Category Archives: Food

Blackberry Jam

I can finally cross ‘making jam’ off my summer bucket list. Every summer I swear that it will be the year I make jam. We go berry picking, I look up recipes, I’m all ready, and then I get cold feet. I don’t know what it is about making jam that intimidates me, but whatever it is, I overcame it this year and made blackberry jam.

We went strawberry picking early in the summer but the picking was slim and we didn’t get enough to make jam so instead we had a huge strawberry shortcake for dinner. Yes, once a summer we allow ourselves to have strawberry shortcake and nothing else for dinner.

Then later we went raspberry picking and came home with plenty of berries for jam, but they all ended up in little bellies by the handful and in cereal and yogurt.

So, onto blackberries.

There is a huge blackberry patch over at Andy’s parents house. Rather it is a huge patch of stinging nettle, but if you trample down and make paths through the nettle you can discover a bounty of blackberries.

We went early in the morning on four different mornings and harvest blackberries before it got too hot and until we’d had it with the stinging nettle. (If only Ishaan had been around to tell me which plant soothes nettle- I think it might be Jewel Weed but I’m not sure. ) We finally had enough berries for jam.

On advice from my experienced jam making friend Sarah, I used Pomona’s Pectin.

It is a low-sugar pectin, which I found out allows you to make jam using less sugar than a no-pectin jam. There was a simple and straight forward recipe in the pectin packet and I just used that for the first batch. I borrowed a food mill to mash up the berries because wild blackberries have that hard center bit that I didn’t want in the jam. However I didn’t want the jam to be a uniform texture, so I added a few spoonfuls of the seed/pulp mixture that was left in the mill.

mashed berry goodness

left over seeds and middle bits

It’s a messy process

For the second batch I made a Blackberry Mint with Bourbon jam. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly because this recipe didn’t call for pectin. I had to just guess at the amount of sugar to use. Wow, I think this just might be my favorite jam ever!

Well it was jam fever at our house for a few days. The kids and I went blueberry picking at the nearby orchard and farm and came home with many pounds of blueberries. We played around with two kinds of jam. First we made a blueberry lemon with lots of fresh lemon juice and zest. Super yummy! Then I had an idea to make blueberry with ginger and vanilla. I used a good amount of ginger and when I tasted it I thought it was right so added vanilla. I guess I added too much vanilla and it sort of overpowers the nice ginger quality. It is not bad but not as delicious as I was hoping.

So now I have many lovely jars of jam sitting prettily on a shelf. We have opened two jars already but it is hard not to ration it and think of it as being totally precious and to be used sparingly. After all it is just jam and I made it so we could enjoy it!

The Egg Dye Failure

Several years ago I started a family tradition of making hot cross buns on Good Friday. I think I have used a different recipe every year, but this years’ were my favorite so I need to record the recipe somewhere. I found it on a blog that I enjoy called The Pioneer Woman. Here is the link to her hot cross buns. We made plenty to share with our neighbors and also our friends who we were visiting that day.

 

Our family loves to dye Easter eggs and for a while now I have been curious about making natural dyes.  I have wanted to try this as much for the sake of experimentation and learning something new as for limiting our use of artificial colors and dyes.  I know people have had good success making natural dyes and their eggs look beautiful. I did a bit of research to find out what to use and how to do it. There are a ton of  resources online for doing this.

I boiled red cabbage which made a lovely deep blue color, but when I added vinegar it immediately turned an incredible pink.

I boiled spinach for green, and chili powder for orange. I though if I got good results with these, I would try some others the next day. Now, I am not a patient person, so I kept checking the eggs every 5 minutes and nothing was happening. I let them soak in their pots of natural dye for hours and when I finally took them out this is what I got- brace yourself……

 

So, it was a little bit disappointing and also kind of funny. My eggs clearly looked nothing like those lovely deep colored Easter eggs I saw on various websites. Obviously I did something wrong. I’ll probably try again next year, but fortunately  my friend Sarah had gone ahead and mixed up dyes using food coloring.  Lovely bright colors which made lovely Easter eggs.

 

Andy also loves to dye Easter eggs, so our family did another round of egg dying on Saturday morning using good old PAAS pellets.

Andy is kind of an expert over achieving egg dyer, so it fun to watch him. He is also ridiculously good at blowing out  eggs – when you poke each end of the egg with a pin and blow out all the innards so you have just the whole shell that you can dye and keep out as decorations. I had planned on making an egg dish for Easter brunch so we already had a plan for all those egg insides.

I washed off all the gunk from the failed naturally dyed eggs and we re-dyed those and they came out great too.

I know some of you have dyed eggs using natural dyes, so if you have any tips for me for next year, please do share them!

A Week in the Life – Day Five

As I might have mentioned, I love Fridays. Today, did not disappoint.  When my alarm went off at 6:20 I thought there was no way I could get ready and go to the gym. I made myself do it, and my welcome home was worth the effort of going. Ishaan and Kairav met me at the door.  Ishaan took my coat and Kairav brought me my slippers. I was then escorted to the dining room where a bowl of yogurt and molasses and a cup of hot coffee awaited me. The house was spotless and the kids were all dressed. Not a bad way to start the day!

At 9:45 Sarah arrived to take Ishaan and Ulka, along with her two children, to their homeschool bowling group. Sarah, my sweet friend, takes my two so that Ila and I can have some special time together while Kairav naps.  Not only did she take my kids for me, she brought us dinner for tonight. She has some great bowling shots here.

Today Ila and I got lunch ready and then went to the bowling alley to watch the kids. Sometimes we go out for a walk, or paint, or bake, but today we thought it would be fun to go and watch for a little while.


When we got home Ulka and Lucy  immediately put on their leotards and did about an hour of gymnastics. They are both about the same level, incredibly strong and determined, and neither of them want to be outdone by the other so they are a good match.

I love our Friday lunches together. I love that our kids will eat just about anything we put in front of them- with the exception of Kairav today who broke down sobbing because I told him he couldn’t have any more pita chips until he ate his spinach and lentils.

After lunch we sent the kids outside. The Ishaan and Jack wanted to make a fire in the fire pit so we said sure. They couldn’t get it to light with their flint and steels, so they asked if they could bike to the store to buy some matches. That sounded reasonable to us so again we said sure.

A little while later Ulka came in and offered us mints. When asked where she got them, she said that Ishaan bought them at the Marketplace because the matches were free. Sarah and I looked at each other with looks of combined hilarity and horror. We sent our two 9-year-old boys out on bikes in the middle of February to the store to buy matches in the middle of a school day. But the craziest part is that the people in the store said “matches are free”, so they used their money to but a tin of Altoids.

We burst into hysterical laughter tears streaming down our cheeks. Ila looked at us so confused and Sarah said “it’s ok, it’s just laugh-crying”. I’m not sure that cleared anything up for Ila.

Ulka and Lucy were not allowed to go with Ishaan and Jack and wanted to do something by themselves too, so they took their dolls out for a walk around the block.

Anyway, the boys got the fire going and the 5 ‘big’ kids spent the rest of the afternoon out by the fire sipping “tea . I later found out that they were just heating up water in a pan on the fire and dropping Altoids into it. Apparently they did try boiling grass, but I don’t think that worked out.

Last week I saw this really sweet crochet heart garland online and I got it in my head that even though I don’t like to crochet and I’m not very good at it,  I wanted to make one. I struggled through and taught myself (using the pattern that I can’t find right now to link to) how to make these hearts. I made lots of them but they just kept coming out looking awful. Sarah, also a non-crocheter, also gave it a go and hers were so lovely.  She shared her pattern with me and I still couldn’t do it. Finally after playing around with the two patterns I made some sort of pattern mash-up and got them to work. yay! I love them. I’m hooked and spent the entire 2 hours of Ulka’s gymnastics class making them.

A pile of rejects:

And now that I finally figured them out:

Dinner was already made for us and the kids were exhausted which made for an easy, tear free (mostly) evening. Jack brought the next installments of the Mysterious Benedict Society for Ish to borrow, so he is set for the weekend!

 

 

Now off to have left over birthday cake and make more hearts.

Two more days of this project. I hope you, my friends, are not getting tired of it!

A Week in the Life – Day Three

My love of Wednesdays started a year and a half ago when Ishaan and his friend went to a wilderness program all day and the friend’s lovely mama and sister came over here for the day. No school, shared lunch, and good knitting and chatting ensures a great day. Now the boys and their sisters do a Friday homeschool bowling group (I know, it doesn’t get dorkier than that- I should just put on my denim jumper right now). So that lovely day off  has moved to Friday which is great because it makes a long weekend. Our Wednesdays have somehow managed to stay pretty low-key. The kids don’t have any activities and I don’t (usually) tutor on Wednesday. By Wednesday the rhythm of the week is fully established and is usually going well. We get school done nice and early and then have a whole free afternoon ahead of us.

I forgot to make yogurt last night, so the morning started with yogurt making. I have my mom’s old yogurt maker that she used when I was a kid and it is so easy to make delicious fresh yogurt all the time.

Ila likes to get dressed by the fire. Although I would really prefer that she gets dressed upstairs like the others it’s not really a big deal and a battle I don’t think is worth fighting.

Today was not a typical Wednesday though because I had a Chemistry student in the morning. I don’t normally take students in the daytime, but he needed some emergency test prep and Andy had a bit of a slower day than usual so it worked out. Kairav went down for a nap and Ila stayed home to make cookies with Andy. I packed up Ishaan and Ulka’s school work and the three of us went to the library. Ishaan doesn’t leave home without his bucket lately, more on that later.

Kids are not supposed to be in the library unsupervised until they are 10 which I think is ridiculous. If they are quiet and well-behaved it shouldn’t be a big deal.  I set them up with enough work  to last the 1.5 hours. They were amazing. They just sat silently and got through their work and then sat in the big comfy chairs and read.

Recently our favorite bread went up to 4.50 a loaf. I am unwilling to pay 4.50 for a loaf of bread, so we went back to making bread twice a week. Today was bread day. I think pretty soon I will be able to hand the entire task over to Ulka.

Ulka has been making bread with me and in her playgroup in Brooklyn since she was 3.  We use a basic bread recipe that they used in playgroup and play around with different flours and always add ground flax seeds. It turns out beautifully every time.

 

 

****Please note, there is a typo on this recipe. It should say 2T of honey, not 2 1/4 cups. I actually use some molasses and some agave nectar.

A new neighbor moved in just down the street today, so we took the smaller loaf over to her and kept the other for us.

Often we eat a hot lunch all together (usually leftovers), but after spending most of the day in the kitchen yesterday I just didn’t have it in me. Plus I wanted to save the left overs for dinner. This is all I could muster for lunch today.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly mellow. Playing, coloring, reading, knitting, a rousing game of ring around the rosy, and a little prep work for my evening students.




It was a wonderful quiet winter day. One more day until Friday, my most favorite day of the week.

Soup of The Week- Butternut Squash Apple

It was 60 degrees outside today. We walked to the library without hats and coats and the snowdrops are up. It hardly seems like soup weather. I know, however, that this is just a crazy weather day and that it is going to get cold again, right?

In a fit of beginning of the week productivity I made several meals earlier this week and this soup was one of them.  I got the recipe here, but as usual I made some modifications according to what we had available. 

Baby Butternuts

Aren’t these tiny little butternut squash so cute? Maybe it’s hard to tell the size from my photo since there is no scale, but they are about the size of my hand.  We didn’t get a good garden yield this year, but did get a few butternuts. We planted them sort of at the last-minute and the ground wasn’t well prepared. Maybe that’s why they are a bit stunted. 

Butternut Squash apple Soup (with my modifications) 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 buttercup squash (this is NOT necessary, but we had it left from our garden so decided to throw it in)
  • 1 tart green apple, peeled, cored, chopped (squash and apple should be at a 3 to 1 ratio) I also used a red apple of some variety, probably Gala
  • 3  broth
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinches of nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper, and chili powder

1 Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add onion and cook taking care not to let it brown.  Add carrot- sauté for 5 minutes,  turn the heat down if the vegetables begin to brown.

2 Add squash, apple, broth and water. Bring to boil. Cover, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until squash and carrots soften. Puree, and return to a clean pot.

3 Add salt and spices to taste, and garnish with chives or parsley.

4. I sometime also add a bit of yogurt to the soup, but be careful not to add too much that you dilute the delicate flavors of nutmeg

I actually doubled this recipe because we all love it so much. It works fine to double it.

Butternut squash friends


Soup of the Week- Vegetable Stew with Dumplings

This is a yummy stew that my mom used to make when I was a kid, though back then it was chicken stew with dumplings. It is one of the handful of non-Indian meals I remember well. When I became vegetarian in my sophomore year in high school, she was kind enough to adapt the soup to a veggie  version just for me. I’ve been making this soup forever and it never fails. It’s great because you can throw in almost any vegetables that you have in the fridge that need using up.

Vegetable Stew with Dumplings

Stew

1-2 onions, chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic, minced

broth/stock- enough to cover the vegetables you have

assorted veggies of your choosing, my favorite combination is:

Brussel sprouts

carrot

potato

mushroom

green beans

parsnip

1 T cornstarch or other thickening agent (this is optional)

Fry onion and garlic. Add vegetables, enough broth to cover them, and salt and pepper.  bring to a boil and the simmer.

While the stew is simmering, prepare the dumplings:

Dumplings

1 1/2 cups flour

3 T fresh chopped parsley

2 t baking powder

3/4 t salt

3 T oil

3/4  cup milk

Mix all ingredients together into a very sticky dough.   When the vegetables are nearly cooked, add dumplings in large dollops.  Cook UNCOVERED for 10 minutes and then covered for 10 minutes.

This is a very hearty meal for a cold winter day!

Soup of the Week- Spicy Peanut

I made this soup last week and it immediately became on of my favorites. I was sort of scrambling for a new soup recipe and decided on this one. At first I was put off by the peanut butter, but since I was attracted by the spicy part  I thought I would give it a try. It is from The Complete Book of  400 Soups. It’s a great soup cookbook that I ‘borrowed’ from my mom last winter. I guess I should probably get my own copy at some point since I use it all the time and I’m sure she would be happy to get hers back.  A side note- when I link to amazon, it’s not necessarily an endorsement for amazon, though I do purchase quite a bit of stuff from amazon and their related “marketplaces. It’s just usually the easiest way to show exactly what book I am referring to. If the book or author has a website (and I can find it) I will always refer you there.

So here’s the recipe for this week’s soup. I apologize for the annoying spacing- I can’t figure out how to make a list that is single spaced and I don’t have the time to sit and figure it out right now.

INGREDIENTS:

2T olive oil

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic, crushed- although I always chop

1 tsp of mild chilli powder-I don’t know what mild chilli powder is or why anyone would buy it- just use what you’ve got

2 red peppers, seeded and chopped

2 carrots finely chopped

3 potatoes, chopped

3 celery sticks, chopped ( I don’t like celery so I never have it so left it out)

4 cups veggie broth

6 T peanut butter- crunchy

salt and pepper

1 cup corn (frozen or canned will work)

chopped peanuts for garnish

HOW TO:

Heat oil in a pan and cook onion and garlic about 3 mins, add chilli powder

Add red pepper, carrots, potatoes and celery, stir well and cook about 5 minutes

Add broth , then peanut butter and corn, still until completely combined

Season well, bring to boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Serve garnished with chopped peanuts.

Happy Soup Day

Garden Woes

Last summer we shared a large garden with my husband’s parents over at their place about 2 miles away.  They live next door to a farm and the farmer has generously given them a large area for their garden.  We grew just about everything you can think of and the spinach, chard, broccoli and beans that we froze lasted until this spring. But with four young children it was difficult for me to get over there as often as I wanted to help with the tending and weeding. This year we decided to have a smaller garden at our house. We have a lovely and shady backyard so we put our garden in the front-side yard. We dug out all the vinca ground cover, rototilled, added compost and built a 7 foot mesh fence to keep out the deer.

The garden is ready for planting

We planted lettuce, spinach, chard, broccoli, peas, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. We weeded and watched and things started to grow! The spinach failed but everything else was doing well. We were eating fresh lettuce everyday and were waiting for the peas to get just a little bigger before picking them.  The fence was doing a good job of keeping out the deer -not the rabbits! I went out one morning to check the garden and all of the peas were gone. peas, plants, all.  We secured the fence and hoped for the best.  Two days later, all the lettuce was gone.  We put wooden boards all around the garden and secured the fence.  We went camping for the weekend and when we came back the rabbits had feasted on the broccoli. They had chewed a hole through the fence. On top of it the tomatoes have blight and are rotting as they ripen. I am pretty heartbroken about the garden failure, but my Andy keeps reminding me that we still have chard and we’ve learned a lot for next year. We still do have zucchini, butternut squash and potatoes in another part of the yard and an herb garden that is surviving – I am still hopeful for those.  And my in-laws still have their beautiful pest free garden so we still get garden fresh produce, but if anyone has a good rabbit repellent idea let me know!