food


Three years ago David and I dug a lovo – that is, and underground oven. By doing so we killed two birds with one stone. He had to cook a “foreign” food for school, and by doing it this way, the two of us earned the Pathfinder Cultural Food Preparation honor. I wanted to eventually do this with the whole club, and our chance came last weekend.

My friend Ken hosts an annual harvest party at his farm sometime in October. Or September. This year, he was constrained to host it while the Pathfinders were at a Camporee. To make up for it, he invited the club to his house for another one.

I did not get any photos of our lovo this time. It was dark. We had some “yams” – at least according to the grocery store. Most of the time in the U.S. yams are really sweet potatoes. But the two are actually distinct. I don’t know which one I really had. I also bought something labeled “sweet potatoes,” twenty ears of corn, a package of Brussels sprouts, and two butternut squashes. We were going to use banana leaves to wrap them in, but that didn’t quite pan out. We had the banana leaves – but they were in Worcester, MA, and my staff member who secured them for us did not have time to fetch them from there. So we used foil.

What I learned this time was that four hours is not enough time to pull this one off. The hole took longer to dig than I thought it would. We had pine for wood, and that doesn’t get as hot as hardwood, nor does it burn as long. So the rocks didn’t get as hot as they needed to. The final stroke was that we didn’t have time to let the food sit buried in the hole long enough to fully cook. We dug it up at 8:30pm, realized that it was not quite done, and put it in the bonfire we had going next to it.

All of the food was pretty good, but the Brussels sprouts were particularly excellent.

While we waited for the food to cook Ken took us for a hayride.

Ken on his tractor

Ken on his tractor

The kids had a good time, and that’s what I was going for. So we can chalk it up as a success even if the lovo didn’t quite work out. We’ll try it again sometime when we have more time.

On Sunday I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I hadn’t been there in a while, so it was nice to take that stroll. I cut through the mowed-down forest on the way. I used to think it was terrible that they did that, but I have come to realize that the field as it is now is an ideal habitat for the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) – which is threatened in New Hampshire. Fish and Game have been incenting landowners to create cottontail habitat just like this. I don’t know if that’s what happened here or not.

But what I do know is that I saw some lowbush blueberry plants (Vaccinium angustifolium) in bloom. Yes, in November.

Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

I had been thinking that if you looked up the word “unusual” in the dictionary, it will say something about blueberries blooming in New England in November. But this is not exactly the only place it has happened. Fellow blogger New Hampshire Gardener saw the same thing last week.

I took several shots of the one I’ve posted here, because I thought it must have been something else entirely. After all, blueberries don’t bloom here in November. I was going to try to identify it. But it is without a question Vaccinium angustifolium. We live in strange times.

Last night (and this morning) we had a Nor’easter blow through here. We got about an inch of snow at my house. It’s gone now (the snow turned to rain). I like that winter is starting to show its face. I think Penny was glad too.

Penny waiting for a stick

Penny waiting for a stick

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Back when we lived in Virginia and my sons were somewhere between maybe seven and ten years old, David (my younger son) had the idea that we should try to make some chocolate soup. I thought that sounded intriguing, so we hopped in the car and drove to a grocery store. We bought hot chocolate, chocolate syrup, Hershey kisses, M&M’s, and maybe six other types of chocolate candy. I can’t remember what all we put in it, but it was over $20 worth of chocolate.

Then we melted some of the chocolate in a pan, added the hot chocolate and syrup, and stirred in the various candies. Once it was done, with “done” being defined as “a little melty” we ladled it into some bowls, got out some soup spoons and sat down to sample our creation.

It was waaaay too rich. Not a one of use was able to eat more than about a half cup of chocolate soup, and believe me, I tried. So did the boys.

Turns out, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Whodathunkit?

This blog reached a milestone today, by reaching the 20,000 hit mark. That’s not very impressive when you factor in the amount of time it’s been “alive” – three and a half years. That’s about 15 hits a day (though these days, I average about triple that per day). This will be the 941st post, and the blog has generated 879 comments (about half of which are mine).

I still enjoy blogging, so this will continue into the foreseeable future. I also enjoy reading other blogs, and the ones I read regularly are over there on the right in the blog roll.

Thank you for reading. And since most of my readers are also writers, thank you for writing too!

Last week I found myself at the church with a few minutes to kill, so I picked a gallon of autumn olives. The kids had already stripped most of them off the bushes, but there was one bush tucked out of the way, and not dead-easy to reach, and it was still loaded. It took me 15 minutes to pick a gallon of berries.

When I got home I washed them and ran them through my chinois.

Autumn olives in the chinois

Autumn olives in the chinois


Note how the berries look nothing like olives. The leaves of the bush look a bit like olive leaves though, so I’m going to assume that that’s the origin of the name.

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!


A chinois is like a conical sieve with a conical mortar. The basic idea is to squish the fruit through the holes and catch it in some sort of vessel. The vessel in my case is the pot I intended to boil it in. Why get two dishes dirty when one will do the trick?

I got a little too wild with the chinois at one point, and slopped some whole-ish berries over the edge. I tried fishing for them, but couldn’t find them in the pulp and juice below. They disappeared into the crowd.

Once I had processed all my berries through the chinois, I moved the pot to the stove, added an equal volume of sugar, and set it to boil.

As it boiled, the seeds that were in the whole-ish berries I slopped over the edge came to the surface, and I spent a lot of time fishing them out. I do believe I got them all, but it was a lesson I will try to remember – don’t slop berries out of the chinois! That makes it harder.

This is NOT tomato soup!

This is NOT tomato soup!


As the berry pulp was boiling, I set a second, smaller pot full of water to boil as well. I washed my jars and dumped them in the water, two at a time. I let them boil for a few minutes, extracted them with tongs, and then added another jar (plus lids). I guess that’s sterile enough.

After the berries boiled for 40 minutes (which was about twenty minutes too long according to Mom), I ladled it into jars.

I got five pints, plus three very small jars full. The small jars each hold about a tablespoon. I snagged these when I was at the ACS training weekend in Connecticut this summer – they seemed perfect for giving away small quantities of autumn olive jam.

I’m not worried about whether the little tiny jars will keep the jelly from spoiling. I’ve got them in the fridge right now and will instruct the jam recipients to do the same. These are not canning jars, and I don’t trust them for that purpose.

Unfortunately, the jam did not set. Autumn olive berries are very tart, and I couldn’t find anywhere on the innerwebs that said I needed or did not need pectin. Since they are so tart, I decided to try it without. Mistake!

But not a mistake I can’t correct. Last night Va brought some pectin home with her (at my request). I opened all my jars of liquid jam and dumped them right back into the pot. Then I added the pectin – a whole box of SureJel. As I brought it back to a boil, I washed the jars and re-sterilized them. I let the jam boil for ten minutes, and then ladled it back into the jars. In this process I lost a half pint of jam. 😦

It still didn’t set up like I wanted it to, but it’s far more solid now than it was before. And indeed, it is acceptably solid now, so I’m not going to fret about it.

I brought the half-pint of jam with me to work this morning, stopped at the bakery downstairs from us, and bought a loaf of multi-grain bread.

Most people’s reaction was something like “Olive jam?” and I would have to explain to each person that it was not olives, it was autumn olives, and they are nothing like “regular” olives. They are a berry, and they are not native to North America. Indeed, they are quite invasive, but they do make excellent jam. Would that all our invasives were as tasty as this. (OK, I stole that line from Samuel Thayer, who wrote “Nature’s Garden” – an excellent book about wild foods).

Then my co-workers would try it and rave about how good it was. Hoorays!

Now I have to decide who will get the three tiny jars. I am going to keep the four pints I have left for myself, and hope that they last me until something else comes into season next year.

Or maybe I should break out the blackberries I froze a few months ago…

Va has some very particular tastes for foods, and sometimes, that can get me into trouble. I seem unable to predict when those sometimes are.

A few years ago we were travelling far from home and stopped along the way at a grocery store. She saw some canned, beanless chili – something that we never see here. She has always preferred that very brand of chili because it is available sans beans. She likes chili. She does not like beans. Chili with no beans gets an A+ in her book, so she bought several cans and we brought them home.

Yes, we all know that homemade chili is far superior to canned chili of any variety, but sometimes you’re in a hurry and can’t spare the time to make a batch from scratch. It is at times like that when canned chili is a good thing to have on hand.

Several months elapsed after this trip, and I found myself feeling somewhat peckish. I started digging through the pantry to see what would hit the mark. I found the last can of her beanless chili. I like chili and beans, so I kept digging until I found a can of kidney beans. I opened both cans, dumped them in a pot, and stirred.

That’s about when Va came around and saw what I had done. She was not happy. Nevermind that the chili had been forgotten in the pantry for months. If I had eaten the whole 15 oz can all by myself without adding beans, she would have been just fine. If I had eaten all the chili and then ate the beans separately, she would still have been fine. If I had heated them both up and served them to myself side-by-side in separate dishes, there would have been no trouble there either. But no. I mixed them together in a pot, thus rendering them into an abomination in her sight. The horrors!

Tonight I found myself feeling peckish again. Va was eating some maple-flavored oatmeal squares – a breakfast cereal. Like all cereals, she prefers this without milk. It looked pretty good to me, so I poured a bowl for myself,emptying the box. It was the last of the oatmeal squares cereal. I like my breakfast cereal with milk, so I turned towards the fridge to get some, and that’s when synapses began to fire. I remembered the chili.

Just to be safe, I asked if she would mind if I ate my bowl of oatmeal squares with milk. She could not figure out why I would even ask such a question, so I reminded her of the beanless chili. Apparently, milkless cereal plus milk is not a problem, even while beanless chili plus beans is most definitely a problem. Perhaps this is because we can go to the grocery store and get more cereal tonight if we so desired, but we’d have to drive some 600 miles for beanless chili. In my opinion, this is a very subtle distinction!

It’s no wonder men cannot understand women!

Tonight we worked on two honors – Food Freezing, and Bread Dough. Cheryl (the director who preceded me) taught Food Freezing, and her adult daughter taught Bread Dough. We split the kids into two groups – boys and girls, and attacked it that way.

Ken gave us half a basket of peaches for this. I stopped by his place after work to pick them. As Jonathan and I were driving to the church, we passed an unmanned vegetable stand on the side of the road. I bought four dozen ears of corn and eight squash for $20 (which I stuffed into the little lock-box). I might have bought less, except that I didn’t have change. So instead, I grabbed veggies until they added up to $20.

Cheryl picked up strawberries, zucchini, sugar (for freezer jam), lemon juice, pectin, and I can’t remember what else. Either she or her daughter also picked up several sacks of flour, a few boxes of salt, and some other stuff too for the Bread Dough honor.

The bread dough itself was about half salt and half flour – the intent being to sculpt things out of it rather than to eat it. I assume that since it consists of that much salt, not even insects would be tempted to eat it – but the kids sure were! I let them taste a smidgen to satisfy their curiosity. That was about all it took too.

After we were finished there was more than a little clean up to do. Somehow, the kitchen floor got a little sticky, so I mopped it. And somehow, we got flour on the carpet, so some of the kids vacuumed it.

Tomorrow we work on our raft.

I don’t know how this came up yesterday, but it most surely did. Beth wanted her hair curled. Maybe it was because we had some hair curlers (unused) for sale at the yardsale last weekend. Anyhow, she somehow talked Va into buying a set of curlers (not at the yardsale). I suspect it wasn’t that hard, what with Va being a female herself.

So last night the two girls in the family did some hair. Here’s how Beth looked at bedtime:

Beth in Curlers

Beth in Curlers


As you can see, she was absolutely thrilled. I wish I had taken a photo of her this morning after the curlers came out, but being a Bad Dad, I neglected to do this. So all I have to publish for the whole world to see, is the before picture.

The upside to this is that it gets me out of brushing her hair.

Anyhow, she went to school this morning all dolled up and excited, and with a sack of groceries from the Northeastern U.S. I went in with her to make sure Ben & Jerry made it into the freezer, and the rest of the stuff went into the fridge. The Hershey Kisses didn’t need to go in the fridge, but I figured it would be better to keep it all together as much as possible. Certainly refrigeration doesn’t hurt Kisses.

Her schoolmates loved everything except the cranberry juice. That’s an acquired tasted I guess (David says that calling something an acquired taste is code for not very good. He may be right!

There was just s smidgen of Ben & Jerry left, so I ate it tonight. I love their nutrition label. Yesterday I had written that it was a half-pint of ice cream, but I was mistaken – it was a full pint. It’s still not very much, and I’m pretty sure I could gobble down the entire pint without a second thought. But if you read the nutrition label… man.

Number of servings: 4

That’s right! A half-cup each! That’s like two spoons full. I think I can fit a half cup of ice cream in my mouth. So why is the serving size so pathetically small? That’s easy!

Total saturated fat: 70%

If the serving size were the full pint (like it ought to be), that would read

Total saturated fat: 280%

I don’t think they wanted to do that! Still, Ben & Jerry make some mighty good-tasting ice cream, so I don’t mind maxing out the saturated fat every now and then.

Yesterday Jonathan’s cell phone arrived. We got him a pre-paid phone for $20 that’ll be good for three months. The crazy thing is that it will be cheaper to buy a new phone than it will be to add more minutes to this one. But for $5.00 per month, I guess we’ll try to save the environment.

He called me on it when he got out of class. It was a pretty nice day weather-wise, so he thought he might walk from the campus to my office instead of taking the trolley. OK! Exercise is good. I hadn’t heard anything from him 40 minutes later, so I called him. He was fine, it’s just that the walk was a little longer than he had anticipated. Google tells me that if he had walked the shortest path between those two points, it would have been 2.3 miles. But he didn’t know the shortest path, and thus took some other route. I guess it must have been at least 2.5 miles.

I figured he might like a little company on his hike, so I set out myself and met him along the way. We went to a burrito place in Concord and had… burritos?

Then we went to my office. I got back to work, and he set up camp in a vacant office. He seems to really like school and it is nice to see him really buckling down. I’m pretty sure he’s going to slam-dunk his first semester.

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