Friday, December 30, 2011

Driving on the Beach

We took a ride over to Port St. Joe today to get a permit to drive on the beach in Gulf County. It was a gorgeous day for a ride and for spending time at the beach!
at Cape San Blas

the permit (good for one year)

This picture below shows (in green) the beaches you can drive on. The dotted line between the two sections is closed during turtle nesting season (May 1- October 31) but open the rest of the year. Note on the map all the sections in white are water. (It feels to me like they should be blue not white! The land is pink.)
from the Gulf County forms page
We drove first on the southern beach at Indian Pass (at the bottom of the map). We went straight down CR 30 from St. Joe to the first beach access point and headed right (west) with the idea that we might be able to drive around to Cape San Blas (on the west side of the peninsula).

This part of the beach is not developed - very few houses even. There are more houses if you head to the left. We saw a few other Jeeps, a few people out walking their dogs, and some people riding horses. 

Here's my view from the back seat:

We drove into the turtle nesting area but right after rounding the bend at the tip, the path was obstructed by big pieces of driftwood (some of them looked like whole trees). We turned around and headed over to Cape San Blas to check out that side. We drove down the beach a couple miles and then stopped to take a walk and have our picnic. We pretty much had the beach to ourselves:

We could not have asked for nicer weather - it was 71 and sunny! Crazy for December 30th. The sand was warm enough to go barefoot (which of course I did). After our picnic (turkey sandwiches, hardboiled eggs and pirate booty), we packed up and headed home. Here's the view from the driver's seat:
We're looking forward to more adventures driving on the beach this year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Veggies This Week

French breakfast radishes, butternut squash, baby beet greens, Romaine lettuce, spinach and sweet potatoes

The butternuts are from McClellan Organics which is a farm just outside Cairo, GA. Learn more about them here. We have two different varieties of sweet potatoes again this time - the lighter ones are yellow inside instead of the traditional orange.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fun Times in the Madison Area - Laurello Winery

Hubs and I had a chance to visit Laurello Vineyards and Winery while we were in Ohio for Thanksgiving. Mom recommended it after she and some friends went to visit while planning a lunch-time party for next summer on their outdoor patio. It was too dark to see the outside space but we did take advantage of their wood-fired pizza oven for a nice snack!

When you first arrive at this old apple and cider mill, it's a little unclear what you are meant to do but soon you realize that you order wine and food at the counter and seat yourself.
here's the side counter where you can also order

There are two main rooms indoors. The first, where the counter is located, has a beautiful stone fireplace and a variety of seating options - large and small tables as well as couches. The second room is smaller and offers less ambiance but was warm and cozy. It was busy when we were there, probably because the wines are pretty tasty. Here's the wine list:

Because it was Friday night and they were busy, we weren't able to taste too many of the wines but I did enjoy the Naso Bianco.

Here's the pizza I mentioned earlier. They have two sizes, and the woman at the counter was quick to point out that the larger size was a better deal, but we wanted to try two different flavors. Chris chose the Seafood Pizza with tomato sauce (Basil pesto, shrimp, onions and Feta cheese) and I ordered the Special which is a white pizza with spinach and bacon. They were small but super tasty from the wood oven!

4573 State Route 307 East
Harpersfield Township, Ohio

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mussels at Home

Hubs and I like to eat mussels in restaurants but we have never made them at home... until now! We followed Ina Garten's instructions from Barefoot Contessa for Mussels in White Wine. It was easy and inexpensive. Who knew?

Step 1 - buy the mussels. I got Prince Edward Island mussels at Southern Seafood; a two-pound bag cost $5.50.

Step 2 - prep the mussels: soak them in water with a little flour in it so they'll spit out any sand they're carrying around. Ina says 1/3 cup flour to 2 quarts of cold water for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly several times. Then debeard them (that means pull off the little strings with your fingers. Throw away any that aren't fully closed. 

Step 3 - prep the broth:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
1/2 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes, drained (4 ounces)
1/2 ounce saffron threads (found these at Fresh Market)
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large non-aluminum stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Step 4 - cook the mussels. This is the easy part. Toss the well-drained mussels into the broth, stir well and let steam for 8-10 minutes. Discard any mussels that don't open while cooking, then pour the mussels and broth into a big bowl and serve. We enjoyed ours with a nice bagette from local bakery Au Peche Mignon.

They were delicious. Even Thomas loved them!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Solstice 2011 Recap

Solstice Moon from Syracuse Cultural Workers
Celebrating the winter solstice is one of our favorite family traditions. We have a huge fire with the Yule log, eat home made pizza and sleep in front of the fire with mattresses dragged out from the bedrooms. The actual Solstice this year happened at 5am on December 22nd so we had our festivities that evening, partly because Thomas had school on the 21st. The weather almost did not cooperate - at lunch time Thursday it was 77 degrees! Luckily, it cooled off when it got dark out (or at least fell into the 60s which is cool enough for us!). 

In the morning, T and I drove out to Monticello to Johnston's Meat Locker. We picked up some of their house-smoked sausage and a natural pork butt to smoke on Sunday. At 2:30 T and I made pizza dough (recipe here), then went to visit the chickens we help take care of. Back at home, we prepped our pizza toppings (fresh pineapple, mushrooms, and ham) and got the oven ready for pizza baking. 

To make pizza baking more exciting, I bought us a pizza peel. T loves to do things "Big Bite" style (the way his Food Network chef Idol Guy Fieri does) and this is one of Guy's go-to tools. The way it works is you keep the pizza stone in the oven while it preheats, then slide the pizza off the peel onto the stone to bake it. Easier said than done! For the first pizza, I didn't get enough cornmeal on the peel and couldn't get the pizza to slide off. I took the stone out of the oven, set it on the stove top and from there I was able to move the pizza on to the stone and put it in the oven. Taking it out when it was done was a snap! The crust turned out nice and crisp too. 

I decided not to give up and the second pizza went onto the stone much more easily. Hurray! 

While the pizza was baking, C & T built the big, beautiful fire! We had a lovely evening together in front of it.

Here's to longer days and shorter nights ahead!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A New Comet

"On December 2, 2011, Astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered a Kreutz or sungrazing comet using a ground based telescope. The comet was labeled C/2011 W3 or simply Lovejoy."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Greek Greens Pie and Roasted Beets

Monday we tried a new recipe for Greek Greens Pie alongside roasted Chiggogia beets (both were delicious!!). Here's the play-by-play. First, in batches, blanch about 2 pounds of greens. We used beet greens, baby beet greens, kale and spinach.

I blanched so many beet greens the water turned red!

After blanching the greens and cooling in ice water, drain and squeeze out all the excess water. Then chop them up, medium-fine.

In a pan, cook a finely diced medium onion in a Tablespoon of olive oil until softened. After five minutes add one bunch of scallions, finely diced, then the greens and a 1/4 cup each of chopped dill, mint and parsley. Stir together, remove from heat and mix in 5 ounces of feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups milk and 1/2 cup water to a simmer, then slowly stream in one cup of corn flour, whisking constantly. Keep simmering and stirring until the mixture is the consistency of polenta. Put half the mixture in an oiled 10-inch round cake pan (or the nearest equivalent - this pan is 10x5) and spread into an even thin layer (wetting your fingers helps). Then spread the greens mixture on the bottom crust, then add 3 Tablespoons olive oil to the remaining crust dough (and enough water to make it resemble wet sand (I missed this step)) and spoon it over the greens to make the top crust.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is browned. Let stand for 20-30 minutes to allow the crust to set up. Then enjoy.

While we were baking the pie, we roasted the beets by wrapping them all (together) in an aluminum foil packet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. When they were soft all the way through, I took them out of the oven, peeled and sliced them. Aren't they interesting? Not solid red all the way through! They were sweet and delicious.
Chiggogia beets

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Miccosukee Root Cellar - Review

A new 'localtarian' restaurant opened in town which led to discussion Thanksgiving week on Twitter - have you been? what have you heard? Which led to a plan to visit the place en masse. Miccosukee Root Cellar was flying under the radar a bit - to the point where they didn't have a phone number listed on their website! Paula's detective skills triumphed and we became their first reservation ever!

We credit the word 'localtarian' to the Canadians; it means the ingredients are all sourced locally. In this case, pretty much everything they serve comes from nearby organic farms. The meat is sustainably raised, also locally, and they highlight interesting things native to our area (like satsuma oranges and Tupelo honey).

Because we had a large group, the owner prepared a multi-course dinner for us. For the first course, we had a whole bunch of goodies - house-baked bread with 2 different butters; fresh veggies (carrots, (including purple ones!), radishes (my first experience with watermelon radishes, which are red on the outside, fading to green inside), and broccoli; cheeses from Sweetgrass Dairy, each served with a special and delicious relish; nuts (Louisiana roasted Georgia Peanuts  and Cane sweetened roasted Pecans with sea salt); and meats which I think they cured in the restaurant (including wild boar).

Along with our first courses (shared around the table) we enjoyed local or organic beers and wines. Next we had salads - love those local greens.
seasonal salad

We had two choices for our first course - meatloaf or pulled chicken (like pulled pork but with chicken).I had the meatloaf; Chris had the chicken, which was served in a Mason jar (cute) and came with kale chips.

Mini Meat Loaf, spicy citrus (satsuma!) BBQ, savory bread pudding with squash and kale

all of us enjoying a nice meal together
clockwise from lower left (Paula, Abe, Sara, me, John, Bill, Chris, Marc & Jenn)
(thanks Abe & Sara for the group photo!)

While technically, dinner was a tweet-up, it felt more like a dinner with old friends - perhaps since we've all been chatting so long, we are old friends. Nevertheless, it was great to meet John (and Bill) in person and have a chance to talk at length about life in general! And it was great to see everyone else and share a meal and a new experience together!

This is a great little place - cozy, comfortable and inexpensive. A great place to learn about what produce etc. is in season and available locally while enjoying a creatively prepared meal. 

[Update 12/22/11: Please also check out Sara's post about our evening at - lots more photos; an excellent complement to what I've said above as she hits on different details!]

1311 Miccosukee Road (near Magnolia)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Party 2011 Recap

Lots of fun at our house on Friday evening at our annual cookie party. I am terrible at taking pictures - must be too busy talking and baking but here are a couple.
Madie Rae with her cookies to take home

Chris always decorates one cookie. In the background, Abe enjoys a cup of soup.

We had two waves of guests - first the kids, starting with Abby (we brought her home from school with us) and then the Stewarts, the Lamberts and the rest of the Jacksons (as well as the other Jacksons, our neighbors (Heather and Greg)) all arrived around 4:30. For dinner, we made sloppy Joe's, cheddar chicken chowder and butternut-kale soup. The kids took turns rolling out dough, cutting cookies and then decorating them after they were baked. Just before 7, our adult friends started arriving, including Britain & Chris, Sara & Abe, Tara, Emily, and Jenn & Marc. We enjoyed wine, holiday-themed beers, soup, sandwiches, and more cookie baking! 

Overall we had 22 guests (plus the 3 of us) for a total of 25. I made a quadruple batch of Cheddar Chicken Chowder. That was just about the right amount - there was enough to send home 3 cups with Britain and have about 8 cups leftover for us. I made a single batch of Soup with Squash and Greens (using butternut squash and kale). Sharing a pint with Jenn still left us with 5 cups of leftovers. We also had 6 batches of sloppy Joe's (3 large cans of sauce and 6 pounds of ground meat) which was way too much but it freezes well!

In the cookie department, I followed my advice from last year and made 2 batches of dough for White Velvet Cutouts, 1 for Sour Cream Sugar Cookies and 2 for Cut Butter Cookies. This was just about the right amount. We had a little leftover, but not a lot, and Thomas and I had fun Sunday morning baking and decorating a few cookie-sheets of cookies. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

This Week's Veggies

lots of goodies in our bag this week including beets, fennel, radishes, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips and lots of greens

some thoughts on things to make
roasted beets
beef stew (turnips)

As usual, we ate the radishes right away, like they were candy, and had a spinach salad with dinner Wednesday. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bornholm, Denmark

In 1859, my mom's great grandfather (Thomas' great great great grandfather), Theodor Andersen Skovgaard immigrated, at age 20, to the United States from a village called Vester Marie on an island called Bornholm that is part of Denmark. Skovgaard was the name of the farm where his family lived. In the U.S. he used the name Theodor Andersen. Here are two videos to show us what Bornholm looks like (in the summer; they have lots of winter, being closer to Sweden than Denmark). The video above is a little slower so you can see each of the photos; the one below is peppier.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Butternut Bacon Quiche

After we made the Soup with Squash and Greens, T and I had a half a butternut squash left so we peeled and chopped it up and roasted it. I was trying to think of something creative to do with some of it - here is the result. Thanks to this recipe for inspiration (esp with cheeses to use).

The first time we made this, it turned out delicious. Thanks Steve and Dawn for being our guinea pigs! I forgot to take photos so we had it again this Monday and can now share the whole process.

1/4 cup red onions, minced
a one-inch spring of rosemary, leaves stripped and minced finely
10 strips of thin "ready to eat" bacon
3/4 cup of roasted butternut squash, chopped in 1/2 inch cubes
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup half-n-half
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 pre-made pie crust (we like the frozen Publix brand, defrosted)

Crisp the bacon and then saute the red onions on low heat in the little bit of bacon fat until they are sweet and tender. If there's not enough fat, add a teaspoon of olive oil.
While the onions are going, mince up the rosemary very small, and add it to the onions. Chop the bacon into 1/2 inch pieces while the onions cool. 

Preheat the oven to 375 F. 

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until they're all one color and then mix in the milk and half-n-half. Set aside. 

Begin layering the ingredients in the pie crust, starting with the rosemary onion mixture, sprinkling it evenly. Next half the butternut squash and then half the bacon. 

Pour half of the egg mixture on top and then sprinkle with half of each of the cheeses.

Next layer in the second half of the squash and bacon, then pour on the remainder of the egg mixture. Top with cheese. 

Seems like a pretty type A move, but I hate when all the fillings rest at the bottom of the quiche!

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes or until the eggs are set. I put it in a big shallow Pyrex baking dish to bake. This makes it easy to put into and take out of the oven and keeps any spills contained. Give it a shake and if nothing moves, it's done. Let rest for 5 minutes, then slice and serve. We like it with a spinach salad on the side.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fun Times in the Madison Area - Tarsitano

In November, hubs and I visited Tarsitano Winery & Cafe in Conneaut, Ohio, about half an hour from Mom's house. It's worth the drive!

This is a family run establishment, and it's a family full of character. One of the servers sang all evening as she went about her business. The restaurant was full (there was even a limo in the gravel parking lot); I was glad I had called ahead for a reservation. We were seated at a table facing the kitchen. The big draw here, in addition to the wine, is the focus on food. Almost everything is made from scratch, including the bread and pasta, and the meats are raised locally and sustainably.

Owners Ken and Kelly Tarsitano in Kitchen at Tarsitano Winery

We started our feast with a Cheese, Olive & Bread plate while we tasted a few wines and chose a bottle of tasty Riesling. The lighting in the restaurant was low and didn't lend itself to taking photos but I did get a shot of my dinner, which was amazing.

sun-dried tomato ravioli in a garlic olive oil sauce with grilled sirloin tip steak

Chris had the Black N Blue Steak which is described on the menu as "(Very HOT) Ken’s Own Special Rub of Hot Chilies and Spices topped with Gorgonzola Cheese; This Rub is not for the faint heated. It will leave you black and blue." Chris agreed and loved the heat (sometimes he is disappointed by food that claims to be spicy but isn't... no disappointment here).

I saved half my dinner for later so I could try the homemade double chocolate cheesecake for dessert. It was delicious - a little denser than I would have made it but overall excellent.

One note - if you are driving from the west, when you get off the I-90 in Kingsville and the GPS says to go straight, it's ok, it's not (just) the on-ramp to continue eastbound, it's also the straightest route to get there. Boy howdy it can be dark at night in the country!

Tarsitano Winery & Cafe
4871 Hatches Corners Rd 
Conneaut, Ohio 44030

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Couscous with Roasted Vegetables

I was inspired by this photo on pinterest to roast some vegetables we hadn't cooked that way before. We often roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and hard squashes but it may be true that almost anything becomes more delicious when you roast it!

I used the recipe that goes with the photo as the starting point for the project and sort of winged it from there.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

1 pint of grape tomatoes
3 small/medium zucchinis, cut in bite-sized pieces
1 large sweet onion, cut in bite-sized pieces

Put all these in a big bowl, slosh a little olive oil on them, then season with salt and pepper. Stir well then dump onto a big baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes to an hour or until the veggies begin to caramelize. The house will smell delicious!

here they are, roasting away

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare an appropriate amount of couscous. I started with two cups of dry couscous and followed the package directions. When it is ready, put it in a big bowl, then add all the roasted vegetables and any juice from the roasting pan. Give it a big stir and throw in some fresh herbs or lemon juice if you like (we added a little chopped parsley from the garden). Crumble a little fresh goat cheese on top and serve. 

We roasted 3/4 of a pound of shelled shrimp on a separate pan and served it on top of the couscous to complete the meal. Yum. This was easy and delicious!

Our favorite Black Bean Soup

We love this soup because it's easy to make, tasty, full of texture, and satisfying, even though it's completely vegetarian.

20 sun-dried tomoatoes (not packed in oil)
2 cups boiling water

3 cups finely chopped onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2/3 cup water
2 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (I usually get 1 can petite diced and one regular)
4 16-ounce cans cooked black beans
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

sour cream or yogurt for garnish

In a small bowl, rehydrate the sun-dried tomatoes by covering them with the boiling water and setting aside.

In a big pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. It's important to cook them pretty thoroughly at this point, otherwise they'll be crunchy later. Add the cumin, 2/3 cup water and the tomatoes (including their juice - do not drain first). Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the black beans and their liquid, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally.

Drain and chop the softened sun-dried tomatoes, reserving the liquid in case the soup becomes a little dry. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes to the soup and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the onions are tender. Turn off the heat and add the cilantro. Puree half the soup in the blender and return it to the pot. If the soup is too thick, add some of the reserved water from the sun-dried tomatoes or tomato juice.

Serve each both with about a teaspoonful of sour cream or yogurt on top. We like low-fat sour cream.

Adapted only slightly from
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