Funny how here in America, we are about to start celebrating everybody’s inner Irish with corned beef and green beer. But in Ireland, nobody eats corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish will be having proper Irish bacon (more like ham than our bacon), potatoes, and cabbage, with parsley sauce, thank you very much. Or maybe a nice stew.
Irish cooking tends to be a big joke here in the US, though that is quickly passing. The bad Irish food rap though, isn’t really Ireland’s fault. In reality, bad Irish food is more a symptom of poverty and repression suffered at the hands of the English. Irish people do not refer to the potato famine as a famine. Instead, they call it The Great Hunger.
The famine and starvation were more a form of genocide, and Ireland during the famine years was actually a net exporter of food. The Irish had been kicked off their farms, their land confisgated by the British, who then stocked the farms with cattle to satisfy the insatiable British demand for beef.
In 1845 alone, Ireland exported 200,000 head of livestock, 2,000,000 quarts of grain, thousands of barrels of “corned” beef (named for the corn-sized chunks of salt used in the preserving process) and several hundred million pounds of flour – all under military and naval escorts.
The Irish have a long history of healthy, diversified agricultural practices and certainly would not have been caught with their entire food supply dependent on one single variety of one single crop if they had a choice.
Facts and statistics don’t nearly convey the tragedy and cruelty these resilient people endured. According to one Polish observer, corpses lined roads with green mouths from eating grass, whole families standing in snow in complete nakedness having pawned their clothes, or a starving mother half insane thrusting her dead child forward and begging for a coffin.
England being, at that time, the wealthiest nation in the world.
Funny how today, we who rebelled with all our might against the golden handcuffs of England, have today, manifested a very similar nation to the old British Empire. The same platitudes about withholding charity and assistance lest the poor become lazy were popular among wealthy British then, just as they are today, here in the US.
Oh sure, tomorrow is a day of fun and revelry, well deserved for sure. But the great Irish thinker, Edmund Burke reminds us, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Sooo, on this eve before St. Patrick’s Day, let’s give a nod to the real Ireland, and the stoic pluck of all the Irish forced to harsh new lives in America, without whom The United States of America would be a very different place.
Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.
Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day.
Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve been very fortunate here with the mildness of our winter so far – unlike those of you suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re mostly just inconvenienced and fatigued. The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.
I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. At home, it’s not really any more work, and the results are so worth it. Once you’ve spoiled yourself, you’ll want to keep a pint jar in your fridge at all times.
But then, one day, this really lovely post from Molly at Remedial Eating stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.
Hot Chocolate Base (Ganache)
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache (enough for 2 dozen+ mugs of hot cocoa)
This makes a light ganache (1:1), scoop-able straight from the fridge. For firm truffles and heartier frostings, a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio gives greater body and intensity. FYI.
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)
Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards. Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes. Pour into jar, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.
To Make Hot Cocoa:
Heat milk (2% or whole), as much as you want, over medium heat, until steaming. (Alternatively, for one mug, microwave). Add ganache to hot milk: I use 1 heaping tablespoon per 8 ounces of milk, though there are those under my roof who argue 2 tablespoons are far superior. And no, I don’t measure. Eyeball it. Stir ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, and add more, if desired. Pour into mugs, top as desired (whipped cream, marshmallows), wrap fingers ’round, and give thanks for winter.
Who am I kidding? 1-2 TBS? No way. Try 3, or even 4!
So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small DIY gift ideas, here you go – you still have time. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache for a steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.
And, if heating milk sounds like too much work, there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!
I’m a Pittsburgh girl, so maybe there are cultural Red-Beans-And-Rice nuances I am not getting here. Made on Monday, check. Our own Auburn Meadow Farm Classic Cajun Andouille, check, check. Slow cooked all day? Nope. This is a quicker version, because I had already cooked beans in broth waiting in my freezer for just such a day.
All you real-deal Cajun cooks? Sorry, but also, not sorry, because this is some really good, wholesome, hearty hygge for a dreary winter day.
Since COVID, people have been hoarding good culinary beans, which is sad if they are just being stashed in somebody’s bunker – the ten pound bags of pintos at Walmart do a pretty decent job of resting on a shelf. The Rancho Gordo heirloom beans offer a range of flavor and texture that those ten-year-old warehoused beans just can’t bring. And, if you are planning a garden, those Rancho Gordos are good for planting too, so save some of your favorites and give them a go for some fresh shelling beans.
But hoarders can’t kill my bean joy. If you can’t have the bean you love, which for Red Beans and Rice would have been Domingo Rojas, then love the bean you have, which happens to be Ayocote Negro. Selecting beans by texture not color is key here. The Ayocote Negros are a gorgeous, substantial, shiny, black bean, and were perfect, if not red.
This should take ten minutes of prep and a half hour to forty minutes simmering, and serves four to six. Printable recipe here.
- 1# smoked Andouille, sliced into 1/2” disks
- 2 pint containers of pre-cooked cooked beans in broth* (or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained)
- 1 TBS good cooking fat, I use lard or bacon fat*
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 green pepper seeded and chopped
- 4 ribs celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2-tsp to 1 TBS cayenne pepper dependent upon how hot you like yours. I omit entirely as I cook for people who don’t tolerate spices.
- 1-28 ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
- 1/2 tsp ground sage or poultry seasoning
- Smoked ham hock (optional)
- splash cider vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Mild hot sauce like Frank’s or Crystal for serving
- Cooked white rice for serving
- In a Dutch oven, melt your cooking fat over medium heat, add onion, green pepper, and celery. Sautee until softened, do not brown.
- Add garlic and andouille disks and sautee to release fragrance.
- Add the tomatoes, ham hock if using, cayenne and sage. Allow to gently simmer, allowing the flavors to develop.
- Add the beans, if you are using canned beans, strain the liquid before adding. continue to simmer to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. You don’t want to cook dry though, you are going for the texture of a thick soup. If your pot starts getting too dry, add some water (best boiled first – I use my teakettle).
- Taste and add salt, pepper, and cider vinegar to taste.
- Serve your beans with rice – this is important. It is honestly not difficult to make a perfectly cooked pot of rice. That detail makes a huge difference.
If you really want to eat like a farmer, try topping a bowl with a poached egg for breakfast . It’s even better next day.
*Some astericks here, because I am a pantry cook, and have stored in my freezer and pantry items you may not. That’s okay though, it’s not a big deal this recipe is pretty flexible.
Get these ingredients from us*:
Classic very mild smoked Andouille from our pastured pork, smoked ham hocks, Ayocote Negro beans
*Inventory subject to change without notice
I have been thinking, even harder than usual, about the affordability of well raised food for those who need it most, the marginalized and low income. And today finds a whole new group of hard working people struggling to put food on the table. Some of us are prospering more than usual, or are maintaining normal, while others are completely devastated.
Honestly? I wish I could simply gift away every single bite of what I raise. This is in fact, a mission driven farm, as much as anything, and the mission is to build a Giving community. Stories and news features of people waiting in lines for food is seriously killing me.
At Auburn Meadow Farm, I have always wanted healthful food to be available to the marginalized segments of society. The single parents struggling to access and afford nutrient dense food, those financially struggling because of illness who need clean food more than ever but cannot afford it, or are too ill to even think about cooking. Our seniors, who are seeing their pennies pinched by increased fuel, isolation, and increased cost of food. So many instances of people in newfound levels of need.
It is crystal clear that generations will starve waiting for the Powers That Be to create workable programs all Americans will agree upon. What is inspiring me at the moment is those people who are just sitting down, having an idea, and going out, face to face, and doing it.
Person to person, eyeball to eyeball. Simple solutions. Why not us? So, here’s what I’m thinking. A direct, person to person, extension of understanding, solidarity, and hope.
How it works:
- Priority is on seniors, those struggling due to health issues, single moms struggling to feed their kids, and our seniors.
- All meats donated are USDA processed, top quality goods – no cast offs.
- Update: Square gift cards are apparently a bad approach for this. Sorry if I confused you, but I’ve gotta go outside and tend the beasts, so stay tuned. I will create a Venmo or other simpler account for this purpose. If you have already donated, no worries, I kept track and will forward the money to the new account. Redeem it with the code BIGGERTABLE, and those funds will be used to gift Auburn Meadow Farm meat to those struggling from economic hardships brought on by COVID.
- Auburn Meadow Farm will make the most of your dollars by filling the need according to a discounted price scale.
- Accountability and transparency – this is a simple idea, finding its legs. A donations newsletter seems to be the most effective way to communicate our progress, though obviously I do not wish to violate anyone’s privacy.
I would love also to donate meat to an organization capable of turning the meats into cooked meals, easier for those lacking kitchen facilities and time, as a collaborative project. If you are that organization, reach out.
- The first meat will be ready to distribute in January, but funds now to pay for butcher and distribution fees will help kick this off faster, and enable us to go further. We have plenty of pork coming in January, and with enough help, we can be filling pantries by the end of the month.
- And, if your food bank or church is in need, and you are able to accomodate frozen meat safely, that is an avenue we can pursue as well. If you know of someone or something, let me know.
I hope you love this idea as much as I do, and if you would like to work with me to help solidify it into a regular thing, let’s talk! We need kind and helping hearts on the ground and I can’t think of a better goal for 2021.
What can I do today, before the rush is on, to be ready for last minute gifts, kind neighborly gestures, and unexpected visits? Make recipes for rolls of unbaked refrigerator cookies, portioned into gift-sized logs, wrapped in waxed paper, and stashed in the freezer for gifting or fresh-baked cookies in minutes..
Like many retro, forgotten ways, Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.
The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. Thoughtfully wrapped with a recipe tag, they make a small and lovely gift. I like that since they have to be baked, you can save them for later, after the overload of sweets and snacks has passed.
Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:
Salted Rye Cookies
- Golden Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
- Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
- My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.
And, not just a DIY gift idea, icebox cookies are a great everyday pantry trick for anyone interested in real foods.
Fruit Swirls, no sugar. One recipe, divided into four logs, wrapped in waxed paper for gifting or baking.
Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?
- simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
- a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
- something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
- strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
- your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow – no biggie
In these days of pandemic, old fashioned neighboring is more meaningful than ever. What sweeter way to check on your neighbors than by gifting them a thoughtful log of ready-to-bake cookies?