Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's Time to Dream

Me and Gil have these wonderful dinnertime conversations, just the two of us. Lately we've been sizing up the garden once again (we do this every year). The ground is frozen and covered in snow and it’s a perfect time to reflect and do some planning. These conversations may have gotten a little predictable but we still find them way more enjoyable than politics, the weather, and the usual gossip.   

As we eat our home-grown produce we talk about whether we grew enough of our favorites. And it goes like this (I’ll let you guess who says what): “Wow, this winter squash is great. Let’s keep growing this kind.” (The winter squash by the way has exchanged starches for sugar, is mega sweet and wow is it good. Our dog loves it too- she can’t get enough of it). “At the rate we’re eating these beets we’ll run out next month. More next year?” “Absolutely!” “If you’re gonna put green beans in everything we’ll run out of ‘em.” “Yeah, maybe we need an extra row of those, and I wish we had put in a row of brussels sprouts.” “Let’s make sure to do those, some variety would be nice.”    
We also talk about how the garden year went. Did we get what we wanted out of the space we have? Actually, it was an excellent growing year for many, not just us. Since it went pretty good, we say stuff like, “geez i hope it will be as good next year! “Should we do some soil improving anyway?” “Yeah, might be a good idea just in case. Get some more manure around?” “Sure, and do we need any soil tests?” 
Invariably we get around to the idea of expanding garden space, something we’ve done almost every year so far. And the conversations go like this: “No, let’s not make the gardens any bigger. Don’t need the extra work”. “What work?” “What do you mean, ‘what work’?” “Well, what is there? We got the planting, the harvesting, and not much in between.” “Well, there’s manure and compost spreading.” “That’s no biggie.” “Ok, so let’s make a couple extra beds.” 
Feeding into these discussions are the plant and seed catalogs that have been arriving. They have the timing right, those companies. Seducing us in the middle of winter with gorgeous pictures and luscious descriptions, oh-h-h-h, gosh. They do have it right, you know. They couldn’t have gotten us at a better time. “Do YOU remember planting that pear tree last spring?” “WHAT pear tree?” “The one you planted, dear....And do you remember planting seeds in the middle of black fly season?” “I did WHAT?” Yea-a-a-a-h, they got it right. We have our catalogs and we are dreaming and it is as good as winter squash in January. -jmm

Beef and Vegetable Soup/Stew

Serves 4
Here is a very simple winter recipe that we like to make using veggies from root cellar or freezer, and organic grass-fed beef from farmer Mike a couple towns over in Lyman. We use a soup bone for this, and the butcher leaves plenty of meat on. If your soup bone is not meaty, add a pound or so of stew meat. 
Somehow, some Burgundy wine from California snuck itself into the pot even though we aspire to the hundred mile diet. But we have good intentions having started some Marechal Foch grapevines for wine making. 
The stock for our soups is made from vegetable scraps, mushroom stems, chicken bones or whatever else is handy. Collect such trimmings in a container in the freezer and cook them into a broth when there are enough. Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves while cooking, and some salt and pepper.

Jalepeno pepper adds a wonderful zip to winter cooking. Ours were picked from the garden and then sewn onto a long string and have been drying in the kitchen window, ready to pluck off the string and use at any time. 
This recipe is full of good things and sometimes comes out more like a stew than soup.  You can thicken it if you like with a flour and water roux. Also feel free to add other vegetables such as peas, corn, or whatever you have on hand. Along with a green salad freshly picked from the cold frames, it is a complete meal. It is also wonderful with freshly baked corn bread.  
Beef soup bone
4 quarts of stock 
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 large carrots cut into 1/2” diagonal slices
2 medium potatoes cut into 1” cubes
2 cups of green beans 
1 Jalepeno pepper finely diced (include the seeds if you like it little hotter)
1 cup of Burgundy wine
Salt & pepper to taste
Put the stock into a cast iron dutch oven and bring to a boil. Add the soup bone and simmer for an hour. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and potatoes. Simmer another hour. Add the green beans, jalepeno pepper and wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a half hour. Remove the bone, cut the meat into chunks and add it to the pot, then discard the bone (“here, Rover!”). Add roux to thicken if desired. Serve. -G.H.