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?
I would have to try really, really hard to sum up the weirdness surrounding our Thanksgiving holiday better than this essay I serendipitously found in a book about preserving seasonal harvests.
All the best storylines are present: Fake News, Propaganda, Revisionist History in School, Consumerism, Branding, and sheer force of will by a focused, relentless American. Sarah Josepha Hale, had she been born in 1988 instead of 1788, would very likely have been one of the first social media Influencers.
But the best part? It all works out in the end, and proves that there isn’t much that can’t be smoothed over with a well-branded and enthusiastically prepared food holiday. So, turn off the media, and tuck in.
Talking Turkey:The Literary Origins of the Thanksgiving Meal
The story of Thanksgiving is a fiction, or at least it is as I learned it in elementary school one November Day back in the seventies, when we cut out construction paper turkeys, brass-buckle shoes, and feathered headdresses.That tale of Pilgrims being saved from starvation in 1621 by kindly Indians bearing gifts has little basis in the historical record, according to food historian Andrew F. Smith, whose revisionist research appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the journal Gastronomica. The reality is that Thanksgiving was invented by a sentimental novelist in 1846 and enshrined as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln as a means to soothe national division after the Civil War.
The history of thanksgiving – lowercase “t” began soon after the grave Puritans arrived on the Mayflower and established Plimoth Plantation in 1620. They issued all sorts of thanksgiving proclamations in observance of “a military victory, a good harvest, or a providential rainfall,” says Smith, but these were solemn days of prayer, not sumptuous meals.
A letter dated December 1621 is often cited as evidence of the first Thanksgiving – capital “T” – because it describes a feast of wild fowl eaten with Native American King Massasoit. The letter’s purpose makes it suspect, however, because it was sent to England to attract more settlers. Less a cornerstone document of American’s multicultural past, suggests Smith, it might be viewed by a jaundiced eye as a hyped-up real-estate advertisement meant to convince wary Englishmen that the New World natives were friendly. (They weren’t for long: King Massosoit’s son Metacom, known to the English as Philip, later led the so-called King Philip’s War against Plymouth Colony.)
Throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, says Smith, “thanksgving remained an opional local celebration held at different times in response to specific circumstances.”Only on a few occasions did it assume a national character, as when George Washington marked a day to celebrate the new Constitution, and President James Madison commemorated the end of the War of 1812.
Then along came Sarah Josepha Hale, born in 1788. The energetic writer is best remembered for her verse “Mary Had A Little Lamb” but she rose to prominence in 1827 with the publication of a novel, Northwood; a Tale of New England, which devoted a chapter to Thanksgiving. In it, Hale worked up the now familiar spread: roast turkey with stuffing, pumpkin pie; and plates of pickles, preserves… and all the necessaries for increasing the seasoning of the viands to the demand of each palate.“
Starting in 1846, Hale devoted herself to a tireless lobbying campaign to establish Thanksgiving as an annual holiday.“Hale believed that Thanksgiving could pull the United States together as regional differences, economic self-interest, and slavery tore the nation apart,” writes Smith.That her efforts were temporarily interrupted by the Civil War only underscored Hale’s great theme of the need for a shared feast to foster national reconciliation.She leveraged her connections until she managed to write President Lincold directly, and somehow she persuaded him to join her cause.In 1863, a few months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November the third national holiday, after Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday.
Political leaders throughout history have seized upon inspiring narratives to promote their agendas – from the Virgin Queen and le Roi Soleil to the Kennedy Camelot and Regan’s “morning in America”: – and for Lincoln’s purposes, situating America’s original harvst feast in a multicultural Peaceable Kingdom provided an inflection point for renewal after the Civil War.The real question is why it stuck.
Perhaps because Hale’s Thanksgiving menu may have been a fantasy, but it did, almost by chance, summarize the facts of the American food experience. Guy Davenport writes:
“The honey bee came over with the settlers of New England, along with the apple tree and the pear.Two enormous ecologies blended in the New World, where pumpkin, maize, persimmon, melon, and other native vegetables changed the European palate.“
The centerpieces of Hale’s menu, which is everyone’s now, are roast turkey and pumpkin pie. Both are North American species, and they may have been as strange to the Pilgrims as they are familiar to us. Thanksgiving makes us all celebrate how much the nation’s founding depended on the continent’s aboriginal bounty and how profoudly our mainstream food culture has been enriched by multicultureal influences derived from Native American peoples, African slaves, and countless later waves of immigrants.
The American story is one of optimism and adaptability, and American food has always been joyfully opportunistic, pulling ingredients from multiple “enormous ecologies.” Hale’s version of Thanksgiving and all its manifestations, including construction paper stagings of a Pilgrim-Indian sitdown, have endured because, like all myth, it is true, even if it isn’t accurate.
Exerpt from Saving the Season by Kevin West, p 386-7 @2013
Anyway, I hope you navigate this holiday and manage to find some joy, and some resolve. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days to spend outside, so maybe instead of the usual driving around to hit all the gatherings, a hike outside will bring a different type of connection instead?
Happy Weird Thanksgiving, from your friends at Auburn Meadow Farm.