On Emotion & A Proper Cup of Tea

September 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Care for a cup of English tea?

cup-of-tea-10

Might you prefer an herbal? I can offer you that too.

I wish today I had a recipe for you but it has been that kind of week. A tea week. Strong, black and milky with a touch of honey.

This is the kind of week we have all had where our emotions get the best of us. Where our passions cloud our judgement and obscure the path to peace. The kind of week where you want to play Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” over and over…and over….et. al.

But I am here to encourage you that after you have done that for more time than you should, cut the cord and sit back with some tea, reaching into the silence of your heart.

Don't end up a slave to your emotions.

Don’t end up a slave to your emotions.

One of the most difficult things for me to grasp when studying the Desert Fathers (which perhaps much to your dismay I have a current fixation with) is that advice where they start talking about controlling the passions. Not feed our anger? Whaaaat? Not stroke our sadness? Yep. Nurture the pain so that you can heal, yes, but let it overtake your mind and body? In regards to our spiritual (and let’s face it, bodily) health, it really is no good.

The doorway to heaven may not be the easiest to open but it is the only one that leads to peace.

The doorway to heaven may not be the easiest to open but it is the only one that leads to peace.

Do not misinterpret this, Catholics are not against emotion or feeling. Come on, we are human after all and to feel is a beautiful thing. Like anything, however, there has to be limits and boundaries. Let emotion humble you, not exhault you. Then, the healing will come much quicker and be much deeper and the lovely moments will simmer and be savored rather than going off like a firework and disappearing.

Emotion does not exist in a vaccuum. Negative emotion, that of which I speak here, stems from one of the “8 great faults,” according to J. Cassian. The ever knowledgable and wordy (to the point of making me want to bonk him on the head) Cassian says this:

“…gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger, dejection, accidie, have a sort of connection with each other, and are, so to speak, linked together in a chain, so that any excess of the one forms a starting point for the next.”

So how does this happen, Cassian?

“For from superfluity of gluttony fornication is sure to spring, and from fornication covetousness, from covetousness anger, from anger, dejection, and from dejection, accidie.”

So it kind of works like a tree, huh?

“Wherefore in order to overcome accidie, you must first get the better of dejection: in order to get rid of dejection, anger must first be expelled: in order to quell anger,covetousness must be trampled under foot: in order to root out covetousness, fornication must be checked: and in order to destroy fornication, you must chastise the sin of gluttony.” John Cassian, Conference 5, Chapter 10.

These are the six he finds connected and overindulgence in negative emotion can find itself caught in this muddy pool.

The Desert Fathers saw the connectedness in all of the passions of life. Let one go and like a set of dominoes the others are soon to fall. Root out one and it will be much easier to do so to the rest.

That which lies in front of your face may be beautiful but there may be something even more beautiful just beyond.

That which lies in front of your face may be beautiful but there may be something even more beautiful just beyond.

So have a proper cup of tea. Rest. Heal. If need be let your saline tears fall like raindrops into its bittersweet waters. But hope and don’t be overcome by the vices seeking to eat you alive. For hope is the salve of God, the balm we all need.

The legend says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will return again!

The legend says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will return again!

Oh, and try some of this when you are done torturing yourself with the emo tunes. ;)

Love,

S

P.S. I recommend the inexpensive yet delicious PG Tips or Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold with milk and honey. Help my blog and soothe your soul. Butter cookies are good too.  Just buy some this week. You have my permission.

Fighting Acedia: Using What You Have, Not What You Want

August 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Strawberries w:Balsamic Vinegar

“whenever it [acedia] begins in any degree to overcome any one, it either makes him stay in his cell idle and lazy, without making any spiritual progress, or it drives him out from thence and makes him restless and a wanderer, and indolent in the matter of all kinds of work, and it makes him continually go round the cells of the brethren and the monasteries, with an eye to nothing but this; viz., where or with what excuse he can presently procure some refreshment. For the mind of an idler cannot think of anything but food and the belly…” On The Spirit of Acedia, Chapter VI, the Institutes of John Cassian

What is acedia?

Many theologians have tried to define this spiritual plague. Deep discontent arising in the spiritual life is at its bitter core. For a monk it may manifest in just what Cassian details. An aching spiritual hunger that is never satisfied. A monk may try to soothe his discontent with anything but prayer…wandering to and fro..eating this and that.

Sound familiar? A monk’s life is not all that different than ours at the heart.

In the world we may see the symptoms of acedia (akeedeia) in a similar manner:

Wanting to be anywhere that you aren’t. Wanting everything that you do not have. Being miserable in your own skin…restless. Quite a modern day illness if you will?

Buddhists have described this similarly, in that desire is what keeps you miserable and tied to this world. Christians do not shun desire itself, insofar that it is ordered correctly. Cassian reminds me of this. Remembering to desire within what I have been given, within providence. Reminding myself to be happy with what I have been given, even if it is the glorious chance to suffer, for that is to feel.

As much as I adore escaping through literature, travel or even creating beautiful recipes, there is a deep pain that can come from too much of this practice. One does not have to want to run to the ends of the earth to be suffering from acedia. One can be constantly searching within their own heart. That searching can bring illness. Everyone on Facebook seem to have more exciting lives than you? Watch that acedia! Wish your husband would whisk you away on a romantic getaway as they do in the movies? Ok, but bet if he does, as soon as you are back home, acedia.

Acedia might even get you while you are on holiday, for a new location will never bandage the pain of today for long.

What might be a way to remedy this?

Learning to BE. Accepting our lot in life. Well, as a food writer in particular (excluding the other personal aspects of my life), not going outside my budget, which as of now is tighter than it has been. Over here as much as I love new cultural recipes, experimentation has its costs both financial and spiritual. No bookmarking any recipes this week using duck confit. ;)

I fight the restless urge of the mind to buy, seek, move forward, produce! Isn’t that the American way? It may be, but it is not the only way all of the time. There is something to be said for tradition and simplicity.

So no buying new ingredients this week. Look at the produce you have. Peek into the depths of that cavernous pantry that hasn’t seen the light. Can you make something with it? Or better yet, just eat it as it is.

If only we could be happy….just where we are. I’m trying. Care to try with me?

Got tomatoes?

Homemade Pizza Margherita

Creamy Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

Caprese (Heirloom Tomato Salad)

Eat tomatoes cut in half w/salt. No link needed!

 

Cucumbers or Carrots?

Orzo Salad

Thai Summer Rolls w/Savory Dipping Sauce

Eat cucumbers & carrots cut up & sprinkled w/salt. Perfect.

 

Zucchini?

Fried Zucchini (eat alone or use as a sub in eggplant parmesan)

 

Fruit?

Amaretto Peach Crumble (or any stone fruit)

Kiwi Fruit Shrub

Eat Fruit. Sink teeth into that plum and enjoy the juices running down your face.

 

Have a CSA w/ Veggies Coming In?

Current ways I have been simply eating my CSA from One Woman Farm and my herb garden:

Cut up vegetables with Tzatiki (yogurt+lemon juice+fresh dill(and/or mint)+salt)

Close-Up Tzatiki w:Veg Tzatiki w:Veg

Sauteed Kale + Buttered Toast + Scrambled Eggs

Eggs w: Sauteed Kale

Roasted Beets

beets

Love,

S

Seeking some more depth on acedia? I can’t vouch for the rest of the blog (because I haven’t read it yet), but this post over on Darwin Catholic on acedia is quite perceptive. Also, she (they?) has a tag line in the same vein as mine. Sweet.

Roasted Tomatoes: An Exercise in Simplicity

August 8th, 2014 § 3 comments § permalink

Just look at the glint of light on these beauties! Will barter for cherry tomatoes.

Just look at the glint of light on these beauties! Will barter for cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes have that certain kind of innocent, robust and cheeky exterior that draws you in to to take a closer look.  Who would know by the looks of them they are of the often deadly and toxic “Nightshade” (Solanaceae) family.  Luckily tomatoes are not toxic to most of us.  Related to the likes of the pepper, potato, mandrake, eggplant (among others), this tasty summer delight is a favorite of mine.

Tomatoes are the one vegetable I will look forward to every year. Plucking a fresh tomato from the garden is one of the finest moments of the summer.

In most cases, it is best to keep it simple when enjoying tomatoes such as beefsteak, most heirlooms and cherry tomatoes. Take tomato. Slice. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a nice sea salt.  If splurging of course, add some fresh mozzarella di bufala and call it a meal. Oh my.

This summer, I have been in a tomato dearth. My CSA through One Woman Farm (hugs Margaret!) has been filled with many wonderful vegetables but not tomatoes yet! I have only been to the community garden once and was not able to grow anything but herbs this year. I try to wait until they come via the farm or garden since they are just so ridiculously expensive ($4-$5 a pint for the most part).

A mix of tomatoes from the Lawrenceville Community Garden and Who Cooks for You Farm.

A mix of tomatoes from the Lawrenceville Community Garden and Who Cooks for You Farm.

Even though my favorite way is to eat them raw, one of my old Chatham “Food, Farm & Field” classmates introduced me to this simple yet insanely amazing way of preparing them.

As a food writer and aspiring ascetic (good luck, huh), it is important to me to balance rich dishes with the most simple. Simple recipes to fall in line with my studies of John Cassian.

John_Cassian

Who is John Cassian? A saint and Eastern mystic, he is one of the desert fathers with the most influence over the Western church. As a desert father, he gave up the trappings of the world to live out in the deserts of Egypt, seeking simplicity. His works inspire the modern man to live a life of modern monasticism, that is monasticism of the heart or body. The goal here is self-control. It seems easy enough but here in the U.S., in a culture of plenty, the “what I want, when I want it” mantra is more deeply seeded than we think and not merely something to blame others for engaging in. It isn’t just a problem for the millenials, it is a problem for each of us.

“I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies… A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.” -J. Cassian

What I like best about tomatoes is you can eat them by just popping them in your mouth or roast them like this. The recipe is quite simple if you will. Spread them on bread for the easiest of lunches. If you wish to take it to dinner, here is my best recipe for pizza  & it is quite good. Onto the tomatoes!

Roasted Tomatoes with Thyme

Slice cherry tomatoes. Red work as well as gold or yellow. Place on a parchmetn paper lined sheet pan. Drizzle tomatoes liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and add a few fresh thyme sprigs. Toss in some garlic cloves and roast away in a 350 oven unti they have lost some of their juices and their skins are wrinkled as my crows feet. 20-30 minutes is an estimate. :-)

If you wish to continue the joy, .

….spread on some toasted bread

…..broil on some pizza crust .

..toss with pasta.

Care to save some for the winter? Stuff as many as you can in a ziploc bag, squeeze out the air and prepare to transport yourself back to the heady, humid days of summer when the biting cold of winter hits.

Peace.

Love, Sheila

P.S. If you are actually interested in learning about Eastern christian mysticism & John Cassian, I highly recommend Fr. David’s podcasts from the Pittsburgh Oratory. There is a primer on Cassian here as well as links to all of the podcasts from our meetings. Good stuff.

If you want to know where I get my vegetables from, most of them come from the fab Margaret at One Woman Farm where I get my CSA, occasionally I buy them from Who Cooks For You Farm and other local markets. Unless I am broke, then Aldi & Bottom Dollar. :)

On Conversions & Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis

July 29th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

Whole Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis

{The Pillar of the Cloud}

LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Bl. John Henry Newman/At Sea/June 16, 1833

I had all intentions on travelling to Paris this summer.

Dreaming for months, flights were analyzed, cooking courses were bookmarked and a safe place well located next to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur were ready to go. Or so I thought. I was certain that I could stay as a guest in the convent attached to the most brilliant church perched above Montmarte with lovely company and 24 hour access to Eucharistic Adoration (AND me in a giant empty church!). The Catholic girl’s version of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenwieler was SO within my reach.

But as fate would have it, the nuns (no longer) take guests more than a day.

My heart was so very set on this part of the trip that it no longer seemed worth the effort. Or maybe God just had other plans. Either way, I am home enjoying a quiet summer that is altogether wonderful but all too reminiscent of Newman’s poem.

Oh “Lead Kindly Light. Lead Though Me On!” I know less about where my life is going to head these days than in any other. Moreover, all plans I have to guide my own life are hopelessly void of power. It is exasperating and completely freeing in the same vein.

Catholic mystics have long written of the “dark night” of which this passage by Newman certainly reminds me. A time to grow in faith it is! Yet while one experiences it, the next step in one’s life as indiscernable as the next, it can be a bit of a pain. :) If you shall find yourself here, do trust. Let the one who knows what is best for you lead you. We think we can figure it all out alone. We can’t. Or shouldn’t when there is help! ;)

What to do…what to do? To have some fun I find it enjoyable to imagine, what would I do if I were in France?Walk the urban jungle endlessly exploring. Check. Drink coffee while reading in sidewalk cafes. Check. Voyage out to the countryside and eat of the bountiful produce in the orchards. Check. Come back and have a cafe au lait overlooking a vast field of lavender w/ a slice of sweet cherry clafoutis. Why yes, this sounds right. I can come close.

More Cherries Cherries Two Cherries

In heaven there will be clafoutis and there will also be St. Germain. I have a particular nostalgia for St. Germain, partly because I love elderflowers and anything made with elderflower is just lovely. But there is a deeper chord that echos in my soul when I see the name of this sweet liquor.

The church of St. Germain in the heart of the quarter with its namesake in Paris is one my body instinctively is drawn to like a horse to water. San Germain is where I first found myself drawn back into Catholicism after many years of an emotional hiatus.

Cherries in St Cocktail -- St. Germain w:cherries and tonic

Thus, I suppose that the emotional attachment to anything with the same name will be expected. When you find love, it is hard to let go. Achingly, my heart will always be drawn to Paris and anything associated with it. This summer then has been an echo of that experience. Adoration and San Germain. :)

Cherry ClafoutisThe two recipes I have to share with you are a nice way to use and preserve the bounty of cherries that are around right now. Clafoutis, a simple and delicious French custard-like cake is so easy and delicious. You need to try it and let me know what you think. Cherries preserved in San Germain is a twist off of how my grandfather preserves cherries. Most recently, he was soaking them in an Anisette liquor, being Italian, but has also used bourbon/whiskey.

I am not much of a drinker but alcohol can be a fantastic method of preservation and does make a nice gift. I chose to marry elderflowers with cherries in a sweet preservation method that is nice and smooth and palatable for most people. Both cherry and syrup can be used to eat straight out of the jar in the winter or (if you can’t wait long) served with a spritz of seltzer in a refreshing summer drink.

Clafoutis w:Fork

Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis

This recipe was inspired by Kitchen Culinaire and adapted from a recipe from the foolproof Dorie Greenspan in her book Around My French Table. Serves 6.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) sweet cherries, stemmed but not pitted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of granulated organic cane sugar
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all purpose unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate
  • Icing sugar/confectioners’ sugar for dusting
  • Salted butter for greasing

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make sure your rack is centered. Generously grease a 9 inch pie, quiche or round cake pan with salted butter.

Place your cherries, washed and dried, in a single layer in your baking dish.

Whisk 3 eggs until they are light and frothy in a bowl. Whisk in the sugar and beat for a minute or so until the sugar has dissolved. Whisk in vanilla and salt. Mix in your flour and beat vigorously. You will want the mixture smooth with no lumps. Slowly pour in your milk and cream and whisk until incorporated.

Pour your batter into your pan. Drop it a few times on the counter to release the bubbles inside. Drop the chocolate pieces around the pan and spread them out evenly. Drop the pan on the counter a few more times just for fun.

Bake the clafoutis for 35 to 45 minutes until it is puffed up and golden brown and when a sharp knife blade inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Take out of oven and let rest for a few minutes. When cool, dust with confectioners sugar and cut into wedges to serve.

Cherries Preserved in St. Germain

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of St. Germain or if you prefer, bourbon, anisette or cognac
  • 2 quart mason jars
  • A mix of sour and sweet cherries, stemmed, washed and dried. Pit if you wish.

Instructions

Sterilize mason jars or wash in very hot water and soap. Dry jars thoroughly. Fill jars with cherries. Pour in liquor until jar is full, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Cap and let sit until at least Thanksgiving if you can! Eat cherries and/or use cherries and liquid in fancy holiday cocktails.

Enjoy (if you are of age of course mis estudiantes)!

Love,

S

On Juicing & A Local Product Review

July 19th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I confess. I don’t love vegetables all the time. When given the choice, bread or veg, I choose bread 99% of the time. Or chocolate. Or cheese.

Juicing 3

However, sometimes you have got to step out of your sugar funk and take charge again. I may be fatigued (ahem), my ears are ringing as a result of too much sugar (uhhh) and/or my stomach is in rebellion (bad genes) but it still isn’t easy. These things usually happen in winter when fresh produce is not in season but has been known to occur during a particularly stressful time ANY season.

Serendipitously, one of those weeks hit where I was feeling moooooody and it just happened to be when I was cavorting through Whole Foods on sample day.

Sample day! I confess, I love a sample. While (go figure) sampling, I ended up lingering near the grilled shrimp and a nice young man was right across the aisle sampling juices from Garden of Flavor.

Juicing 1

Some backstory before I commence. As unfortunate circumstances had it, a few years back I needed to get a gum graft since I had worn away my lower gum line scrubbing too hard. This left me not able to chew food, or speak well, for the better part of a week.

Enter juice a la veg.

Desperate to heal my transplant as fast as humanly possible, I made a trip to my co-op. I figured vegetable juice would be healthier than downing ice cream and processed protein drinks and this is where I found their juice counter. Neat. Surprisingly, I found that I adored the crimson sweetness of a fresh pressed beet. Soon to follow was smooth & silky carrot & fresh apple/kale/spinach juice; a mighty covert way of disguising fresh greens.

Vegetables in a glass=magical.

Juicing 2

Back to Whole Foods. I peppered the guy with questions since my experience outside my co-op was less than savory. Most juices sold as vegetable juice are ridden with chemicals or at best, have way to much fruit juice added to pump up the taste to modern sweetness levels. Unfortunately, this means way more sugar than we need.

Excited to have found a juice that called itself vegetable and had all vegetables in it, I contacted the owner, Lisa, to thank her. I asked if I could try out some more juices and she kindly supplied me with three days of juice to really give her line a go. Her juices are made nearby in Northeast Ohio and being only a few hours away, I kinda felt like she was a local gal.

What varieties did I receive?

Goji Pineapple: Pineapple + Goji berries + Lemon + Apple + Mint + Ginger (Delicious. Being fruit it is high in sugar but delicious nonetheless.)

Cucumber Fresh: Cucumber + Celery + Parsley + Lemon (Light & fresh. Reminiscent of aloe juice if you drink that to calm your stomach.)

Mean Green: Celery + Cucumber + Kale + Spinach + Romaine + Lemon (THANK YOU! All veg. No sugar. Not bitter like some.)

Twisted Roots: Carrot + Beet + Lemon (Sweet, smooth, nourishing. A fave. Higher sugar but may be worth it for the nutrients.)

White Knight: Distilled Water + Cashew Nuts + Agave Nectar + Vanilla Bean + Cinnamon (Ok. So I love almond milk but I just couldn’t warm up to this one, cold or warm. Many people really cashew milk, however.)

Tumeric Tonic (w/probiotics): Tumeric Root + Ginger Root + Lemon + Agave + Cayenne Pepper + Mint (Good pick me up with an interesting spicy flavor. I am more excited about the potential anti-inflammatory benefits of tumeric than anything-especially in research on Alzheimers.)

Juicing 4

If you wish to read up yourself on their juices, details can be found here.

While I do not find overwhelming evidence for juicing fasts leading to “detoxification,” (in whatever sense people use it these days) I do like the idea of juicing for a few purposes:

1. If you are not getting your vegetables and won’t eat them.

2. If you are looking for a soda alternative.

3. If you need to go all-liquid for a few days (called a juice fast) for medical reasons such as gum or tooth surgery, having tonsils removed etc. (I do not support fad diets on the whole).

4. If you are sick or recovering from the flu/cold or just plain fatigued. Lisa began the company when she noticed cancer clinics were using green juices to help strengthen patients immune systems.

5. If you know anyone in a nursing home. If you have been unlucky enough to see anyone eat a rather gross and often unhealthy “masticated” food diet (ie. ground up nursing home dinner) in a nursing home, a nice gift might be having them sip on veg juice. Be a ninja. ;) Speaking of ninja, they might work for…

6. Kids. Kids like juice, right? Bet they would drink beet juice….maybe?

While all of her juices were delicious, I would continue to buy the Mean Green & Twisted Roots when I need to boost my vegetable intake and the Tumeric Tonic when I am looking for a cool drink on the go.

Organic, cold pressed and many lower sugar options, Lisa has made a fan out of me. The only thing that would hold me back is price, having to be honest here. It is not cheap to buy and press all those vegetables so the cost is also a bit high. However, I do not forsee myself getting a juicer (another appliance) or have a glut of cheap veg coming my way (making it more affordable) so for the above reasons, it makes sense to buy them when I can.

Whether you like to use juice to fast (for bodily or religious reasons) or just need a boost of healthy vitamins, you might be interested in taking a look at Garden of Flavor.

Love, S

I was kindly given the juices after requesting them but did not receive any further compensation. Opinions are totally my own and to be quite frank, joyfully given. Enjoy the review, readers!

On Escaping & Blueberries in Vanilla Bean Syrup + Lavender (How-To Can Blueberries)

July 9th, 2014 § 8 comments § permalink

The sun weaves in; the sun weaves out. The clouds are dancing with the sun today. It is less a salsa and more of a waltz. Slow and thoughtful the two glide and pass each other moving deliberately. It is quite amazing. Wish you were here.

Close-Up Blueberries & Lavendar in Vanilla Bean Syrup

Days like these make me wish for summer never to end. The perfect warming temperature couples with a touch of humidity to make you sweat  just enough to remind you it is in fact the season of warmth.

Delicious breezes caress the skin amid the comforting embrace of the sun. I cannot imagine a more perfect place to enjoy being. Getting lost in overgrown alleys and exploring woods unknown is the best part of summer. Escaping into the recesses of your mind and the bowels of your city is more than an option when faced with our fact driven standardized world. Escape is sometimes all that we have. It is often necessary to survive.

Charlston Alley

Yet while escape is necessary to sanity, a reality check is also good to have at times. Reality=blueberries are only here for a bit! Eat all you can, then we have to come together and preserve the bountiful produce for the deep of winter. As much as one does not want to think of the future, a blueberry saved is a blueberry earned.

If you are one of my foreign friends, blueberries  are a berry native to North America and though they grow wild, are often cultivated. They are a close kin t0 the wild Eurasian bilberry. They are now grown extensively in Chile and do prosper in certain areas in Europe, Asia and Africa as far as my knowledge goes. They are of the most beautiful indigo and their very presence in stores makes me shiver with joy.

First Step Canning Blueberries Many Jars of Lavendar & Blueberries

My friend P. & I took to the fields out at Paskorz Berry Farm. Sad to hear of their failed strawberry crop, we wanted to support them in their berry endeavors and lucky for us the blueberry was in the middle of their mid-summer boom.

The life of a berry farmer is quite humble and I was surprised to hear that many times they can barely make ends meet. A bit of money from the government is often what keeps us here in PA in our local berries. A discussion with one of the owners made me see how dependent the berry farmer is on the oft capricious mother nature and perhaps the government. You have to love the aspiration and drive it takes in preserving our plants…it is not for the weak of heart.

It was quite a humid day and from a summer researching in the oppressive heat of Nicaragua with P. I knew that for certain she was read to kick it in after a good hour. We picked and sampled until our fingers were stained purple and shoulders were rosy, then we bought a few more quarts to go.

We left with our bounty and I headed home to gorge.  It was hard not to eat them all right away.

Using what little self-restraint I had; I decided to preserve a nice amount “raw pack” style. I usually turn summer berries into jam which I then in turn use on plain yogurt throughout the year but wanted to try something different. This was the first time I canned blueberries in this manner and was pleasantly surprised.

This “how-to can blueberries” recipe was modeled after the guidelines at the National Council for Food Preservation. Blueberries are considered acidic enough (here is a really helpful master list) to can without any additional acid added which is subjectively validated by my aching stomach after eating a quart or so upon arriving home.

Lavendar sprig in jar

The syrup in these is really interesting. It really is more of a juice, which is not a bad thing at all. It encapsulates that true flavor of the berry but if you are expecting a sugary pancake syrup, that it is not. So, if you are wondering how sweet a syrup this makes in purely subjective terms, the thoughts going through my head when making this were:

{While still a warm syrup gently infused with vanilla}

“Mmmmm…vanilla. I could drink this. I will drink some.  (proceeds to drink too much straight vanilla syrup).  Ohhhh. Heaven in a jar. Must. Bottle. For. Tea.” (proceeds to make some black tea) “Ok, so it makes a good tea sweetener. Cool.”

{Tinnitus proceeds to get worse as sugar levels rise from eating too many blueberries and chugging syrup}

{After blueberries were canned and I opened one up to try. Syrup had metamorphasized into blueberry juice}

“Eh…this could be sweeter. Wait, let me put some on yogurt. Ok, ok, it needs more…um…I feel like such a good girl thwarting off diabetes with this. K. Yep, tastes like a blueberry. {Drinks juice} Perfect for juice. Man, I wish it had more sugar. No…no! Retrain taste buds, retrain taste buds!”

Welcome to my world. So, it is really your call here with the syrup sweetness levels. At this level, these are preserved safely and are perfectly spoonable and juicy. It is delicious and MUCH healthier than thick syrup. This recipe is considered fruit in a “light syrup” and is kind of like a vanilla kissed juice. If you crave a more syrupy consistency use a 1:1 simple syrup which in the canning world is called “very heavy syrup” or a medium syrup which is somewhere in the middle. If someone works out the ratios on this let me know in the comments, please!

If you have never canned before, I highly recommend this free PDF from the NCHFP on the “Principles of Home Canning” or purchasing the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. These are critical in understanding the process and precautions.

Blueberries & Lavendar in Vanilla Bean Syrup

Blueberries in Vanilla Bean Syrup w/Lavender

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of blueberries
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar (I use fair-trade organic can sugar)
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split with its seeds scraped out, pod reserved
  • bunch of small lavender sprigs with lavender buds tied up in cheesecloth

Instructions

Begin by sterilize canning jars. Wash 9 (1/2 pint) canning jars in hot soapy water and rinse. Place the jars and in 180-degree F (near-boiling) water for at least 10 minutes. If you have a dishwasher, you can also sterilize using this function.

While this is happening, bring water, sugar, lavender sachet, vanilla bean seeds & pod to boil. Remove vanilla bean pod. Use it to make homemade vanilla extract if you wish. Reduce heat to and keep syrup at a simmer until ready to use.

We will be doing a raw pack. Remove jars from canner or dishwasher very carefully using a jar clamp. Fill jars with blueberries (raw or having been lightly heated for 30 seconds) leaving a half inch space or to the bottom ring of the jars.

You may or may not choose to heat jar lids. You may choose to heat them in simmering water for at least 30 seconds or until the rubber part begins to soften. If you place them in water, remove from water carefully.

Pour syrup into jars carefully or using a wide-mouth funnel. Place lids on jars and tighten rings around jar.

Process jars for allotted time. My altitude was 15 minutes.

Table 1. Recommended process time for Berries, whole in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 3,000 ft 3,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 15 min 20 20 25
Raw Pints 15 20 20 25
Quarts 20 25 30 35

Remove jars from water and place in a location where they will be undisturbed. Jars are properly canned when the lids pop and/or look tight and concave. If the center pops up and down when pressed, the seal did not take. No worries. Eat them now or in the next few weeks or reprocess with a new lid. It happens.

The above chart was retrieved from the “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA, revised 2009.

Love,

S

P.S. Need canning supplies? I recommend these inexpensive yet durable options. Remember, if you purchase from these links a small portion goes to supporting the operating costs and time put into writing this blog. I thank you all for helping very, very much.

Water Bath Canner – Cheap and serves its purpose. A good friend gave me one just like this.

Jar Lifter – A necessity in my mind! This one is really east to use and feels stable.

Magnetic Lid Wand – Such a help.

Wide-Mouth Funnel – A staple in my kitchen, not just for canning but filling jars for any purpose.

 

On Weeping Oakmoss + Mediterranean Orzo Salad w/Lemon & Sumac

June 26th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

That sweet spot in summer is finally here. The grass is green, not just on the other side, but THIS side! The stress of the school year has melted away and in its place comes a silence that lingers long. The heat of the sun is close to perfect, it is hot, but takes awhile to scorch so long walks are still able to be had.

Flowers on Walk

During these months I like to watch movies that reflect the season. Movies set in Tuscany, the deep south, Lebanon, India are perfect. The heat of the season must reflect itself in the media consumed. I can’t explain it but it is for the same reason we like to watch Christmas movies in December.

Boone Plantation: Setting of Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

The inspiration for this post came from a combination of some of my favorite climates. In the summer some of my favorite foods come from the coastal areas of Europe & Southwest Asia. The people of the hot Mediterranean chaparral know how to make a tasty cold salad that is never boring. Be it fattoush, panzanella, tabbouleh, Caprese (see my recipe here) or orzo; “salad” in that area of the world is much more than lettuce w/bottled dressing. I love it!

Orzo salad makes an easy picnic food and can be eaten for a few days after and it will still maintain freshness. It is wonderful made with couscous if you wish to change it up and is incredibly versatile. The orzo gives it a Greek bent. Sumac is the secret ingredient which differentiates this orzo recipe from others.

Sumac is a spice (not of the poisonous Toxicodendron vernix, syn. Rhus vernix and other related varieties) that can often be found in Indian or “Middle Eastern” markets in the U.S. and adds a bright lemon flavor that is similar yet altogether different than adding lemon juice. It really is that indescribable…”what is…?” I have found that my favorite stuffed grape leaves most often have sumac as a seasoning. If you don’t live near an international market you can purchase some decently priced sumac here on Amazon.

I’d like to think that while eating it I am back in Boone Plantation, the setting of The Notebook (see it here if you are wanting to and support the blog!)How could one not be inspired by tall, mossy oaks stretching their strong but boney arms out over the road beckoning to the soul, “come, sit for awhile and listen to my sweet whispers.” Ahhh.

Angel Oak

Now is the season to escape. Go find your own grassy knoll and have a picnic, solo or with family & friends. Whether it be deep in the woods or right around the corner, let your nose be the guide. Seek God in the scent of fresh turned earth, musty moss or sweet, green grass. Find your escape, bring this for lunch and mediate on the blessings of the season. Unless you are one of my Aussie followers who are mid-winter. Oh wait–you have nice weather year round! ;) Antarctica, unless you are in Antarctica…then build a fire.

the dragons bear down/wielding my sword I fight/peace is had again

-s

Orzo Salad w/Cucumbers, Feta & Mint

Orzo Salad + Lemons

Mediterranean Orzo Salad w/ Lemon & Sumac

Ingredients

  • 6 cups of orzo, whole wheat preferred
  • 5-6 small or 2 large seedless cucumbers (Persian or English work well)
  • 3 ripe red vine tomatos
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1 small can of sliced black olives
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped mint
  • 1 Tbsp sumac (you can buy a well priced sumac here)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups feta (sheep’s milk is SO much better)
  • sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Cook the orzo until it is al dente. This means it still has a bit of a bite or “almost cooked through.” It will help to absorb the flavors and prevent the salad from getting too mushy. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until it is no longer hot.

Chop up cucumber and tomato in small pieces. You have some leeway here. I prefer it hand chopped but if you whiz them in a food processor you get a bite of everything each time. Toss with the orzo.

Drain beans & olives and toss with orzo. Stir in lemon juice, mint, sumac and olive oil. Crumble feta over salad and toss until well mixed.

Salt it well. Salt really brings out the flavors. The saltier your feta, however, the less salt you need so taste often.

Enjoy. If you have any film recommendations to watch this summer I am all ears. PLEASE share!

Love,

S

On Spring + Lavender Rosemary Oven Roasted Potatoes

June 11th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Spring is most often associated with rebirth. While this is true, I find that in its seemingly infinite rebirth, lessons in dying gracefully fall in stride.

Lavender + Potatoes 1

Violets spring up for but a short time and grace us with their small yet regal deep purple flowers. Buttercups are soon to follow, sprinkling their sunny disposition across the fields as well as urban lawns.

Asparagus comes, asparagus goes. Ramps, garlic scapes, rhubarb: with each birth comes a brief period of joy and celebration. Yet as soon as they did come, these gifts retract their flowers and fade.

Lavendar Close Up

Time passes oh so quickly, but perhaps this is what so many say in their 30’s and on.

Having been spared any kind of fateful disease in my youth, I now find these constant brushes with biopsies and failing energy quite interesting as of late. They are a chance to step back and look at the finite body we are given as what it is, finite. It is a chance, if taken, to take a deeper introspection at the soul. So were the last few months. A chance to look at what is eternal and savor what gifts the earth brings in the meantime.

Lavendar + Potatoes 2

Even moments of strife were moments of joy knowing that God is up in it all doing his thing.

Too much happened to recount here and perhaps I am but a bit hesitant to share the whole of my life but what I can say is that through it all…God remained.

Lavendar Rosemary Potatoes

In celebration, today I give you one of these spring gifts….lavender buds. Don’t blink! If you don’t catch these they will soon turn brown and crispy or bloom into beautiful flowers on the way out. Gather the buds and pair them with rosemary. The herbal yet floral combination brought to a crisp with liberal lashings of a grassy olive oil in the oven will gloriously haunt you long after spring has passed into the deep sleep of a mid-summer’s night.

Carry on and carry joy my readers. Don’t let the surly bug bite.

Close-Up Lavendar Rosemary Roast Potatoes

Lavender Rosemary Oven Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs of baby yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lavender buds
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary (dried may be used)
  • 2 tsp sea salt, divided
  • extra virgin olive oil to coat, about 3 Tbsp

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400°.

You are going to parboil the potatoes. Don’t do what I did for years and skip this step. It makes all the difference. think soft yielding interior and crispy exterior. Bring a large pot of water to boil with half of the salt (1 tsp). Add potatoes and cook until fork tender which is about 10-15 minutes. This means a fork will easily slide in and out of the potato without sticking.

Drain potatoes in a colander and leave out on a kitchen towel until they dry out a bit. The steam should do the job in a few minutes. While this is happening, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rub the potatoes with the oil, salt, lavender, & rosemary. Spread out evenly on the sheet. Roast your potatoes for  20 minutes and then flip and toss them in their oil. Place back in oven for another 15-25 minutes or until crispy on the outside.

Tip:  I hear preheating the oil in the pan makes for a super crispy potato but I am too lazy to do this. I know… So let me know if you have done it!

Love,

S

Loving Your Weeds: A Healing Plantain Salve

April 14th, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

Bet you didn’t know that right in your own backyard you may have one of the most soothing plants known to man…and it probably gets mowed away with the grass.

Plantain oil and salve in a compatible environment.

Plantain oil and salve in a compatible environment.

Lucky for you, it is not to late to save it. Time to let this magical weed grow and grow until you have enough to add to your medicine chest.  What is this amazing gift, you ask? Why, its the plantain!

Plantain grows close to the ground and is characterized by a ribbed appearance.  The species defines the size of the leaves.  In PA they often look like this or flat and broad.

Plantain grows close to the ground and is characterized by a ribbed appearance. The species defines the size of the leaves.  This is of the buckhorn variety.

Born of the plantago species, there are over 250 varieties in the United States, most commonly the broadleaf and the buckhorn.  The crushed fresh leaves can be applied directly to small cuts, sores, bee and wasp stings, eczema, insect bites and sunburn.  According to the Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, plantain has healing properties because of the high allantoin content. Allantoin is often found in over the counter moisturizers and salves such as this one.

Plantain is as good a treatment for the pain of a bee sting as it is for diaper rash.  I often use it on shaving burn/cuts and it does quite well in this regard.

If you are in an area that does not have plantain or you are timid this first time, it can be bought dried from a reputable source.  I do, however, recommend seeking it fresh.

The first step in making the salve is infusing an oil.  I stuff a mason jar (see above) with the leaf and oil, making sure to cover the leaves completely.  Do this to make sure it does not mold (trust me).  Leave the jar in a dark corner for at least a month or gently warm on a stove for at least four hours.  I often double infuse the oil, changing the leaves at the end of the month.  When finished infusing, strain the oil through cheesecloth or something similar.

Note:  I prefer the cold process but this does take patience.  Now is the time to start!

How will you make this oil into a salve? In short you will:

Step 1: Slowly melt oils with beeswax, swirling pan over heat source.

Step 1: Slowly melt oils with beeswax, swirling pan over heat source.

 

Step 2:  Let mixture cool until hardened.

Step 2: Let mixture cool until hardened.

 

Step 3:  Scoop your salve into sterilized containers.

Step 3: Scoop your salve into sterilized containers.

See how easy that was?  I was intimidated for years but it is incredibly easy.

Now that you have a basic recipe, you can add other herbs (like calendula and lavender if this is for a babies’ bottom), carrier oils and essential oils if you wish.  Keep the beeswax on the low end for a soft, spreadable salve and on the high end of 2 TBSP for something just short of chapstick.  I prefer the middle ground of 1 1/2 TBSP.

Enjoy the process!

Plantain Salve

Ingredients:

Instructions:

1.  In a small pan, melt oils with beeswax, slowly swirling pan over heat source.  You want to melt the beeswax with as little heat as possible so as not to disturb the volatile structure of the olive oil.

2.  Pour directly into containers, or if easier, let cool and scoop into sterilized containers.

3.  Spread liberally on diaper rash, eczema, bug bites, dry skin, bee stings or small cuts.  Be soothed.

I am currently using salve from last summer but give it a sniff or pitch it if you are worried.  Longevity relates to the freshness of the oil, storage conditions and bacteria introduction.  Use fresh oil, keep it cool and use clean hands!

Love,

Sheila

References

Elmore, C.L. & McGiffen Jr, M.E. (2007) Pest Notes: Plantains.  University of California, 2007.  Available online. Accessed April 21, 2013.

http://www.altmd.com/Articles/Plantain–Encyclopedia-of-Alternative-Medicine

www.bulkherbstore.com

 

*Medical disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. What I do is purely for research and/or personal/family use. I cannot be held responsible for improper use. Always seek advice from a medical professional if you have doubts.  These claims have not been approved by the FDA (No kidding?!).

Living In-Between & Silky Blood Orange Curd

April 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

L1030972

“The heart has a language the lips know not.  Two people who love each other deeply have no need of poor human words to profess their love.  The silence of love is more eloquent than any amount of prattling, especially when one of the two concerned is God, who is love itself.” -Gaston Courtois

I wonder how many people are out there that are like me?

People that awkwardly stumble over their words in the middle of meetings. People who in new social situations neglect to find the right thing to say…or something, ANYTHING interesting to say. People that can express themselves much more deeply through the written than the spoken word, who find themselves barely capable of remembering what they ate for breakfast let alone the research they did last week. People who “UGH, [facepalm]” more often that not. :)

Can I get a raising of hands here?

Blood Oranges 2 Blood Orange Juice

I used to have such deep anxiety over my inability to articulate myself when I really wanted or needed to until I began studying the Desert Fathers. Who would have known that silence was equally if not more acceptable to God than a chattering mouth! Isn’t that what the world has deemed to be the pinnacle of success…constant words and constant activity?

Slowly I am coming to see that True Love does not need the “right” words. True Love does not want us to become anxious and scared when a situation does not turn out as we wished it. True Love has a greater plan and it is likely much more far reaching than we will ever see.

Uh, this might take time, but I am growing to accept that too.

And wouldn’t you know it, life is giving me the old “just BE already” right now! Nothing ground breaking is occurring here in Pittsburgh, in fact we are all kind of living in between. People here are ready to shed their winter coats and take on the freedom and lightness that comes with spring but the days are bipolar. One day we bask in the warm embrace of the coming season and the next we are given the cold shoulder of days past. Bearing with these days is all we can do. They are a constant lesson in adaptation and being.

Being. Learning to be and not worry is as fitting right now with the seasons as it is with our spiritual lives. Neither winter nor summer, neither embroiled in tragedy nor brilliant light. Maybe John Lennon was onto a similar thing as Gaston?

This recipe is ever so fitting. If you have never had curd it is soft and sweet and kind of like a really light custard. It is perfect on muffins, scones or swirled in yogurt to brighten up this crazy weather. Classically it has been served over a meringue as well. This makes for a super sweet treat.

The key to curd is slooowwwwly bringing it up to temperature. You do not want those eggs to scramble. Ick. You want a smooth custard. And let me tell you, this curd is just that, fluffy, silky, smooth and delicious. Spread it and savor the buttery, citrusy deliciousness!

Blood Orange Curd w:Meringue

Blood Orange Curd

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup blood orange juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 9 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup organic cane sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • zest of 2 blood oranges
Instructions
 
Bring to a strong simmer a few inches of water in the bottom of a bain-marie (double boiler) or small saucepan of water. In the top portion of the bain-marie or in a small bowl resting on top of your saucepan, slowly bring to a simmer the blood orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and zest, whisking gently.
 
Slowly begin to pour in egg yolks, whisking vigorously. Keep whisking until the curd has thickened sufficiently. This should be when it coats the back of a spoon and does not drip off. If you see the eggs start to scramble, lower heat or take off the bowl for a bit, continuing to whisk. Remove from heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Strain out zest and any egg using a fine mesh strainer.
 
Jar curd and let rest on counter until it has come to room temperature. Let rest in refrigerator until cool and enjoy!

Blood Orange Curd

 

Love,

Sheila