let the images tell you their story
What to do with leftover bread? This is never a problem for us – we have many lovely uses. We cube and make croutons (just bake with olive oil, s&p, maybe herbs until crispy), we freeze for later for stuffings and bread puddings or even just Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato bread soup – fresh tomatoes, garlic, in a parmesan broth, stale bread, fresh basil). One of our favorite recipes is this magickal thing called Majorcan Stew – it’s a vegan dish that blends cabbage and cauliflower and tomato in such a miraculous savory way, and then you slip thick slices of old bread into it half-submerged, drizzle with olive oil and bake until crispy and it is divine…seems strange but true (i’ll have to share that recipe with you at some point).
Today, however, I will share a Rock Bottom Classic – Cheddar Bread Pudding (with optional accouterments, as usual – as you will see my mode of cooking is based on what you have and variants of preference) with Broccoli and/or Sausage (Broccoli and Cheddar are best friends – just ask Josh, he’s got a song about their love affair). It is inspired by an Arrows Restaurant recipe (so sad I never got to go there, but Frasier & Gaier have another spot – you know, if you wanted to take me somewhere for my birthday – ha!) but adjusted for family eating as a main course. Cozy, cheesy, bready goodness.
2 cups heavy cream (and 1/2 cup milk for more moistening if needed)
4 Large eggs
1 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 Tbsp melted butter (plus 2 Tbsp cut into 4 chunks for topping casserole, and a little for preparing dish)
6 cups 1/2″ cubes of bread (leftover bread works best)
1 small head of broccoli (about 1/2lb), chopped small, blanched and drained
1 Tbsp fresh herb (rosemary, thyme, sage), minced
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper (or to taste, some cheeses/butter/sausage are saltier than others)
1/2 lb ground sausage, precook in saute pan, drain juices (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9×9 baking dish.
In a Large bowl whisk together eggs, cream, and 1 1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper, herb, melted butter until combined. Stir in bread and let soak for 10 min (it wants to be wet but not soaked/breaking down, if too dry add a little milk 1/4 cup at a time to get a good wet but not sloppy consistency – another way to tell is if the bread looks moist but there is just a little liquid – 1 Tbsp or so- in bottom of bowl).
Mix in sausage if using, and broccoli, stir to combine. Add to prepared baking dish and scatter 1/4 cup grated cheddar over top, then dot with remaining butter.
Bake for 30 min until golden brown on top and a knife inserted comes out clean (keep in mind, melted cheese might fool you). Let cool for 5-10 min before serving. Should be soft and gooey inside but cooked through nicely with crunchy bits on top. Mmmmmm…
Yes, you heard it right! It’s Duendesday! What does that mean – well, a couple of things. See, here at the house, it means that Duende is in charge of meals but hopefully it will mean more as she gets a hold of the possibilities. Maybe she will decide what projekts we tackle that day or events, etc. And it will also mean that she will take over the blog on those days, too (ha!). I think right now it means that as we ease her into that role, I will blog about her and her marvelousness…
In case you don’t know – Duende is a 9 yr old ‘mischievous imp’ (that’s what her name means, or a spanish wood sprite, a ‘Puck’, a leprechaun or lutine or nisse of sorts). She is homeschooled (freeschooled – specifically, which means no curricula and based on the Steineresque 7-yr-cycle). She is hilariously funny and engaging. She has a keen interest in inventing (both on her own and as a lover of Tinker/Kiwi crates, snap circuits, building kits), dancing, fashion-designing (even for pets), and has a sophisticated drawing style. She loves horseback-riding, sledding, riding her bike, picking apples (not so much blackberries), playing in her ‘algae pond’ in the creek, making jewelry (mostly crowns; we’re all kings and queens, thank you Pamela Zagarenski), writing comic books (like Squigtor the Courageous!), and baking.
Today, she is joining Josh for the bread delivery. She’s made a ‘samples stand’ that reminds me of Lucy’s (from Peanuts) psychiatry booth – The Doctor Is In, 5cents. She also worked all night on sandwich boards (for the table, for everyone’s body including the dog) and a concessions/ hawkers box. She’s too funny.
And speaking of vending – if you happen to be by the house, make sure you ‘vend’ in her automatic braided rope vending machine (she sits in the back of a cardboard box while you put coins in a slot, use tokens to slip into a pocket to determine length of braid, push a cut out button for color, she lowers a string-tied drawbridge from inside to give you the braid). Hilarious!
What’s Happening? What a weird word – I can’t help it, how did it come to be (to hap)?:
It snowed. It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl. The snow looks light and the sky dark, but in fact the sky is lighter than the snow. Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than its illuminator. The classical demonstration of this point involves simply laying a mirror flat on the snow so that it reflects in its surface the sky, and comparing by sight this value to that of the snow. This is all very well, even conclusive, but the illusion persists. The dark is overhead and the light at my feet; I’m walking upside-down in the sky. ~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We’ve been busy around making things sort of officially official – branding ourselves, as they say (shudder). Remember, this is a bare-bones operation, no fancy stuff here. Logo, new address for this blog (now rockbottomhomestead.farm), stamps, bags and a bread delivery next week! We’ve upgraded supplies for breadbaking and are considering sourdough pizza dough and flatbreads for options. Homemade Pasta plus a variety of bready bits like hamburger buns, biscuits, and Duende is very excited to offer cupcakes! Ha – somehow we’ve stumbled into being a bakery though that is just a ‘new’ affair to add to our repertoire.
Very soon it will be tree pruning time (the peaches, pears, and plums all need to be ‘topped’), the old apples shaped – cutting off the dead wood. The grapes and hydrangea cut way back. High on Josh’s list is cutting scions this year for grafting. And then – it’s maple sugaring time! We’re amping up our game this year. Last year we tapped about 20-25 taps, and this year we’ll likely be able to do 50-75. We made enough for us to last about 6 months (we did give and sell a few pints) – it sounds crazy to go through that much syrup but we use it for coffee, in baking and cooking. It gets used as our primary source of sweetener. When we don’t have that we use local raw honey (we really love Tom’s Honey – you can find them at the Portland Farmer’s Market). We are considering bees of our own but not quite yet. They would be great for better apple pollination so it’s another step we’re almost ready for.
In between pruning and sugaring – it’s seedling time! Again, last year, Josh made some great shelving with adjustable lights and heat pads so that we can make our seedlings happy and strong. I’ve yet to successfully get strong enough onions from seed (they end up working as companion babies in the garden but never really get to be actual onions, I end up throwing all their little starts into my pickles by the end of summer). We keep renovating all the rooms, however, and so I am running out of spare rooms to put the seedling shelves (the porch would be great but is really only 2 season, Winter not being one of them, and we’re not plastic encasing people). I think this year we will try and house them in the unfinished laundry room. I thought when we moved out here I’d be a beet and squash farmer. I could see myself out there nerding out on hand-pollinating my squash blossoms. The first year we put our garden way up on the hill where it was hard to water (dragging a giant apple cart full of buckets of water was not the best) and though everyone told me it wouldn’t happen – I got weird mutated hybrid cucumbers (a cross between pickling and round lemon) that tasted fine but were not pretty to look at (I should have practiced my hand-pollination on those). My beets never came up, and my squash had the worst case of cucurbit and squash bug infestation EVER! All the books and the blogs and the stories tell you NOT to spend $400 on seeds when you first start homesteading but I will officially say – I don’t regret it. I made A LOT of mistakes and I learned a lot. Sad to say my romantic dreams had to change – but I still love the success of my potatoes and corn, herbs, tomatoes and garlic, green beans and dry beans, and finally carrots (that last one took forever for success). I still have terrible luck getting peas in on time (always coincides with school travel and I miss my window), and the cabbage moth decimates my cruciferous and brassica every year. My other nightshades – peppers and eggplant perform ok but not as great as I’d like and I swear I just can’t grow spinach. I am a little too successful at radishes but it’s mostly because I use them as companion planting and let them go to seed (the early pods are great to pickle but then the radish itself isn’t really edible, I had a 3lb one last year- all woody and split and ginormous), but the bees really love the blossoms (I’ll go off more on companion planting as we get closer – it’s a preoccupation of mine). All this talk of seedlings, I might have to go add to my FedCo and Baker Creek order…
Duende is excited to be growing a batch of catnip for both her and the cat (I wonder if that will make him more amenable to her dressing him up in handmade clothes – she will tell you all about her Cat Clothing Design business, if you like!).
I think there is just enough time in this Winter to crochet a new batch of dishcloths, a new french press cozy, potholders, handwarmers, and finish another rug.
Happy Wishful Spring Thinking!
The cold crisp days desire a lot of one-pot hearty meals. And we supply. To be honest, I was hoping to be a little snowed-in this season because I have a lot of reading and writing to do (between my own PhD dissertation, tutoring, teaching assistance, and as a recent art agent, I somehow have inherited a lot of sitting/writing work) so preparing a complex meal just isn’t in my schedule.
Nor Josh’s – for someone who has recently made the transition from office job to homesteading, he’s not considered downtime. He’s been renovating the house as he can (first the ‘dining’ room, now he’s dismantling our sad little ‘laundry room’ which is also a second bathroom, yes – right next door to the first, and desires to be a storage space for fermenting supplies/equipment and possibly a darkroom), I think the 2 season front porch is next – which desires to be 4 season as a mudroom and grow room for the seedlings (at least until I get a greenhouse). As you might have seen, he’s also been baking a lot – A LOT! Beautiful sourdough boule’s everywhere! We had to upgrade his supplies this week – rattan bread proofing baskets with liners, bulk flour, and various bread-nerdy tools (lame, scrapers, couche, beeswax covers, linen towels – he needs an apron next). Please feel free to volunteer yourself as an official taste-tester, I could use some help!
So, this week we found ourselves hungering for something simple but rich and hearty: Fish Pie it is. As with all our recipes, this is easily adaptable to tastes and sizes. Enjoy!
1 lb. firm white fish (we used haddock, but cod, pollock, halibut, etc would work), cut into 4-5″ pieces
1 6oz tin of Bar Harbor Wild Herring Fillets (w/ cracked pepper, or any smoked fish), drained
1 Md onion, diced (I was out so did without, but it’s a nice addition in general)
1 Tbsp diced garlic
2 Lg carrots, split into long quarters and chopped (I could see 1.5 cup frozen peas being an option, too, or a good handful of chopped parsley added with the bechamel sauce)
1 Lg celery stalk, split in long half and chopped (to be honest, I didn’t have any so I added a tsp and a half of celery seed to carrots and garlic while cooking)
2 lbs. baking potatoes, chopped in 2″ cubes
1/2 head green cabbage (about 1 lb), chopped
2 bay leaves
glug of olive oil
approx 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, maybe a little more for bechamel or topping the pie
3 cups Milk
salt & pepper
1/2 cup flour (or chickpea flour for GF option)
Short version: This is pretty much a 3 step process before baking but not as crazy as it sounds. Essentially you will take your potatoes and make mashed potatoes out of them (adding in the cabbage when you boil the potatoes, mashing them all together with butter and milk, s&p) – this makes a great meal if you have leftover mashed potatoes or colcannon (if the former, just blanch or steam the cabbage and add to mashed potatoes, if your leftover colcannon has cheese in it, which ours sometimes does, all the better). Then you cook the veggies/ add the milk and bay, then the fish cook til firm – set aside – adding a bit of fish milk to the mashed tatas, make the bechamel with the rest of the fish milk, 1/4 c butter and flour, add the veggies/fish into the sauce, top with the potatoes in a greased baking dish, add pats of butter, s&p, and bake for 25 min. at 400 degrees.
* Boil potatoes and cabbage until tender. Drain, reserving a little liquid just in case/for later and mash with 3 Tbsp butter, s & p. Set aside. (This is your colcannon)
*In a deep pan, add a glug of olive oil, mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery), garlic – saute until fragrant. Add white fish but move veggies around to be on top of fish as much as possible, can layer thinner pieces of fish on top if necessary. Add milk, bay leaves, s&p. Bring to simmer, let simmer 2 min. then cover and remove from heat (fish will continue to cook in the hot milk for a few minutes).
* Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and using a slotted spoon or draining utensil, move the veggies and fish to the baking dish, adding the smoked fish – mix gently to even out across the bottom of the dish. Add a little fish milk to colcannon and set the rest aside in a large measuring cup or bowl.
* Heat 1/4 cup butter on Med-High, melt and add flour, whisking vigorously. Cook for 2 min then add fish milk 1/2 cup at a time, continuing to whisk and adding milk 1/2 cup at a time until you end up with a creamy sauce that will pour nicely but isn’t too thin. If too thick add a little potato water or more milk if needed. Add on top of veggies/fish in dish, mix in gently.
* Dollop colcannon on top of bechamel mix, spreading carefully to cover. Add a few pats of butter to the top. Bake 25 min or until the top is starting to golden and the sauce is bubbling up a bit. Serve with buttered bread if you like (very gratuitous but delicious).
* Makes great leftovers – reheat in oven with foil. If refrigerating ceramic or glass baking dish, let come to room temperature before baking. Stay Cozy!
What a good time to celebrate – smack in the real depths of winter, where here in New England many call the ‘winter season’ November through March (though we all know well and good it can snow in October and April, too!). But February 2nd is the technical midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.
I have always been especially connected to Imbolc, even before we celebrated the ‘seasonals’. My ancestors knew I was a woman and a witch. I was born and served out my childhood in Pennsylvania where Groundhog Day is centered (years ago doing some research I vaguely remember some other areas with other large rodents to foretell the weather – Badgers maybe in Staten Island?) and it has always been my favorite holiday. C’mon, a furry-faced little critter deciding our fate?!! I’m sold. Except for Punxatawney Phil, no one is really exploited or neglected or has a history of annihilation, so that makes it a pretty solid celebratory day to me (and really, for a groundhog, I bet Phil’s got it pretty cozy).
We prefer to celebrate our mid-winter with a little Scotch tasting party. We started around 2012 and we’ve only missed one or two, I think, since. It’s a lovely gathering, mostly people who like or are intrigued by Scotch (which many also happen to be close friends – great minds and all), some fancy foods (sometimes I try and steer for traditional Scottish or hearty fare and sometimes not, depends on if I find that something is supposed to be tasty with Scotch!) and a relaxed atmosphere. Josh likes to talk about Scotch so he introduces each with a little info where we can all get a glimpse of different regions and years and other taste factors. Everybody brings a bottle to try and we generally all learn something new.
This year we decorated the windows with magickal alder branches (the goddess tree with deep affinity to the faerie folk and properties to help overcome obstacles) and twinkly lights, made a vat of Chicken Pate and Pickles, Josh’s yummy Sourdough loaves, Scotch eggs and Fermented Mustard, Colcannon (or a version of Clapshot), Roast Pumpkin Mash with Sage, Cranberry Beans with Cider Syrup, Molasses Spice Cake, Apple Crisp, and guests brought delicious hummus and veggies, sexy cheeses, and a Chocolate Zucchini Bundt cake – AMAZING!! It was a nice spread, great conversation, and many many Scotch’s. What a way to survive the Winter! Thank you all so much! It is a holiday that is, in all its kookiness, close to our hearts – Happy Mid Winter!
Just in time for weekend planning – we’ll start a little tradition that every Thursday or Friday a recipe will be posted. Dishes that quintessentially make up our household. We are omnivores but I am quite skilled at turning many dishes into vegan or GF (feel free to ask if you don’t see correlating substitutions – I’ve probably made them at some point and have some insight). And though we do eat meat, we are not afraid of vegetables or vegetarian dinners. I think everyone is different and magickal and special and has their own food interests and preferences. I like to think I am sensitive enough and savvy enough to offer something for anyone.
This particular dish is a staple here – it’s relatively simple, very hearty, and pretty affordable. It’s one of those crazy dishes that doesn’t sound all that exciting but every time we make it, we are so happy once we take a bite and wonder why we thought we weren’t going to be satisfied. I hope you enjoy it – I tend to make a vat and then we forage from it for the weekend. Just a tip: I tend to ‘wing it’ when cooking (not baking, there I’m more of a stickler for the recipe) so don’t fret about small changes to the amounts, just do what feels good.
Rock Bottom Lentils
hmmm, let’s hope the rats are fortuitous and not rampant in New England carrying ticks and getting into stuff…I can think of some political rats that I could do without, as well (pretty much anyone that doesn’t respect other humans, including women, children, LGBTQ, other nationalities or lovely skin colors, mindsets, ecologists, artists, or anyone who freely thinks and cares about the world) so I will consider this more a Hindu mythological rat which helps us all overcome whatever obstacles we need to hurdle this year. Happy Lunar New Year! (yes, we’re heathens, we celebrate almost anything fun and positive…)
So, as a new start to a new thing (isn’t every day a new day of a new year?) the To-Do list is never-ending but always new. We are updating the house (always – it’s a process house, healthily reviving an old 1840’s small ‘farmhouse’, read: cape with small additions). Right now the ‘dining room’ – which we named Stan has new sheetrock (and removal of paneling, and a covering of the old front door, we took out the not original – not good – built-in, and will have a new coat of primer by Monday), and then we can move in the books (a new built-in bookshelf will be built this Spring) and the record player and piano. The other end of the house is quite heavy with all the goods from this end – very cramped and crowded and crazy. The new tv ‘snug’ has a new rug and soon a new little couch to make cozy but limit our screen time, and an expansion of our studio/ office will help to get more arting and writing done. The only thing left in the new bathroom is some trim and to finish 2 strips of wallpaper. And in the kitchen, the window sills and framing. The floors will have to wait until the end of Winter, too. Too many things to do! And before you know it, it will be sugaring time (I will keep you updated on that – many have expressed interest in helping out or watching the boil).
Josh continues to perfect and learn his sourdough technique (we have lots of baby starters if anyone wants one! they are lovely, let me know!). There are pumpkin seeds drying on the shelf – and new fantasies of planting small fat pumpkins amidst the cornrows. A new batch of turmeric tagliatelle rests in the pantry and I’ve got a pate and fermented mustard to prepare for Imbolc (where can I get quail’s eggs around here for wee Scotch eggs?). The snow is melting (another January thaw? grrr) a bit, and the child is rushing to save her faerie igloos but the Winter walks have been just stunning – lots of tracks, and rich blue skies.
May your every day be a new day to overcome.