6 July 2014

Hurri-cake Season

When it's too windy to get any outdoor work done, there's not much left to do but make cupcakes.

Summer is for outdoor projects, but hurricane storm systems occasionally make that impossible.  Unprepared for serious indoor work, all there is left to do is bake.

Spruce Drizzle Cakes

(adapted from the pancake princess)

4 tbsp hand-crafted butter (okay, or commercial butter if you must)
3/4 c. spruce sugar (see below)
4 egg yolks
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 c. buttermilk (see?  might as well make your own butter...)

for the drizzle:
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp spruce sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Grease a muffin tin/ cupcake pan (or any pan made for baking 12 little cakes).

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks one at at time, mixing until the batter is smooth.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  

Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in alternating additions, ending with dry ingredients.  Mix until smooth.

Divide the batter across the 12 cups in your baking pan.  Bake for 15 minutes or until done (cake is firm but springy to the touch).  Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.

While the cupcakes are cooling in their pan, mix the lemon juice, spruce sugar and icing sugar together, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.  

Turn the still warm cupcakes out of their pan and arrange on a plate or tray in a single layer. Pour the drizzle over top.  When you eat them, feel free to dredge them in the excess drizzle that collected on the plate...

The lemony drizzle for the spruce cupcakes will drip and collect on the plate.  If I were you, I'd go ahead and soak some of that up with the cupcake I'm eating...


How to Make Spruce Sugar

(adapted from Along The Grapevine)

Infusing sugar with ground spruce is a fantastic way
to preserve spring spruce buds for the rest of the year.
1 cup spruce tips, papery caps removed
1 cup granulated sugar

In a spice grinder, working in batches as necessary, grind together spruce buds and sugar.  The spruce buds are moist and sticky, so you want to clean your spice grinder immediately after you've finished (ask me how I know... it may be months before our spice grinder recovers from an unfounded belief that somehow it would be easier to clean when the spruce sugar remnants had dried into a cement-like crust on the bowl of the grinder).  

Spread the sugar-spruce mixture onto a baking tray and dry in a 150F oven for about an hour.  If you live in a dry climate (we definitely do not), you might get away with air-drying.  

Store in a clean jar, breaking up large clumps as you fill.

This recipe is easily scaled larger or smaller (one part spruce bud and one part sugar by volume).


We're in the midst of fence-building chez The Moose Curry Experience.  This has been a long process involving measuring tapes, string, a million sketches, tearing down the old partially-rotted-but-surprisingly-difficult-to-destroy fence.  Oh, and the chatting with the neighbours about The Fence Project.  

We live in a small town.  Instead building a fence that looks exactly like what we demolished, we are building something different.  In a small town, these kinds of unnecessary changes can make people nervous.  We have enthusiastically described our beautiful mid-century modern vision to assure them it will be alright.  Somehow, this does not seem to put them at ease.  Just wait until they find out we intend to stain it blue...

We had a lot of work to get done today.  The wood is here, so holes need to be dug for fence posts.  The lawn needs cutting, the early greens desperately need thinning, the third sowing of lettuce needs doing, tomatillos need transplanting... but no luck.  

Well, not exactly NO luck.  We were lucky enough not to be in the direct line of the tropical storm formerly known as hurricane Arthur, but we are on the edge of the system. (Spring arrived too late this year, hurricane season has started too early.) 

It's windy enough that our deep and well-protected harbour is choppy.

It's really windy.  It's the kind of windy that blows around you in circles making you feel crazed.  The kind of wind that means you need a lid for the container you are attempting to fill with garden greens, lest they get swept away.  The kind of wind that means you spend a lot of time shouting "I can't hear you!" to someone who is a few feet away probably shouting the same thing.  The kind of wind that blows the dirt from your fence post holes into your mouth and nose and eyes... and, well, back into the hole.

Eventually we had to admit defeat.  Faced with no indoor jobs on the list, there was nothing left to do but bake.

27 June 2014

Spruce up Your Gravlax

A recipe so smart, you'd be foolish not to try it.

Foraged spruce tips and juniper berries were used to flavour the salt cure for this gravlax recipe.

Spruce and Juniper Scented Gravlax

2 tbsp young spruce buds
6 wild juniper berries
1 + 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
salmon, filleted, skin-on* 
2 tbsp local vodka (we used vodka made with iceberg water)

*this recipe is good for up to 2 lbs of salmon, but it's easy to scale up or down as needed.  Also, you will want either 2 fairly even-sized pieces or a large piece that can be cut into 2 more-or-less equal-sized bits.  For frugal gravlax, buy the cheaper tail end fillets.  If you go to an independent local fish monger (like The Fish Depot in downtown St. John's) and tell them what you are planning to do, they will help you find the right piece of fish.

Grind the spruce tips and juniper berries with half the salt.
In a spice grinder (or using a mortar and pestle) grind together spruce buds, juniper berries and 1 tbsp of the sea salt to a fine powder.  Combine with remaining coarse salt and sugar.

Spread the curing mixture over the salmon, but do not rub in.
If your fish is in one piece, cut it in half.  Spread a large piece of plastic wrap over your work surface and place the fish on it, skin side down.  Lightly spread a thick layer of the spice and salt mix over the fish (don't rub!).  Get one hand under one piece of fish.  Working quickly, pour the vodka over the other piece of fish and turn the dry piece onto it.  Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap**.

**if you are hopelessly inept with plastic wrap, make sure you have a friend on-site who can do the wrapping for you... it's important to get it closed up tight to contain the vodka quickly

Once the salmon is wrapped, use a heavy flat stone (or
weighted plate) to press the fish during curing.  
At this point, take a deep breath and look at your packet to make sure you've followed the instructions:  you should have spice and salt mix sandwiched between two pieces of salmon; the salmon should be flesh-to-flesh with the skin out.  There will be liquid all over the place inside the plastic wrap.  Good?  Good.  Put that packet into a plastic zipper bag, squeezing out the air as you seal it.

Put the salmon on a flat plate or platter or tray.  Put a flat, heavy, gravlax stone on top of it***.  Refrigerate for 3 days to cure the salmon, turning it twice a day when you feed your dogs****.

***You don't have a gravlax stone???  You can top the salmon with another flat plate and weigh the plate down with a brick or stone or large jar of pickles.

****You don't feed your dogs twice a day?  What do you mean you don't even have dogs?  We flip gravlax (and rinse sprouts, change salt cod soaking water, and do other things that need to be done twice a day) at 5 am and 5 pm.  You don't necessarily need to get up with caribougrrl to make gravlax... just remember to flip it over about every 12 hours.

After 3 days, remove the gravlax from it's packaging and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry gently with clean kitchen towel (or paper towels).  Store in an airtight container in the fridge. (If it lasts long enough without being eaten, this will store for a week or two according to the varying advice on the miracle of the internet.)

To serve, use a sharp knife to separate from the skin and slice thinly.  Eat on open-face sandwiches of rye bread or rye crackers, with mustard and yogurt sauce, and dandelion capers.  Or on bagels with cream cheese... on sandwiches, salads, pizza, pasta...

One of our favourite ways to eat gravlax is thinly sliced on rye crackers with mustard sauce and dandelion capers.


Anyone who's had good salmon sashimi can verify that fresh raw salmon is soft and buttery and beautiful as-is.  Salt-curing salmon concentrates and intensifies those qualities, extends the shelf life of the fish, and turns the salmon from a wholesome to a jeweled pink.  It looks almost too opulent to eat.  

I can't find a specific scientific paper or pop science article to back this up, but I once heard a radio program about the benefits of green space and being outside in the wilderness.  The thing that stuck in my mind from that radio show was that walking through coniferous forest is especially good for you.  Specifically, that inhaling the scent of spruce and pine improves cognitive function.

Which means the smell of spruce -- and by extension I will assume the taste, because it's all the olfactory system anyway -- is good for your brain.  And we've known for a long time that fish is brain food. So with all the appropriate warnings about unscientific and unsubstantiated claims: eating spruce-cured salmon will make you smarter.


Identifying and Harvesting Spruce Tips and Juniper Berries in the Rain****

****this also works on not-rainy days...

We took the dogs with us on a rainy day foraging trip.  Bella was not convinced spruce tips were edible, but found that a good spruce branch makes a passable umbrella.

Spruce and juniper are both conifers, but spruce are all tall and up-righty, while juniper are more of a prickly woody ground cover.


Spruce is a short-needled coniferous tree, with tough (i.e. prickly) needles
spiralling around the branches. The needles are round and will roll easily
between your fingers.

The species of spruce you harvest makes no difference.  From a safety perspective, it's not even vital in the boreal forest that you can distinguish spruce from pine, larch and fir since the young tips from all of them can be used as a seasoning.  Nonetheless, there are differences in scent and therefore differences in flavour, so you may as well learn to tell them apart.

Pine trees have LONG needles in clusters of 2-5.  When you think a Group Of Seven painting, it's probably a pine tree you have featured in your mind.  They are the charismatic ones.

Larch (also called tamarack, called juniper in Newfoundland, just to be confusing) have short needles found in clusters, like tufts.  They lose their needles every year, so all the needles you see are young-of-the-year.  (Yes, I did just tell you about a deciduous conifer, feel free to call your grade 3 teacher and pass on that tidbit.)

Fir trees have short flat needles which grow along the length of the branch... if you look closely, they are in opposite pairs.  You cannot easily roll the needles between your fingers, though I'm sure some cheeky teenager would show you it can be done.

Spruce, then.  Spruce trees have short needles spiralled along the length of the branch.  The needles roll easily between your fingers.  This is the tree you are looking for for this recipe.

Spruce tips are the soft new bright green growth on the tree.  When the buds are swelling enough to break through the paper, they are ready to pick.
The young-of-the-year needles on spruce are bright green and soft.  Early enough in the year, they will still have a papery cap on them.  If you are picking spruce tips for pickling or other applications where you want them to stay whole, choose swollen tips that still have paper.  If you are using them as a spice, go ahead and harvest them any time before they harden up and get dark.

When you pick them, take a few from here and a few from there... you are pruning the tree, so be respectful of it.

Juniper Berries

Juniper is a low-growing evergreen with needles.  Juniper berries are actually cones, it's just that the cone scales are fleshy and merged together, making it look like a berry.  The best way to find the berries is to lift a branch of juniper up and look under it.

Look underneath the juniper branches for the berry-like cones.  The ripe
ones are sometimes quite dry and shrivelled in the spring but rub it
between your fingers: if it has some scent, use it.
Juniper berries take 1-3 years to mature, and birds apparently love the ripe ones, so chances are good any juniper you investigate will have many more green berries than blue ones.  In the spring, the ripe blue juniper berries are drier and less fragrant than they were in the fall, so you need more of them this time of year.  Roll them gently between your fingers and if there's any scent to them, they will work.  If they are dry and shrivelled and have no scent, it's probably not worth using. 

You might have heard that juniper berries are toxic, and I would suggest that eating handfuls of juniper berries is not a good idea.  As a spice or seasoning, however, there is no reason to be alarmed.  (With the usual caveats that if you are pregnant or have serious health concerns, you might want to leave them out of the recipe.)

Spruce and Juniper Scented Gravlax on Punk Domestics

13 June 2014

Stingin' in the Rain

Using the same chemical weapon as fire ants, there's something just a little Day-of-the-Triffids about stinging nettles.  But not to worry, they're only dangerous until you cook them.

Serve nettles cooked in red wine over fried polenta and top with some shaved parmesan.  A first course worth building a dinner party menu around.
Stinging Nettle and Polenta Starter

for the polenta

1 c. chicken stock
1 c. nettle tea (see below) or vegetable stock
generous pinch of salt
3/4 c. cornmeal
1/2 tbsp good quality olive oil
butter for pan-frying (bonus points for using your own hand-crafted butter!)

for the nettles

1 tbsp olive oil (or more or less to coat bottom of skillet)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
ground pepper to taste
salt to taste
1 dried red chili pepper, torn into pieces
1 c. blanched and drained stinging nettle leaves (see below), roughly chopped
1/4 c. red wine
1/4 c. nettle tea (see below) or water
Parmesan-Reggiano, shaved, to taste

Prepare the polenta at least 3 hours and up to 2 days ahead of time.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the stock, nettle tea and salt over med-high heat until boiling.  Turn down to medium, but keep the liquid at a rolling boil and slowly pour cornmeal in, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Turn the heat down more if the polenta is sputtering.  Continue stirring until the cornmeal is cooked and the polenta is thick.  Remove from heat.  When the mixture is no longer bubbling, stir in the olive oil.  Pour into a square baking pan (glass, non-stick, or lightly oiled), spread to corners and level out.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to set the polenta.

(Three hours, conveniently, is enough time to go back out to pick and process another batch of stinging nettles for the freezer.)
You can tell they're good for you just by looking at the rich green colour
of the blanched stinging nettles.  They taste good too.

Prep your nettle ingredients.  Cut the polenta into 4 squares and set aside. (Trim the outside for a more even edge, the scraps can be fried as a snack or to dip in soft-cooked eggs for breakfast...)

You do have at least two skillets, right? 

Put a generous pat of butter into the pan where you plan to fry the polenta.

In your other skillet (the one you have a lid for), heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute garlic and shallot until softened.  Add black pepper, salt and hot pepper and saute for another minute.  Add nettles toss until fully covered in oil and slightly wilted (1-2 minutes). 

Turn the heat under your polenta pan to medium.

Add red wine to nettles and stir until liquid has evaporated.  Turn heat down to med-low, add nettle tea, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.

While the nettles steam, fry your polenta squares.  When the butter in your polenta pan is thin and the foam is subsiding, add the squares of polenta.  Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until heated through.  They should have a thin golden brown crust.

Remove cover from nettles and allow any remaining liquid to evaporate.

To plate, top each polenta square with 1/4 of the nettle mixture, then artfully place shaved parmesan on top.  Serve as a first course.  (This would also make a good side dish for grilled salmon or lobster.)

Nettles have a very present yet delicate flavour but none of the bitterness that many wild greens have... their defense is stinging, so they don't need to taste bad to avoid being eaten.  While the flavour is not as strong as mature spinach, but the texture is much meatier.  


There is an enormous nettle patch a short diversion from one of our favourite coastal trails.  Getting ready to head out foraging, it felt a bit insane choosing to go out gathering food in the famous Newfoundland rain, drizzle and fog... especially knowing that when we returned, we'd be cold and damp and the dogs would inevitably smell like, well, wet dogs.

Bella and Sam are inevitably "helpful" when we're foraging.
To save them from their loyal and eager-to-please selves,
we tethered them away from the stinging nettle patch.
Bella was smart enough to take advantage of the tree and
get out of the rain.  Sam, on the other hand...
But if you always wait for perfect weather to go outside, you might rarely leave your house.  (Especially if live on an island in the North Atlantic.)  You'd miss out on the magic of being in water-saturated air... sure, it's wet, but the colour of the rocks and trees and birds is deeper and fuller and sound travels with more richness.  The reduced visibility makes the world a bit smaller and cozier.

As we were wading, drenched, through the knee-high patch of nettle, snapping of the tops of the plants, we heard the drone of an outboard motor halt.  It's funny how sometimes you only hear a noise because it stops.  The motor cut and was followed by the hollow thump-thump of lobster pots being checked.  The motor starts, then stops, thump-thump, thump-thump, repeat.  The rhythm of that work is very distinct to the ear and even though we both knew what we were listening to, we looked up anyway, because that's what you do.  

As though waiting for us to turn away from the nettles, a massive bald eagle suddenly flew close enough and low enough we could distinguish the yellowish-whites of its eyes.  An eagle beside us, a lobster boat below us, a couple of great big bags full of nettle... that's exactly why we were out in the rain instead of bundled up on the couch watching the new season of Orange is the New Black.


Identifying and handling stinging nettle (Urtica spp.)

Nettles tend to grow in patches and can often be spotted by the change
in texture they create.
Stinging nettle is most commonly found in disturbed and disused areas.  Old pastures, abandoned properties, gardens, the edges of your composter, fence lines...  it's also found on roadsides, but don't bother looking there, you don't want the contamination from exhaust fumes anyway.

The easiest way to identify a nettle is by touching it.  If you've ever walked through a patch of tall weeds when wearing short pants, only to find your legs prickling with fire, you've encountered stinging nettle.  The touch-method is not recommended.  Head out dressed for the job: long pants, long sleeves, gloves.

Since it was rain-drizzle-and-fogging the day we went out searching for nettle, in addition to pocketing a pair of rubberized gloves, I wore my rain suit.  Rain jacket, rain pants, rubber boots.  No matter that we've lived in rural Newfoundland for over 6 years, Fefe Noir's fashion rules irrationally exclude rain pants.  She refers to them as my "plastic trousers" and rolls her eyes at me whenever I put them on.  But who got the last laugh?  Not only did I stay dry, but as we were wading through a field of nettle, Fefe discovered that you can, indeed, be stung by nettle through a pair of jeans.

(But wait, between that handicap and her photo-taking duties, I ended up doing most of the actual harvesting...)

Stinging nettles are easily identified by touch, but try to avoid finding them that way.  Look for slender plants with large, toothed leaves in opposite pairs.  The stems and leaves are fuzzy from being covered in stinging hairs.

Nettles are tall plants with slender stems and paired leaves.  The leaves are broad but come to a definite point on the ends and the edges are toothed.  The leaves and stem are covered in tiny hairs.  The flowers are green-ish and hang in clusters, but you don't need to know that much: if it's already flowering, it's too late in the year (but write the location down somewhere so you can come back next year, earlier).

Wear rubberized gloves when you pick stinging nettle.
For older plants (over 20 cm high), snap off the top
15-20 cm only.
USE HEAVY RUBBERIZED GLOVES when you pick them.  Take the whole above-ground part of the plant if it is really young (less than 20 cm high); if the plant is older but not yet flowering, pick the top 15-20 cm.  A lot of people use scissors or garden shears for harvesting, but we found it awkward to hold kitchen scissors with our big rubberized gloves, so just broke the stem off with gloved fingers for efficiency's sake.

Once you're home and ready to process the nettles, keep your gloves on while you break off the top young leaves and pull the older leaves from the stem.  Toss the stems and rejected leaves (brown, moth-eaten, bruised) into your composter.  Blanch the nettle in saltwater to neutralize the sting, and squeeze the nettle tea from them.  Hank Shaw provides a very good description of processing stinging nettles, so I will direct you there rather than taking up unnecessary space.  Save the nettle tea for this recipe, or to use as a substitute for vegetable broth in all sorts of dishes.

Stingin' in the Rain on Punk Domestics

26 May 2014

The Oldest Cocktails You'll Ever Drink

When Fefe Noir and caribougrrl go foraging for prehistoric water, it's just the tip of the iceberg...

It's a brilliant year for icebergs in our neck of the woods.  The more icebergs that drift down from Greenland, the more likely we are to find bits and pieces washed up on shore.

Along some parts of Newfoundland's coast, collecting iceberg pieces to use for cold drinks or to melt for fresh water is an annual ritual.  Down here in the southeast corner of the island, availability is a bit more hit and miss.  It's a good year for icebergs, so we've been scouring the coast for washed up ice and undertaking the terrible job of testing cocktail recipes worthy of ancient ice cubes.

Starting with the obvious ingredient of locally brewed Iceberg Beer (if you can't find this, substitute with a mexican lager), we bring you two cocktails perfect for drinking on the porch after mowing the lawn.

This beer-garita (left) and michelada (right) are made made with beer brewed with iceberg water and chilled with a few hunks of iceberg in the glass.

Iceberg Beer Michelada

sea salt
Use an ice pick or a chisel to crack up the iceberg bits.
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1/2 lime
juice from 1/2 small sweet orange (like a satsuma or clementine)
2 tsp jalapeno syrup
most of a bottle of iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass.  Fill glass with ice. Add the other ingredients in the order they are listed, give it a quick stir and garnish with citrus wedges and sliced jalapeno.
Both cocktails are salty and spicy.  The tequila gives the
beer-garita (left) a bigger kick.  The orange juice sweetens
the michelada (right) just enough to temper the salt.

Iceberg Beer-garita

sea salt
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1 lime
3 tsp jalapeno syrup
3/4 oz. silver tequila
iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass and fill with ice.  Add lime juice, tequila and syrup.  Give it a gentle stir then top up with beer.  Garnish with slices of fresh jalapeno and a wedge of lime.


(Ground-based) Iceberg Foraging and Handling

If the tide and currents are just right, you might come across a beach littered with car-trunk sized pieces of iceberg.  These are small in the grand scheme of an iceberg life, but they can be rather awkward to lug around.  Not only are they hard to get your arms around, but they're slippery as all get out.

The icebergs we see along the Avalon peninsula in the
southeast of Newfoundland have traveled about 3000 km
on their trip from western Greenland.
Foraging for usable iceberg pieces is serious business when you don't have a boat.  (We don't have a boat.)  You have to find bergy itty-bits that are big enough to make it worth the effort of bringing them home, but small enough you can wrangle them from the beach to the trunk of your car.  You are also confined to accessible beaches, and the tides and bergs are not always cooperative.

As the icebergs melt and crack and fall apart, small pieces
sometimes drift close enough to shore to capture.
Go for a drive, sticking to coastal roads.  Try not to be distracted by the spectacular view of gigantic, prehistoric, hunks of ice floating around willy-nilly in the ocean.  Be aware of them though, because they are a good sign that you might find some washed up bits, particularly when there are trails of broken up bits and pieces drifting toward shore.

The first day we went out looking for beached iceberg was the hottest day we've had yet this year.  The sun was shining, it was warm enough to wear short pants, and it was the Saturday of a long holiday weekend.  The holiday weekend when people head out to their cabins and summer homes for the first time in the year.  The holiday weekend at the beginning of tourist season.  There were people everywhere.  Every tiny, barely used side road, every dirt track down to a beach, every lookout.  But not one hunk of ice washed up... at least not one that has survived the eye of other iceberg foragers.

So here's another tip:  go out on a cold, foggy day.  Less competition.

To increase your chances of being the person in the right place at the right time, go iceberg foraging on cold, foggy days when the competition is low.
When you do find washed up ice on a beach you can get to, you want to be sure it's iceberg ice and not annual sea ice.  The pressure of thousands of years of snowfall accumulation results in a very hard ice, much harder than what's in your ice cube trays at home (sea ice is comparatively soft).  Most strikingly, iceberg ice is filled with tiny bubbles.  The same way the ice is made from water which froze 12,000 - 100,000 years ago, those bubbles are filled with air from the same time period.  Prehistoric water, prehistoric atmosphere. 

All those tiny bubbles in the ice are what make icebergs
appear white in colour.  They also contain air from tens
of thousands of years ago when the ice formed.
Despite all that air, the ice is heavy, so remember to lift with your legs.  If you have a pair of gloves handy, this will make the trip back to the car with your armload of ancient ice more comfortable.  You will get wet.  Waves will inevitably wash over your feet while you are wrestling the ice up to the tide line.  Your shirt will be soaked from carrying the berg, because, well, it's wet to begin with, and your body heat is enough to melt it a bit while you lug it.  So either wear your rubber boots and rain suit, or consider the frozen wetness a hazard of doing business... part of immersing yourself in the experience.

(Your mother-in-law's job during iceberg foraging trips is, apparently, to provide helpful advice from the back seat of the car.  She will be worried about your wet shirt.  Pay her no mind, it's not actually possible to catch the flu from an iceberg.  Also, unless you only took fist-sized pieces, she is wrong about it melting before you get home.)

If you wade out at all to retrieve ice, bear in mind that the water is still really cold this time of year.  Unless you're geared up with insulated waders, don't stand in it for too long.  Even prehistoric ice in your drink is not worth hypothermia.

Once you get it home, let the ice sit out for several hours to shed the salty seawater and any other surface contaminants.  If necessary, use a hammer and chisel to break it into hunks which will easily fit in your freezer.  Wrap well and freeze until needed.  Use the chisel again (or an actual ice pick) to break into drink-sized hunks.

If you want iceberg water, chisel into pieces small enough to maneuver into food-safe containers and leave it out to melt.  Bearing in mind that we've stopped heating the house because it's May (never mind that it's only a few degrees above freezing out, I'm in winter-denial): a large saucepan filled with iceberg pieces took nearly 3 days to melt completely, but there was enough for a pot of coffee by the time a day was gone.


Why bother with icebergs?  

There's something incredibly compelling about knowing you are holding the air and water that existed tens of thousands of years ago.  If you buy the local propaganda around iceberg products, this is water in it's purest form.  The scientist in me would argue that distilled water should be more pure, but there's no romance in distillation.  To be fair, this ice was formed before humans started burning petrochemicals and tossing plastic into the ocean, so the air and water is untainted by the industrial age.  I'm willing to forgive a bit of volcanic ash and some woolly mammoth farts captured in the Greenland glacial sheet, and think of it as the cleanest water available.  Plus, it's really really old, and that's just super cool. (Heh.  Get it?  Super cool...)
Get some really good coffee beans and use iceberg water
to brew up what might be the best cup of coffee you'll ever

Definitely use the ice in cocktails. For one thing, it's a great conversation starter at a party.  For another, it's an excellent way to show off in front of your friends.  But also melt some water out and make coffee with it.  Trust me, it makes a seriously good cup of coffee.  Do NOT, however, waste iceberg water on Folgers or Maxwell House.  Go out and buy some really good coffee, in the form of fresh-roasted beans and grind it yourself.  Serendipitiously, we recently won some great coffee from Got My Beans through a The Food Gays giveway... definitely iceberg-water-worthy.

Choose ice that is small enough to handle, but big enough to be worth the effort of  the expedition.  After that, the choice is arbitrary.  This one reminded me of Tiktaalik emerging from primordial soup.  I left it because, well, it's creepy.
One of my all-time favourite Newfoundland words is "maggoty" and although the Dictionary of Newfoundland English will tell you the word refers primarily to salt cod which is full of blow-fly maggots, I've never heard it used to refer to actual maggots.  In my experience, it simply gets used to express that something is riddled with something else.  St. John's is maggoty with tourists in the summer.  The coast is maggoty with icebergs.

And it is, this year.  Maggoty with 'em.  The icebergs.  We're having a crummy, cold spring (minus that one Saturday), but it's a spectacular year for bergs.  Drop everything else and take advantage of it.

The best time to visit Newfoundland if you are hoping to see icebergs is during May and into early June.  

15 May 2014

We All Like a Little Weed Now and Then

If you can't beat 'em...

Seriously, you won't ever win.  The best thing you can do with dandelions is pull them out by the roots, then eat them.

Cranberry Beans with Dandelion Greens

It's getting close to the end of storage season, but sweet
local carrots can still be found.

1-1/4 c. dried cranberry beans (or dried pinto beans)
1 carrot
1 shallot
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you're a vegetarian, water will do in a pinch but it won't turn out as well)
1 big bowl full of dandelion greens
1 tbsp pork fat (or lamb drippings or olive oil, in case you're a vegetarian)
1 clove garlic julienned  
Don't bother peeling the carrot and shallot, you'll remove
these before eating.
a splash of dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

Soak beans in water overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Wash carrot and shallot, leaving the skins on.  Put beans, carrot, and shallot in a large saucepan.  Add salt and stock.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender (approximately 2 hours).  Remove carrot and shallot and continue cooking to desired consistency.
The larger, darker and pointier a dandelion leaf, the more
bitter it will be.  That's great for cooked greens.  Save the
smaller, paler and rounder leaves for eating raw.

While the beans are cooking, wash dandelion greens several times (like 4 or 5 times, soaking in between) in cold salted water.  This is particularly important if you were enthusiastic when weeding, leaving the dandelions covered in soil and detritus like we did...  Pick over carefully, watching out for precocious slugs and other early season pests.  Feel free to be choosy about the leaves, dandelion aren't precious and it's not like you paid for them.  Dry the leaves in a salad spinner or by lightly rolling in clean tea towels.  (Don't forget to reserve any unopened buds for making capers.)

When the beans are very nearly done*, heat pork fat** in a skillet over med-high.  When the fat is good and hot, saute dandelion greens until wilted add the garlic and saute for a minute.  Deglaze with vermouth***.

*Or if you made them a day ahead, reheat when you are ready to cook the dandelion greens.

**The first time Fefe made this dish, she used drippings from a pork roast.  The next time she made it, she tossed the pork fat into the pan then thought it smelled strangely like lamb fat... which it was... sometimes it's hard to keep track of the various jars of drippings in the refrigerator.  The good news is that both work.

***The first time Fefe made this dish, she used vermouth to deglaze the dandelion pan.  The next time, as she was recovering from the shock of the lamb fat incident, she quickly grabbed the vermouth bottle only to discover it was empty.  Luckily, there was some white wine handy.  Luckily further, white wine also does a lovely job in this recipe.

Dandelion leaves will wilt fairly quickly in a hot pan, so wait until the beans are ready before cooking them.

Serve your delicious dandelion greens over the beans as a side for lamb chops or as a hearty lunch with crusty bread. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


Yes indeed, it's dandelion season again.

If you've been reading this blog word for word like I expect you to do (right?), you'll know we've had a slow start to spring.  Here we are in mid-May and this week we woke up to a crust of ice.  Not frost, actual ice.  A thick layer coating the entire surface of the visible world.

The snow shovels are prominently displayed on our front
porch as a charm to ward off further snow.  It didn't work
all winter, so I'm not sure why I think it will work now, but
I feel it will...
No matter, the ground itself has thawed, so it's time to call an abrupt stop to all indoor projects and take advantage of the short northern growing season on this cold Atlantic island.  As not to unnecessarily jinx this reprieve, we can't yet put the snow shovels away.  We've even moved them out to the front porch where the afternoon sun illuminates them: our talisman against rogue late-May snowstorms.

It's time to catch up on the work we didn't do last fall.  Prune the perennials that need pruning before they start growing and prep the garden beds.  Which means weeding.  And, oh, boy, do the weeds ever take advantage of any bit of open space.  

While you're out there madly digging, hoeing, forking or raking the weeds out of your vegetable beds, reserve the dandelion.  Be brutal and get them out by the roots, but put them aside because they're good eating. The earlier you can do this in spring, the more tender and less bitter the dandelion leaves will be.  For this dish, a bit of bitterness works well, so later season dandelion is also suitable.
Seriously, it's like if you turn your head away for a moment,
more dandelions suddenly appear.

If you don't have vegetable plot, I suspect you can find dandelion in your lawn or flower gardens.  No yard?  No worries.  Dandelion can be found pretty much anywhere that soil has been disturbed.  Go for a walk with a trowel and a basket; avoid foraging on roadsides (you don't need any exhaust or road salt in your food) but take advantage of trails and hedgerows or cooperative neighbours.  You may even come across an enthusiastic lawn-owner with a wheel barrow full of dandelion already plucked from the ground.  

Save the smallest, roundest leaves for salad and pesto.  Use the older, darker, pointier leaves as cooked greens (like in this recipe).   The unopened flower buds make excellent capers.  For a plant so universally hated, it's pretty magical.

Even cats like dandelion.  Or do they hate dandelion?  Can't remember.