Potato Corn Chowder with Fake Bacon

 

Happy autumn, dear reader! It is the season for warming bowls of soup, don't you think?

With new potatoes on their way in and some sweet corn still lingering, it's the perfect time right now to make vegetarian potato corn chowder with fake bacon. Potato corn chowder is a delightful autumn meal, with the stick-to-your-ribs heartiness of the potatoes balanced by the sweet crunch of fresh corn kernels. And I assert that using fake bacon is just as good as regular bacon--perhaps even better since you can enjoy delicious chowder knowing that no pigs have been harmed. Since we now have a full-time vegetarian in the family, I am cooking even more meat-free meals than ever before--and quite enjoying it.

I recommend choosing your faux bacon more for the taste than the texture--look for something with a smoky, savory presence. I have found that Benevolent Bacon from Sweet Earth is perfect.


Here's the recipe for potato corn chowder with fake bacon! Avoink the oink! (That is the name of my imaginary vegetarian bacon campaign; I like saying it loudly and often. Feel free to use my hashtag #avoinktheoink)

Ingredients:

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 T olive oil

2-3 pieces Benevolent Bacon (or any kind of fake bacon), roughly chopped

2 cups small potatoes, cubed (can leave skin on or peel--your choice)

2 cups water

1 teaspoon garlic broth base or veggie bouillon

2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked

1/2 cup milk or cream (or more if desired)

 

Instructions:

  1. Saute the onion in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until it's starting to look transparent and glassy.
  2. Add the fake bacon and stir together for another 2-3 minutes (or more)... until it's starting to look fragrant and more cooked than it was before.
  3. Add the potatoes, water, and broth base or bouillon. Stir together until the broth is integrated. Then, bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the kernels off each cob of corn. (I like to hold the cob vertically on the cutting board and cut the kernels downward on the bottom half, then turn it over and do the same with the other half). Add corn to the chowder and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Before serving, stir in the milk or cream. You can also taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

I am sending you peace and hugs. May we all have warm bowls of soup when we need them.


Bowl of vegetarian potato chowder with fake bacon

How to Grill Pizza

Once you've had a wood-fired pizza, regular old pizza is just not the same anymore. Even brick-oven pizza does not have the incredible texture of crust that has been cooked extremely quickly at very high heat, and toppings that have been transformed through the magic of flame-cooking. It's like the difference between a real, fresh New York bagel (or a Montreal bagel if that's your thing) and one of those white-bread bagel-shaped things from your grocer's freezer that you've thawed and toasted. Really shouldn't even be called a bagel.

Anyway. We are very devoted to wood-fired pizza. It is a revelation. Our family has been known to drive miles out of our way to procure it. We also like to watch how-to videos of creating your own backyard pizza oven. Someday we'll give it a try, though the very long curing process might be too much for us. (If you heat up your oven before it's completely dried, it could crack and get ruined. Stressful.) You can also spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on buying a wood-fired pizza oven (they make cute stainless steel ones that have a little chimney and everything!)

But until you get your wood-fired pizza oven up and running, here's a workaround that I've been trying at home. You can make pizza on your grill. It is pretty, pretty close to the glory of wood-firing.

Think of it as a temperature play: A wood-fired pizza oven gets up to 800 degrees. A conventional kitchen oven only gets up to 500. Grilling is fuel-efficient, too. If you're using a pizza stone in your kitchen oven, it's recommended to heat it at 500 degrees for an HOUR before you start baking pizza. That's a lot of propane (or electricity or whatever your oven uses). Is there a faster and more efficient way to get really really hot without buying a specialized piece of equipment or building your own backyard oven? Of course there is. Keep reading for all the details on how to pull off crisp, transformed pizza on your grill.

Here are the steps to grilling pizza in a nutshell: Spread dough onto a piece of parchment paper, place the dough AND paper on hot grill top for 3 minutes (grill closed). Remove the half-baked pizza from the grill and flip it over onto an oiled cookie sheet so the cooked side is up. Place sauce and toppings, then slide the pizza back onto the grill, close the grill and cook another 3 minutes. Gently slide off the grill onto a large cutting board. Slice. Serve. YUM!

 

Grilled Pizza Tip 1: Lots of Work Surfaces

It's true that a lot of prep-work can help make your pizza-grilling go smoothly. But here's another very important piece of advice--make sure you have a lot of surface area to work on. If you have a card table or a larger folding table, set it up next to your grill. You're going to need space for:

  • cookie sheet to make an oiling station
  • your prepared toppings (set them up on another cookie sheet)
  • each pizza to be spread out on parchment paper
  • tools like tongs, long spatula, pizza cutter (or chef's knife)
  • cutting board for slicing your hot pizza (or use another cookie sheet)
  • platter to hold finished slices
  • your beverage--this is thirsty work!

 

pizza dough on cookie sheet on small table, with dishes of topping on another small table
 

Here I'm improvising with 2 small tables and a chair. Using a larger, higher table is MUCH better (see next photo), but improvising works fine if you don't have a big table at the ready.

Grilled Pizza Tip 2: Use Parchment Paper

Do you remember a time, I think it was in the 1900s, when we didn't use parchment paper in the kitchen all the time? I remember learning about foods cooked "en papillote" and it sounded so exotic. Now I use parchment paper for many baking projects, and it's the perfect tool to make your pizza grilling go smoothly. Why? Well this is going to sound nutty, but... you can GRILL THE PARCHMENT PAPER. It makes it so much easier to get a pizza that's close to the shape that you want. It's also super-handy for transporting pizza or resting pizza. Essentially it's like a giant, super-thin tray that can be used or removed effortlessly. Here are the steps for using parchment paper:

First, have all toppings ready. See below for my recipe--I like to mix and match a bit, so I have 2 types of sauce, cheese, pepperoni, olives, and random vegetables all set up. Set these aside.

Turn on your grill.

Cut as many pieces of parchment paper as you will make pizzas. I used two balls of store-bought dough that I divided into halves, so I cut 4 pieces of parchment paper. The rule of thumb is that the pizza must be SMALLER than the surface area of your grill. Seems obvious, but just sayin'. It's OK though if your parchment paper sticks out of the grill when you close it. That's the magic of using paper... it's flexible.

Pour olive oil (or a high-heat oil of your choice, maybe grapeseed) onto a cookie sheet and put your balls of dough in the oil.

Take your first ball of dough and pull and turn it so that it's fairly round and pizza-shaped. It will not be perfect. If the dough is nice and soft it may start to "drip" downward and not stay round--that's fine. Just do your best to make it fairly round, then plop it onto one piece of parchment paper.

Once on the paper, you can push the dough gently toward the edges to try to make it more round or oval shaped. You can try patching holes or folding dough over holes, but it's OK if small holes occur.

 

These are two pizzas ready to be fired. See how helpful it is to have a big work table nearby?

Next is where the magic happens. Check that your grill is heated--ours has a thermometer that goes up to about 650. Open it and put the pizza AND THE PAPER right on the grill. Close the grill. Set your timer for 3 minutes.

Grilling Pizza Tip: Use Parchment Paper
 

 

Now you're going to flip the pizza, but NOT on the grill. You will remove the pizza from the grill and place your toppings on just the way you like them, and only then return it to the heat. 

To do this, pull off or pick up the pizza while it's on the parchment paper (use the paper to help you), and turn it onto the cookie sheet with olive oil so that the grilled side is UP. Set aside parchment paper for now. REMEMBER TO CLOSE THE GRILL before moving to the next step. (I forgot this a few times, and lost all that accumulated heat and then had to wait for the temp to go back up.)


Grilled Pizza Tip 3: Go Light with Toppings

Now, top that baby! Sauces, cheeses, toppingses. Apply your favorites. My advice here is to go light--if you put on a lot of toppings, they will start to pool up and get soupy. That is not what grilled pizza is about. You want your grilled pizza to be light and just kissed with all the right toppings. Kind of the opposite of deep dish. So have a light hand, and remember that everything is going to get blasted together in the heat and will be delicious.

This one is a veggie pizza with pesto, cheese, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, fresh herbs, and zucchini ribbons.

OK we're getting close now. The next step is to return the topped pizza to the grill. I find that taking the cookie sheet over to the grill and gently sliding the pizza onto the grill-top worked fine (no parchment paper needed for this step). Shut the grill again and set your timer for 3 minutes. You can let it go a little longer if the cheese isn't melted to your liking. But also don't let it burn--the cheese can keep cooking with residual heat if you need to take the pizza off to avoid burning the crust.

 

To get a piping hot pizza off a grill, I use a long spatula (like a mini pizza peel) and a silicone cutting board. I lift one edge of the pizza and start pulling it onto the cutting board, then I keep lifting and sliding until the whole pizza is on the board. Then I can set it aside to cool a little while I get the next pizza starting to grill. If you need the cutting board for something else, reuse a piece of parchment from when you started grilling as a surface for your hot pizza to rest.

Last step? Cut your pizza! Our rotary pizza wheel is pretty crummy, so sometimes I use a chef's knife to really crunch down and slice through. I don't make triangular slices like a normal round pizza, but instead cut off various polygonal shapes (preferably somewhat pointy ones).

 


That's it! Repeat the process for each pizza. Do keep your pizzas small--like 12-15 inches across--to help with maneuvering on and off the grilltop. You can also pour more olive oil onto your topping station cookie sheet, as it will help oil up the ungrilled side of the pizza and help it not stick to the grill.

 

Grilled Pizza Recipe

Ingredients:

1-2 balls of premade pizza dough (I used 2 balls for 4 12-inch pizzas) 

Sauces of your choice, such as tomato-based pizza sauce or pesto

Cheese of your choice, such as grated mozzarella or cheddar

Toppings of your choice--anything you like! I used:

  • zucchini ribbons that I pre-cooked a little in a grill basket
  • portobello mushroom slices (I grilled the mushroom a bit first, then sliced it)
  • artichoke hearts, sliced
  • fresh herbs--like basil, summer savory, oregano
  • kalamata olives cut in half
  • broccoli cut into small pieces (I used frozen broccoli--it's just easier)
  • pepperoni 

Other topping ideas might be fresh spinach or arugula or baby kale leaves, cooked spinach or other greens, crumbled cooked sausage, crumbled bacon, blue cheese, ham & pineapple, cooked sliced potato, cooked chicken or fake chicken, dabs of goat cheese, slices of fresh mozzarella, prosciutto... OK I am just naming all the possible pizza toppings in the world. And that's kind of the point, this is a method for making whatever YOUR favorite pizza might be.

Instructions:

Get your grill station ready with the pre-cut parchment paper, prepared toppings, long spatula, tongs if you like, large cutting board, knife or pizza cutter, a towel for oily hands, and platter for finished slices. Have your phone or a timer ready, too. Heat your grill to 600-650 degrees.

Then, follow my method of forming the dough into a round, placing it on parchment paper and adjusting shape, then pop the dough AND paper on your hot grill. Grill, closed, for 3 minutes, then flip onto your oiled cookie sheet with grilled side up. Add sauce and toppings, slide back onto grill (no paper this time). After 3 minutes, pull the cooked pizza onto a cutting board (or second cookie sheet) and let it cool. Then cut. Repeat the process for each pizza.

I hope you try the parchment method of grilling pizza if you are a fan of pizza or seeking a semi-wood-fired experience as a home cook. Let me know if you do. Someone recently told me they started grilling their breakfast burritos and they are incredible. Sounds reallllly good.


Green Tomatoes: Gardening 2020

Back in the depths of winter, I decided to try some new things in the garden this summer. It's been a few years since the small beginner's garden that I started in 2017. I was ready to branch out! So I read some gardening books, watched some YouTube videos, and did some garden mapping. I came up with two goals for this year:
  1. Start cultivating fruit
  2. Experiment with trellising/fencing for cucumbers and for tomatoes
Here's how it's been going!

Adding fruit to our mini-homestead


This year I focused on 3 types of fruit--wild black raspberries, peaches, and elderberries.

The black raspberries (which I grew up calling just blackberries) are small and crunchy and juicy and taste of pure summer. My method with these was to corral the wild brambles we already had. In the spring, I selected 3 plants to keep, and tied their canes to 3 stakes. Two of the 3 plants did not like this at all. They had small, stubborn flowers, stunted leaves, and tiny, inedible, seedy berries. But the third plant was a success. It leafed out nicely, had normal blossoms, and set sweet juicy berries that ripened in early July.



Notes for next year: I'm planning to leave the same 3 plants and hope that the angry 2 can establish themselves better and be more fruitful. I will probably do a bit of pruning and tying in the spring and then leave everything alone. I did put some cheesecloth over the berries when almost ripe to protect them from birds--it worked OK though I think the cloth was a bit too thick (may have kept out some sun).

The peach tree that I planted on mother's day has a single, somewhat mangy-looking peach growing. I love it nonetheless because it is my first peach-baby.


Notes for next year: In the late fall or next spring I will prune the inward-facing branches to try to encourage the "vase" shape recommended for peach trees. This will be tricky because my tree has almost all its branches on just one side (it's a real left-leaning Vermonter). I'll also look into fertilizing it somehow. The library has a good fruits & berries book that I will refer to.

The final fruit that I added to our garden is the Elderberry. According to Nourse Farms, the nursery where I purchased the plants (which I received by mail in the midst of the pandemic lockdown), you need two types of Elderberry plants so that they can cross-pollinate properly. So I got one Samdal and one Samyl variety. This first year they are just focusing on growing, but maybe next year we'll have some flowers and berries. Then I plan to tincture the berries to create anti-viral folk medicine.

The plants are about knee-high right now (which is great progress from the small 6-inch sticks that I planted back in May).





















Notes for next year: Some 4-stripe beetles set up shop in June and wrecked a bunch of young leaves. I used some organic insecticide soap to discourage them, and things seem better now. Next year I'll keep an eye out for them. And I'll look into whether I should prune or possibly tie back the plants, since I need them to stay in a certain amount of space.

The trellis experiment: new techniques with tomatoes & cucumbers


YouTubers make everything look so easy. I watched a bunch of videos about creating arched trellises and fence-like trellises for tomatoes and cucumbers, and it looked simple enough. I decided to do a tall fence-style trellis for the tomatoes. (It's like a fence, except the bottom of the fencing starts 18 inches off the ground.) And an arch-style trellis for cucumbers, so they could climb up and around and the cukes would hang off for easy picking.

























There are 4 tomatoes plants along this trellis, and they seem very happy. Two of them are already taller than the fence (and taller than me). I use a green, plastic-y tying tape that I found at Agway to gently attach the plants to the fence. We have 3 varieties of tomatoes that are slowly ripening: yellow pear, a larger slicer that will also be yellow, and 2 plants of the candy-like orange Sungolds.






























Yummmmmm.

Notes for next year: Not sure yet. I like this method so far, but we'll have to see what happens in the "heavy" months as these indeterminate plants keep growing and growing. (I learned from Youtube that indeterminate tomatoes, which are the type I have, will keep vining and growing unless they are vigorously pruned and "de-suckered." I'm trying to keep up with them!) In the past I have found that September is the time when tomatoes get so excited and branchy that they start to pull down whatever I've used to stake or tie them to. We'll see if this fencing holds up. I may need to move to industrial cattle panel.

The cucumbers are less excited about my trellising. They do not put ANY of their tendrils around the metal. Maybe it gets too hot for them? I have ended up tying the plants to the fencing, but they seem a bit sulky about it.


The arch is a little hard to see in the above photo, but there are 2 plants in the foreground that are planted on one side of the arch, and 2 plants across from them that are supposed to climb up the other side. They do not want to.
























Still, they're doing their best.

Notes for next year: I like the idea of trellising, but I need something the cukes will want to climb themselves. More winter research is in order. Or leave me a comment!

The rest of the garden


Apart from my 2 goals, I planted some other things. Like 4 squash plants which is QUITE ENOUGH. I gave them extra space this year, putting two in the regular garden, one in the herb garden, and one in the flower garden. They seem pretty happy so far.





















I planted greens fairly early (mid-May) and they've taken a long time to mature, but they're now ready. I have 2 rows of kale and one of chard. An early two rows of radishes have already been harvested, and now I'm trying some beans as a second crop in that spot.




















The garden is a nice refuge at the end of a day. I water everything every day that it doesn't rain. I give the peach tree 4 gallons of water 3 times a week to help it establish its roots in Year 1. I spend some time pulling up grass and examining the tomatoes. It's exciting to have a meal with our own squash, our own cucumbers, and our own chard. I'm looking forward to a bounty of tomatoes very, very soon.

What are you growing?

Make Magazine & Instructables projects

My my. Welcome July! I guess we're settling in to the cadence of summer. I work from home on weekdays. I do my Scots Gaelic practice on duolingo. I do exercises from Lynda Barry's book Making Comics. I go running. When I wake up, I write morning pages. I kayak by myself or with various family members, preferably early in the morning.

And I try to help my kids with learning about the world and having new experiences. One way to do this is by MAKING THINGS.

Make Magazine is very useful if you like to make things.


First published in 2005, there are currently 73 issues of Make Magazine. It's full of ideas for things to construct and try. Because the magazine is mostly projects, you can really dip into any issue and find something. Over the years we have accumulated maybe half of the issues.


Here are a few pages, below, that show a typical Make project. It describes step by step how to take an old VCR and hook it up to a food chopper to create a cat feeder.



The project cleverly utilizes the auto-record feature of the VCR to run the apparatus and feed your cat at a pre-set time.

Because of a household interest in Make magazine, we started investigating Maker Faires, which are "festivals of creation, invention, and resourcefulness." There's a giant one annually in the Bay Area, and also one in Tokyo. Lucky for us, we also found the Pioneer Valley Mini Maker Faire that we attended in April 2019. Here's a photo of the inside part of the faire.



Here we saw a vacuum robot that could pick up a ball, turn, and place the ball into a basket. We also saw photos taken from near-space by a young person who had rigged a camera to a weather balloon and sent it high above Massachusetts until it could see out to Cape Cod.

There were also a bunch of booths outside on the lawn, and food trucks, and yet more activities taking place around Smith College campus. One of them was a 3D printing activity in a computer lab. Using a free online app called Tinkercad, which we had to sign up for on the spot, one of our family members created a keychain attachment that can be printed out from the next 3D printer we run across. When we got home that day, he did some more tinkering on Tinkercad, which makes it very easy to create and save all manner of 3D projects.

Enter Instructables, a vibrant online community of makers.


Fast forward to Halloween. A last-minute decision to create a Minecraft costume entirely from cardboard led to a request for me to print out some PDFs from a site called Instructables.com. When I went to open the website, I found that I was already able to log in, because our Tinkercad account (through Autodesk) is connected to Instructables. Cool! And the website turns out to have tons of projects that are THINGS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO DO now that it's summer. And we have done some of them!


Project 1: Homemade puff pastries involved layering with butter, folding, and lots of refrigeration. They were impressively flaky.




Project 2: Jackie Kennedy's Amazing Waffles involve beating egg whites and separately beating the batter, then combining into an uber-fluffy mixture.



They baked up real nice.





Project 3: The DIY cat tent. Assembled from 2 wire hangers, an old T-shirt, and some cardboard, this hidey-hole is a cat's dream. Sadly, ours has been largely ignored by local felines, perhaps due to a lack of fluffiness within.

Next up: The Chicken Playground looks awesome, but we would need some chickens as well. Probably some more baking will happen though!

Happy June 2020

Well I don't know what happened to the rest of May. The calendar tells me it's June. I hope you are doing OK-ish wherever you are. Things have been a little nuts in the US for, well, since before we were even a country. There's a lot to sort out. I hope that 2020 really is the year we've been waiting for in terms of WATERSHED MOMENTS and POSITIVE CHANGE.

This is the last week of remote school learning for my two children, so I'm going to be stopping the "specials" that I've been doing with them on school-day afternoons (except for Fridays). But here are some highlights of what we've done in the last few weeks.

Money Matters

You hear people say "They never teach you anything useful when you're young. Like, they never teach personal finance!" Well I'm not letting this happen to my kids. We had a frank conversation about money as a social and political construct. We discussed saving money, earning money, and borrowing money. We talked about large debts that are kind of OK (like a mortgage) and small debts that are pretty much not OK (like one with a high interest rate). We talked about the idea of interest--how it can work in your favor if it's interest compounding on savings, but work against you if it's accruing on a debt. We checked out our household's monthly mortgage statement and goggled at how much of each monthly payment goes to interest rather than principal.





















We also made a list of typical expenses for everyday grownup life, such as electricity, cat food, water/sewer, groceries, housing, phone and cable, car loan, and insurance.




















Finally, each child set a goal to earn a certain dollar amount by doing chores and tasks over the summer. I'm planning to make some charts to help us keep track of this over the coming weeks. I hope this was a useful lesson.

Plant identification

For this activity, I offered a financial incentive if the kids could name 50 plants without help. They did it!
  1. White clover
  2. Grass
  3. Plantain
  4. Dandelion
  5. Wood sorrel
  6. Peach tree
  7. Buttercup
  8. Maple tree
  9. Fern
  10. Chive
  11. Thyme
  12. Sage
  13. Basil
  14. Summer Squash
  15. Mint
  16. Lavender
  17. Parsley
  18. Viola/pansies
  19. Iris
  20. Lily
  21. Rose
  22. Lupine
  23. Radish
  24. Kale
  25. Cucumbers
  26. Tomatoes
  27. Barberry
  28. Bloodroot
  29. Wild black raspberry
  30. Rhubarb
  31. Tiger lily
  32. Elderberry
  33. Nettle
  34. Lilies of the valley 
  35. Violet
  36. Honeysuckle
  37. Spruce
  38. Garlic
  39. Nasturtium
  40. Pear tree
  41. Milkweed
  42. Bleeding heart
  43. Oak
  44. Strawberries
  45. Blueberries
  46. Red clover
  47. Peony
  48. Apple tree
  49. Balloon flowers
  50. Succulent
Items 1-39 were in our own yard, then we walked around the block to find 40-50. (I gave credit for plant categories rather than specific names in some cases.)

Soap-making

I had some melt-and-pour soap materials from a past Christmas gift project. We got it out one day and made layered, cucumber-scented soaps using a simple mold that came with the kit. One soap layer was a pale aqua-green, and a greenish-white layer was poured over that.




















I was impatient with the second layer so we poured it before the first layer had completely hardened, but I really like the cloudy whorled effect. Others were not as pleased. Here are the unmolded soaps. Unfortunately the cucumber scent seems to attract tiny ants... it is some kind of ant-nip.





















Historical Computing

Some say that the pandemic/quarantine period is the time to do things you've been putting off and would never do at any other time. One thing I've been putting off for years is turning on the ancient Macintosh 512K computer that has been stashed in the basement since we moved into this house. The computer was a big part of my teens and early 20s, and I was terrified that it would no longer work, and then I'd be sad at having to say goodbye to it. But it worked!


Some not so good news: It can only read one of the discs that we tried. It wasn't the Flight Simulator, or the Puppy care program, or the Wizardry game to which I have dedicated hours of my life, or the knockoff Tetris, or the discs of saved writing--both mine and my deceased father's. The one disc that worked was MacWrite, which is like an early version of Word, and fairly useless.

Also the disk eject mechanism has failed, so we had to use the paperclip method to manually eject every single disk. However, we now have a new project to put off for a long period of time, which is to watch YouTube videos and figure out how to repair the thing. Maybe I'll finally work up to getting rid of it before that happens.


In other news, I'm happy that it's strawberry season.




















In Vermont, COVID-19 cases now total 1,027.

How are you?

Weeks 8-9: Robber Barons & Rhubarb


Hello! How are you doing?


At some point I'm going to stop counting weeks of this pandemic. I will remember that our lockdown started on Friday the 13th of March, and then 2020 unfurled from there.

Things are continuing to open back up in our state of Vermont. As of yesterday there were 933 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state, which puts us way down at the bottom of the list along with Montana & Wyoming. I don't know if it's possible for this "flattening" trend to continue after things open up more, but I hope so. Our neighboring states of New York and Massachusetts have many many more cases (340,000 and 82,000 respectively), but they also contain the major urban centers of the whole Northeast so I guess they're very different from our backwater area.

The past weeks have been a bit abstract for the "specials" that I'm doing Monday-Thursday with my two children, but here are some highlights.

One day we looked at a book about the history of Brattleboro, Vermont, and found that "Jubilee Jim" Fisk, one of the robber barons of the 19th century, is buried here. Apparently his father, James Fisk, Senior, lived in Brattleboro and built the Revere House hotel downtown (which burned down in 1877). When Jim Jr was murdered by the new lover of his ex-mistress, the body was brought back to Brattleboro. I thought this sentence on the Lost New England site was interesting: "An estimated 5,000 mourners – equivalent to the entire population of the town at the time – were on hand when his funeral train arrived in town at almost midnight, and his body was brought to the Revere House."

Here's where we got really interested--Jim Fisk, Jr's grave is a monument sculpted by none other than Larkin Goldsmith Meade, Brattleboro's famous son (he was actually born across the river in Chesterfield, NH). Larkin Meade created the "snow angel" on New Year's Eve, 1855 (a marble replica can be seen today in our public library). Meade also carved the first statue of Ceres to top the Vermont state house in Montpelier (his pine version disintegrated by 1930; today there is a third version of Ceres in that spot). And GET THIS, he also designed the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.

So obviously Larkin Meade was the perfect choice to memorialize Jim Fisk, Jr. The monument is in the Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street. It is an obelisk surrounded by 4 female figures that represent different aspects of commerce: railroads, steamboats, finance, and the stage. (Fun fact: Fisk co-owned an opera house in Manhattan.)


west side

Railroads

Steamboats

east side

Cemeteries are a perfect field trip during a pandemic, by the way--social distancing is easy.


On another day we talked about poetry. We discussed simple poetic forms like haiku and limericks. We reviewed six types of poetic "feet" (iamb, trochee, spondee, pyrrhic, dactyl, anapest) and came up with examples of words or phrases for each one.



I read Shakespeare's sonnet #18 (Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day) and we looked at line 9 in particular ("But thy eternal summer shall not fade") as a perfect example of iambic pentameter (10 syllables with stress on every other syllable). If you're not going to click through and read the sonnet, I want to tell you it's where "the darling buds of May" comes from.

We also wrote some of our own poetry, using the theme "summer." Here is a haiku by a participant (with scene drawing from Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets).

turquoise air in earth
lily fern ice breeze melting
summer flowers bloom

BREAKING NEWS: RHUBARB PIE STICKY, DELICIOUS


For baking day this week we made lattice crust "Be-bop a-re-bop Rhubarb Pie," which is a 3-2-1 Michael Ruhlman recipe. This ratio-driven pie crust (3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part ice water) makes the flakiest, yummiest pie crust ever. I only ever make it once a year when it's rhubarb season.

Before

During

After: yummmmmm

I constructed an "ant moat" to protect the pie from the little ants that come to find anything sweet that might be on our countertop. I filled a wide shallow bowl with water, put an inverted ramekin in the middle, and set the foil-covered pie on the ramekin so the pie is sitting above the water and cannot be crawled on. HA.

Nettlekopita: Nettle hand pies

April/May is nettle season. If you're lucky enough to have nettles in your life, here's a delicious way to use them. Cooked nettles are like a hearty spinach (but even richer and tastier, in my opinion), so I like to use them in place of spinach in Greek-inspired hand pies. I call it "Nettle-kopita."



FLAKY!

The main ingredient is one pound of fresh stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). I harvested these from my beloved nettle patch. I weighed nettles as I harvested. This is what a pound looks like.



Also at the ready is crumbled feta cheese...



Onion and garlic ready to saute, and two friendly eggs...



And only a portion of the melted butter I will end up using.



Ingredients:

1 pound fresh nettles
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1 cup crumbled feta
1 stick butter, melted (more if necessary)
1 pound fillo dough (my package had 13 sheets)
1/2 t dill
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper


Preheat oven to 375F.

Steam nettles, then chop.

Once cooked, the nettles have no sting

Ready to chop

Chopped

Saute onion and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. Add dill and oregano.

In a large bowl, mix crumbled feta with 2 eggs and pepper. Add chopped nettles and the onion-garlic mixture to the feta mixture. Combine. Divide the filling in half in the bowl (just move it apart), then divide that in half so you have 4 sections of filling in the bowl.

Get your pie-making station-ready, which should include a large quantity of melted butter, a pastry brush, and an oiled sheet pan. The main requirement for pie-making is to brush everything with melted butter so it will be flaky and crispy once baked. Also, follow the fillo dough package's instructions for thawing and for keeping the dough from drying out (I did this by covering it with waxed paper every time I removed a new, paper-thin sheet). For each pie, use 1/3 of one of the 4 sections of filling (goal is 12 pies total).

Build the pies. I used one sheet of fillo per pie, but there are other methods and if you know them, feel free to use them!

For each pie, I brushed half a sheet of dough with butter, folded it over, then brushed the top with butter and turned so it was a horizontal rectangle. Next I added the filling a few inches from the edge, folded in the side and the top and bottom edges, brushed with butter, and rolled/flipped the pie toward the far edge, brushing with butter at each fold.  Place finished pies on a sheet pan as you work. If you run out of butter for brushing, melt some more.





I had an odd number of phyllo sheets, so I made a couple of triangular pies that had extra dough in them. When done, make sure everything is buttered on top.

 


Bake for 30 minutes until brown. Let cool a bit before eating. Enjoy!


 


Do you eat nettles? I used to get them at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market (if you go on the right Saturday, once a year) before I started growing my own.