Is This Really “Organic”?

Today, I read that “organic” made it onto a list of over used words. This product called “The Batter Blaster” bills itself as organic, certified by the USDA. Packaged in an aerosol can that serves eight, this seems like the over packaging that is exactly opposite to the resource conserving spirit of the organic movement.batterblaster We are concerned about environmentally sound, production, distribution and packaging. It’s New Year’s Eve and as I think through the ways that I can be a greener gardener and cook, the new word “locavore” comes to mind. In our area several church groups adopted the hundred mile diet for a month. The grocery stores that offer local produce all year are favored by many shoppers. For me it means growing what we can, buying at the Farmers Market, and looking at the labels of what I purchase. I don’t expect to find everything locally grown, but when I do find it I can support it with my dollars. Making an effort is a good first step, growing more of our own fresh food has rich rewards.

Making pancakes was an early cooking activity for our children. They stirred the batter and learned the perfect consistency. It was fun to watch the bubbles form and a perfect flip was so satisfying. I enjoyed seeing their competency and confidence in the kitchen and they still make pancakes. A pressurized can may possibly be too cute and enticing for a young child and is it really cooking?

Christmas Menu 2007

The Christmas menu changes a bit every year but over time ours has evolved to everyone having the opportunity to make what they like with a little attention to balance. This means vegetables and some dishes not too full of butter, cheese or sugar. When my sister said she wanted winter squash, I knew this would be easy. Our back porch has a terrific selection of winter squash. I’ve been baking squash every few days and using it in new ways, most recently, adding spoonfuls to quesadillas and black bean burritos. If you too have a surfeit of squash I figure you can use a few recipe ideas.

I see many recipes calling for peeled and cubed squash, a process I find hard on the hands. I suggest placing the winter squash in a 350 degree oven for twenty to thirty minutes. Remove from heat, cool then peel and cube. The squash will hold together in cubes but the rind is easily peeled away without risk of cutting a finger or feeling you’ve arm wrestled when you finish. You are simply cooking in two stages and the total cooking time stays about the same.

Here is our tentative menu. Not everyone has decided what they will fix and some of us can’t stop with only one dish. It will be a big family gathering and we’ll cook and eat our way through the day. This is the essence of a family holiday, good food, good company and good conversation. This is a menu of seasonal foods.

Christmas Menu 2007
Turkey, Gravy, & Dressing
2 Cranberry Sauces fresh & cooked (my sister’s family likes fresh, we favor cooked)
Green Salad with Pecans & Oranges and shallot dressing
Parsnip Pear Puree from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook
Potatoes Mashed with garlic & rosemary
Creme Brulee
Steamed Gingerbread & Orange Pudding with whipped cream,
Cookies & Fruitcake
Crudités & olives pre dinner snacks
Squash with Onions & Almonds modified from The Scent of Orange Blossoms: Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco
coffee & tea
Parsley puree “Mark Bittman NY Times archives” A vivid green puree of parsley and olive oil
Wine & Sparkling Cider

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I’ve been making this for my own use and as gifts for several years. Vanilla extract is easy to make, richly flavorful, and fragrant. Use one vanilla bean per each four to five oz. bottle. Split the bean in half lengthwise and then chop into ½ inch pieces. Stuff these pieces into your bottle and top off vanilla extractwith full strength vodka or brandy. Cap and let sit for 2 to 4 weeks. Every few days give it a little shake. You will love this vanilla. When a third of the extract is used top the bottle off with more vodka or brandy. Alcohol efficiently extracts the essence of vanilla and makes what herbalists would call a tincture.

I find a securely capped glass container is the best. Corked bottles don’t seem to work as well, perhaps because they breathe a little. Many commercial extracts contain a touch of caramel coloring don’t be concerned if your extract doesn’t turn a dark brown. Store in a cool dark place. The flavor increases with time as long as you don’t remove the vanilla bean.

Vanilla comes from an orchid native to Mexico, Guatemala and parts of Central America, Vanilla planifolia. The flower is fairly inconspicuous but each one produces a long slender seed pod on the plants’ 10’ vines. These are the beans, which are harvested, sweated, cured and dried to develop the unique flavor.

Vanilla is not only used in our favorite desserts but for perfumery and aromatherapy. Shalimar perfume contains vanilla as do many modern fragrances, usually incorporating vanilla into the name. Aromatherapists tell us the fragrance soothes and calms. I once knew a woman whose husband was so fond of the scent of vanilla that she took to dabbing a bit behind the ears when she was in the kitchen.