A Vermont Ice Storm

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The weekend before Christmas, part of Vermont was hit with an ice storm. We happened to be in the middle of it. It was 20 degrees and raining, which meant the water immediately froze on everything it touched. Over an inch of ice later, the damage was clearly seen and heard.

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Thousands were without power through the holidays.

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Many businesses were affected.

IMG_2381Hundreds of thousands of trees snapped, bent, or splintered.

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Hopefully all of Ty’s Christmas trees fared well.

IMG_2418Though there is significant damage all around us, it is still quite beautiful.

IMG_2409And it should remind us to be a little more conscientious about how we treat our Earth – or damage like this may happen more often.

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Bacon Bourbon Jam

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Ty subscribed me to Martha’s ‘Living’ for my birthday last year – a magazine I am only slightly addicted to. He flipped open a random page to see a recipe for ‘Bacon Jam’, slammed the magazine on the table with his finger on the page and declared “YOU are making this for Thanksgiving.” (Emphasis on the YOU).

What turned out to be a surprisingly easy recipe was a hit! Served with some toasted bread and a slice of nicely aged cheddar, not much was left in the jar at the end of the evening.

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Bacon Bourbon Jam

1 1/2 pounds thick-cut smoked bacon (I used hickory smoked – yum)

2 cups shallots, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

1/2 cup bourbon

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup cooking sherry

1/3 cup light-brown sugar

1. Slice bacon crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Cook in a deep skillet or large pan over medium heat until browned. Work in batches. Remove fat from pan between each batch. Retain one tablespoon of bacon fat and do not scrape all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Drain bacon on paper towels.

2. To the pan with 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Add shallots and garlic. Saute until soft and translucent – approximately 5 minutes. To the shallots, add chili powder, mustard, and ginger. Saute for a few additional minutes.

3. Add bourbon and maple syrup to the mixture. Increase heat to high and stir until boiling. Add sherry, brown sugar, and bacon and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let the mixture simmer until well-thickened and reduced – about 10 minutes.

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4. When reduced, transfer jam to a food processor and pulse a few times to break up to the bacon into small pieces. Toss in a jar and refrigerate for up to 4 weeks. Serve at room temp with a toasted baguette and aged cheddar cheese.

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So much to be thankful for this year…. 

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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Our winter squashes and pumpkins did incredibly well this year. I ended up with 4 nice sized sugar pumpkins (a few cinderella pumpkins), and plenty of squashes.

While rumor has it that canned pumpkin does not have too much of a taste difference than fresh pumpkin, the benefit of not eating out of cans far outweighs the little bit of effort needed to process a pumpkin. In fact, it is so simple, I think that last can of pumpkin in my cupboard may become a donation. Personally, I think the taste is better- it tastes fresh, not canned! Duh.

Three pumpkins yielded over 16 cups of puree. I packaged 7 ‘can sized’ servings for freezing and some extra to make a batch of pumpkin dark chocolate chip cookies. I can’t wait to make pumpkin soup, muffins, bread, etc…. any pumpkin suggestions?

Pumpkin Puree

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Rinse the outside of two to three sugar pumpkins and pat dry. Remove stem, cut in half and scoop out the guts (yes, that is what I call them). Be sure to save the seeds to roast later (I just tried Worcestershire sauce on the seeds – great idea!).

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When the pumpkins are cleaned out, cut each half into thirds and lay them flesh side up on a cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes until the flesh is soft. Let cool.

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Remove the flesh from the skin and process in a food processor/blender until desired smoothness is achieved. Freeze in baggies or use right away! 1 can of pumpkin is a wee less than 2 cups.

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Lavender Blueberries in Simple Syrup

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Today was one of those days that just makes you love fresh air (and Vermont, if you are lucky enough to live here). After the heat wave and days of thunderstorms, it cleared off last night and led to a cool (57 degree!), beautiful, Sunday morning. A berry farm we visited last year, Pure Livin’ Farms, opened at 9 am and we were the second ones there to pick. It is a bumper blueberry crop this year. It took an extremely short amount of time to knock some 14 pounds off the bushes.

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I’ve recently read a lot, and have been interested in, canning whole berries. I found multiple recipes out there, but tweaked them a little. My main recipe came from ZoeBakes. I then added some lemon juice, homemade vanilla extract (instead of a bean) and lemon zest. What smelled incredible, I can only hope will turn out to be a great mid-winter treat! I dream, and drool, of a homemade lemon pound cake smothered in these berries…. aaaand fresh whipped cream!

And for those of you who are not canners, I promise you this is the easiest. I think I should have started with this! Remember that I didn’t grow up canning. What I know, I taught myself. Also, the recipe below is for a small batch. Three pint jars are all you need… just in case you don’t have 13 pounds of blueberries on your hands!

Canned Blueberries in Simple Syrup with Lavender and Lemon

Fresh, ripe blueberries – enough to fit in 3 pint jars

3 cups water

2 1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp lemon zest

3-6 springs fresh lavender flowers

1. Clean your pint jars and bring to a boil in a water bath canner. Let boil for about 10 minutes to sterilize.

2. Fill the hot jars with berries until just below the neck. Lay a lavender flower or two on the top of each jar and sprinkle a few pieces of lemon zest.

IMG_18973. Pour syrup over berries in each jar leaving 1-inch headspace. Top with sterilized lids, finger-tip tighten bands, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

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Green Bean Salad with Bruschetta

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My Mom found this recipe (or one like it) quite a while ago. I feel I was still in high school when she first made it, which to me, is quite a while ago. It has become a staple when fresh green and wax beans are picked daily from the garden. There is something about a fresh homegrown green bean. There is something about anything homegrown.

Speaking of homegrown – I stopped by a little farm store near us and picked out a beautiful ripe tomato (ours are soooo close to ripe!) and some 100% pure Vermont feta cheese! Chain-store feta < local whole-milk feta!

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I like to give credit when credit is due, but since I have no idea where this simple concoction came from, I will give credit to my Mom! I never really pay attention to amounts, so I am guessing below. Just go with what seems right for your palette!

Green Bean Bruschetta

Fresh green beans (about 1/4-1/2 lb)

2 tomatoes

5-8 large basil leaves

crumbled feta cheese (about a 1/4 cup)

olive oil (or any other type of tasty oil)

balsamic vinegar

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1. Clean and trim green beans. In a small pan, add green beans and an inch of water and cover. Place over high heat until boiling. Let boil for about two minutes. Remove, drain, and rinse beans under cold water. (In other words, blanch your beans!).

2. Chop tomato into small cubes. Roll the basil leaves length wise and thinly chop (this will make long strips).

3. Plate the green beans. Top with tomatoes. Crumble the feta cheese over the tomatoes, sprinkle with the basil strips and season with salt and pepper. Prior to serving, drizzle with oil and vinegar.

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S’mores in a cookie!

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A dark-chocolate chocolate chip cookie with crushed graham crackers and marshmallows. Need I say more? What a good way to enjoy a camp-night treat as a little snack!

S’mores Cookies

1.5 cups AP flour

1 cup coarsely crushed graham crackers

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1 cup dark chocolate chips

mini marshmallows

1 Hersey candy bar, chopped

1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, crumbs, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the sugars, butter, and vanilla until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until smooth. Add dry ingredients while mixing, until a sticky batter is formed. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form 1.5 inch sized balls of dough and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove and push 2-3 marshmallows in each cookie along with a small piece of Hershey bar. Return to the oven and bake for another minute or until cooked. Let cool on a baking rack.

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Gardens never cease to amaze…

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If any of you are from the North East, you probably considered building an ark in the recent weeks, too. Daily dog walks involved mud boots and rain coats. I even contemplated buying rain pants! My poor garden got flooded during a huge storm at the end of May… like, water rushing through the garden from the nearby normally peaceful river – serious flooding. At the point of flooding, we had only planted herbs, onions, garlic, and loads of seeds. Luckily we plant in mounded rows, so they withheld a lot of the force of the water, but the soil and established plants took a beating during the flooding and the following weeks of rain (2nd wettest June on record).

IMG_1860Alas, sunny and hot (and humid) weather has arrived. Things are starting to dry out. Last weekend we weeded for hours and I left feeling blue, which is never how I feel after a day in the garden. I had posted toward the end of June that things were looking good, but all of those plants looked tired from trying too hard.  A few weeks later, they looked barely any bigger and were surrounded by weeds. I thought about giving up the whole gardening-thing.

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But this weekend, just a few days later, I was met with a pleasant surprise. Almost everything perked up, grew inches, started fruiting, and looked happy. It was an immediate endorphin rush. I pulled any new weeds with a smile on face. I was kneeling in the dirt on a sunny, hot day with sweat rolling down my back and bugs buzzing around my head when I thought to myself, a garden is truly an amazing thing. It was a good day.

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Our pepper plants are loaded! For the first time ever!

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A lesson from the garden: No matter how cloudy it is, the sun will shine again.

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The first of the slicing cucumbers are growing strong. The pickling cukes are still struggling, but I have faith.

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Black bean flowers are just beautiful.

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This is the earliest we have ever had tomatoes of this size! We are struggling with some early blight though… any tips for beating it? I am pruning like crazy.

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Our three tomatillo plants have bounced back and are already setting fruit… even though little buggers are still nibbling away!

IMG_1844And after all of that gardening… a much deserved dip at a local swimming hole was enjoyed. We even got Boomer to jump from near the top (over 6 feet)!! I didn’t have my camera ready for that jump though.