Sunday, February 28, 2010

rendering lard.

Sounds pleasant right?

It actually was. I was intrigued and thrilled when I saw pork leaf fat for sale at the farmers market last week. Coincidentally, just a day or two before while reading through one of my new books, I saw a section on how to render lard. So of course, I bought some.

My first attempt went ok. It was easy enough, but I wasn't quite sure what I was doing and think I cooked it too high or too long or something. Apparently that's not a terrible thing, it just means that it will have a more smoky or meaty flavor and it's better in things like Mexican cooking and savory dishes instead of pastries. I got about 3 jelly jars out of that batch.

Yesterday I bought two more packages of pork fat (in total all three packages cost me $2.60) I cooked up one more package (and left one in the freezer) and this batch came out perfect. Snowy white and creamy.

So. How do you render lard?

Find some pork leaf fat. Preferably from a farmer you know and trust! Leaf lard is the highest quality fat, next is fat back. From what I've been told both are ok for rendering your own lard, but you'll get a better quality with the pork leaf fat. It's not like it's expensive either.



There are two methods, one is stove top and one is in the oven. I used the stove top method.

First, cut your fat into small pieces. I learned that it's easier to cut if it's still a little frozen. My first batch wasn't and I ended up with larger pieces which may have been why it didn't melt down as well and browned. The second time I left it slightly frozen which made it cut better, so I could cut it smaller and I did get a much better finish.

Put the fat into a saucepan and add 1/3-1/2 cup of water depending on how much fat you have. This stops the fat from sticking to the bottom and burning/browning.

first batch

Stir every 10 minutes or so to keep it from sticking. You're supposed to eventually hear a loud crackling/popping with a spatter of hot lard when it's just about done and from that point you can keep cooking it down to end up with a smoky lard, or strain it then for a white lard. The first time I tried it I never got that noise. I pulled it when it started smoking (yeah). I strained it through a cheesecloth in a strainer into a bowl, then poured it into jars from there.


I forgot to take a picture of the first batch of lard after it solidified. This is what it looks like at first. This was the first batch and you can see how it's sort of an amber color.

The second batch was a much lighter color. 


 It looks even darker than it was too. It was a very, very light yellow. I guess when you pull it early enough, it's clear like water.

The second time there was a definite sputter/crackling and spatter of grease. I happened to be stirring it and got hit. Yum, melted fat. I pulled it right after and strained and jarred it. I got about 3 and half jars this time. From what I understand they'll keep in the fridge 2 months and in the freezer for at least a year (some things I've read say they stay indefinitely)

There was definitely a difference in the coloring of the lard. So one is labeled for savories and the other is labeled for pastries.

 second batch, finished lard.

You're also supposed to get cracklings, which is I guess the crisped pieces of skin/fat? I've heard they are delicious. I'll probably never know, I don't know if I'm that adventurous! Some information I read says that those will "sink" when the lard is ready. I have no idea what that means.

I may try the oven method next time, I think you're supposed to get more lard out of the fat that way. I'll keep you updated! I'll also be keeping you updated on the recipes I try out with it.

I'm really probably way too excited about pig fat!

Edited to add: I was reading through blogs I follow this morning, and great minds and all - Suzanne McMinn over at Chickens in the Road posted yesterday about rendering lard! Check out her method (crock pot) and her very detailed, very good instructions!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kitchen Challenge

Jodi over at Living The Road Less Traveled posted a kitchen challenge.

Basically Epicurious has a top ten list of the most difficult dishes to make.

So we're making them! Are you in?

Here's the list

1.Savory souffles

2. Coq au vin

3. Mole

4. Beef Wellington

5. Napoleons

6. Paella

7. Puff pastry

8. Baked Alaska

9. Croissants

10. Sourdough bread

So, first up - souffle! I've never made one, and never had a desire to - so this may be interesting!

winter walk.

I get so frustrated sometimes, not being able to capture what I see onto film. I went for a walk yesterday morning, very early. It so beautiful. The sky was grey, but everything was shimmering - coated in the fresh fallen snow. These pictures just don't show that. I really want to take a photography class - but I can't afford the camera's they call for. I wonder if they have rental programs or where I could find used ones?

What I wanted to do after the kids got on the bus was go back to bed. I'm sick again. I don't know how. I just got better. Anyway, I wanted to rest. But I couldn't stop looking outside. I had to get out there. So I poured my coffee, put on a sweater and boots and went walking. And it felt sooooo good.

In January I walked around on a morning very similar. Then it was quiet. Everything was still.

Not this time. The woods were alive - animals scampering and so many birds. It was lovely.

I went alone, which normally I'm afraid to do. I find I feel less afraid in the winter, walking alone. Maybe because everything is so bare - just laid open for you.

It was absolutely enchanting, like a fairy tale. You don't go very far up the trail in our backyard before you're completely surrounded by woods and I had to stop several times just to pause and take it all in. It was hard to believe I was standing in the middle of something so beautiful.







Wednesday, February 24, 2010

free range children.

I mentioned in my last post that I pretty much stink at playing with my kids. It's not something that comes easily to me. There were a couple of comments in response and also a blog a friend of mine posted that got me thinking and wanting to expand on that.

I'm ok with not being my childrens playmate. But I want to want to play with them. I want to instinctively know when to let go and get down and play.

My oldest always needed attention when he was playing "mom, look at this", "then this guy flies through the air and hits this guy and then  . . ." he always wanted an audience. Frankly, it was exhausting.

I think it's important for children to learn to play on their own. I also think it's sad that I have to say "learn to play on their own".

When I was growing up, you just did. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, so I often had friends to play with - but there were many times I didn't. In those times there was my younger sister. Or a book. Or some sort of make believe in the back yard, or coloring or twiddling your thumbs. Something.

I mean, as you grow up you expect to not play anymore. I don't know why or when. One day you wake up and don't want to dig in a sandbox I guess, who knows?

But that's when you get older. Like 15 or 30 or 60 or something. Not at 5. Not at 10.

Seems today, many kids (my own included) don't really know how to play. Like it has to be taught. I think because, for so many kids - they don't have time to just be kids. Kids are pretty much shoved into a fast paced world from the minute they can sit up on their own. They are bombarded with TV and Baby Einstein. With programs that 'teach' them to read by 18 months. With play-dates and flash cards. With sports and band and 3 hours of homework a night. 

When they do have downtime, they just want to totally veg. They want mindlessness. TV and video-games, oh boy.

I know how that feels. I've had days coming home from work that I've been so tired the only thing I want to do is lay down and melt my brain in front of the TV for an hour. And I think that's ok sometimes. I'm not anti-TV. I'm not anti-video games.

But. Somewhere along the way - in our quest to make them happy with everything we never had, in our desire for them to get ahead - to be smarter and faster and more talented - our kids stopped being kids. Ok, they never stopped being kids. They stopped being treated like kids and instead like little adults.

I'm guilty of this. Mostly with my oldest. He just always seemed so adult like. Really. He's much wiser then his years, always has been. But you know what? He has no common sense. None. I don't know why.

I felt a little guilt (still do) sometimes - we moved the boys out of a neighborhood - away from their friends and into the country.

Some days, they don't know what to do. And I don't know what to tell them. I can't entertain them all the time. They have to learn how to play. Alone. My youngest is much, much better at this than my oldest.

I have some friends that freak out if their kids go barefoot or play in the mud. Dirt doesn't scare me. I don't mind it, I think there is nothing better than a kid who's been playing so hard he's covered head to toe in mud and sweat.

What I can't handle is the thought of injury. I am no good with blood. So I have to learn to let go. I have to not freak out when they climb a tree. I have to consider that pocket knife my oldest has been bugging me about (he is going to be 12 after all).

Last year, when my oldest was in 5th grade he had around 3 hours of homework a night and at least one project a month. This year he has maybe 30 minutes a night. He has projects, but most of them are done in school. They also have Phys. Ed every other day instead of every 4 days like at the old school, the "better" school.

I am so ok with him having less homework. Really. I don't think more homework makes him smarter or will get him into a better college. I think it bores him and makes him sick of school.

Anyway. I've forgotten exactly where I wanted to go with this.

Basically, I think all of us - the whole damn country, kids and adults - everyone needs to turn off our TVs and our computers and our video games. We need to turn off our ovens for a few minutes and put down the laundry and shut off the vacuum. And go outside and play. Right now. Put on your snow pants or your galoshes or your sunblock and go climb a tree or roll down a hill or jump in the mud.

And bring your kids.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

how i love you.

I have a confession. I am not a good mother. Ok, I'm not a bad mom. It just doesn't come naturally to me. It's only been in the last few years I've started enjoying being a mom. I mean, I never not enjoyed it - but I never really embraced it. I just did it. I didn't savor it or treasure it, not the way I do now. Not the way I feel now. I was so damn young. And I just didn't know. I didn't have a lot of models on mothering or parenting. I was just trying to get by. Just trying to not lose myself, not screw my kids up and still enjoy life. The older I get the more mothering feels more natural to me. Maybe because I've been a mother longer. Maybe because I'm finally growing up.

I don't regret, not for one second, having my children when I did. But I wish I knew more then. I wish I realized then how very, very quickly it all goes by.

Sometimes now, I feel the urge - this crazy need - to make up for lost time. To compensate for those years I wasn't fully immersed in being their mom. For the years I was too young to know better. Or in school. But I can't, because I'm still not there all the time. I work, full time. I have to. Not in the way that some parents have to - but because I am the only income. Right now, there is not another choice for us. And my kids feel it. My youngest says things like "we don't see you that often". And they don't, because I work till 9 at night. I've done this for almost 5 years now. It breaks my heart, every day.

Sometimes I wonder what I am passing on to my children? What will they remember of home? Of me? Will they remember me always being gone? Or will those memories shape themselves differently over time, like mine of my father? I've talked about this before. But it's a thought that bothers me.

I know I've said before that I can't force memories or force traditions, but that's exactly what I try to do sometimes. I think that's why making food from scratch is so important to me. Underneath everything else, the food politics, the nutrition, the cost the real reason - the most important reason (for me) is that is how I say I love you.

I tell my kids and husband I love them, all the time. I am not stingy with saying I love you. I don't think you can ever say it too much, it should never be held on to or hidden.

But it's not enough to say it. They need to see it, to feel it. And sometimes I don't know how to do that. I read to the kids, that's easy for me. I love books, I love reading. It's easy to share. We go hiking, another easy one. I am not good at getting down and playing though, or chasing around the yard. I have to make conscious efforts to do that. I wish I didn't. I wish it was just how I was. But it's not. Sometimes I actually scold myself, in my head "put down the (book, dishes, laundry, computer etc . . .) and go PLAY with your kids".

I don't think my kids or husband realize it andI didn't realize it until recently, but I show them I love them with food. Not with over feeding them. Not with sweets. Not with showering them with their favorite foods or urging second and third helpings.

But every Saturday when I go to the farmers market. That's me saying I love you. Even when they complain about the vegetables I bring home or lament that they want fast food. Every carton of milk, every head of broccoli, every package of meat, that's my love wrapped in those carefully picked purchases.

Every meal that's left in the crock pot for their dinner while I work and eat leftovers at my desk - that's me saying I love you. I may not be there to eat at the dinner table, but I'm with you. I thought of you, I prepared this food for you.

I may not be home most nights for dinner, but I am there every Friday night over homemade pizza and wings. We don't order out, because that pizza is my I love you. I can't do that with a box of someone elses pizza. My love is wrapped up in that homemade dough, hand shredded cheese and stove simmered sauce.

Years from now, they might not remember how I lacked in playing legos when they were pre-schoolers. Maybe they won't remember (at least not harshly) how I wasn't there after school or for dinner for years. But maybe they'll remember the smell of the crock pot simmering, of homemade sauce. Maybe they'll remember what bread looks like rising on the counter and opening a jar of home preserved peach jam in February. That almost every single night, even when I wasn't there - they had a home cooked meal. They'll remember that I loved them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooking on a wood (heating) stove

It would be sweet if I had a woodstove like this

But I don't. I have one like this.


And it's still pretty sweet.

We've lived here since August and it's only just occuring to me to use the heat to cook on it. Okay, not just occuring - I've thought of it once or twice before, for boiling tea water. But I'm pretty sure I could do a fair amount of cooking on it, yes? I think so.


So far all I've done is boil tea water and water for noodles. That pot in the middle is there all the time. I just keep water and a mix of cinnamon and nutmeg and old orange peels in it. It smells good and helps keep moisture in the air.

I've been trying to find better information on it, because I'm a research/needs instructions type of gal. I've found a lot of information on cooking on wood cook stoves, but not very much on cooking on wood heat stoves. Maybe it's common sense for a lot of people? Or no one cares? Or I stink at googling.

Then today, I stumbled across this:


I want it. Oh boy. I should wait though. I just ordered books. And I also just bought two more books after the dentists this morning (more on that later). I can't help it. I love books.

So, I'm going to put off buying it. Winters winding down. I'll just keep boiling and experimenting on my own (better pull out the cast irons). And I'll keep that book tucked away for next winter.

Oh, speaking of books - I'm experimenting with tabs. I added a section on recommended reading - it's a work in progress (both the tabs and the reading section) so it will be changing/added to a lot in the next few weeks I'm sure.

Please feel free to share your tips/recommended reading on wood stove cooking with me! You can comment or find my e-mail in the handy-dandy where to find me tab!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Enjoying Winter

I grew up in a very snowy area. Just north of Syracuse, NY. Living here you can pretty much expect snow beginning in November (sometimes as early as October) and lasting through the end of March (sometimes as late as May - we've had snow on Mothers Day before). In fact, we may be THE snowiest city (most years)

During the winter you can expect to hear terms like white-out, lake effect, blizzard, below zero, record breaking on a pretty regular (daily) basis.

I loved the snow growing up. Snow days. Hours outside building igloos and snowmen and sledding. Ice skating. Somehow as I got older, the snow lost it's magic. Winter was time for grumbling inside and wishing away the months till Spring.

This year we decided we might as well embrace the snow. This is where we live. We're not going anywhere and neither is the snow.

Except then we did. And the snow did. We moved South of Syracuse - and guess what? No lake effect. While our old town still got a couple of storms with a few feet of snow - we usually just got a dusting. But even our old town seemed to avoid it's normal wintry fate. Seems the snow decided to go South this winter. Huh. (I try - really I do - to be sympathetic to areas that are unaccustomed to snow getting storms, but it's hard).

So, since Christmas break, we've been trying to go (and learn) cross country skiing. When we had snow, it was too cold. When it was warm enough, we had no snow.

Finally this past week our schedules and the snow and the weather lined up.

It was fun. It was hard. We were uncoordinated. There was a lot of falling going on - and getting back up in skis is not easy! My oldest loved it. My youngest enjoyed it mostly except for a few minutes on a semi-steep hill where he had a case of the "I can'ts" but he could, and he did.

I don't know how many more chances we'll get this year - but we've already talked about going again - and also trying snow-shoeing sometime.


At home, it was Evans evening to cook. He used Grandmas Stuffed Pepper recipe (the recipe he went by is a little more precise than the one I share below - I'm going on memory since I'm not at home right now but it's so easy it's almost impossible to mess up)


No, the wine isn't for him! The kids cooking has been working pretty well. There have been a few nights it hasn't worked out and the kids didn't cook on their night but overall it's been going good. They are starting to experiment a little bit more instead of the standard spaghetti's and things. And, it's a nice change from the cooking ruts I fall into. 

Grandmas Stuffed Peppers

4-6 large green peppers
couple cups of rice (cooked)
corn (frozen, thawed)
sauce, jarred or homemade about a cup and half (more or less depending on tastes)
mozzarella cheese (we use a lot, 16 oz)
ground beef

Cook ground beef and onion together. Mix with cooked rice, thawed corn, sauce and half of mozzarella cheese. Put aside.

Place peppers, tops cut and insides scooped in pot of boiling water for 5 minutes

In casserole or baking dish cover bottom with sauce - add peppers, fill with beef and rice mix top with sauce and cheese. Fill in around peppers with extra beef and rice mix (we also make a smaller dish with just filling and cheese - not stuffed in peppers)

Cover, cook at 400 for 1/2 hour. 


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I want chickens.

I don't know what I'd do with them. I imagine they'd cluck about nicely in my backyard eating pesky bugs and being cute and chickeny.

I'd just like them for eggs. I mean, I'd like them for meat too - but I am the squeamishiest person ever. Couldn't slaughter them. But eggs - I could gather eggs.

I've heard they aren't anymore work than cats. I don't believe it. First of all - my low maintenance cat is pretty high maintenance. She's picky. And snooty. And poops where she pleases.

And wouldn't I need a coop? And feed? And a vet/medicine/regular sort of care? And probably a fence to keep the other animals out. And warmers in the winter, yes? I mean, really - does it equal out to cheaper than 3 dollars a dozen?

I have a lot more reading/researching before I decide if I actually want chickens. The old Italian guy across the street has chickens (and goats and cows and sheep and peacocks) maybe he'll let me visit his chickens sometimes. You know, to see if I like them as much as I think I do.

aaawwwww, chickens!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eight Years.

I wish I had better pictures, but our files are scattered after our computer died a couple weeks ago, and some of these are pre-digital cameras for us, so they are pictures of pictures! 

It's been eight years since I tagged along to visit a friend together. Eight years since the phone call back. Eight years since I glided right into love. Didn't fall - wasn't swept away by - just settled right on in to love. 

We grown together - older, wiser, bigger (ahem!)

 We've learned to cook good food - real food. We grew food. We've learned how to make wine and beer. We've adjusted priorities. Saved money, spent a lot of money. Traveled. Bought a car, got rid of a car. Fought and made up. And then fought and made up again (and again and again). 


We've made babies. Raised babies into children.Gone to soccer games and baseball games and orchestra recitals. Paced floors with sick children, slept on floors alongside very awake children. We've moved, and moved and moved and moved again. We've gone from our very young twenties into our thirties.


We watched friends get married. We got married.

It's been eight years, today. And I know that it's still only the beginning.



And every single step of the way - on the hardest days and on the easiest and best - I've always been so glad that our journey has been together.