Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hale to the Kale

Willie Mae cooked for my great-grandmother, then my grandmother and, even for a short time, my mother. She was a large woman with a high-pitched booming voice and an old fashioned Southern twang. My mother grew up with her as did my brothers and me. While we loved everything about Willie Mae, we especially loved her cooking. She cooked in the old Southern tradition of stewing and slow-cooking nearly everything from baked beans to baby back ribs. Even her apple pie was more of a heavenly applesauce spread in between two layers of flaky pie crust. The only thing that didn't really work were her chocolate chip cookies since they were also cooked forever and therefore hard as rocks.

The other day, as I was trying to figure out what to do with a big bunch of kale from my CSA, Willie Mae sprang to my mind and I wondered why she'd never made kale for us. Kale is after all a big hearty Southern green used in all kinds of braises and stews. Plus, kale is full of vitamins A, K and C and it's also an amazing source of manganese, calcium and fiber.

However, if Willie Mae ever did cook kale, I imagine she prepared it the same way she did her slow-cooked green beans, which she simmered all day in a hunk of bacon. I decided to follow her lead with a couple slices of bacon, a little chicken stock and even some cannellini beans for an Italian flare. To save our hearts and my sanity, I poured out the rendered bacon fat and only simmered it for 15-20 minutes. The results have permanently turned my husband and I from wishy-washy on the kale front to actively buying it every time we see it at the market. It's that good and so easy to prepare. Baby girl loves it too, picking out the beans first, then the bacon and finally the kale. It's a great dish for picky veggie-eaters since it's soft and tastes mildly of bacon. What's not to love?

Simmered Kale with Bacon and White Beans
(If you're tired, a large bowl of this with some crusty bread would make a fine meal.)

What You'll Need:
2-3 strips of bacon cut into bite-sized pieces (go for the pasture-fed pork if you can - I got mine from my local market, but I also recommend Niman Ranch bacon)
1 large bunch of kale chopped
1-2 cups chicken stock
2 15 oz. cans of cannellini beans rinsed

Place a large pot over a medium-high heat and cook the bacon until much of the fat is rendered, but before it gets crispy. Pour off the fat and add the kale. Toss with tongs until the kale is wilted. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Then add the beans, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

*This can be made with just about any leafy green. This past week I used a mixture of dandelion and swiss chard. And, a good friend used turnip greens in his version and chicken sausage - the possibilities are endless.

*Sorry there is no picture this week because I was super silly and deleted it!! I have kale in the fridge so stay tuned for an update to this post with a picture of the real delicious deal.

* One more thing, my title isn't a mistake. I meant it as hale as in hale and hearty kale, but used it like hail as in hail to the king. My husband insisted I post an explanation as he's a crazy meanings obsessed lawyer.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $7.00
• Leftovers – Expect 7-8 side servings and about 4 meal servings.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Much Ado About Chutney

Just a quick one here, but I've been receiving numerous questions about what to do with the chutney left over from Monday's virtual dinner party. I too asked myself the same question since the paneer cheese ran out way before the chutney did. Here are a couple ideas for what to do with any leftover Apricot-Orange Chutney. To read the original post, click here: A Potluck of Spice & Everything Nice.

Option 1: Tuesday night rolled around and we still had a good two cups of chutney in the fridge. I also had a head of bok choy, about a cup of snow peas, a garlic scape and a bunch of scallions all from our CSA. My husband suggested a stir fry, but I took it one step further and here's how: Place a large frying pan over a high heat and add a quarter cup of chutney and a splash of chicken stock. Bring it to a boil and add the bok choy, chopped, and the snow peas. Saute for about 3 minutes and then add the garlic scapes and scallions, all chopped, to the pan. Cook for just a couple more minutes and serve over brown rice. It was amazing!

Option 2: On wednesday night, I turned on the oven to 400, salt and peppered two pork chops, smothered them in chutney and popped them in the oven for about 15 minutes. The result was caramelized and juicy goodness.

Option 3: Finally, for a snack yesterday, I took some triscuit-type organic crackers, topped them with ricotta cheese and a dab of chutney. Such easy perfection.

There you go, three totally different things to do with all that chutney. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Easy Peasy Strawberry Jam

For the last month, baby girl and I have been eating up strawberries like we'll never see them again. Every week, as we approach the market stands, baby girl screams, "sawberry!" and "teese!" her two favorite market finds being strawberries and cheese. Alas, strawberry season is nearly over. We might get another week or maybe two, but once the heat sets in, we won't be seeing them 'till next year. Sure, I can get strawberries at the supermarket nearly year-round, but those are hard sour white things rather than the sweet, juicy red berries that are so delicate and fleeting, you must eat them or cook them within 48 hours before old age sets in and spoils them.

So, this past Friday I decided to try my hand at strawberry jam. In the morning, baby girl and I sauntered over to the Bradley Farm stand for some of their organic strawberries. Baby girl kept saying, "mah! Mah!" as Ray's wonderful partner handed her berry after berry and, somehow inspired, I kept seconding baby girl saying, "more! More!" each time Ray filled a pint of strawberries. Luckily, I stopped at 8 pints. It was getting sort of embarrassing.

That night, after we tucked baby girl into bed, the husband (who I must say has been really getting into this whole slowfood thing) and I perused the Internet and our cookbooks for jam recipes. While there are many to choose from, we decided to go with the KISS method that I so hated at Citigroup: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Oh yes and we did just that, stupid. There are only three ingredients and one basic step to making this jam. It's that easy

The end result was a not a sugary sweet, but a strawberry sweet pot of the most flavorful jam I've tasted in quite some time. Not content to wait 'till morning, the husband and I made some toast and heaped criminally huge helpings of jam on top. The next morning, baby girl was all over it too saying, "mah! Mah!"

Icebox Strawberry Jam
(To get an unearthly strawberry flavor, you must use fresh local strawberries. Those shipped from thousands of miles away simply won't cut it here.)

What You'll Need:
10 cups fresh market strawberries cut into small chunks
2 cups of sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Wash and cut the strawberries in half or into small chunks. Toss them into a stockpot and add the sugar and the lemon juice. (If you don't have 10 cups of strawberries or if you have more, just remember the ratio of sugar to strawberries is 1:5.) Mash the berries, sugar and lemon juice together, turn on the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer at a low boil for about 30 minutes or until the jam passes the cold plate test, which is plopping a helping of jam on a cold plate. If the jam holds its shape, it's ready. If not, It probably needs a bit more time.

While the jam is simmering, plunk whatever jars and lids you're using into a vat of boiling water to sterilize them. Keep in mind, I didn't take all of the steps necessary to store this jam in my pantry. Therefore, this is icebox jam an really should be eaten within a couple weeks of making. You won't have any problem polishing it off.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $20.00
• Leftovers – Expect 3 full jars of jam. We ended up giving two jars away and keeping the rest for ourselves. One jar lasted two weeks to the day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Potluck of Spice & Everything Nice

Today, more than 25 foodbloggers are gathering at Monica Bhide's blog, A Life of Spice, where we're testing recipes from Monica's latest (and quite possibly her greatest) cookbook, Modern Spice and bringing them to the first ever (or so we believe) virtual potluck dinner. I'm bringing hors d'oeuvres!

Monica asked me to test, taste and bring her Paneer with Apricot-Orange Chutney. I'm always looking for cocktail or dinner party treats, especially deceptively easy dishes like this one that make your friends think you killed yourself in the kitchen. I mean, homemade Paneer cheese? Seriously, who knew you could whip that up in 20 minutes! When sauteed lightly in a little vegetable oil and topped with this sweet-tart chutney, it's just about the most refreshing hors d'oeuvre I've ever had. On Friday, we hosted an impromptu get-together to find out what my friends thought about the newest, and I daresay permanent, addition to my recipe box. They liked Monica's dish so much that after a couple sips of wine and usual 'oh no, you go aheads,' all politeness flew out the window as they edged in for seconds, thirds, fourths and so on until the last bite was gone.

Try it yourself and see what other recipes are being shared today at A Life of Spice.

Paneer with Orange-Apricot Chutney
(From Monica Bhide's new and fabulous cookbook, Modern Spice)

What you'll need:

  • 1 14 oz. piece of paneer cheese
Paneer Ingredients (If you want to make it yourself):
  • 1 gallon of whole milk
  • The juice of 4 lemons
  • A piece of cheese cloth
Chutney Ingredients:
  • 1 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh diced apricots (or mango if you can't find ripe apricots)
  • 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
  • 1 small green serrano chile
  • 2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp red chile powder or red pepper flakes
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 c. chopped dates
  • Salt to taste
For the Paneer:
Pour the entire gallon of milk into a large stockpot and set over a medium-high heat. Stir frequently to avoid scalding and bring the milk to just under a boil. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat. Watch as the milk curdles and the curds separate from the whey.

Drape a cheese cloth over a large bowl, large enough to catch both the curds and the whey, and pour the pot contents through the cloth straining the whey and separating the curds. Pull out the cloth with the curds inside and press out as much of the whey as you can. Fold the cloth tightly around the curds and place in a very shallow dish. Set as much weight as you can on top (I used a frying pan with two bags of rice on top) and put in the fridge to cool and set.

*You can throw the whey out. Briefly, I excitedly thought I could make ricotta cheese, which is traditionally made from boiling down whey leftover from cheesemaking. However, it can't be made from acid-activated whey.

For the Chutney:
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pot over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. Cook for just a few seconds (be careful not to let them burn) and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir and bring up to a boil. Turn down the heat to a vigorous simmer and cook uncovered until the chutney has thickened and the apricots are mostly dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste.

To Serve:
The beauty of this dish is you can make the chutney and the paneer a day or two in advance and then, just before guests come over, put it all together. When you're ready, cut the paneer into 1 inch cubes and set aside. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Once the oil starts to shimmer, toss in the paneer cubes and brown on all sides. The cheese browns very quickly so keep an eye on it.

Drain the paneer cubes on a plate covered in a couple of paper towels then move the cubes to a nice platter. Top each cube with a teaspoon or so of chutney and set a container of pretty toothpicks alongside for easy eating.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $18.00
• Leftovers – Expect 10 servings of about 4 pieces per person at $1.80 per guest!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Freezer Favorite: Kofte Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

While most people think my surname is French, (and sometimes they even assume I am heiress to the Beaujolais wine fortune - I wish!) it's actually an old Christian Lebanese name. Before there was Lebanon, it was Phoenician. We were seafarers and incredible salespeople according to my father. I believe it since he could've convinced you to buy the hair on your head.

Unfortunately, due to my great-grandfather's immediate assimilation and marriage to a nice English girl from Ohio, the only Arabic thing about me is my last name. That and my extreme penchant for all Lebanese food, which is generally very healthy, comprised of lots of vegetables and whole grains with a little meat thrown in here and there. The flavors are very clean and tend to be more tart and less sweet than many of their Arabic counterparts.

As a people, the Lebanese are natural entertainers and cook in such a way that things are easily put together and always at the ready. This philosophy suits my life perfectly as baby girl doesn't always love it when Mommy is slaving in the kitchen and there are many nights when I'm dead tired. When that happens, I open up my trusty freezer and pull out ready-to-cook kofte meatballs and a tupperware of homemade ready-to-heat Lebanese tomato sauce. I make huge batches of kofte and tomato sauce a few times a year, freeze them separately and then I'm set. Paired with whole wheat cous cous, it takes just twenty minutes to put together. Oh, what a hostess I would be in the old country.

Lamb Kofte with Tomato Sauce and Whole Wheat Cous Cous
(This dish is inspired by the traditional Kofte and tomato sauce recipes which include fresh lemon juice and a Lebanese spice mixture aptly named Mixed Spice. While you can find it at specialty stores, it's just as easy to make yourself and have on hand for this dish or for sprinkling on meats, in eggs or any dish you think needs a lil' somethin' somethin')

Mixed Spice: Add equal parts of ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger and nutmeg to a clean spice jar. Shake it all about and set aside.

Place a frying pan over a medium high heat. Add a generous splash of olive oil and three to four medium onions, chopped. Cook until translucent and tender. Set aside to cool.

For the Kofte: If you're looking to have plenty to freeze as I do, put 4 pounds of fresh ground lamb in a big mixing bowl. Add half of the onions to the bowl, a cup of dried currents, two eggs, two heaping teaspoons of Mixed Spice, two teaspoons of salt, a cup of parsley and a few dashes of fenugreek leaves (Optional). Mix it all around until the ingredients are well incorporated. To mold the meatballs, scoop out a medium handful of the lamb mixture and roll gently between your hands, then mold the top like a bullet and make an indentation on the bottom.

For the Tomato Sauce: Place a pot over a medium high heat and add 4lbs of canned tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes), two to four teaspoons of Mixed Spice, two to four teaspoons of salt, the juice of one to two lemons and the rest of the onion. (While I like it tart and aromatic, taste before you go all the way with the lemons and Mixed Spice.) Stir and bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes.

In a small pot bring two cups of chicken broth to a boil, add half a cup of currents and a cup of cous cous. Stir it around, cover, turn off the heat and let sit until the cous cous has absorbed the broth.

Bring the previously onion filled and now empty frying pan back up to a medium high heat, add a splash of olive oil and two kofte meatballs per person. Cook until medium rare in the middle.

To serve, place a helping of cous cous in a bowl, top with two kofte meatballs and smother with tomato sauce. I also like adding a little yogurt to mine for a creamy texture.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $30.00
• Leftovers – Expect 18 servings at $1.66 each!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garlic Scapes

During my childhood, Northern Virginia wasn't the food destination it's now become. Sure, there were lots of restaurants, but the DC area in general was basically a joke when it came to fine cuisine. My father, however, was a foodie through and through before foodie was even a term. Between meetings on "the Hill" and poker games at the Pentagon, he scoured the tri-state area (MD/VA/DC) for tasty food. While there were many awful meals, he often hit paydirt and when he did, he always enthusiastically brought me, my mother and my three brothers to partake in his discovery.

Perhaps the best find of all time occurred when I was about five years old. My father took us to the Peking Gourmet, which, to this day, remains my favorite Chinese restaurant ever. Even after devouring the nooks and crannies of Manhattan's Chinatown, the Peking Gourmet reigns supreme in my heart. Beside the obvious Peking Duck, my other must eat dish at the Peking Gourmet is a unique, but very simple dish called Shrimp with Garlic Sprouts. The restaurant has its own farm out in the countryside where they grow the garlic sprouts just for this dish. Think delicately cooked shrimp sauteed with garlic flavored sprouts. Yum. Yum.

Well, I have yet to find garlic sprouts anywhere, but on Friday I wrote about scoring garlic scapes from my favorite bearded farmers. Garlic scapes are to garlic what scallions are to onions: mild and delicate. Ray Bradley of Bradley Farm in New Paltz, NY suggested I saute them in olive oil and that's when I said, Eureka! These garlic scapes would be my stand in for garlic sprouts and I rushed baby girl home to help me recreate my favorite Chinese dish. Only one thing saddens me: garlic scapes aren't available year-round.

Garlic Scapes with Shrimp and Brown Rice
(One of my readers commented last week that I should look into Slowfood Chinese cuisine. Dear reader, here is what I have for you: a simple, delicious and complete meal that tastes strangely authentic.)

45 minutes to an hour before you want to eat, pour two cups of chicken broth and one cup of brown rice into a small pot. Put it over a high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down the heat so that the rice is gently simmering.

15 minutes before the rice is ready, (Or even after it's done. I find rice doesn't mind sitting and plumping up. Just be sure to turn off the heat and keep it covered.) wash about four handfuls of garlic scapes (They are like long wriggly snakes so just dig in there and grab on.) and chop them roughly, leaving some bits long and curly for effect. Set the scapes aside.

Set a pan over a high heat and pour in two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle about a half pound of shelled and deveined shrimp (I used extra large shrimp) with salt and pepper and place evenly in the pan. Squeeze half a lemon over the shrimp. After a minute or two, flip the shrimp and cook on the other side. Remember, shrimp cooks quickly and needs to be just pink. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.

Throw the chopped up scapes into the shrimp pan and saute for about three to four minutes. Then throw in the shrimp and saute together for another four to five minutes or until the scapes are al dente. Don't overcook them as they tend to lose their garlicy goodness.

To serve, spoon the rice onto a platter and heap the scape and shrimp mixture on top. So simple. While I'm not one for heat, my husband enjoyed it with a little Chili Garlic Sauce by Tuong Ot Toi Viet Nam.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $21.00
• W/o Wine - $9.00
• Leftovers – We ate this for two nights so expect four servings at $2.25 each. Not bad!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Farmers' Market Finds - June 5th

It is pouring yet again, but I have to admit I am a rainy day kinda gal. I love any excuse to wear rain boots, tuck baby girl into her stroller, strap on the rain guard and take off. Rain means Manhattan enters into a dreamy state akin to sleeping in on the weekend. Most people don't leave their homes, instead choosing to wait for the weather to clear. I love taking advantage of those times where baby girl and I own the streets and don't have to fight for our place on the sidewalk. So, today, we, along with our neighbor and her baby girl, walked leisurely to the farmers' market while the cold rain pounded down on us. Just like last week, the market was alive and well with people like us who don't mind a little rain in their hair.

The most exciting find this week was garlic scapes! They are the green stems that come straight out of the ground when garlic is flowering. Scapes have a mild, almost delicate, garlic flavor. I've never cooked with them before, but Ray Bradley of Bradley Farm and former sous chef for David Bouley, says to saute them briefly in a little olive oil or butter with some salt and pepper. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I'll post more on my adventures with garlic scapes next week!

The market was also alive with strawberries. I'm visiting my in laws tomorrow so I made a bit of a joke out of myself, buying one container from Bradley Farm and then returning for four more! One measly pint of sweet, luscious berries for 8 adults and 3 children? Baby girl eats one pint herself if she can get away with it.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gnocchi, Gah-nocky

"What's gah-nocky?" Yes, that's what I said out loud at a restaurant in Manhattan while my three friends of Italian descent snickered at and teased me. It's OK. They're my girls and I can't tell you how many times I've snickered at and teased them. That's what we do and when we go overboard, we fight. I don't normally fight with friends, but there's something about living with a group of girls for four years in college that brings out the sister in you even if you never had any and I never had any. I'm the girl in a family of boys.

The gah-nocky incident occurred twelve years ago when I was just a semi-worldy mafia obsessed college freshman. And when I say mafia obsessed, I mean I dragged my high school best friend to Sicily in search of the real godfather. Yeah, I had some kind of influence then, right? Wish I could be so inspiring nowadays. Sure, now I realize the mafia isn't cool, but I'll watch The Godfather any day...

You might recall this past Friday I picked up thyme and sage at the farmer's market and I sent out an SOS to you all looking for ideas on what to do with it. Of course, one of my college ladies came through and suggested I try this amazing Mark Bittman recipe of brown butter, sage and bread crumbs to go over pasta. Little did she know I had also picked up a package of homemade ricotta gnocchi so I decided to try it out. Yummy! Seriously wonderful. Baby girl was asleep when the husband and I devoured the entire thing, brown butter, crispy sage, bread crumbs and all. Thanks, S!

After dinner, my husband and I were chatting about how this little package of gnocchi was so tasty (and pricey), but I couldn't very well write about someone else's gnocchi. I needed to make it myself. So, the next day I invested in a food mill (I'm planning on making jam this summer too!), thumbed through Mario Batali's Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home and got the general idea for making gnocchi. Then, like I do most weekend afternoons, I sent baby girl and my husband off to the playground while I got down to bidness. Everything was going smoothly until I decided to not peel the potatoes. I thought the ricer would take care of it. Nope. It took forever and majorly aggravated my carpal tunnel. Worst of all, the potatoes turned into a gummy mess from my continuous spinning of the mill and attempts to force the potato through the skin-bit riddled holes. By the time my husband and baby girl got home, I was hot, sweaty and angry.

So, I had to start over and I must pat myself on the back. They turned out lovely. I made a few additions to Mr. Bittman's brown butter sauce including tomatoes and pea shoots, which I settled on since sweet peas aren't in season yet. And, even though the bread crumbs were amazing, I nixed them because my husband and I wanted to get a true feeling for the gnocchi's texture: they were smooth, light and just a little chewy. What's more, I made a huge batch and was able to freeze most of the dough for hectic nights.

Whole Wheat & Potato Gnocchi Studded with Chives and Sauced With Browned Butter, Sage, Tomatoes & Pea Shoots
(Are my titles too long? Perhaps, but I feel I need to include every last bit to give you the idea. This recipe was inspired by a combination of Mario Batali's basic gnocchi recipe and my momnesiac memory so it's a true team effort.)

Steam three pounds of russet potatoes until a knife or fork goes in and comes out easily. Then, peel the potatoes and run them through a ricer, food mill or something that has spaghetti sized holes. Dump the riced potatoes in a large bowl and add about 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 eggs, a teaspoon of salt and lots of fresh chopped chive. I also added their purple flowers and the effect was lovely green and purple studded gnocchi. Mix together with a wooden spoon, spatula or your hands until thoroughly combined. Then turn out the dough onto a floured surface.

The dough is a bit sticky so keep a little bowl of flour on hand. Roll out pieces of the dough into thin snakes - about .5 to .75 inches thick. Then take a knife and cut inch long pieces off the snake. Take a fork and roll the gnocchi on it to make little indentations. My husband wondered why this is necessary and I told him it's to hold onto the yummy sauce. 'Nough said.

Once the gnocchi is fork-tined, it's ready to cook. Now, unless you're cooking for twenty people, you'll have loads of gnocchi ready to freeze. Reserve the amount you need for dinner and then place the rest in rows on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze them for about 20 minutes. Once they're frozen through put the gnocchi in a plastic freezer bag and then into the freezer for another time.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in the gnocchi, wait for the water to come back to a strong boil and cook it for one minute. Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat and throw in a big old pat of butter. Watch it carefully. Immediately, when the butter turns a dark, nutty brown (not black!), toss in a couple handfuls of chopped cherry tomatoes, lots of sage and sage flowers if you have them. With a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the pan and saute them in the tomato and sage mixture. Add in some fresh pea shoots and toss just a little. Add a pinch of salt and serve. Ain't it pretty?

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $24.00
• W/o Wine - $12.00
• Leftovers – OMG, there are at least 10 more servings in the freezer, which comes to $.92 per meal. Talk about recession gourmet!

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

CSA Expansion

In two weeks my CSA starts its Tuesday deliveries and I just found out I can also special order meats, cheeses, milk, jams, breads, pickles etc from other farms in the area. Gosh, CSAs have come a long way from the early days when a single box of veggies was amazing.

Also, I just got word that I can expect to fill 4 shopping bags with veggies and fruits each week. Aye yai yai. I'm going to need some serious recipe advice and I'm definitely going to get into canning this year. Get ready for pickle and jam recipes! What great Christmas and Hannukah gifts they'll make!

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