NO GMO’S IN THE EMPTY NEST

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We write a lot about food and our search to find good food.  We’re not obsessed with organics, but we want fresh food, minimally processed at the very least.  There has been a lot written lately about GMO’s,  genetically modified organisms.  A genetically engineered organism is an organism that has been manipulated by humans in a way that could not occur in nature.

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Which brings us to Farmer Assurance Provision, now known as the Monsanto Protection Act.  Monsanto has cried foul over the nickname, but they wrote most of the provision,  so it seems fair to us.  If a GMO crop was found to pose a health threat to humans or animals, the provision would allow companies like Monsanto to continue to grow those crops until it was resolved in the courts.  That process could take years.  The “Assurance” isn’t really for the farmers, it’s for Monsanto.

Lovely wheat field

Monsanto is a formidable adversary.  If there is cross contamination of their GMO crops to an organic farm or any farm, instead of cleaning it up, they sue for patent violations.  They have sued over 800 small farms.  Fighting those lawsuits has put some of those farmers out of business.  Once their crops have been cross contaminated, they cannot sell their produce as organic.  There are currently class action suits by wheat farmers in Oregon and elsewhere because a field of unapproved GMO wheat has been found and may have contaminated their wheat fields.  Exports to Japan and Europe have been suspended, putting those farmers at terrible financial risk.

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We urge you to sign the petition that can be found on fooddemocracy.org .  We urge you to call your representatives and insist that they remove this rider from the farm bill now working its way through Congress.

A bill to require labeling of products containing GMO’s was recently defeated in Congress.  There are valid scientific studies linking GMO’s to childhood allergies and learning disabilities such as ADHD.  We don’t want to eat meat or poultry raised on genetically modified feed.  We don’t want to eat genetically engineered fruits, vegetables or grains and we certainly don’t want to feed them to our children.  Since most of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown worldwide are now genetically modified, doing so becomes a challenge.  Please contact your state representatives, asking them to pass legislation that requires that foods containing GMO’s be labeled as such.  Connecticut recently passed such a law.  If enough states pass labeling requirements, a federal law is possible.  Whether GMO’s are harmless or harmful is irrelevant to our right to know it’s in a product and to decide for ourselves if we want to consume it.  Monsanto’s stance that labeling will confuse and frighten the public, is ludicrous.

Hollywood, FL, March 26, 2011, Rally for the R...

Hollywood, FL, March 26, 2011, Rally for the Right to Know (Photo credit: MillionsAgainstMonsanto)

The power lies with us.  Monsanto has given up investing resources in Europe and Japan because people have risen up in such numbers against GMO’s that they know there will be no market there.  We can do the same here.  We would also like for you to consider boycotting the products listed below.  Monsanto may not be moved by words or reason, but money is a language they understand well.

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AN ARTICHOKE GROWS IN THE EMPTY NEST

artichoke in the fall.

artichoke in the fall.

Last year we took a field trip to a farm to buy heirloom plants for our garden.  The farmer had a flat of artichoke plants.  She told us that it probably wouldn’t grow but, if it did, we wouldn’t get an artichoke but we might get the thistle.  Artichokes aren’t meant to grown in Virginia.  You’ll never see an artichoke in the store with a “Virginia Grown” label.  We planted it and forgot about it.  It didn’t even rate a picture.  It does now-lots of them.  It’s about seven feet tall and has 19 artichokes.  Before the artichokes, it looked like a beautiful grey green dragon.  The weight of the chokes and the rise in temperature and humidity is taking its toll.  We’ll have to cut it back soon if we want it to survive.  But for now, we sit in amazement.  It is our little miracle.

almost 6' tall

almost 6′ tall

the first artichoke.  we looked at it in disbelief.

the first artichoke. we looked at it in disbelief.

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getting ready to flower.  artichokes are part of the thistle family.

getting ready to flower. artichokes are part of the thistle family.

flowering artichoke

flowering artichoke

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almost done flowering

almost done flowering

and now it's a thistle

and now it’s a thistle

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WHEN WISHES CAME TRUE

English: Main Street, Louisa, Virginia.

Toddler wishes turn to teenage dreams.  With hard work, opportunity and a little luck,  those wishes that turned in to dreams can come true.  That’s every parent’s wish.

We lived in a small town.  We would walk to school on nice days.  It gave us time to switch gears and talk about the day to come.  Matt was in kindergarten.  Louisa was three.  We were talking about wishes.  “Do they come true?” Matt asked.  “Sometimes.”  I replied.  Matt said if he had one wish, he’d wish for a toilet because he had to go to the bathroom.  It was, however, too late to walk back home.  When we turned the corner to head down 2nd Avenue, there it was.  The detritus of a remodel.  A pile of broken tiles, the remnants of a sink, and yes, a toilet, whole, complete and standing upright.  There was silence as we stood there taking it in.

English: This is used to pee in the bathroom.

 “Well, you got your wish” I said.  Big blue eyes stared up at me as if I was about to say “Go ahead, you said you had to go to the bathroom”.  Probably hoping I’d say it too, as it would be the best Show and Tell story ever – the stuff of legend.  My eyes responded: “Don’t even think about it”.  They giggled a little, but we were quiet too, as we mulled over this unexpected wish granting, wondering what would have happened if we’d made a better wish.  We kept walking and Louisa said ” If I had a wish, I’d wish for angel wings so I could fly to Pathmark #1″.  That was her favorite store for reasons known only to a three year old.   We walked the rest of the way to school where Matt would find a working, indoor toilet.  Louisa and I walked back home.  I strapped her in to her car seat and backed out of the driveway.   While I couldn’t give her angel wings, I could point the car in the direction of Pathmark #1.

English: "Fairies Looking Through A Gothi...

STRAWBERRY PRESERVES from Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg & Beatrice Vaughn – first published in 1973

We haven’t tasted the jam yet but these preserves are amazing.  You don’t have to process them in a canner.  They will keep in the fridge for a month-but probably won’t last that long.  The recipe only makes 3 cups-three 8oz Ball canning jars or any jars you might have that size will work.  This is not jam. It won’t spread.  It is more of a syrup.  Spoon it over ice cream, pound cake, waffles,  pancakes-add it to plain yogurt.  We’re contemplating banana splits with homemade chocolate sauce.  It’s easy and because the amount of berries is small, it’s not time consuming or work intensive.

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  • 4 cups perfect strawberries, washed and hulled (we found the perfect huller)
  • 3 cups organic sugar, divided
  • 3 quarts boiling water (boiled in a large flat bottomed pan, not a kettle so the water comes out in sheets)
  • 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ glass baking dish

Place cleaned, hulled berries in a colander in your sink.  Pour boiling water slowly over the berries.  Put heated berries immediately in a stainless steel stockpot.  Fold in 1 1/2 cups of sugar.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Lower heat and boil gently for four minutes.  Remove from heat and add in remaining sugar.  Bring mixture back to a simmer and simmer for three minutes.  If it foams up,  add 1/4 tsp. butter and stir.  Somehow the foam disappears.  Lift the berries out with a slotted spoon and place in the baking dish.  Pour the liquid over the berries.  Let mixture cool, cover and let set for 24 hours.  Pack the berries in hot jars (you should sterilize what ever jars you’re using in boiling water or run them through the dishwasher – they should be hot when you add the berries.)  Divide the berries evenly between the three jars then add the syrup.  If you have extra syrup, it’s delicious on strawberry shortcake with fresh, unsweetened berries.

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We have found that most gadgets don’t work – cherry pitters etc.  But this little strawberry huller works like a charm.  We found it at Williams Sonoma-it’s silly looking but it’s cheap and gets the job done.  It did occur to us that we were glad the kids were grown because it would be a perfect little weapon to torment a sibling without really hurting them.

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GARDENING, COOKING AND CANNING IN THE EMPTY NEST

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More than any other marker, starting the garden last weekend made us realize that it has been over a year since we started the blog.  While having a garden is fun, we are not gardeners.  We don’t love the feel of our hands in the dirt nor do we find weeding relaxing and peaceful. interimgarden We love thinking about what we’re going to plant.  We enjoy preparing the garden and planting the plants.  But what we want is the produce.  Pure and simple.   We do the work required.  We till.  We spread “moonure”.  We put the little plants in the ground.  We feed them.  We water them.  We then expect them to hold up their part of the bargain. fennel2 And they’d better produce that produce- there is no spot in the garden next year for the ingrates.  That’s the kind of gardeners we are.

that's as big as it ever got

that’s as big as it ever got

In the last four years, we have cooked Sunday dinner together almost every Sunday.  Over time, we have become good cooks.  But we will never cross over and become great cooks.   We know this because we both have great cooks in our families.  Sandy is one of six-the other five are exceptional cooks.  Denise’s brother, too, is an exceptional cook.  Every one of them can move around the kitchen with ease, have a conversation, drink a glass of wine and voila, dinner looks like a pictorial essay from the cookbooks on our shelves.  We still stutter step through every recipe. img_0056_0016 We move well in the kitchen, but we are always moving back to the recipe. “How many tablespoons?” “How much oil?” “What does that recipe say?”   We are not discouraged by this.  Almost everything we’ve made is good-some dishes and desserts have been exceptional.  But if something goes wrong, we find another recipe.  We have no interest in trying it again.  We’ve also come to realize that we will always cook at a pace reminiscent of cooking dinner, under the gun, on school nights. gardensalad We’ve learned to move slower, but we still seem to exhale when we sit down to eat and not a minute before.  We have no intention of quitting Sunday dinners.  We love them, especially now that we are stepping it up a notch with the Ad Hoc cookbook.  There is no doubt that two good cooks will someday become two really good cooks, but exceptional we will never be.

chicken potpie

chicken potpie

On our way to Trader Joes last Sunday, we started talking about how different canning has been for us than cooking Sunday dinner or planting the garden.  Neither of us remember when we first started thinking about it.   Canning has become what we do.  When we can, we move around the kitchen with ease.  We have conversations.  We don’t drink wine, too many sharp knives and boiling water.  Our hands pucker from cutting 10 pounds of lemons. IMG_0682 They turn red from blanching and chopping 25 pounds of tomatoes.  We have blisters from from small mishaps with boiling water.  sandyspic14 024We tweak with confidence and instinctively know how something will taste if we add this spice instead of the one called for in the recipe.  This we love.  This is hard work and effortless at the same time. IMG_0530 We get better every time we can.  If something goes wrong, we don’t look for another recipe or pick a new plant, we try again.  And we keep trying until we succeed.   We’re good at this and, we know, we will get better.   That feels really good.

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

As the nests emptied, we knew we needed to find something to propel us forward.  We loved the new relationships we were forging with our children.  But you do miss having your children in the house and it’s heavy sometimes.  Moving on, moving forward, who knows what to call it.  It seemed as if we had not prepared ourselves as well as we had prepared them.  Perhaps empty nest is one of those life experiences for which there is no preparation.  But for us, it may just be that the search for peace and purpose in the empty nest ends in a big black graniteware canning pot.

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THE MENU:  BURGERS ON THE GRILL – WE’RE MAKING STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

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We picked 32 pounds of strawberries Saturday. IMG_1221 It was muddy, ankle deep muddy but once we remember how much fun walking through mud is when you’re little, we stepped right in.  IMG_1232 Sunday we canned 28 jars of preserves and jam.  These were new recipes and we won’t know until tomorrow if we have jam, syrup, or cement so we won’t share the recipes until we open the jars.

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looks like a little chicken

looks like a little chicken

strawberry shortcake for dessert

strawberry shortcake for dessert

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MOTHERS DAY IN THE EMPTY NEST

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It’s Mothers Day.

Thank you for every word you’ve spoken, email you’ve written, and gift you’ve given that shows us that you understand that empty nest is real and that you are cheering for us.  The gardening books, the cast iron pans, the measuring cups, the cookbooks, the wine glasses, the plants in the backyard, each one signifying a family member, these are remarkable gifts.  As you left the nest, you too realized the truth in the words of AA Milne when he wrote:  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”   That the excitement of the unknown and the possibilities and promises it holds, trumps the sadness of farewell is no small lesson.   It may be a lesson that we taught each other at the same time.

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Thank you for being so generous in sharing with us your interests, experiences and your dreams.  Your curiosity and courage has rekindled ours.

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You are, each and every one of you, smart, funny, creative, compassionate and kind.  We may have played a small part in nurturing those qualities, but you are who you are because of you.

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We love you.

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We aren’t cooking today.  Denise’s daughter Erin is making us a Mother’s Day dinner.  Thanks Erin!

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NINA, GEORGE AND WANDA (FORMERLY KNOW AS SANDY)

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My sister is on a last chance list.  When a shelter has a dog that will be euthanized, they send out the alarm to the no kill shelters who in turn, if they don’t have room, start calling people on the last chance list.  My sister has three last chance dogs.  Her soft spot is pit bulls and they are all part pit.

george and nina

george and nina

Nina has three legs.  She was thrown out of a window.  I don’t know Nina very well but I’ve been told she has figured out how to get down on her belly to stalk the squirrels in the backyard.

george

george

George was a stray for over a year.  He is part pit and part something enormous, mastiff perhaps.  He had only been in Carrie’s house for a few days, when she was invaded by out of state family-six of us.  The next day there was a blizzard, trapping us all in the house.  George went from living outside on his own, to the chaos of sharing space with ten people, ten strangers.  Not for one moment, was he skittish or uneasy.  He found a spot under the kitchen table and there he stayed.  Once in awhile, we’d hear a sigh of contentment.  George was home and he knew it.

nina and sandy before she becomes wanda

nina and sandy before she becomes wanda

A few weeks ago, she got another call.  A 7 month old puppy found abandoned in the Bronx, named Sandy.  She had kennel cough and mange when she arrived at the shelter in Connecticut.  When Carrie was finally able to pick her up and bring her home, she sent me a picture of her in the car, sitting up, looking out the window.  I will let this picture speak for itself. IMG_0772 It is haunting.  This is a puppy who has known not a minute of kindness.  It is quite possible she was born to an already abandoned mother.  She looks old.  She looks bewildered.  She looks stoic and resigned to whatever the fates have in store for her.  She does not yet know that she is a very lucky puppy, but then she never had the chance to be a puppy.  It has not been the easiest of adjustments.  Both she and George were strays so meal time has to be in separate rooms.  Food is survival and that memory must die hard.  They have re-named her Wanda. IMG_0770 It’s a good name-sturdy and secure.  Sandy’s past is filled with hunger, pain and terror.  Wanda’s future is filled with love, companionship, a food bowl of her very own, and a spot on the bed.

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God bless the people who work the phones in these shelters and those who transport these dogs to shelters that can take them, and, most of all, God bless the people who answer those last chance phone calls.

wanda finally looking like the puppy she is

wanda finally looking like the puppy she is

THE MENU:  HOT DOGS ON THE GRILL, SALAD, LEEK BREAD PUDDING, S’MORES

Leek Bread Pudding adapted from the Ad Hoc Cookbook

  • 2 cups 1/2″ thick slices leeks – green & white green parts only
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 cups 1″ cubes crustless brioche or french bread
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Comte’ or Emmentaler cheese

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Put leeks in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.  Lift leeks from the water and place in a medium saute’ pan over medium high heat.  Season with salt to taste and cook, stirring often for about five minutes until soft. IMG_1104 Lower the heat to medium low, stir in the butter to emulsify and add fresh ground pepper to taste.  Cover with a parchment lid (a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of  your pan with a hole to vent steam in the middle).  Cook, stirring every 10 minutes until leeks are very soft – about 30 minutes.  

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Spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and toast in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until dry and golden.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add the leeks and toss with the bread cubes.  Add the thyme and chives.  Leave the oven on.

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Whisk the eggs in another bowl.  Whisk in the milk, cream and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Spread half the leeks and croutons on top.  Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of cheese.  Spread remaining leeks and croutons over the top and top with another 1/4 cup cheese.  Pour enough of the egg, cream and milk mixture over the top to cover the leeks and croutons.  Let soak for 15 minutes.  Add the remaining liquid and top with the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake for 90 minutes until the custard is set and the top is brown and bubbling.

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THE ORANGE BOWL IN THE EMPTY NEST

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Almost everyone has a set of Pyrex mixing bowls.  At one time, they were the mandatory shower gift.  They nested and came in colors:  red, orange, yellow, green and blue.  I have only one left from my set- the orange one.  It’s the second to the largest – the “go to bowl”.  Louisa and I were baking a few years ago when she said “I always know I’m home when the orange bowl is on the table.  Someday I want that bowl.”  Her words took me by surprise.  It’s an old bowl.  It’s scratched and faded and I don’t particularly like the color orange.  But when I thought about it, it is as filled with memories as any other part of the house.  It has been home to pasta, salads, pasta salad, batters for cakes and cookies.  In it I baked one of their favorite desserts:  hot fudge pudding cake.  A little miracle of science.  It may be one of the single most unappetizing things I’ve ever put in an oven:  a batter covered with dry ingredients and hot water.  But somehow, when it’s done, there is a layer of cake covering a layer of dark chocolate pudding.  Topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it’s a little bit of heaven.  It was, and, when we’re together, still is, our favorite treat for movie nights.

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Not surprising, the bowl also has a connection to Denise.  When I first moved here, I invited her little ones over to make a birthday cake for her.  They were toddlers at the time.  Denise ran a tight ship in those days.  She made this noise I can’t quite describe when they were about to trespass in to germ country.  They’d hear that noise, stop dead, hold up those little hands, wait for them to be wiped clean, then off they’d go.  It was like watching a game of freeze tag.  That day, I had them each standing on a chair while we made the batter in the orange bowl.  I poured it in to the pan, leaving enough for some fun licking the bowl.  I gave them each a spoon and turned to put some things in the sink.  Remember the scene in ET when Drew Barrymore finds ET in the closet?  She screams.  He screams.  She screams some more.  That’s what I turned around to.  These two sweet, beautiful faces, mouths open wide, screaming and holding up their hands because they were covered with batter.  Telling them to lick their fingers only met with louder screams.  I tried not to laugh while I wiped off those sticky little hands.  I couldn’t send them home traumatized by making a birthday cake, so I took over, scooping a little batter onto the spoons and handing it off to them.  That worked much better.  They were proud and happy when they gave Denise her cake.

The orange bowl as home.  Had Louisa never made that remark, I would have never entertained the thought.  But she was right.  After a day of school and work, that bowl almost always found its way to the counter, if not the table.  It is the one tangible object that has been a constant since they were born.  I look at the orange bowl through different eyes now.  It is the only bowl I use when I make bread or bake something new.  I don’t nest it with the other bowls, just in case it might get chipped.  When I take it out of the cupboard,  I can feel the memories that it has absorbed over the years.  I hear little voices filled with excitement at the prospect of a favorite dish and those same little voices saying “I’m not eating that!”.   It has been a receptacle of it’s own triumphs and failures and will continue to be so-an orange microcosm of our family life.  And it makes me happy that my friend and her children are a part of those memories.  The orange bowl as home.  Thanks, Louisa.

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THE MENU: BARBEQUED CHICKEN, BUTTERY FARRO, ARUGULA BLOOD ORANGE SALAD, THOMAS KELLER’S BROWNIES FROM THE AD HOC COOKBOOK

Gaining more confidence with each recipe we’ve tried, we made the brownies.  We usually make one bowl brownies-this is a three bowl brownie and would be worth making if it was a ten bowl brownie.  While our presentation doesn’t come close, the brownies are nothing short of spectacular and, of course, were mixed in the orange bowl.

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (the recipe calls for alkalized but we used Ghiradelli and it worked fine)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut in to one tablespoon pieces
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate cut in to chip sized pieces
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9″ square baking dish.  Sift together the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.  

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Melt half the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Put the remaining butter in a bowl.  Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir.  The butter should be creamy, with small bits of butter remaining and at room temperature.  Set aside.

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In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs, on medium speed, for about three minutes until thick and pale.  Mix in the vanilla.  On low speed, add about one third of the dry ingredients, then add one third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter.  Stir in the chocolate pieces.

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Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake 40-50 minutes until center is firm and toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs on it.  Ours took the full 50 minutes.  Cool on a rack until just about room temperature. IMG_1040 Run a knife around the edeges and invert on to a plate.  Cool completely.  Cut into squares or rectangles.  Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Thomas Keller's presentation

Thomas Keller’s presentation

Empty Nest's presentation (needs work)

Empty Nest’s presentation (needs work)

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