Tuesday, March 29, 2016


{These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for upper-middle class families.

As a fun project, I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

 I finally got some carrots from the garden this season.  I have been making do with inferior store carrots.  My first planting did not like the hot weather in the fall, but the second planting was finally ready to pull.  It's always a challenge to actually get carrots into the kitchen:  they are very popular snacks with the children.  I had kept these secretly hidden behind the turnip and radish beds for quite awhile, but since the turnips were getting thin, they were discovered.  I always wish I could grow acres of them, but usually have to be content with one or two rows.

La Cuisine has six recipes featuring carrots, although, as R. Blondeau points out, "As we have seen the carrot finds, as an accompaniment, it's employment in a large number of recipes."

 In this recipe carrots are cooked with broth, white wine and herbs.  The sauce is thickened with flour and butter.  It turns out to be a creamy, savory dish.  The thyme and bay leaf give it a distinct European flavor.

CARROTTES A LA MENAGERE (The Housewife's Carrots)

Cut into rounds and cook your carrots in a boiling mixture of broth and white wine (one glass of each); add salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, bay leaf.  Thicken the sauce with 30 grams of butter kneaded with a spoonful of flour, and serve.

- A Modern Version -

A bundle of carrots (probably about 2 per person, if they are a decent size?)

1 cup of broth

1 cup of white wine

salt and pepper to taste

several sprigs of parsley, chopped

The leaves from several sprigs of thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1 tablespoon flour

1.  Wash, peel and trim the carrots (ok, I don't peel our fresh carrots from the garden - they don't need it), and slice into rounds.

2.  In a pot, bring the broth and white wine to a boil.  Add the carrot slices.  Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley, thyme and bay leaf.  Cook until carrots are soft.

3.  To thicken the sauce at the end of cooking, mash the flour into the tablespoon of soft butter until well mixed.  Cut the butter/flour paste into pieces and add to the pot.  Stir constantly while it thickens.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rainy Day Colors

Easter brightened up the end of a rather dismal week - with illness and rainy weather, everyone was grouchy and cramped.  It felt like I spent the week with both of Cinderella's obnoxious step-sisters, and The Little Engine That Could - And Did, even though you told it not to several times.

Clothilde managed to break a favorite dish of mine and make some spectacular messes.  We had so many eggs and so much cream, and everyone had such sore throats, I made the mistake of making an ice cream-like treat for everyone in individual cups so there would be no reason to fight about it. 

This, of course, sparked off some intense rivalry between the Ugly Step-Sisters, and The Little Engine that Could left hers out on the table so long it melted.... And then, unsupervised momentarily while dinner was frantically being made, she put it in the freezer for two minutes, decided it was frozen, and carried it sideways to the table.  The treats looked lovely in individual cups, but strewn all over the kitchen the floor it unpleasantly resembled cat puke.

I kept escaping into painting blown eggs for the Easter tree.  We were so busy on Saturday, we didn't get to dye eggs until Sunday morning.  I made dyes as usual, and everyone was disappointed how faint they were on the brown eggs.  There was talk of getting a small flock of white egg layers just for Easter, but Ethan made the comment that he wasn't going to deal with stupid chickens for 365 days a year just so we could dye the eggs for Easter.  It's true that the white egg layers we have had are all very stupid.  The Barred Rocks are such good, hearty chickens, and very intelligent, but the brown eggs didn't take the dye as well.

Sunday was so dismal and grey, it must have disappointed all the "Son-Rise" church events advertised around town.  We joked (sacrilegiously) that if the pope doesn't see his shadow on Easter for the sun rise service, it means Jesus stays in the cave for six more weeks.

While rain is perhaps not good for egg hunts and sun-rise services, it is doing very well for the garden and the pastures.  We put the weaned calves out on their own line, and they were all so happy and kicking up their heels.  They even refused to go say hello to their mothers at milking time, which was very upsetting for Matilda and Geranium.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Start of The Season

All of us are sick today, a frustrating situation when there is so much to be done.  The beginning of this week was wasted in stumbling around with exhaustion from the cursed Daylight Savings Time.

Wednesday morning I was glancing at the clock, and then out the window, and realized I was going to boycott DST this year.  Just one hour makes such a difference, especially if your evening depends on solar time.  It seemed to me that the new time was even farther away from solar noon than the usual time.  All the clocks have been set back again, and it is such a relief.  It's amazing how the psychology of what time the clock says has it's affects.  I just have to remember to add an hour to find what time the rest of the poor fools are operating on.

This week the chickens moving through the garden helped us discover the turmeric I had planted last spring.  Once we got back from Europe, the weeds were so thick, I thought it hadn't ever sprouted.  It was a small harvest from only four plants, so I will save the rhizomes to plant again.  I did take a nibble from one, and it seemed to help my cold.  I just love the glowing gold color of it.

Nearly everything in the winter garden (with the exception of the lettuce) has bolted and been pulled for Matilda and Geranium.  I do have this rogue patch of radishes where I had scattered old seeds....because I didn't like the idea of throwing them away and not giving them a chance at life....I know that sounds so sentimental - I am.  And I am very glad I have radishes now.  We are still enjoying having radishes and butter before dinner.

The onion patch looks great this year.  I've never had so many onions and garlic before.

This doesn't look like much, but it will hopefully sustain us this coming fall and winter.  I planted two rows of cassava stalks.  I was getting worried about the old stalks drying out.  Last I'd checked, a lot of them seemed in poor condition.  But when I went to find some to plant this week, I found that there were a lot with little leaf buds coming out.

The arugula is flowering, but the lettuce still looks beautiful.  This was a harvest for dinner the other day.  Soup and salad!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Painting Eggs

All week last week we blew eggs for our morning omelets, and saved the shells.  Over the weekend I started some rye in a pretty pot to hold the Easter branch.  Yesterday some friends joined us yesterday to paint the eggs, and brought some white eggs that they had saved.  We use just regular watercolors, since we are not going to eat them later.

The children, of course, painted one or two and ran off to play, while we sat and chatted and painted eggs.  The boys went outside to play with Mirin's BB gun, and the girls curled up on the couch while Rose read Disney princess stories aloud from library books (she has been reading so much lately!).  So it was at least a very fun creative mom activity!

We still have a dozen eggs left un-painted yet.  Usually I have taken a needle and yarn and threaded it through the holes in the egg shell to make a loop to hang on the Easter branch.  Some eggs always crack in the process.  This year I think I will use glue.  I have been keeping an eye out for a good branch to hang our eggs on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


{These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for upper-middle class families.

As a fun project, I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

Every year for Easter we blow at least a couple dozen eggs to paint with watercolors.  A few weeks before, I sprout rye grass in a pot and we keep our eyes out for a good tree branch to become our Easter tree.  It is a very fun tradition, and much looked-forward to.

Omelets are the perfect way to use the blown eggs.  And this way, we don't have to do so many at once.  About six a day for a few days, and we've got two dozen eggs to paint and hang up on our Easter tree - that makes four eggs each to paint for my children.

I often make omelets for breakfast, and I thought I knew quite well how to cook them.  Following this recipe, however, the omelet turned out extra good.  I was also glad to find a recipe that called for chervil, as it is still thriving well in my garden.

This recipe is also in two parts - the way recipes are often presented in La Cuisine is to have a basic recipe that is then added to in many variations.  The first recipe is a basic omelet recipe:


Take 6 eggs (for four people), and break them into a bowl or dish, beat with a fork until the mixture is uniformly covered by small air bubbles (a spoonful of milk, added at the beginning of the process, makes the omelette lighter).

Pour into a pan where you have melted a pat of butter, until it has a lovely blond color.  Tip the pan so that the liquid spreads uniformly on the surface, and catches.  Once the eggs can't spread any more, move the pan over the fire, giving it a circular motion so that the eggs will not stick to the bottom.

You will know when the omelet is at the point when the top part becomes creamy.  Serve it then by folding one half of the omelette over the other, so that the part that spread on the bottom of the pan is on the outside.


This is an omelette au naturel, to which was added to the eggs, when they were beaten up, one soup spoon of parsley and chervil, well chopped.

HERBED OMELET (A Modern Version)

-serves 4 people-

6 eggs

1 tablespoon of milk (optional)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley and chervil

butter, for frying

1. Break the eggs into a bowl and add the milk and chopped herbs.  Whisk very hard with a fork for several minutes, until the mixture is uniformly covered by small air bubbles.

2.  Begin heating a very well-seasoned frying pan.  When the pan is hot, add a pat of butter and let the butter melt and spread over the bottom of the pan (but don't let it brown).

3.  Pour the egg mixture into the center of the frying pan, and tip the pan so that it spreads around to the outside edges.  As the omelet cooks over the fire, continue tipping the pan in a circular motion.  When the surface looks creamy, like this:

It is time to take a spatula and carefully fold one edge over the other so the omelet is folded in half.  Serve right away.

Notes:  I'm not sure how large R. Blondeau's frying pan was, but six eggs did not fit in my large cast iron frying pan and have room to be tipped around!  The second time round, I cooked the six eggs in two batches, and it turned out as described.  Definitely use a very well-seasoned pan, and you really do have to tip the pan constantly as it cooks or it will stick (as I found out!).  Using a generous pat of butter helps, too.  The omelets cooked this way all turned out perfectly done.  I realized I have been overcooking omelets before, which makes them less tasty and heavier on your stomach.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Break

We are taking a "spring break" this week, along with the regular schools.  It's far too hard to try to interest anyone in math when the neighborhood kids are squirting each other with squirt guns, or playing a high-energy football game in the front yard.

It also gives us a chance to do some fun things that we otherwise wouldn't have time for - like painting eggs, or making these little seed books to send to our out-of-town friends.

We never used to have much chance for correspondence.  Of course there are out-of-state relatives, but it was hard to get Mirin and Rose to write or send letters or cards to people they had seen maybe once or twice.

Last year several families we saw often moved away (and our elderly neighbor, Ms. Penny, too).  There are more to move away this year!  It's sad saying goodbye, but we have been having fun with pen pals and sending cards.  A pipsticks subscription this year has inspired a lot of post-cards, too.

We worked on these little seed books a few days ago, and I just bound them up and am getting them ready to send.  I can't remember where I got the idea first...it wasn't an original idea.  You make a paste with flour and water, and stick the seeds on to the pages (you have to be generous with the paste).  When the paste dries, the pages can be sewn up into a little book.  I perforated the edge close to the binding with a pin, so they can be easily torn out and planted.  The whole page is planted (or can be torn up and planted), kind of like a 2-D seed bomb.  We haven't tried planting one ourselves, yet, but I like the idea.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Garden Change

 Not much was going on in my garden the past couple of months....I stopped planting in January, and it has been the easy, fun harvest-to-table time that makes gardening such a pleasure.  You forget about the hard work it took to build and tend it, and only think of how many more rows of such-and-such you wish you had planted, and dream of next season.

But in the last few weeks, the warm turn of weather has turned the vegetable garden into a flower garden.  I love brassica flowers - their colors are all so Eastery and delicate - pretty purples, yellows and whites.  The arugula flowers are my favorites - they remind me of fairies for some reason.

It is a solid reminder that it's very much time to switch to the summer garden.  I've been pulling bolting pak choy and tatsoi up for Matilda and Geranium every day as a treat while they are being milked (yes, we are milking cows again!  It has added to the absolute hectic blur of last week).  I have to get the beds ready to plant sweet corn soon.

 The cabbage is heading beautifully.  I love all the different greens of the spring trees and the spring garden! 

The lettuce is quickly going to seed, so I have been making large salads for dinner every day.  These are (most of) the lettuces I planted this year.  I was too busy to label them, so I had to guess at which ones they were.  They are, from left to right, top to bottom:  Rouge D'hiver, Reine Des Glaces (I really like that one), Trois Coeurs, Forellenschluss (the spotted red one on the far left)....and back to the right bottom:  Swordleaf Lettuce, Yugoslavian Butterhead, and Oakleaf.  It's always so hard to decide which ones to plant - they are all so pretty.

We are nearing the end of the last row of cassava, but I have been carefully tending my potatoes this year in hopes that we will have another staple crop in the early summer.  Two years ago I grew beautiful potatoes, but since then they have been very unlucky.  This year's improvement was to first till the soil with the chickens before planting in late January (or it's possible I didn't get them in until February...I can't remember now).  They are coming up and growing very green and healthy-looking.  I mulched them with hay leavings from the goats and calves this week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


{These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for upper-middle class families.

As a fun project, I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

*     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Leftover chicken is never as good as the first day it was cooked.  The white meat dries out, and the skin is no longer crispy.  I have a usual repertoire of chicken salad, chicken omelets, chicken and rice, and chicken soup in which I make use of the leftovers.

But this recipe blew all of that away.  Rose has proclaimed it "the best thing I ever tasted!" and it got numerous acclaims from the rest of the family, even Mirin, who has a reputation of being a very exacting food critic.

It is basically a recipe for fried chicken, and has the interesting method of dipping the pieces of chicken in a white sauce, then in beaten egg, and finally rolled in breadcrumbs.  The chicken fried up beautifully golden, crisp, buttery, and somehow not dry at all, but tender and moist.

 To begin with, you must make a white sauce, which is really quite easy.  I will have both the direct translations together here, and there will be modern versions together at the end:
 SAUCE BLANCHE (White Sauce)

Put into a pot, at the same time as a spoonful of flour, a large piece of fresh butter.  Wait for a moment before mixing, and then pour into the pot a large cup of hot water; add salt and pepper.  Mix until it thickens, take off of the fire and add an egg yolk beaten beforehand with vinegar or lemon juice, put back on the fire and cook, stirring, without boiling.


Cut up the leftover chicken into pieces, dip into a thick white sauce, then dip in beaten egg, roll in bread crumbs, fry in butter and serve sprinkled with fine salt.

Modern Versions:

White Sauce:

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 1/2 - 2 cups hot water

salt and pepper to taste

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice

1.  Whisk up the egg yolk with lemon juice or vinegar, and set aside

2.  In a sauce pan, melt the butter and flour together.  Stir in the hot water slowly, as it will thicken as it cooks.  The consistency that worked best for dipping seemed to be thick enough to coat a spoon, but not thick enough that it is like a paste.  Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Take off the heat for a moment while you stir in the yolk beaten with lemon or vinegar, and then put the pan back on a low fire for a minute, stirring constantly.  Don't let the sauce come to a boil again.

Leftover Chicken, Viennese-style

 Leftover chicken, de-boned

White sauce (see above)

3-4 whole eggs, well-beaten

2-3 cups of bread crumbs (I tried it with just flour, and it was a good substitution if you don't have bread crumbs on hand)

Plenty of butter, for frying

Salt, to serve

Lemon slices (not in the original recipe, but it was very good with a squeeze of sour citrus.  I also chopped up some green onion tops as a garnish)

 1.  Cut up the pieces of chicken into about 1x2 inch pieces.  Beat up the eggs and get set-up for breading:  plate of chicken on the left, bowl of white sauce next, then the eggs, then the bread crumbs, and lastly a plate to hold the breaded chicken while it is waiting a turn in the frying pan.  This part gets messy, with chicken, white sauce and bread crumbs all over (see picture above).

2.  Fry breaded chicken pieces in plenty of butter until golden and crispy.

3.  To serve, sprinkle with salt, and if you like, lemon juice.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Cleaning

I thought I might report back about the epic spring cleaning, continuing along with the KonMari method.  It's going well, but I was so tired yesterday, I had to take a break.

I started out this week going through all my clothes.  The way the KonMari method of tidying works is that you go through everything in one category all at once, so you can see just how much you have.  So instead of doing my closet and my dresser separately, I went through both at the same time.

I actually have the smallest wardrobe in my family, as I almost never get to buy clothes - even used ones.  Some of the clothes I had were from high school, and I hadn't worn them in many years!  One thing I am guilty of when I have gone through my clothes in the past was to set aside clothes I didn't really wear any more for "lounge wear," or work clothes.  She specifically cautions against this.  She points out that even when you are working or relaxing, you should still wear clothes you like and want to wear.  So most of it went, either to the trash or the thrift store, depending on how worn out it was. It feels very nice to be down to only things I really love and enjoy wearing.

 Next I went on to the kitchen and dining room.  You are not supposed to go through room by room, but category by category.  The kitchen/dining room has all similar stuff, so it ended up being both those rooms.  I organized my spices, which were in three different places, giving the seasoning blends Ethan had brought with him when he moved in 10 years ago to the compost.  Everything fits in one layer on my one shelf, including teas and herbs.  Yay!

The dishes were intense.  I had SO MANY dishes, mostly ones I didn't use ever, and that I had been given.  I hadn't realized there were quite so many.  Reading the book was very helpful for this.  I wasn't able to let go of them before - not because I loved and treasured them, but from nostalgia.  And a funny thing happened - I have been wishing for more large mixing bowls, and I found that I actually owned far more large mixing bowls than will fit in the spot I had decided to keep them!  They kept being unearthed from various spots.

When I began this whole process, I told myself I wasn't going to worry so much about cleaning, just clearing out unwanted belongings for now.  I would have liked to really clean things, too, but I didn't think I would be able to.  To be honest, I haven't gotten to spring-clean my house for three years....not since Clothilde was born.

There are the three sacred things I do every day for my family, of course:  laundry, dishes, and sweeping, no holidays, weekends, or breaks (or I will never keep up).  And here and there I would dust.  The sweeping makes it necessary to pick up, so that alone keeps things decently neat.  But moving furniture and cleaning the walls were beyond what I was able to do while keeping Clothilde from poking forks in electrical outlets, or letting herself out to run in the road.

This is all co-insiding with a wonderful development she's had, that she can (so far) be trusted to play nicely outside with older siblings, and not run away.

Once the kitchen was at a certain point of being cleared out, I realized I was going to have to really scrub it, or it would drive me crazy.  So I got out a bucket and scrubbed the counters, the walls, the stove, the fridge, the cupboards, and the floor. 

The floor was the most disturbing part.  I mop it regularly, but this was the first time I took several hours to scrub it by hand, in all the edges and dusty corners.  I'm sorry to say that it turned an entirely different color during the process.  It used to be a mottled yellow-brown, and now it's the ugliest shade of yellow I've ever seen.  In fact, Ethan's response was, "Oh wow, it's really clean.  And gosh it's a hideous color."

Rose said, "I liked it better before it was clean."

Yesterday Ethan cleaned out the freezers.  We got the call on Friday evening that our beef is ready to be picked up from the butcher.  This was a huge job, as we have four freezers, and all of them were dripping with ice and packed with all kinds of things in plastic baggies that had to be sorted through.  A lot of expensive organic freezer veg that we picked up when the Earth Origins freezers broke had to be given to the pigs.  There were a few unloved Amy's organic burritos that went, too. 

We felt bad throwing it all out, but all the organic vegetables tasted like the bottom of Earth Origin's freezer.  The burritos, as Ethan said, had homeopathic amounts of cheese, and were mostly dry bread.  Now that we've tried them, we can't believe how expensive they are.  Or that people actually buy them.

The dog tried one at the farm, she pulled it out of the pig bucket, took one small bite, and just left it and went back to her kibbles.  Earlier in the week Ethan had cleared out some more of the freezer veg, but hadn't had time to give it to the pigs yet.  It was still in the bags.  The massive raccoon that has been plaguing us lately got into it.  He had opened up a bag of defrosted broccoli raab, smelled it, and just left it there.  There was an opened, yet untouched, bag of cauliflower next to it.  You could see that he also sorted through some bags of peas and carrots and mixed veg, and then decided it wasn't edible.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

POT-AU-FEU (French Beef Stew)

What do you think of when you think of French cuisine?  Most people will imagine rich cheeses, baguettes and wine.  Steak Tartare or French onion soup.  Or maybe teeny, tiny blobs of food on a huge plate, like French Laundry

This week's recipe is THE classic French supper.  This is the dish that Gervaise Macquart, the tragic laundress of Emile Zola's famous novel L'Assommoir, prepared for her working-class family every evening.

Pot-au-feu, generally translated as "stew," literally means Fire Pot.  It is listed as the first soup recipe in La Cuisine, because, as R. Blondeau writes, "In the place of honor at the beginning is the Pot-au-feu, because, without exception, it is the best well-known and most popular of all the soups.  We would also add that it is the national dish of France."

"First, the meat must be chosen carefully:  Beef shoulder (le plat-de-cote), top or silverside of the back leg of beef (Le gite a la noix), steak (la tranche), upper shoulder blade beef roast (le paleron), and the top rump of beef (la culotte de boeuf) are best.  Always include marrow bones, and, if you like, a piece of oxtail."

This part is a little complicated because there are twice as many French beef cuts than American ones, and they are different.  I am not an expert on either French or American beef cuts, but I did my best to research each one and try to figure out an equivalent.  I've included the French names, so you can do your own looking into it if you'd like.  There are some butchers here in the States that sell French cuts of meat.

This is another "simmer for seven hours" recipe, but perhaps it will be of comfort that I only spent about fifteen minutes getting it ready to cook by itself all day.  I peeled the vegetables while I was waiting for the meat, water, and salt to boil.  It isn't a dish that needs a lot of attention, so naturally it was very popular - most people had to work, and didn't have a lot of time to cook.  

LE POT-AU-FEU (direct translation)

Pour some water into an earthen pot, filling it about a third of the way.  Put in your meat - about 750 grams of meat per 2 liters of water, with a palmful of coarse salt.  Cook over a moderate fire.
Just before boiling, skim the foam off, but not more than once.  Once the water has come to a boil, add the following vegetables, which have been peeled and carefully washed:  Three or four large carrots, two turnips, a small piece of parsnip, four leeks of medium to good size, and a small branch of celery.

You must tie up the leeks so they don't get scattered around the pot during cooking.

You may also add a large onion, studded with two cloves, and a bouquet of herbs:  Parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, a clove of garlic, and some crushed peppercorns.

Allow to simmer over a low fire, without stopping, for six or seven hours.

When you are ready to serve, taste the broth, and add more salt or pepper if necessary.

If your broth is pale, you can color it slightly with half an onion browned, or some caramel.  To serve, line a soup dish with thin slices of bread, toasted or untoasted, and pour the broth over, after having defatted the broth beforehand.

An excellent way to serve a broth without too much fat is to dip the ladle in the place where the boiling bubbles up:  the fat is, in effect, chased to the edges of the pot-au-feu, and the broth is as thin as you could wish.

Serve on a plate, at the same times as the soup, the cooked vegetables from the pot-au-feu.  That way everyone can serve themselves, choosing what they like.

You may also add to the pot-au-feu giblets, indeed a whole old hen; the presence of these meats does not spoil the broth - on the contrary.

POT-AU-FEU (a modern version)

2 lbs of stew meat (see above)
coarse salt

2 quarts or so of water

3-4 large carrots, peeled and trimmed

2 turnips, peeled and trimmed

1 parsnip, peeled and trimmed

4 leeks of medium to large size, tied up with kitchen string

1 small branch of celery

1 large onion, peeled but not sliced

2 whole cloves

a bouquet of parsley, thyme and bay leaf

a clove of garlic, peeled

5-10 crushed peppercorns

slices of good-quality bread

1.  Pour the water into a good-sized stock pot, and place the meat in with a large pinch of the salt.  Set to boil on medium heat.  Just before boiling, skim the foam from the top (only one time - this is different from many stock recipes I've ready, which call for frequent skimming).

2.  Once the water boils, add the carrots, turnips, parsnip, leeks, and celery.  Poke the two cloves into the whole onion, and add that as well, nestling it down among the meat.  Also add the bouquet of herbs, garlic clove and peppercorns.

3.  Allow to simmer very slowly over a low flame for six or seven hours.

4.  To serve, taste the broth and add more salt or pepper if necessary.  Then line a soup tureen or other high-sided dish with thin slices of bread, toasted or untoasted.  Ladle the broth out from the middle of the pot, where the boiling bubbles up (so you get broth and not the fat on top).

5.  Serve the meat and vegetables on a plate at the same time as the bread and broth so that everyone can serve themselves what they like.

Notes:  The meat and broth were wonderful.  The vegetables took on the flavor of the broth, and it was very easy to prepare.  Honestly, you just can't go wrong by putting good meat, fresh vegetables and herbs on to boil for a long time.  I didn't have any kitchen string on hand, and I should note that the leeks will indeed fall apart if they are not tied up!  

My kids liked that everything was served separately, but they didn't like the broth-soaked bread.  We don't usually eat bread, and if we do, never soaked in broth.  If you don't like the bread this way, you can always serve it on the side instead.  It is very common in France to use a bit of bread to soak up the juices of a meal and totally clean the plate with it, or to use a piece to push food onto your fork.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Surrounded by Stuff

I'm sitting here, surrounded by stuff.  Stuff I don't like, don't need, and don't want, mixed up with stuff I do like, need or want.  I have to go through and decide.

Last week I finally got a copy of The Live-changing Magic of Tidying up:  The Japanese Art of De-cluttering and Organizing from the library.

I say finally because it took months to get it.  I was 97th on the waiting list, even though they have 14 copies!

I have quickly realized that all the "stuff" I always complain about, all the clutter that bothers me that I blame on everyone else....a lot of it is mine!

And a lot of it is stuff that was given to me, stuff that sits in cupboards, or clutters up my table and counters without being useful.  Stuff I felt obligated to, because it was a gift, or because I liked it long ago.

Truthfully, my children have had a hard time with it.  I'm only going through my own belongings, but it is still hard for them to see familiar things leave.  Like the baby gate.  Rose was in tears over the baby gate.  It didn't matter that I don't have any more babies, or that it never worked very well in the first place.  She couldn't stand to see it leaving us.  She and Mirin kidnapped it out of the "Donate" pile and hid it somewhere.  I haven't found it yet.

When they got home on Saturday from a day at BB Brown gardens with my dad, they charged inside like elephants.  "What are you getting rid of now?" they demanded.

"Hey, where's all the clutter on top of the fridge?  I liked the clutter on top of the fridge!"

They pushed past me organizing books and banged into their room where there isn't an inch of visible floor space.  "Ahhhh!  This is so much better!" Mirin said.

So if I don't write here much this week - know that I am just overwhelmed with the task of culling belongings.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Short Holiday, and Thoughts On Homeschooling

We took a break from homeschool last week.  I'm so glad we did!  My big kids were tired and cranky from camping at the Earthskills gathering with my mom, and Clothilde had her sprained ankle (she is getting better everyday - still not walking, but she can stand up with out help now).

In years past, I would have plowed on through, feeling like we had to keep going, no matter what.  It would have been awful, and nothing would have gotten done.  They would have been fighting or crying the whole time and I would have been stressed out.  Instead we wound up our language arts block by reading some stories together and took it easy enjoying the beautiful spring weather last week.

Mirin is taking an extended break.  He was becoming very surly and rude to me every day, and flatly refused to do anything.  Now that he's been let off, he's been poking his head into Rose's lessons here and there.  Mostly he is sketching gun pictures.  He has even had to do a little math for his gun designs. 

It has been very nice to focus on Rose, who is motivated to learn.  She is reading better and better every week.  On her own she decided to start reading aloud a chapter book she picked out at the library - the "Fairy Animals" series "Paddy the Puppy."  It's a horrible book to listen to - deathly boring and treacly, but she is reading it and I am so happy she is reading.  I guess I can look forward to when she can read this sort of thing to herself!

  All sorts of things have come together in a very interesting way. To find stories for this year, I went through all the folktale collections at the library, but ended up finding the very best stories from two African story collections that have been, unread, on my bookshelf since childhood.  We started the year with the Waldorf second grade classic, The King of Ireland's Son.  It has many Irish myths and legends woven in to a central story.

The side reading we picked up started with Nancy Farmer's stories set in Zimbabwe - The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm, and Do you know me?  They are both so funny and have Zimbabwean culture woven into them.  The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm has such compelling descriptions of Monomatapa and Great Zimbabwe's glorious history - it's one of those great civilizations that is generally completely ignored here.

Next we read a book called A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter.  It is a Selkie legend from Shetland.  I had read it to Mirin in second grade, and I also wanted to read it to Rose in second grade.  I had first found the book on the book shelf of my second grade classroom.  My teacher had a little "library" section that we could check out books from.  I checked this book out and read it more than 10 times.  I remember my teacher saying I couldn't check it out again because she wanted the other children to have a chance at it.  I would chatter out the story to my mom over and over again, which really annoyed her.  The story is magical, rich, and entrancing.  I felt personally changed by reading it.  After second grade, I didn't see the book again, but the story lived vividly in my heart.  As an adult, I bought myself a copy and read it again, to see if it was really that good.  It is.

We just finished The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, and are working on Julius Lester's Br'er Rabbit tales.  It seemed a little strange going back and forth from the British Isles to Africa (it wasn't intentional), but I realized that both of these cultures come together in the folktales of Southern America!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

COEUR DE BOEUF - Beef Heart Stew

{These French recipies are from a French cookbook called La Cuisine:  Guide Practique de la Ménagère by Chef R. Blondeau.  This book was passed down to me from my great-grandmother, who was from Alsace, a North-eastern region on the Rhine river plain in France.  It was published in 1930 as a guide for cooks hired to cook for upper-middle class families.

As a fun project, I am translating the recipes from French, testing them out with home-grown or raised food, and re-writing them in a modern format, with notes about what worked for me in the kitchen} 

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Now that we have lots of beef, it will be easy to find recipes in La Cuisine to try.  As R. Blondeau says, "Beef is the base of our cuisine; if the flavor and quality changes with the cuts of meat used, it remains nutritious and enjoyable."

Most of the beef from last week is still at the butcher where it is being hung and aged, and then will be cut and processed into steaks, roasts, soup bones, and ground beef.  But we have all the organs - the liver, heart, spleen, and kidneys. 

This recipe calls for a beef heart and a calf's foot (I used a cow's foot instead - boned out, of course - it's just the inside of the foot, not the dirty hoof).  Beef heart is rich in things that nourish our hearts, like B12, iron, selenium, and CoQ10.

I've seen so many recipes with unusual ingredients like this that say, "Find a good butcher."  But most modern "butcher" sections of stores no longer get whole carcasses that they have to deal with.  They are shipped pre-cut sections of meat.  They might be able to trim off fat or grind up a roast, but that's about it.  If you start asking for beef hearts or calves's feet, they won't be able to help you.  Local custom butchers, or farmers who direct-market their meat would be the place to look.

If you are a local, Dennis and Alicia Stolzfoos of Full Circle Farm sell high-quality local grass-fed beef heart.

If you can't find a calf's foot, I would suggest using some stew bones or marrow bones, oxtail, or a beef knuckle instead - something cartilaginous rather than meaty.

Another thing that might be unfamiliar are the instructions for larding.  I had never heard of larding until I read Jane Grigson's French Pork Cookery book. Larding is where slices of bacon or lard are threaded through the meat.  It adds fat and moisture during cooking.  I don't have a larding needle (I guess I should find one), and I skipped this step when I prepared this recipe.  It was still very tender and delicious.

 If you are going to try larding, I should mention that you are supposed to lard it along the grain of the meat, so when the meat is sliced across the grain you get nice slices within the meat, rather than a big hunk of bacon or lard.

This recipe is in two parts.  The direct translations might seem complicated, but don't worry - I've re-written it in a simpler and more approachable format below.  There is a very long cooking time with this - and I know long cooking times can seem daunting in a recipe.

These are my favorite kinds of recipes in the winter.  It's actually quite quick and easy to brown the meat and get everything simmering slowly on the back of the stove, where it warms the kitchen and makes the whole house smell delicious. At the end of the day, when I am generally tired and don't feel like being on my feet in the kitchen, the main dish is all ready, needing only a quick salad and bread (or cassava, which is what we have) to complete the meal.


Split a beef heart in half, without separating the pieces.  Pull out the blood clots from the middle, wash it, lard it, and prepare as for Boeuf a la Mode.

BOEUF A LA MODE  (Beef, Modern-style)

 Choose a nice cut of top steak or rump steak (culotte), well-shaped and not weighing less than three pounds.

Prick with lardons between the fibres of the meat, and thread them through and brown with butter on all sides.

Remove it for a moment, and arrange some slices of bacon or lard in the bottom of the pot, let them brown with a calf's foot chopped into pieces, an onion pricked with a clove.  Add your beef back on top of the bacon or lard, surrounding the pieces of calf's foot, pour over a glass of Bordeaux cognac, and put on the fire.

Season with salt and pepper, and add a cup of broth, cover and let cook over a low fire for seven hours.

Three hours before serving, add a half dozen of good-sized carrots in slices, or a dozen whole small carrots, and, an hour beforehand, two or three white onions.

This can be served hot or cold.

Hot, serve it arranged on a plate, surrounded by the pieces of calf's foot, the bacon, the onions and carrots, de-fat the sauce and pour the juice over everything.
Cold, cut it while still hot into thin slices and lay them out in a ring on a plate, add the carrots, and pour the sauce over everything and let it chill/gel.

For family dinners, it is generally served hot, and then the leftovers are served cold in a later meal.

COEUR DE BOEUF (BOEUF A LA MODE) - An even more modern version
1 beef heart

Several slices of lard or bacon for larding (optional), plus a few additional slices for cooking
1 cow or calf's foot, boned out and cut into pieces (or substitute soup bones, oxtail, etc)

Butter for browning

3 onions

1 clove

1 cup of Bordeaux cognac (a brandy made from wine)

1 cup of broth (you can use water, but the final dish won't be as rich or flavorful.  Type of broth is not specified.  I used what I had on hand, which happened to be chicken/turkey stock)

6 large carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds 

OR 12 small carrots, whole

salt and pepper to taste

1.  Slice open the beef heart without cutting the two halves apart, and pull out the clotted blood.  I also trimmed the top and cut out the heart strings.  Rinse thoroughly.  If you are larding it, prick it in several places on each half, always pulling the lard or bacon through along the grain of the meat.

2.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter and brown the beef heart on all sides.  While it is browning, halve an onion and stick one of the halves with a whole clove.

3.  Pull out the heart and set it aside.  Arrange some slices of bacon or lard on the bottom of the pot and let them brown with the pieces of calf's foot (or the soup bones), and the onion stuck with a clove.

4.  When they are browned, add the heart back on top, surrounded with the pieces of calf's foot.  Pour over a glass of Bordeaux cognac.  Season with salt and pepper, add a cup of broth, cover and let cook over a low flame for about four hours.

5.  Add the carrots (either the large carrots sliced into rounds OR the small carrots whole).  Cover the pot again, and keep cooking over the low flame for a couple more hours.

6.  Add two medium onions, sliced.  Cover the pot again and let cook for another hour.

7.  To serve this dish hot, arrange the meat and vegetables on a serving dish.  De-fat the sauce and drizzle it over everything.

To serve it cold, slice the meat while it is still warm and arrange the slices in a ring on a plate.  Add the carrots and other ingredients in the middle.  Pour the sauce over everything and let it cool (or chill in the fridge).

For family dinners, this is usually served hot, and then the leftovers are served cold for the next meal.

Notes:  This recipe was absolutely delicious.  Rose said she gave it six stars!  (Out of five, I think)  When I added the cognac, a delicious smell of vanilla and caramelized meat filled the kitchen.  The sauce was intense.  The meat was tender and full of savory, meaty flavor.  It was very rich and filling.

This recipe did not need much tending-to. With the long cooking time and not much liquid added, I kept checking on it to make sure it hadn't cooked dry.  The liquid level actually increased the longer it cooked, and it ended up quite saucy at the end.

I was also skeptical about the instructions to de-fat the sauce, thinking that was an unnecessary step, but it ended up with a half inch of tallow on top (even without the larding), so I did skim it once I had pulled the meat and veggies out.  There are no specific instructions for de-fatting sauces that I have come across yet, but it seems to be a standard instruction.  Skimming with a ladle seemed to work well.  I prepared some to try cold the next day, and it was also very good.  The sauce is so rich in gelatin that it sets like aspic over the slices of cold meat.