at least a couple of things are coming up roses


This is the year I am completely sold on my mother’s practice of growing roses in pots. How extravagant! In February!

we’re getting creative over here

We ran out of drinking water about three weeks ago. Typically, we haul it in, in five gallon jugs, but this winter the snow has uncharacteristically refused to melt for weeks on end, and the drifts over our long country driveway have in places reached over three feet.

For weeks we drank maple sap. It’s sugaring season, after all, and we have no shortage—more than we can handle, for casual boiling. And we’re still drinking it, and eating a lot of new syrup, and frankly it’s getting a little old.

So I just set a pork belly to curing for bacon, and I had a little pile of trimmings I figured I’d cook with the other night, seasoned with salt and smoked Spanish paprika. And I had a bag of chicken wings needing to be eat. So I threw it all in the Dutch oven to brown, let it cool, threw in some onions to caramelize, set some Arborio rice to risottoing, and realized that with all that inherent sweetness (pork and onions, friends) I didn’t want to make that risotto with maple sap.

So, I used beer. Some weak lager someone left from a party months ago, the most neutral liquid in the house. (Yeah, we’ve gone through all the stock in the freezer, too.) The bitterness, I was hoping, would help balance the sweet of the pork and onions. Also, the radicchio I set with the sauce to caramelizing.

It was a fairly intense thing to eat. But good. Needed something bright and crisp to balance it though, like lightly grilled asparagus maybe with lemon juice—or maybe I should have kept that radicchio more discreet. We drank it with a light, sharp wine (an Austrian Zweigelt) and that helped, it being also a refreshing alternative to more sap.

Of course, close readers of this blog will remember that my wife for her health avoids eating gluten, and will know that beer is glutenous. My wife reminded me of that second fact, several bites in, when I explained to her my clever technique.

What’s the name of this blog again?

green soup


Spinach soup, made with an immersion blender. I don’t use them, for some reasons, philosophical and otherwise, but the other cook does. Great color. Those other things are tiny souffles, or you could call them gluten-free popovers gone wrong. More like dumplings, actually, because that’s how we ate them, and the next morning as crusty custard, with butter and jam.

uses of stovetops


The tray and the yellow pot are boiling maple sap, the biscuits are warming for breakfast, as is my coffee cup, on top of the blue pot which is simmering up some beef broth. The mokapot is brewing the wife’s daily four ounces. A slightly more useful than usual winter woodstove tableau.

Categorized as foraging? Well, we’re scavenging heat, here. And maple sap, and beef bones most people throw out. I think that counts.

marmalade, part one, of old tangerines


I’ve been making marmalade. I’ve been reading cookbooks. One of my favorites, the Times Picayune Creole Cook Book of 1928, had the simplest recipe, and the one I figured I’d try first, with a clutch of aging grocery-store tangerines I’d been sitting on. Here is the recipe, rewritten for simplicity:

Picayune Creole Cook Book’s Marmelade d’Oranges: (p. 357)

To every 6 oranges allow 2 lemons
To every pound of fruit 1.5 cups sugar (three parts sugar to four fruit, by weight)

Chop up citrus, discard seeds. Add sugar, cook until done (as judged by plate-test). Jar.

The plate test, I should note, is when you take a cool plate and fling some droplets at it, so as to judge by their quickly-cooled viscosity whether the batch will congeal properly at room temperature yet. It is an art, apparently, because I overcooked this tangerine batch enough to wind up with something more akin to candied tangerines than marmalade. (Not that that was terribly disappointing!)

I recommend, in cutting up your citrus, to juice it first and then chop the peel after. It’s easier and it wastes less juice. Since I was using small tangerines, with a relatively high peel to juice ratio, I actually ended up discarding most of the peel. This is just something you’ve got to do by eye: how much solids do you want? And allow for some cooking down. I wouldn’t advise going without, though—I believe the peel has much of the pectin necessary for making the thing firm up. I didn’t have any lemons, but lemon juice added to taste sufficed. Without something sour or bitter to balance out your sweet oranges and sugar, marmalade can be kind of insipid. Now, cook up! Not too fast a boil—like soup, you don’t want to boil the hell out it, and all the flavor, too.

The parallel operation is to sterilize your jars and lids—you’ll need new, unused lids if you intend to use the modern, generally recommended canning-jar method. Boil them all together for ten minutes or so, when you think your marmalade is almost done cooking, and then set them out to dry. Ideally, they should still be warm, and perfectly dry, when you pour the boiling syrup into them. Fill the jars to about half an inch from the top, and gently set your lids on them, and secure them with their rings, and set them out of the way for a day. As the air in the jars cools, it will suck down the lids and with a loud pop make an air-tight seal. Still, let them be for a few hours before you start knocking them around. But then, you’re all set.

This appears to be about the simplest way to make a marmalade, and except for the overcooking I am altogether pleased with the results.

For my next batch, with the blood oranges ordered specially for the purpose, I’m going to make things a little more complex, use a few techniques designed to shorten the necessary cooking-time: an overnight soak, with the seeds; cooking in a broader-bottomed pot, to allow a greater surface to evaporate from; and cooking up the seeds with the rest, in a little baggy for easy removal. We’ll see if anything else.