Arrabbiata Marinara

OK. So you can’t pronounce it. But that’s ok. It’s better eaten than pronounced anyway. “Arrabbiata” literally means “angry.” It won’t bite you though… if you know how to cook it right. It will, however, make you sweat a little. This traditional mariner’s dish is a blank red sauce that sailors (mariners) would take to sea with them and add seafood and preserved food stores to as it went along. It was really all about using up what seafood you had on hand. During the cold New Hampshire winter at Stone Farm (when nobody really wants to go out in the snow to drive to the store), spicy and warm is what’s on the menu tonight.

You start off by cleaning your mussels. Scrub them up in cold water, rolling them around in your hands, banging and scrubbing against each other, and yanking off the beards (yes, mussels have beards…tear them off), and wiping off any barnacles. Discard broken or open mussels, keep the good ones in a bowl in the fridge until it’s time to cook them.

Image

 This mussel needs a little shave of the goatee.

Here’s your mise en place: garlic (some set aside on the left for garlic bread), mushrooms of your liking, diced jalapenos, the guts of one jalapeno (for heat), diced onion, crushed red pepper and chopped bacon (or salt pork…cappicola or other preserved Italian meats will also suit just fine). Crushed tomatoes and a tablespoon of brown sugar round out the mise, and about 5 ounces of barolo or chianti would also be appropriate (I just don’t have any kicking around tonight).

Image

The mise en place, all set up and ready, posing with the laptop that never moves from that spot.

Pop open a couple of nice big quahogs (those are big clams for those of you that aren’t from New England) and get all the meat out and chopped up. You can save the juice, or “liquor”, from the clams and put it in the sauce later.

Image

                   No need to add your own blood to your angry marinara.

Be careful opening up the clam. Hold the back of the clam with your right thumb while pressing the knife into the seam. Be careful when forcing a knife at yourself. This can require a bit of force and can take some practice. I’ve whacked myself open as recently as 3 year ago opening clams, and I’ve opened tens of thousands of them.

Image

                                                           Be careful!

Getting olive oil hot in a deep cast iron skillet, just shy of the smoking point.

Image

                  A well loved cast iron skillet isn’t mandatory, but it sure is nice!

Next, you add the onion, garlic, bacon, and crushed red pepper.

Image

                       At this point the guests are salivating over the aroma.

When those are about half cooked, shove them aside and make a spot for the diced jalapenos.

Image

                             The peppers give the sauce its color and kick!

Time to chop up the quahogs.

Image

                              Some hard earned sea meat is ready for cutting.

Mix up the jalapenos with the rest of the ingredients and get them nice and hot, then roll in the mushrooms.

Image

                                               We are almost there! 

Get the mushrooms sauteeing with the rest of the goodies. You can see the minced garlic is starting to get toasty here.

Image

                            At this point the guests are whining with anticipation.

Empty the pan onto a plate and set it aside. Add more olive oil and get it hot again. Add some chunked up fish of your choice. I used swai fillets tonight because they were on sale and looked nice. Some grocery stores will be able to get you “junk fish”, which is a mixture of pieces that weren’t pretty enough for the retail window and usually consist of swordfish, haddock, broken scallops, and whatever else they have laying around. Such a thing is usually a huge bang for the buck and perfect for this job.

Image

This is where you can get rid of the fish you have that is no longer suitable to serve on its own.

Lay your mussels down across the top of the sauteeing fish and put a lid on it for about 3 minutes, at which point you should probably start smelling the steam coming off the mussels.

Image

                                                 Now it’s getting steamy!

The mussels are just about finished and the fish is done.

Image

                                  We’re ready to starting mixing it all together!

Now toss all the other goodies that you removed from the pan back into it.

Image

                                          All this work is going to pay off.

It’s starting to get pretty epic now. This is where you’d throw in your chianti or barolo if you had it, and let it cook off for about a minute.

Image

                                                   This version is sober.

In goes the crushed tomatoes, some romano cheese, and about a tablespoon of brown sugar.

Image

                            You can’t have good pasta without some cheese!

Cook it for just another minute or two, to get the new flavors incorporated and the sugar dissolved into the sauce (sugar kills any tartness), and serve it up with some garlic bread.

Image

     The Stone Farm guests thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the one who swore off seafood.

Making Meat the 1790 Way in a House Made the 1790 Way

Image

 

We acquired a wonderful old, cast iron dutch oven. We decided to put it to use in cooking a stew the way someone would when Stone Farm was first built in 1790.

 

 

 

Image

It was a lot of work because you have to manage the coal bed (it needs more wood) while also managing your heat. Our main fireplace doesn’t have a hook to dangle the dutch oven from, so we sat it on a trivet; in this case, two logs burning astride the coal bed. As the logs burned, they wanted to shift themselves around in their own ash, so we had to make sure they were always stable or our pot of food would have been entirely spilled into the bottom of the fireplace. So we had to do a lot of watching, essentially.

Once the bone broth was done, we got ready to slurry the stock and add the roasted vegetables:

Image

Adding the slurry (a mixture of flour & water slightly thinner than a milkshake):

Image

Mixing the slurry into the stock with a whisk until it takes on the viscosity of a thin sauce, like demi glace or finer:

Image

Roasted vegetables added and braised stew meat re-added:

Image

Then we put the lid on the oven and threw some water on the coals to tone down the heat a bit, so the thin sauce and its contents could simmer and thicken into a traditional stew. About a half an hour more.

Finishing things up, sitting flat on hot ash, surrounded by hot ash. As it turns out, spherical heat was unnecessary with this stew, surrounding heat billowing up and over was just enough to keep it steadily steaming away, and not boiling out of control.

Image

At this point it was pretty much done, and the flavor was extremely dynamic and out of sight. We let the meat stew just a little bit more, because I bet it wasn’t *quite* ready yet.

Nothing cooks like cast iron, and Stone Farm is now a big fan of this antique, thin cast iron. 

Image

The final installment, paired with home baked bread. It was good.

Image

An Idea for Wild Harvested Mushrooms

Aside

The basis for tonight’s dinner here at Stone Farm: locally wild harvested boletes and sulphur shelf mushrooms, courtesy of our neighbor Jacob. We’ve been dying for an excuse to use some of these, and tonight’s the night!

Image

Cold mise en place: boneless pork chops, flour, eggs, seasoned bread crumbs. Also, wild sulfur shelf and bolete mushrooms, marsala wine, crushed black pepper, 1/2 n’ 1/2.

Image

Hot mise en place (starting clockwise from back-right)- pot of rice, water from reconstituting dried wild mushrooms cooking down, frying pan for shallow-fat frying pork chops, boiling water for brussel sprouts.

Image

Frying up the chops on medium/high heat, cooking down the mushroom-soak water into flavorful reduction for sauce later.

Image

Katie, on brussel sprout-cutting detail.

Image

Beginning to boil the sprouts. (Pro-tip!!!: 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in your blanching water will prevent vegetables from losing their color when cooked.)

Image

Pork chops pan fried to golden brown, finishing on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven with the door ajar.

Image

Chopped up reconstituted wild shrooms, ready for sautee.

Image

Getting whole butter melted in the bottom of the cleaned frying pan, until it just starts to toast a little. Add shrooms at this point, and a pinch of kosher salt.

Image

Sulfur shelfs first, as they’re a little tougher than the boletes. Sautee and add some of the reconstitution reduction from the pot on the right, let cook down about 5 minutes until the water is almost gone again, imparting all the flavor from the soak water back into the shrooms.

Image

Add the boletes, a much more naturally tender mushroom. Sautee another 3 minutes, pretty hot/sizzling hot.

Image

Add about 6 ounces of Marsala.

Image

Stand back when you do it.

Image

After the fire goes out, add about 2 cups of 1/2 ‘n 1/2, and let it cook down over medium-high heat, stirring with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until it’s a nice thick-ish consistency.

Image

The final product.

Image

Hawthorn Berries!

hawthornMy fingers are stained from splitting Hawthorn Berries by hand. They now sit in canning jars, covered in vodka to make Hawthorn Berry Extract. We have the trees here on the property and the children were busy all afternoon picking the berries while avoiding the thorns. My daughter got a nice gash to show off for her labors.

Hawthorn Berry is an excellent herb for regulating blood pressure and heart conditions. I used to recommend it to clients when I lived in Los Angeles. Of course, that meant a trip to Whole Foods and a cost of $30 or more dollars per bottle. Imagine my joy when Stone Farm turned up with these little berries right under my nose!

I’m including the process I took in tincturing them, even though I’m sure that many people don’t have the berries on their properties that are going to read this. It was a fun exercise and maybe I can help someone who does find them growing wild.

  • Send two wild, rural children into the woods with buckets. That’s the most important part because little hands make quick work of branches with thorns! 
  • We were able to harvest three gallon size buckets full. But this will vary by the tree. Sometimes the berries are bright red and sometimes they are mottled with a pretty orange/red color that just adds to the beauty of a New England autumn. 
  • Soak the berries in water to wash them. We soaked ours in the well water here at Stone Farm that I’m convinced was discovered to be the original fountain of youth by the couple who founded our home. Drinking some of the fresh water is preferable as you pour it over the berries! 
  • Agitate the water to gently wash any dirt off the berries and pick any remaining stems, twigs and leaves from them. 
  • You can be quick about it and load them into a blender to crush them up a little or you can do as I did and pull them, one at a time and press them between your fingers until they pop open. 
  • Place the crushed berries in a canning jar until almost full and then cover with 80-100 proof vodka, gin or brandy. Store them on a shelf and gently shake them daily. After at least six weeks they are ready to be strained. Pour the remaining liquid into amber or cobalt bottles with glass droppers and they are ready for consumption! 
  • There is no danger to letting the berries sit longer in the liquor. The color is beautiful! 
  • Normal dosage is one to two droppers full three times daily.

Many thanks to our dear neighbor Adria for pointing out the berries I was ignoring!

Breathing

I learned two new things today: Sumac and sumac tea.

I sit at the window and all I can smell is the fresh air, laced with a hint of impending winter. I am looking at the woodpile and realizing it needs to grow some more and quickly. And then the chimneys need checking. And I need to get some more warm clothes for the kids.

But then I decide to breathe and relax and know it will all work out. It has to. This is New England and there is always something natural to stress about. Or not. Planning is one thing, but stressing when you can’t do anything at the moment is another.

There are fifty dragonflies circling the house like emergency rescue helicopters. Only they are feasting on the last remaining mosquitoes. It’s getting too cold for the smaller bugs and the bigger bugs are starting to starve out in their desperate fight to finish them off.

The garden is blossoming with hops and wild sarsaparilla. I want to harvest some of both and find uses for them before the season’s gone. And then I’ve been delaying the cutting of the mint and it’s starting to go to seed.

So many things I could be doing.

But all I’m doing is sitting here by the window and breathing. And drinking my sumac tea with raw honey.  And the peace I find here is better than anywhere I’ve sat in all my life.

Elderberries

It’s almost that time of year again. Kids are back in school and the leaves are starting to look a little rusty (at least here in New Hampshire!) 

In the fall I usually give my children cod liver oil to boost their vitamin D and have elderberry syrup on hand to help keep away our version of the “evil eye”… those seasonal flus and colds that kids are so keen on sharing during the school year.

To be totally honest, I think my children took their cues on how to respond to these good motherly measures from a dog named Cooper.

I used to spend dozens of dollars a year on elderberry syrup. But to my delight, I have discovered that we have several elderberry trees on our property here! I’ve been watching them with glee as they have flowered and developed their berries. And I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for them to ripen!

Today I decided it was “the” day to pick them. They looked ripe enough and ready for making into syrup. I had dreams of making some jam too, if I could harvest enough!

So, anyway… there I was. Bowl in hand. Walking out to the trees with a smile on my face and a breeze in my hair. Sunlight was streaming down between the kinds of clouds that make rainbows if you aren’t careful. And then I stopped and dropped my jaw in awe.

They were GONE. Well, most of them at least. Perfectly picked from the bottom branches to about 7 feet off the ground. The only ones that remained were in the back and inaccessible without shimmying through a million grabby  branches or way up high where I couldn’t reach!

Deer aren’t that tall. Black bears aren’t either. The only animal I knew of in the area that could reach that high would be a … MOOSE.

ImageI couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was battling a moose for my elderberries. And considering that he was probably here before I was, maybe it was I who was stealing HIS berries?

I settled for pulling the branches toward me so I could reach some of them. I only got about a cup of them, but that was enough for one batch of elderberry syrup. I’m posting the recipe I’m using below, with some of my own adjustments:

  • 2/3 cup elderberries
  • 3.5 cups of distilled water
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 T cloves
  • 1 cup raw honey

Clean and pick out any stems or other matter from the elderberries.

Pour water into medium saucepan that has been washed thoroughly and add the elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves (do not add honey!)

Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the liquid has reduced by almost half. At that point, remove from heat and let cool enough to be handled. Pour through a strainer into a sterilized glass jar or bowl. The cleaner everything is, the longer the syrup will last.

Straining homemade elderberry syrup1 How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Flu Prevention

Compost the remaining organic matter from the strainer and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. When it is no longer hot, add 1 cup of honey and stir well.

making homemade elderberry syrup recipe How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Flu Prevention

When honey is well mixed into the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a pint sized mason jar or 16 ounce glass bottle of some kind.

Homemade Elderberry Syrup for Flu Prevention How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Flu Prevention

Ta Da! You just made homemade elderberry syrup! Store in the fridge and take daily for its immune boosting properties. Some sources recommend taking only during the week and not on the weekends to boost immunity.

Standard dose is 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp for kids and 1/2 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear.

… and don’t forget your cod liver oil! (if you were here you’d hear my kids moaning in the background)

Porcupines

porcWe have porcupines.

They really like the apple tree in our yard and they have babies. Cute, furry babies. The kind that makes you go “squeeeee!”

But they have quills. The quills harden as they age and I’ve never been interested in finding out exactly how sharp they are at any given age of development.

Some people have quills too. You can’t really see them, but they are there. They don’t like being bothered, touched, poked. Some of them identify as being “libertarian.” They want to live a quiet life without being bothered and will shoot barbed death at you if you intrude.

My roommate is kinda like our porcupines. He likes to be left to himself.

My daughter is too.

Porcupines aren’t aggressive. They don’t shoot spikes like the movies would lead you to believe. They don’t do anything unless they are attacked. But they will defend themselves.

Whiskey is a Belgian Malinois. She looks like a German Shepherd. She’s kinda getting up there in years but she is curious and friendly. She’s also mostly blind and mostly deaf. Not too blind or deaf to know when someone is approaching Stone Farm, but blind and deaf enough to not know that it is US she is barking at.

Anyway, the other day she got a snout full of quill. Entirely her fault, I’m assuming. Like I said, porcupines aren’t aggressive.

Matt took a needle nose plier to her face and pulled out a good dozen of them. She submissively gave way to his proddings, wincing as he went. Poor thing. Guilty thing. All her fault, really.

But the strangest thing was that the very next night she was back out in the yard looking for the bastards that bruised her chops. She had a vendetta to fulfill. She was pissed.

And she was rewarded with even more quills. You’d think she would learn. But some of us are stubborn and want to touch that which does not want to be touched.

Another night of plier pulling. Another night of pain. I wonder if she will remember this time? Maybe not. The impulse is too strong to touch the thing that won’t be invaded.

The Full Moon

full moonI stand, staring up at a globe of light that suspends itself on nothing. It is the perfect ending to another day of wonder. I’m in awe of how much brighter the moon is here on Stone Farm. It’s as if the smog in Los Angeles leaves a permanent tarnish on its shine.

I’m so glad I left that hell hole with its gunshots, rat race, traffic and endless lines of hollow eyed people who live a hopeless existence from one parking ticket to another.

I can breathe. I can sit quietly. I can rest.

The moon chokes out the brilliance of the stars that I know to still be there. So strange that it was just a week ago that I was laying down on the stone patio and staring at the milky way until I could no longer keep my eyes open and drifted off to sleep in the open air. The shooting stars had begged me to stay awake all night, but ultimately the dull pull of the cycle of sleep won my allegiance.

But tonight there are only eight stars. Probably the same eight we saw in Los Angeles on a rare dark, clear night.

My daughter thought there were on eight stars in existence before we left the city.

I’m starting to see the pattern in the fluctuating impermanence that repeats in a sacred dance around me. It dances wildly and turns and comes back to center once again. It’s almost like a game the way it taunts time.

Nature is not a beauty dressed in chaos. She is a beauty made of rhythm and pattern. The sun sets and rises, the moon waxes and wanes, the seasons change. Even I, myself, sleep and wake again until my long days of season changes come to my own death and I awake on the other side.

And I know that I can release and trust that after all the seeming chaos of the storm that brought me here, this new season is a time to rebuild what the weather has destroyed.

This time it will be rebuilt stronger and the song will be louder and braver. And one day that song will grow faint and feeble and I will have ceased my work.

I look at the man standing next to me, my friend who is being a tour guide of sorts for me as I find my own way here in the land of less people. I think about the long process it will take for me to relax and decay into the forest floor like everything else here. And then I realize that he isn’t frantically thinking about any of that. During the time I’ve processed all of these thoughts he has just stood, staring at the beauty of the moon.

And in that moment I know I still have a long way to go. It’s going to take a whole lot more than being proud of the fact that I can now walk the length of the 40 acres in flip flops without being scared of the bugs. It’s the city inside me that needs to eek out like pitch and let the wounds scar over to support a new life in me.

I plan to detail that experience here. I hope it is of value in our hurried apathetic, numb world.