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no longer just a post-holiday pick-me-up?

are we having fun yet? more tree than car to carry

I love the November/December holiday season! Ask Bob, he’ll confirm. After the fall harvest, I love the thought of an extended family gathered at my Thanksgiving table, followed by four straight weeks of holiday carols, holiday gatherings, thoughtful gift planning, maybe travel, maybe hosting kids and grandkids. My quest for the biggest tree that could unreasonably fit into my family room is legendary. Once my kids were grown and out of the house, and theoretically my motivation for holiday decoration gone, there was no decrease in my enjoyment of decorating, cooking, baking, eating, and making merry.

just getting it through the door was no small feat!

Yes, the December holidays are great. . . but then comes January and the potential for winter doldrums. Take heart! You could always count on opening your mailbox on January 2 and finding it filled with seed catalogs. Spring might be many months away, and the fizz of New Years’ champagne a fading memory, but now that you were armed with catalogs, you could do something! You could plan your summer garden and get ready to start some seedlings in a few weeks. Joy!

four-season harvest, or just jumping the gun?

On November 16, 2010, I strolled to my mailbox to find not one, but two 2011 seed catalogs. Yes, seed catalogs. I would expect the clothing, useless gift, and toy catalogs that clog my mail box and keep the USPS alive, but honestly, seed catalogs? Perhaps I’m not as enlightened agriculturally as I’d like to assume, and maybe this post will prove to be an embarrassment. You readers have heard me speak fondly of Eliot Coleman and other proponents of winter and four-season harvest, but even Coleman suggests that for winter harvest, you would have planted in the late summer or early fall. While I do recognize that there are folks in warmer climes than Connecticut; folks who could do something with seed catalogs,  I do believe that the seed growers have become impatient, like so many of us, and are opening the season prematurely.

now is the time

The tree is on the mulching pile at the town dump and the holiday decorations are tucked away in plastic bins in the basement. The sky is a bleak, steel-gray; temperatures cold enough to make you want to stay inside; and upwards to a foot and a half of snow in the forecast. This is the time that you need the promise of spring and summer crops delivered to your door. This is the moment when your spirits need buoying, and nothing can do that like a four-color spread of tomatoes, peppers, or beans in your favorite seed catalog. Not in November when there’s not enough time to sift them out of the mail. Not in November when they will be in a losing competition with the winter holidays. No, not in November; now is the moment!

basement beauty

 

getting ready to start some summer seedlings and kitchen herbs

 

Yes, poised to plant some hope! Working with potting soil on my basement work table helps to fill the void of not digging in the soil outside. Once filled, these self-watering planters will graduate to the window seats in the family room.  Not exactly a Martha Stewart touch, but works for me.

My mid-winter garden endeavors (besides what I’m harvesting from the cold frames — more on that tomorrow) take a two-pronged approach. I’m going to start some tomato, beet, and herb plants using seeds that were left over from last year. I’ve had pretty good success with “old” seeds, and with the price of good, organic seeds, it’s worth testing their shelf life.  Between stretching a couple of years out of purchased seeds and beginning to save my own, I’m able to reduce my costs for seeds.

But that won’t stop me from pulling up next to the wood stove with my favorite catalogs — or, more realistically, with my laptop and WiFi connection — and begin to imagine a the joy of planting, the pride of nurturing, and the immense satisfaction of harvesting!

February Pot Roast a la Vermont Castings

Yes, it’s February here in Connecticut. Yesterday we got about ten inches of snow, though it’s not terribly cold today. I’m very fortunate to be able to work from my home. To use a well-worn phrase, the commute’s great! But there are some other bennies. One is the luxury that you see illustrated here. Let’s back up a bit. The first luxury is being able to multi-task domestic and business pursuits, like throwing in a load of laundry or starting supper before 6:00 p.m. Now, carry that one step further. Plan a big ‘ol pot roast for the dinner that you’re cooking when your son comes by for dinner. Cool.

I’m very excited because this is from a quarter of beef that I’ve recently gotten from a local farm. Before he/she gave their life for me, this creature enjoyed the light of real sun, strolled through pastures and ate only mother’s milk and grass.  It’s very lean and flavorful.   As I’m getting ready to make my favorite pot roast (recipe below) it occurs to me that I’ve got the wood stove chugging away, and that will be a perfect (and very economical) slow cooker. I can let that roast just simmer away all afternoon, popping in now and then to see how the temperature is holding. A pot roast is a very good culinary match for a wood stove–very forgiving. Temperature controls on my stove are not terribly sophisticated: more wood/less wood, damper open/damper closed, air intake widget in the back open/closed, front door cracked a bit/sealed closed. But usually it’s pretty easy to maintain a nice slow simmer like you would get on top of your stove or an oven set to 325 degrees.

My roast is simmering as I peck away. Here’s a recipe that I swear by. Didn’t get it from my mother, and when I made it for her, she was skeptical (wouldn’t you be using a jar or horseradish?), but proclaimed that it was great. I found this recipe years ago when I was newly married and new to cooking on my own and didn’t know to be afraid of using so much horseradish. Ignorance is bliss. I’ve since tweaked the recipe some, but haven’t changed the amount of horseradish. Believe that there’s some chemistry going on that causes the horseradish to tenderize the meat, but can’t prove that. Just know that you don’t even taste the radish–even in the gravy. Go figure!

“Who’d a thought” pot roast

  • 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 teas. salt
  • 1 teas. freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 lb pot roast (bottom round, chuck roast, or similar low-quality cut)
  • 1 jar (5 oz.) horseradish
  • 8 – 10 oz. beer, water, or broth
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 8 each of your favorite small root vegetable, such as potato, parsnips, onions, carrots. I also use celery if I have some on hand, and baby portabellas are great, scrubbed and cut in large chunks.  I do not peel and prefer to get the nutrients and fiber, but that’s up to you. For a four-pound roast, you should have about six cups of cut veggies.

Mix the flour, pepper, and salt together and rub on roast. Heat oil in heavy Dutch Oven or deep skillet. Brown meat all over to seal (about 10-15 min.). Peel and slice large onion. Place onion slices on bottom of pan, like a bed for the meat, and place the meat on top. Add liquid. If using beer, drink remaining from bottle. Spread horseradish over top of roast. Cover tightly and cook slowly (simmer) on top of range (or wood stove) or in 325 degree oven. (If placing in oven, be sure handles are ovenproof.) Depending upon size and tenderness of roast, it will take four to five hours to cook. About one hour before the roast is done, add the vegetables. When the vegetables are done, remove meat and vegetables to warm serving platter. If desired, scrape horsradish off top of roast. If desired, make gravy from the remaining liquid. When serving, cut the meat against the grain.

The finished meal!

Let's eat!

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