I always enjoy reading Henry David Thoreau's naturalist musings on winter this time of year. It's good material to curl up with on a cold night, or to read aloud with friends and hot drinks. For my fellow Thoreau enthusiasts out there, I stumbled across this blog last year called "The Blog of Henry David Thoreau" where entries from his journals are posted on the same calendar date of the year they were written. The selections are good, and with there being such a massive volume of work in his journals, there's plenty of material to keep it interesting: http://blogthoreau.blogspot.com/. Happy reading.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
For our Winter Solstice celebration this year, we went all out and made a Buche de Noel (Yule log cake) complete with homemade marzipan elves, fig "acorns", meringue mushrooms, pistachio marzipan leaves and chocolate bark. I had been dreaming of making this cake for years, so it was quite the exciting endeavor.
The cake itself was a fluffy, spongy sort of cake with walnuts and lots of egg. It only called for two tablespoons of flour, so we were able to make it gluten-free. The filling was a luscious orange mascarpone chocolate mixture. We got so carried away tasting it, that we ran out and had to make up some ganache to secure the chocolate bark to the log. The kids spent an afternoon sculpting all the little elves and faeries with colored bits of marzipan, and I made little acorn caps for the figs with cocoa powder colored marzipan textured with a cheese grater. The leaves we simply pressed into a chocolate mold. It was quite the cake, and just as fun to eat as it was to make.
Happy Solstice to all!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Handmade gift-giving is an important tradition I strive to always carry out. My do-it-yourself nature aside, I just plain like making things for people. However, running a small handcrafting business this time of year really motivates me to look for new ideas that have nothing to do with wool or acorn caps to create something to show appreciation to the people in my life. This year, I decided to make things out of chocolate. Specifically, truffles.
It all started with the cocoa beans my friend John imports with his business, Chocolate Alchemy. The beans were cracked in a Champion Juicer and winnowed in the Aether Winnower he invented and constructed this summer. The photo above shows the cracked and winnowed cocoa nibs, which were then ground into a powder.
The powdered nibs were added to cocoa butter and sugar in this fine machine called a melanger, which ran for about two days grinding it all into chocolatey loveliness with two hefty granite stones.
Then what we had was chocolate. The chocolate for these truffles was a melted down conglomeration of many test batches of chocolate made over the course of the Summer and Fall, many of which I helped to make. John said it was all just lying around anyway and needed to be used up. I could never imagine saying such a thing about chocolate, but he is also always says chocolate making is boring, mostly because it involves adding things to the melanger and letting it run. I will never understand how this is boring, but given that he does it all the time to test the beans he carries, I can see how it would become a regular occurrence, maybe commonplace...no, I still don't see it. Boring and chocolate are two ideas that just don't go together.
We mixed up truffle filling of cream, sugar, and various tasty flavorings mixed with chocolate. For this truffle making extravaganza, we decided on rum-rosemary, alder smoked Pacific sea salt, lavender, espresso-orange-cardamom, and hop-malt. Maybe it was a little ambitious, but heck, if you're going to make truffles, you might as well go for it.
We steeped the herbs like the rosemary, lavender and hops in the cream heated to boiling, and then carefully whisked the cream and sugar into the chocolate. Over-stirring here can cause it to separate, so one does need to be a bit delicate.
After these fillings sat out in the garage at cold temperatures for a few hours, we began rolling truffles.
And then we coated them in liquid chocolate.
And then rolled them in the cocoa powder coatings, many containing the same powdered herbs as the fillings.
After topping them with identifying bits of plant material, coffee beans, etc, we had around 350 handmade chocolate truffles completely from scratch. All together, it was quite an impressive spread. I have concluded from this project that I thoroughly enjoy making things out of chocolate, and might need to start percolating some ideas around this. Who knows, maybe there will be a selection of wild mountain woman chocolates coming soon.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
There have been some cold, white mornings this past week. With snow being such a rare occurrence in these parts, hard frosts are responsible for many of our memorable Winter landscapes. I found some amazing ice crystal formations I couldn't resist capturing some photos of before they melted away.
Frost covered spider's lace.
Jack Frost's barbed wire.
A frosty fence post.
A magical, sparkling ice forest.
The fog lifted later in the morning and I caught a peek of Mount Pisgah rising up above the white fields and trees. What a beautiful Winter morning it was!
Saturday, December 10, 2011
We've been waking up to some cold, frosty mornings around here, and I decided all of Queen Winter's marvelous artwork need not go un-noticed. I also figured it was high time I wrote a post about the permaculture farm where I currently reside. I've been here for about three months, and between farm work, parenting, a job coordinating volunteers at the kids' school, and orders for my handcrafting business, writing time has been more scarce. Somehow, I've managed to find a few minutes here to show you some highlights of the farm I call home and the chickens I live with.
Many of these mornings have found the fields socked in with thick fog, so thick you can hardly see the cows out there in the neighbor's pasture. The lower garden here is pretty much put to bed at this point with piles of leaves, coffee grounds from local espresso stands and coffee shops, cover crop, and the chickens invited in to scratch and till it all up.
The greens in the upper garden have been covered in a white, sparkly coating of ice crystals. I love seeing the bright green of the kale and the rainbow hues of chard stems catching my eye against the backdrop of gray, winter fog.
I'm really loving chard right now. It is quite the cheerful winter vegetable.
The chicken feeding system here is very impressively resourceful, with local restaurants and health food stores saving their scraps in totes for the farmer to pick up on a weekly basis. All kinds of good greens, veggie peels, pastas, salads, breads, and leftover scrapings make it into the mix. This gives the chickens a well-rounded, diverse diet and saves on the cost of chicken scratch.
I wash the totes to return to the restaurants every week in an old clawfoot tub with graywater from the washing machine.
This three-tank graywater system holds all the water from loads of washing and gets used for everything from washing chicken feeding totes to watering the garden and compost piles in the summer.
It all makes for some very happy chickens and lots of delicious eggs. If you ever really wanted chickens and worried over the cost of keeping them, I suggest you talk to some local restaurants and see how they would feel about keeping a kitchen tote for you. Chickens can be kept for nearly nothing, they produce eggs which you can eat and sell, and they produce fertilizer for the garden. They will even turn your compost piles for you, and they make good friends!
I think everyone needs chickens.
The world would be a much better place.