisp weather and root vegetables, but in the meantime here is a quick simple recipe that I made with the last of August’s bounty.

Salty and Sweet Watermelon Salad

Sweet and Salty Watermelon Salad

  • 6 C chopped watermelon (I used a mixture of yellow and pink…use as many colors you can get your hands on for a beautiful presentation!)
  • 1/2 C very thinly sliced Alisa Craig onions
  • 2 T finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 C sliced Kalamata olives
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • sea salt (optional: skip the salt and use feta cheese if you aren’t keeping it vegan)
  1. combine the watermelon, onions, mint, olives, olive oil and pepper in a large bowl
  2. just before serving, sprinkle a generous helping of crumbled feta or, for the vegan version, a scant sprinkling of  sea salt to individual portions. If you add the salt or feta too far in advance, the juices of the watermelon will be drawn out and you’ll have a soupy mess.

yellow watermelon

One-Pot Veggie & Penne Supper – CSA Week 9

One-Pot Veggie & Penne Supper

After working all day, it’s nice to have a home cooked meal, but who wants to deal with all the dishes? Even for those of us who love to cook, the thought of having to clean up the mess can send us running to the phone to order takeout. This is a healthy and hearty one-pot meal that will totally satisfy without creating a disaster in your kitchen. Bonus for using a dutch oven: it’s pretty enough to put right on the table for serving and it keeps your leftovers safely stored in the fridge. NO pot to clean after dinner!

CSA ingredients are in bold type. This dish uses a lot of them!

One-Pot Veggie & Penne Supper

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Alisa Craig onion, sliced (any onion will work)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 C small (about 1 inch) Red Gold potatoes, cut in half, skin on (Red Bliss will work)
  • 1 Orient Express eggplant, cubed, skin on (any kind of eggplant will work)
  • 1 C whole wheat penne pasta
  • generous handfuls of fresh basil, oregano and parsley, chopped (reserve some for serving)
  • 1 C marinara or tomato sauce
  • water
  • 4 C fresh kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 yellow summer squash, cut into coins
  • 1/2 lb. green, yellow or purple wax beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • kosher salt
  1. heat about 1 T olive oil in a dutch oven and add the onion and green pepper
  2. once the onion and pepper begin to soften, add the potatoes and cook over medium heat until the potatoes are starting to brown a bit
  3. add the eggplant and salt generously
  4. stir while you continue to cook and brown the potatoes for about 5 minutes
  5. add the dry penne, fresh herbs and tomato sauce, stir and then add enough water to just cover the pasta
  6. add the squash, beans, and kale and season again with salt
  7. simmer over medium heat with cover on (it should be bubbling) for about 12 minutes, or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally (add more water if it becomes too dry or cook a little longer with the lid off if it seems too wet)
  8. stir in a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with the rest of the chopped herbs before serving

One-Pot Veggie & Penne Supper

Chocolate Beet Muffins – CSA Week 8

Confession: I hate beets. To me they taste slightly sweet, somewhat slimy and very earthy. And by “earthy” I mean dirt-like. I do appreciate the nutritional value of the beetroot and I admire its beauty. It’s the taste and texture I can’t get past. For these reasons, I’ve been on a mission to come up with ways to consume, but not taste, beets.

We can all have a good laugh at my attempt at Candy Cane Beet Sundaes. That was a mess. But as promised, I have come up with a winner. Chocolate Beet Muffins probably sound a little strange but I swear they taste great.

Using the recipe analyzer at caloriecount.com, I found out that  each one of these muffins provides a whopping 17% of your daily fiber recommendation and 9% of your daily iron (based on a 2000 calorie diet). Yay beets!

Chocolate Beet Muffins

Chocolate Beet Muffins

  • 4 medium-small beets
  • 1/2 C dried, pitted dates
  • 1 1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 C raw sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 4 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C non-dairy milk – unsweetened (I used coconut milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 C chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (Trader Joe’s brand happens to be vegan)
  1. in a 350 degree oven, roast the beets (wrap whole, washed beets in tinfoil) until tender, about 1 hour
  2. once beets are cooled, peel and add to food processor
  3. add dates to food processor and process until mixture is completely smooth – you will have to scrape down the sides several times
  4.  in a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and use a whisk to get rid of any clumps
  5. add the wet ingredients, including the beet and date puree and stir until combined
  6. fold the walnuts and chocolate chips into the batter
  7. line a 12-muffin pan with wrappers and spray each one with a little PAM
  8. divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin wrappers
  9. bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean

roasted beetsdried, pitted datespureed dates and beetschocolate beet muffinschocolate beet muffin batter

Candy Cane Beet Sundaes – CSA Week 5 – FAIL!

Chioggia beets, also called candy cane beets, due to their delicate concentric white and red rings, are stunning. Whether thinly shaved into salads or coarsely diced and roasted, these beauties always steal the show.

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When I saw candy cane beets in the share room, I couldn’t wait to take these marvels of nature home from the farm and get creative with them. But then I lost all ambition to cook. Yet another heat wave had hit us New-Englanders and I was having trouble getting into the kitchen.

In the oppressive heat of the afternoon last week, I was contemplating the many ways in which I could showcase the beauty of my lovely CSA Chioggias. As hard as I tried to brainstorm recipes featuring root vegetables, my mind kept wandering back to cooler things. With visions of swimming pools, industrial fans and frozen margaritas dancing in my head, I just couldn’t focus on roasting, mashing, pureeing, dicing or slicing beets.

And then it hit me.

Ice cream! Because really, when in doubt…ice cream.

I would make sundaes, starring not only the lovely candy cane beet, but also her more practical, if less showy friend, the red beet. I’d kill two beets with one sundae. A risky endeavor that sounded like a solid plan in my head, which, in retrospect, was clearly affected by the midday heat.

I spent most of Sunday morning feverishly working in the kitchen to bring to life my vision. First, I peeled and juiced a few red beets and boiled down their liquid with starlight mints, producing a shocking red, “candy cane” sauce.

red candy cane sauce

I then hauled out the ice cream maker to whip up a coconut milk based, vegan, “candy cane” ice cream.

2013-07-20 23.33.51

To the ice cream I added crushed up starlight mints and a bit of my fresh “candy cane” sauce for a red, minty swirl.

crushed starlight mints

red swirl ice cream

I even candied and crisped paper-thin candy cane beet chips for a dainty garnish.

After all that work, I was excited for my sundaes to be a total hit.

But alas, they were a total flop. The once vibrant candy cane rings on my beet chips became washed out and faded, the ice cream was waaay too sweet and the red minty swirl was more like gelatinous, semi-coagulated beet juice with subtle notes of Listerine.

I decided to share this kitchen nightmare because it proves that while it can be very rewarding to leave your comfort zone and try new things, you won’t always hit a home run. And that’s OK! For every failed recipe you’re bound to create some winners. Especially when cooking with a CSA, half the fun is in being creative…in leaving behind the cookbooks and breaking some culinary rules. A little coagulated beet juice isn’t going to stop me. A bold new beet recipe is my next project, and it’s going to be a good one!

CSA Week Five

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  • CSA Week Five
  • snap dragon flowers
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • (and all the usual herbs)
  • fennel
  • mini cabbage
  • salad turnips
  • chioggia beets
  • carrots
  • scallions
  • garlic scapes
  • russian red kale
  • vitamin green
  • lettuce
  • snap beans
  • summer squash

Dill-Pickled Scapes, Fennel and Radishes – CSA Week 4

Image

I love the strong aroma and bright flavor of fresh dill, so I was super excited to have a few items in the farm share this week that I knew would make delicious dill pickles.  No need to drag out your canning equipment for this recipe; these refrigerator pickles are quick and easy.

Dill-Pickled Scapes, Fennel and Radishes

makes 2 large jars

  • 3 C water
  • 2 C apple cider vinegar
  • 6 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 6-8 whole sprigs of fresh  dill
  • 4-6 medium radishes, sliced
  • 6 garlic scapes, cut into sections
  • 2 fennel bulbs, sliced (I tried using the stalks but they were much too fibrous to eat)
  1. in a saucepan, bring the water, apple cider vinegar and salt to a boil
  2. stuff 2 glass jars with the peppercorns, dill, radishes, scapes and fennel*
  3. pour the boiling liquid over the vegetables, filling the jars all the way to the top
  4. cover and allow to cool
  5. store in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving

* use a wooden skewer to help pack the dill around the veggies

A Little Birdie Told Me

When I got to work on Friday morning, a normally jovial co-worker was standing in the parking lot looking really glum. He’d found a baby bird laying on the hot pavement, unable to move. He figured it had fallen from it’s nest but wasn’t sure how to help it and he was feeling bummed at the thought that it would probably die.

I love all living creatures. That’s a fact. But there is one member of the wild kingdom that I fear above all others.

Birds.

I know it’s a strange phobia. Birds are cute, they sing pretty songs, they fly. What’s to be afraid of? The theory in my family is that I developed a healthy respect for all things feathered as a toddler, when I used to run around our paddock with the ducks and geese we kept. Their love of shiny objects meant I had to be quick on my feet to dodge their incessant eye-pecking.

Still, our feathered friends deserve the same consideration as everybody else. I was going to do what I could to help. But I had no idea where to start.

Luckily, I had the contact information of local bird rescue guru, Jodi Swensen. I e-mailed her a photo of the baby bird and she quickly identified him as an English or House Sparrow. He didn’t quite have all his feathers and really wasn’t ready to leave the nest yet.

Jodi was unable to take him in because she needed to save what little space she had for species that weren’t doing as well as him. She said that he was just days away from fledging and that there were a couple of things that I could do to help him.

I was not aware of this until Jodi educated me, but it is illegal to intervene with certain species of protected birds. She assured me though, that sparrows are not on the protected list and that I could legally help him by closely following her instructions.

The first thing Jodi asked me to do was to try to return the baby bird to its nest. It is a myth that the parents will reject a baby that’s been touched by human hands. Unfortunately, the nest was in the gutter at the very top of our building and there was no way for me to reach it.

Jodi next asked me to decide whether I wanted to hand-raise the bird, feeding him every half hour from sun-up to sun-down, or to make a new nest for the bird and place it in a spot where the mother and father would be able to care for him.

I wanted to intervene as little as possible, so I thought it best to get the bird back to the wild as soon as I could.

While I worked on his outdoor accommodations, Jodi told me to keep the baby bird inside in a box lined with something soft. She said that even though outdoor temperatures were in the 90’s, he would probably still need a source of direct heat since he didn’t have all his feathers yet. She told me to fill a water bottle with hot water and wrap it in something soft.

I was skeptical, but she said the bird would move away from it if he became too hot. 
He cuddled right up to it!
Next, I had to get him fed and hydrated. Jodi suggested something called handfeeding formula from Petco, but I wasn’t able to leave the office to pick any up. I did happen to have fresh raspberries and green grapes with me for lunch. She said either one would be a great thing to feed him. Blueberries work too. The fruit has enough liquid to hydrate him. On the website Jodi recommended, starlingtalk.com, caution is given that you should NEVER place fluid directly in the mouth of a wild bird as this could cause them to aspirate, develop pneumonia, or drown.
I peeled the grapes and broke up the fruit into tiny pieces. Now it was time to get over my fear of beaks and feed the little guy.
It wasn’t so bad. Time to gather some materials for nest building. 
Jodi told me to make sure the nest had drainage holes so he wouldn’t drown if it rained. A blueberry crate I found in the recycle bin was perfect for that. Wood chips borrowed from the organ-building company next door would serve as insulation. Fluffy cotton taken from a feminine hygiene product would act as a soft cushion. And a little dry grass from the periphery of the parking lot would keep it all together.
Baby bird loved his new digs. After feeding him for most of the day, I was starting to get attached, but I knew it was best for the bird if I returned him to the care of his parents. So, with a heavy heart, I brought the nest across the street. I used the flexible branches of a tree to weave the nest securely under the cover of some leaves. I said goodbye and hoped mom and dad would take good care of this little guy over the weekend.
I took this photo on Monday morning. Mom must have thought I was a total nest-building amateur, because it’s evident that she swooped in and spruced things up as soon as I was out of the way. She took good care of her baby all weekend and I’m happy to report that he is alive and well! He has most of his feathers and is hopping around and perching! 

I can’t thank Jodi enough for her advice. This is actually the second time she’s successfully helped me with a wild bird dilemma. Please take a look at her website and consider donating something from the list of items she needs. She’s a great resource for Cape Ann residents who come across wild birds in need of help. If you aren’t local, please find a qualified wildlife rehabilitator in your area. It’s really important that you have the right information before trying to help any wild animal.