Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doggie Biscotti

There have been so many scares about food and product sources lately that I have been working on making more of Claris' food and snacks at home with fresh ingredients (and from local sources wherever possible). I made two batches of Peanut Butter Oat and Chicken Biscotti which have been a real hit here at home and with friends' furry buddies. I am working on new recipes, including breath biscuits with mint and parsely, anti-allergy treats and sensitive stomach biscuits as a result of the many requests that have been made... Once I get those down I will post them so everyone can bake their own specialty snacks for their canine companions, too!

In a Pickle

I just tried making my first set of pickles, and in a few days I will see how things went. The lids popped down nicely, and things look okay (except I did not pack the beans in tight enough-lesson learned. Cram those veggies in!). I made the simplest recipe possible for pickling cucumbers and green beans:

Easy spicy pickles
2 1/2 Cups Vinegar
2 1/2 Cups Water
1/4 cup salt
Garlic Cloves
Chopped Peppers

Boil vinegar, water & salt. Clean veggies to be pickled and cut them as you want them to be pickled. Put at least one clove of garlic and chopped peppers into bottom of sterilized jars, then TIGHTLY put your veggies in. Pour vinegar, water and salt boil into jars, put on cleaned tops and rings, and process for 10-12 minutes in a boiling water bath (with at least 1/2 inch above the tops of the jars). Remove from bath after time so as not to overcook veggies, and wait for the lids to pop down. If they do not pop, refrigerate and eat in a few days (sorry, but they are not safe to put in the pantry if they do not pop, and do not re-boil, or they will be overcooked)!

I am going to give them a few days and try them, and if they taste okay, I will branch out to more complicated recipes! Thinking of bread and butter pickles (you know I love the sweet-stuff), and some pickled cauliflower...

In the Kitchen Garden

I have been working on a kitchen garden so I can have herbs for cooking (and a little mint for a Julep or Mojito) even after the warm weather has ended and the plant boxes in the front of the house have stopped producing for me.

I have been experimenting with fresh organic herbs and find that they really add a deeper, richer flavor to the dishes I add them to. The basil is so easy to use- roll the leaves, chop into thin strips and drop into marinara sauce (even the stuff in the jar is so much better with this addition), or on a pizza before you put the cheese on! Rosemary is great on fresh-baked foccacia, and along with the drinks, I am going to add mint to a dog treat recipe (for improving canine breath, along with the parsley).

The oregano is doing wonderfully, and the thyme at the top is also growing well. The mint is not too happy being cramped in the darker middle row, but I will probably swap it out for something that handles the shadier conditions and put the mint in the sunny laundry room. Not sure how the rosemary, sage and Italian parsley will do quite yet; only time will tell. The water globes will help me keep them in good condition, as watering can make a mess and they help keep things clean and healthy too!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting Creative

I have a nice planter of assorted herbs, and have been working on ways to use my organic produce for my new business. This week I put together some herb-infused vinegars with oregano, sage, rosemary and basil. In a few days I will test them out with friends at work. Perhaps a nice baby-greens salad with oil and vinegar dressing?

I also infused some olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and red peppers, which will be ready in a few days as well. Tomorrow I will whip up some dog biscuits!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Claris makes an over-sized friend...

Claris is a very social creature, and is more than happy to greet almost anyone with a wag and a lick (Unless of course you are an avian-based species. In that case you are considered a meal NOT a buddy. It is in her genes...). Her newest buddy is Cinnamon, our neighbor's horse. They really seem to have fun together, and Claris is always trying to drag me down the mountain for a visit and a game of "run the fence". The progression of their play goes like this:

A Fungus Among Us

I have never really been much of a fan of mushrooms, fungi, slime molds or lichens but I am starting to reconsider my position after spending time in the forest in Floyd. The combination of shade, damp and food sources near Dog Days provides the perfect habitat for some very interesting species of the aforementioned life-forms. They have lovely shapes and colors and add some serious interest to the usually brown floor of the woodlands. I will have to spend some time looking up the names of these new-found neighbors!

A walk in the woods

Claris and I enjoyed a walk down our road last weekend and found all sorts of exciting things!
Having Claris with me usually means I get to see many things I would have overlooked had I not had her nose, ears and eyes on the job. She found this lovely male American Box Turtle in the weeds along our path and brought him to my attention. You know a Box Turtle is male if it has red eyes, more flattened topside and a more rounded underside, in case you wanted to know...

We passed through a gate in the road (from the maps the gate blocked an old public road so I only feel a little like a trespasser), and enjoyed a car-free walk!
Just passed the gate was a large meadow full of wildflowers and this old utility pole that now only housed a feathered occupant and not its intended wiring. All that was left of its former life was a glass insulator.

It seems not to be unusual to find abandoned houses, schools, barns and major appliances along the byways of the Blue Ridge, and this dirt road in the dead center of no-where was no exception. In fact, it had "all of the above" and then some...

These ghosts of lives past make the hike all the more interesting. Who left these things behind? How did they get to this point, and what will come next? They are vestiges of civilization, rotting back to wilderness, making for some deep contemplation while wandering with your best dog...

The wildflowers, birds and trees were especially nice along this road, and as they grow and change I will have new things to view unfold every time we take this walk.

The Crooked Road

I'll always suggest the crooked road
For every trip you take

It may be the best decision
you could ever make

Every turn an adventure
Looking back there is no need

What you've passed
Already out of vision

A trip made not for speed
A road not made for precision

It is the path we choose that makes us
and not the intended destination

So on this journey walk with me
And unbind your curiosity

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Slump for All Seasons

Slump. Slump. Slump.
Either the sound my shoes make after I fail to watch where I walk around "The Bottom" at Dog Days and sink into the marsh, OR a delicious baked recipe that uses leftover breads and fruits.

Ah, the "Yankee Cheapness" that is part of my genetic code serves me once again! This recipe was stolen from an old, dog-eared copy of Yankee Magazine (which you would LOVE if you only got a chance to read it, even if you are not lucky enough to have New England "in the bone").

Blueberry Slump
  • Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves
  • 8 slices firm-textured bread
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

  • Directions:
  • Blend sugar with spices. Brush bread with melted butter, then cut it into strips. Place a third of the bread into the bottom of a 9x5-inch loaf pan and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture. Add half the berries, sprinkle with half the lemon juice and rind, then repeat the layers, ending with a top layer of bread. Bake at 375 degrees F until the blueberries start to bubble, for about 30 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream.
DON'T limit yourself to blueberries- get creative with your fruit and enjoy this with peaches, blackberries, or other juicy, fruity things!

What on earth is a "Flummery"?

Ah, flummery. Sounds more like another, nicer word for screwing up, but no. It is a kind of fruit pudding that is a perfect summer breakfast, and a way to use those wild berries you may have coming up along your fence. It is an old-world food, originally from Wales (I think), that is easy to make and delicious to eat!

Blackberry Flummery

1 quart Blackberries
1/2 cup hot water
3 T COLD water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon (if you like it, if not, then omit)
2 T cornstarch
1 - 1 1/2 cups sugar (to taste. I have a sweet tooth, so I use GOBS)

Clean and check berries, discarding stems, errant seeds, or any ugly berries. Combine berries, water, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring well. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 to 8 minutes.

Add 3 tablespoons cold water to cornstarch to make a smooth paste. Stir the paste into the hot cooking berries; stir constantly until berries are slightly thick and translucent in color (about 2 to 3 minutes). Serve cold with milk for breakfast or with whipped cream for dessert.

Blueberry Grunt

Ah, I love a nice weird New England recipe! Blueberry Grunt is one of those strange old-fashioned foods that have simple ingredients, a wholesome "slow-food" taste, and a name that brings a funny look to anyone you try to describe it to. It is not difficult to make, and in my book can be eaten for, or with, any meal of the day!

Blueberry Grunt

4 cups wild fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup water

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter or shortening

Heat berries, spices, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a skillet; boil gently until well blended and slightly cooked down.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a bowl. Cut in butter and add enough milk to make a soft biscuit dough. Drop by spoonfuls into hot berry sauce. Cover tightly with a lid and SIMMER for 15 minutes (no peeking!) The dumplings should be puffed and well cooked through.

Transfer cooked dumplings to serving dish. Ladle sauce over top; top with your favorite cream.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Blueberry Hill

I have been searching the forest for a suitable patch of blueberry bushes, and after a few weeks of looking have found a patch that will produce enough berries to make a few pies, muffins and preserves. There are many small bushes scattered around the hillside, but that would take a lot of gathering for only a few berries per bush. Finding a good patch of older bushes is the optimal situation, and with a little effort I have located a plentiful supply.

Claris was eager to join in on the search, although who knows what SHE was actually searching for... But she did enjoy charging through the club moss and sniffing the deer trails. She keeps close by, and is a good companion when I am hiking. Luckily she has yet to discover the joys of rolling in nasty things that our other two dogs loved so much!

The Rhododendrons are still in bloom, and they are wonderful to stumble upon in the forest. They seem to clump together, so make a good "sign-post" for me to get my bearings with.

I am fairly good at figuring out where I am in the woods, and rarely get lost, but having familiar trees, rocks, clearings, gullies and property markers make all the difference. I am sure to lose my way at some point, so I carry a walkie-talkie with me so that if I get into trouble I can call for help. Even in Virginia, which is only "so wild", it is wise to take a few precautions! Claris is no Lassie, and the only way she would rush home without me is if I told her is was feeding time...

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Well, I figured out what the green berry bush is; it is a variety of Viburnum. Not so great for me, but very yummy for the birds. There are a few Viburnum that people can eat, but I am not about to try ours and find out, as the terrible stomach ache that would ensue if I ate the more common varieties that are inedible to humans is not worth the risk. So, they are very pretty to look at and help keep the avian population of Dog Days happy and well-fed, which is good enough for me!

Friday, July 4, 2008


The fields at Dog Days are filled with wild edible delights, and I am hoping to take advantage of these culinary temptations and make lots of old-fashioned goodies! While Oscar was hard at work painting the house, Claris and I disappeared down the mountain to check out what was ripe, or going to be ripe soon.

There are black raspberries (note the empty stalk in the middle- it was delicious!) along the driveway and the dirt road.

Claris was a bit impatient and wanted to keep traveling.
She kept giving me scornful looks when I stopped to look at things and take pictures.
She has her own agenda and felt I was hindering her. I found out soon enough what she was wanting, and as usual, it required a hosing before she was let back in the house...

The daisies and swamp roses are now starting to bloom, adding color amongst the fields and wetlands along the bottom, and add color to the green palette that makes up that area!

There are lots of blackberries but they will not be ripe for at least another two weeks, and I am afraid I will be fighting the bears for my supply, as I have seen signs of them around the best patches (as if they too are checking the status of ripeness). The berries make great preserves, sauces, muffins, cobblers and pies so I will be picking and freezing as many as I can to get the supply I need for my gastronomical plans... As you can see, as long as the bears do not take everything, I should have plenty. This is from just one patch:

We also have a good set of apple trees, but I am not sure what kind they are, or how well they produce. Like many things, our first year here will be an adventure. I am hoping that we will get enough apples for me to make some country apple butter. The apples do not have to be pretty to make apple butter, just full of flavor. The smaller, heritage varieties seem to be perfect for this, and I think that is what we have.

On the way back to the house, I finally discovered what Claris was so anxious to get to:

I really should have known what was on her Labby-mind!

We found a spot where the wild turkeys take their dust baths. Claris was very interested in this, and carried a feather around for a few minutes. I am sure she was thinking about how yummy the turkeys would be if she could only catch one (but they are too smart for her to find, much less catch).

There was a bush with green berries on it I have never seen before, and I wonder if they are going to be edible or ornamental. Hopefully I will find out what they are soon with a thorough search of the internet, so I can make plans if they are something edible...


Butterflies are numerous at Dog Days, and they are so focused on feeding that they rarely notice you admiring them. It is almost as if they are posing for me sometimes! The field is in bloom and the flowers are loaded with winged color and the sound of buzzing bees...