Wednesday, January 27, 2010

tasty local shrimp

There have been lots of folks talking and writing lately about the fabulous little local shrimp that are available "fresh from the sea" in our area for just a few months each Winter. There's a shrimp CSF operating out of Seabrook, NH - there have been shrimp at the winter farmers' markets - and there's even a workshop coming up soon at UNH that promises to teach folks how to properly cook and store the little treasures. Shrimp are everywhere this year!

We were going to wait until the next winter farmers' market to get some, but I decided today that I couldn't wait any longer. We went out to Portsmouth, NH and stopped by Sanders Lobster to pick up a 5 lb bag. At $1.99/lb, I believe they're a little more expensive than when you get them straight from the fishermen, but $9.95 for enough shrimp for a couple of meals (plus heads and shells that we can use for stock) seemed still to be a plenty good bargain to me! (Keep in mind if you're buying these that you lose about 1/2 the weight of your purchase to the heads and shells - so 5 lbs of shrimp will yield about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of meat.)

At first when I looked at the shrimp that we had brought home, I was a little overwhelmed by all the legs and eyes and bodies in the bag... but after a couple minutes, you do get used to them. Reminding myself what a privilege it is just to have access to these fresh, local, sustainably fished creatures definitely helped!

A couple words about sustainability... when I first heard about these shrimp, all I could wonder was "how many other creatures died in the harvest?" I've read about shrimp trawling, and the devastating effect it has on ocean life (on the other side of course there's shrimp farming, and the devastating effect it has on the environment as well). Given all our family puts into making sure our poultry, beef, pork, and eggs are all sourced from farms and farmers who we believe are engaged in ethical, humane farming practices, I wanted to make sure our seafood was given the same consideration. A call to the nice folks at Yankee Fisherman's Co-Op put my mind at ease. They weren't flustered at all by my questions (I'm sure they've answered the same questions 1,000 times before!), and they explained how they avoid issues related to by-catch, how they use a grate system that ensures only those shrimp that are mature enough to be eaten are harvested (and young shrimp go back into the ocean to keep growing bigger and to eventually make more shrimp), and how they just generally use practices that ensure there will be many more shrimp harvests in years to come. I'll not try here to put down all their words, as they're best heard "straight from the source" - if you have questions, I highly recommend that you give them a call too! Suffice to say, I was happy with what I heard, and I feel that these shrimp are sourced in a way I can respect.

Back to our "processing" and cooking adventure - we removed the heads, and then soaked the shrimp bodies for about an hour in cold water to loosen the meat from the shells, as recommended everywhere I've seen. Then we removed the shells, and put them (along with the heads) in a bag in the freezer so we can make stock later. The picture above shows the shrimp just before we cooked them. Aren't they beautiful!?

To cook them, we sauteed them VERY briefly (they really do cook "so quick you can't even turn around before they're done," as a friend of mine said) with a little oil and butter, garlic, onions, and white wine. YUM!! And they truly are just fabulously tasty - I can't wait to get more, so we can try them boiled, in shrimp fried rice, and in an oven-baked shrimp scampi recipe that sounded yummy (except we'll be leaving out the Cheezits the recipe mentions!!).

The shrimp season in our region only runs until I believe April - so if you're looking for a tasty local treat, don't delay!! Or, as the author of the article I linked to for the scampi recipe above said, "Now is the time to buy as much Maine shrimp as can be eaten or stored in the freezer for the summer time." Sounds like a plan to me!

can swans read?

We went out to Sanders Lobster today to pick up 5 lbs of the local shrimp I keep hearing such wonderful things about (more about the shrimp will be coming in my next post!).

When we were walking back to the car, I noticed a couple of ducks floating in the water next to the parking lot. I can't resist ducks, and it was a beautiful day, so we stopped to watch them for a while.

The longer we stood there, the more ducks kept coming by and joining the others. Maybe they thought we were going to feed them - but we had nothing to offer. So they watched us, and we watched them.

Just as we were about to say good-bye and head to the car, this pretty guy (girl?) appeared out of nowhere - of course we had to stay longer to see what he would do.

It appeared that he was looking for a comfy place to sit in the sun - only, what's this? Private parking? Does that include swans?? Can swans read "no parking" signs??

Perhaps they can, because he moved to a spot that wasn't marked "private" - just to be safe, I'm sure :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

fresh baked bread

Since it's pouring rain in New Hampshire today (like, get the boat out, get the oars ready, it's really coming down hard out there, type rain), it seemed like a good day to stick close to home. And since we decided this weekend to finally get a stand mixer for the kitchen, I thought I'd test it out today by making a batch of bread.

Before today, I'd only made bread using the breadmaker we got from someone a few months ago on Craigslist - but today, the mixer mixed and kneaded, and then I rolled out the dough, shaped the loaves, let them rise, and baked them up. Still not true "totally by hand" baking, but still - it was more involved than just throwing everything in the bread maker and calling it a day! And it was fun - that mixer definitely is a wondrous thing!

So, if you're looking for a super simple bread recipe, here's the one we used (courtesy of Kitchen Aid's recipe booklet!).

Rapid Mix Cool Rise White Bread

6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons salt
3 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup butter or margarine - softened
2 cups very warm water (120 F to 130 F)

Place 5 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and butter in mixer bowl. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to Speed 2 and mix about 20 seconds. Gradually add warm water and mix about 1 1/2 minutes longer.

Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 2 cups at a time, and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rest 20 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf. Place in greased 8 x 4 x 2 inch baking pans. Brush each loaf with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.

When ready to bake, uncover dough carefully. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Puncture any gas bubbles which may have formed. Bake at 400 F for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

a dark days dinner, and a new winter market

We had a wonderful, mostly-local Dark Days dinner tonight. Roasted pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, rutabagas, and a Cuban-style "gravy" that's just olive oil heated very hot and poured over a combination of minced garlic, sliced onions, lemon juice, and a healthy dose of garlic powder (I don't like typical flour-and-drippings gravy - but this garlicky treat is just fabulous!!).

For the local items, the tenderloin and garlic were from New Roots Farm, the potatoes and onions from Meadows Mirth, rutabagas from Heron Pond, and the garlic powder from Two Sisters Garlic in Canterbury, NH (they have wonderful garlic products - and we were able to order their garlic powder via mail-order since Canterbury is a bit of a drive from where we live - definitely convenient!). For semi-local we had Cabot butter in the rutabagas, and Stonyfield milk in the mashed potatoes. The olive oil, lemon juice, and salt were definitely not local.

Great news - New Hampshire folks looking for more local food options have another winter market to check out. This one will be held in Concord the last Saturday of the month for the next 3 months (1/30, 2/27, 3/27). For details, check out this posting on Seacoast Eat Local, or email market coordinator Joan O'Connor at joconnornh @ yahoo (dot) com. Joan is a local food advocate who I met a couple years ago at the Concord farmers' market, where she was selling compost worms (and also offering lots of advice for those new to composting). She's a wonderful resource if you're looking to learn about how worms can eat your garbage too :)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

another wonderful winter market!

We went to the Seacoast Eat Local market in Rollinsford today - we arrived just before it opened, and there was already a crowd of folks in the greenhouse, eager to get inside and start shopping!

We brought home rutabagas, kale, carrots, potatoes, onions, bok choy, ground pork, and a small roasting chicken. I haven't had chicken for weeks - so I'm definitely looking forward to this one! But since I picked up some organic mushrooms yesterday, the chicken will wait and tonight's mostly-local dinner will be a stir fry of kale, mushrooms, and bok choy. Yum!

If you live locally and haven't checked out one of the markets yet this winter, the next one is February 13, in Exeter. Check out Seacoast Eat Local for more info, directions to the market locations, etc.!

Monday, January 18, 2010

my day with crochet

Since Sewing Step-by-Step is in my "to read" pile, I of course today jumped right into 200 Crochet Blocks. That's just about the way it works around here, sometimes!!

My mother knits almost constantly, and has been known to whip up a hat or two for my son on the way up here from Connecticut with my stepfather. And my grandmother was the same way - she was forever making us mittens, socks, scarves, and sweaters, and we still have afghans that she made in each bedroom in our house. One year when I was little, she became so frustrated with my lack of interest in baby dolls (she really wanted to knit doll clothes!) that she knit individually fitted outfits for each and every one of my stuffed animals for a Christmas surprise (and I had a LOT of stuffed animals!!).

This is one of my sheep, with Grandma-made bonnet and sweater. Yes, I come from a line of serious knitters.

But somehow, the "knitting gene" seems to have skipped me. I've tried to knit, but I just don't have the skill or the patience. So a couple years ago, my mother taught me to crochet. I crocheted exactly long enough to make one simple blue scarf and then I put down the crochet hook and didn't return. This bear is wearing the scarf I made (apparently my tendency to dress my stuffed animals in knitwear was hereditary, as my son does the same thing... (grin)).

So, today we were quite snowed in again, and as I thought about all the great handcrafted projects I've seen on other blogs lately (here, here, and here for example), I decided to get out my crochet basket and try again.

Of course it would have been nice to have my mother here for a refresher course and some direction as I attempted to crochet something rectangular instead of triangular (that "turn" stitching gets me every time!!). But I had my book, and I had a fair amount of determination. So though my little blue-and-purple creation might not be much, and it might not be perfect, I'm happy that I did it myself, and I'm looking forward to trying again and to eventually perfecting my technique. And my son's little lion of course appreciates the mini-blanket...

a little reading

If I had nothing else I needed to do, I'd happily read my days away - I've always been that way, and can remember even when I was in elementary school preferring a book to a kickball game or game of tag most any day.

So, even though I don't read as much as I used to before I had "grown up" responsibilities, I still do get through several books each month. I thought it might be fun to track my reading in 2010, and share the books I'm enjoying (or, occasionally, not particularly enjoying (grin)).

I do have a definite preference for non-fiction and memoirs, and rarely read fiction any more (though once in a while fiction does make an appearance. Last year I read The Secret Life of Bees, and I bought Quite a Year for Plums at a library book sale - though I haven't started reading it yet). I buy a lot of books at library book sales, a few at yard sales, and a few from Amazon or other booksellers. I also check a couple books a month out of our local library, but I totally admit that I'd rather own the books I'm reading than borrow them.

Right now, I'm reading Living with Goats, by Margaret Hathaway (borrowed from the library last week). Even though I'm far from the point where I could raise goats (going to need a different property (with more land) if I'm going to do that!), I'm enjoying learning lots about goat management. All good information to have, even if I never have goats myself - as, for me, reading about such grand adventures brings to mind questions I have or things I need to figure out just to do the limited "farming" we can manage on our little 7/8 of an acre here in our neighborhood. The book is written by a woman who farms in Maine, which makes it even more fun since she's fairly local. And there's a picture of a 2-week old Nigerian Dwarf Goat in the book that my son keeps looking at, as it's just adorable - such a tiny little creature!

Once I finish the goat book, I'll move on to the "to read" pile that I keep on my writing desk (unless another library book catches my eye, in which case I'll read that first!). Right now, the pile is focused heavily on the practical. Stacked up to the side of my computer, I have: Quite a Year for Plums, by Bailey White; We Wanted a Farm, by M.G. Kains; Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, by Joel Salatin, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon (yep, it's a cookbook - but it has a lot of "extra" information that I want to read through), and Singer's Sewing Step-by-Step. Which reminds me - we've got the sewing machine threaded and working, so now I just need to figure out how to make something useful. So far, I'm still working on mastering "sewing a straight and even line" :)

I'm definitely looking forward to my year with books! What are you reading this year?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

local eating, catching up, and blue ballet squash

I haven't been too good about keeping up with my blogging lately - but I hope you're all enjoying January, are keeping warm, and (if you're local to NH) have been enjoying the winter markets that are starting back up this month. We went to the Exeter market last weekend, and came home with ground pork, potatoes, carrots, and one of the most fabulous turkeys (thank you, Yellow House Farm!) I've ever eaten. The Newmarket and Rye markets are coming up this weekend, and I'm hoping to get to Newmarket early enough to get some of the fabulous local shrimp I keep hearing about - I haven't tried them yet, and it seems the time has come!

While I haven't been writing much lately, I have been reading. I finished Eating Animals just today, and I have to say that I am even more grateful than I was prior to reading through this book that we have folks in New Hampshire who are raising heritage breeds of animals, farming humanely and with the welfare of their animals at the forefront of their minds, and making humane-raised meat, eggs, dairy, and other animal-based foods available locally. Factory farming is scary stuff - and I am happy that our family's food dollars no longer support the industry.

In other local-eating news, after hearing from Amy over at What Did She Do Today? that the farm store at Mack's Apples out in Londonderry is still open over the winter, we decided to take a drive out there and see if we could get some apples (my son eats one every day, and we're almost out of the ones we bought at the farmers' markets and orchards this Fall - guess we need to store more next year!!). We came home with a peck of Cortland apples - and I was excited to see that they also had lots of delicata squash. Since my squash bin was starting to look empty, I grabbed a bunch of delicata, and I'm looking forward to roasting them with some garlic and olive oil... yum! To make the day even better, when we were on the way out to the car one of the women from Mack's stopped us and told us to take a blue ballet squash free since we had bought a peck of apples. I hadn't heard of blue ballet, but looked it up when I got home, and it seems it's a smaller cousin of blue hubbard. From what I've read, like most winter squash, it's great roasted and then served with a little butter and/or salt and pepper - or pureed and baked into pies. Sounds awesome - can't wait to try it!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

happy chickens

Stopped by a local farm to pick up some eggs this morning - when I came out of the garage where the farmer keeps a refrigerator with his eggs for sale, I noticed these two Plymouth Barred Rock chickens watching me head back to my car. I'm in the middle of reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (the book was a Christmas gift, and it sure offers lots of "food for thought" - many things to think about!!). After reading yet again about the sad lives of factory-farm chickens, it was a happy, happy thing to see these chickens walking around outside in the sunshine!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

dark days challenge - week 7

With the busy-ness of the holidays, I never did get to post my Week 6 Dark Days Challenge meal! But had I remembered to post (grin), you'd have read about how we enjoyed many local foods as part of our Christmas Eve dinner - we had roasted pork tenderloins (New Roots), black beans (Meadow's Mirth), and, for dessert, pumpkin pie (pumpkin from Barker's Farm). There were non-local foods as part of the meal too (plantains, for one - those aren't even slightly local to New Hampshire!!) - but it was nice looking around the table and knowing that the dinner's "main features" were all locally sourced!

As to this week's spotlight meal (Week 7), we were mostly snowed in the second half of Friday, and all of yesterday. So we dug the grill out of the snow (again!) and grilled up some local kielbasa (super yum!!). We also made mashed potatoes, and steamed some broccoli. The kielbasa was from New Roots, potatoes from Meadow's Mirth, and broccoli from Heron Pond. The horseradish that went with the kielbasa wasn't local - and the butter and milk in the potatoes were from Cabot, so though still from New England, they're certainly not as local as the items we got "straight from the farm" (or farmers' market, as the case may be...).

Speaking of the farmers' markets, the winter markets start up again next Saturday - hooray! Check out Seacoast Eat Local's website for a list of dates that includes the Seacoast Eat Local markets in Exeter and Rollinsford, as well as other great markets in Newmarket, Rye, and other towns too!