Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ruminations on a Fall Day

I took advantage of a beautiful break in the weather to put the bees to bed. As it was such a long dry fall with little nectar available, we decided in September to give them some feed so they had enough stores to last through winter.

Our feed consists of 2:1 sugar water that is poured into top feeders where the bees can access it as they desire.Three hives took everything we gave them and two left quite a bit.

Today putting them to bed meant I removed the last of the top feeders and took a quick look at the girls. I didn't open the hive as it was a cool day and I didn't want to let too much heat out.We shall see in the spring if they all had enough to survive the cold.

Neat Fact: Bees will maintain an internal hive temperature of 34 degrees Celsius (that's 94 degrees Farenheit!) no matter if it is 40 above or 40 below). Needless to say, keeping the hive that warm in winter requires a lot of caloric burn.

It was a truly glorious fall day and while I was removing the feeders a few bees flew around me checking me out. They quickly circled my head then went back inside. Too cold out to stay long. Bees really only like coming out of the hive if it is above about 12-15 degrees Celsius so at 11 degrees they were pushing it. The picture above is from earlier in the year and the dark orange "leg warmers" the bees seem to be wearing is plant pollen that has stuck to the bees while they were gorging on nectar.

Getting back home, I was also cooled by the northern push of the air. Perfect kind of day for a long slow roasting meal so I decided on braised lamb shanks

Improvising with what I had, here is the recipe I used (the amounts are guesstimates so use your good judgement):

2 Lamb shanks
1/4c flour
2 tsp paprika powder (grown and dried by my good friend Marilyn -- from whom I also got the lamb!!)
freshly ground pepper
1 onion sliced
2tbsp minced garlic (about 2-3 toes -- I like garlic!)
1tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
tbsp italian seasoning
splash or two of Maggi
1/2c good red wine (I used a 2006 Manoustakis Nostos from Greece that my son, who works for a wine merchant, gave us-- I figured the Greeks have masterful lamb cuisine so greek wine should help me )
1c dried mushrooms (mine were a combination of white button and chanterelle that I had previously dried -- but you can also use fresh)
1c boiling water (poured over the mushrooms and saved)

Mix the flour, pepper, paprika in a dish. Coat the lamb shank with the flour mix. Using a heavy enamel-coated dutch oven, heat the olive oil and then brown the shanks in it. I did mine one at a time to make sure I got them each nice and brown. Remove the shanks and add the butter to the dutch oven. Add onions and stir til translucent then add garlic. This mixture should pick up all the brown bits created by lamb shanks.

Put lamb shanks back into pot. Pour in red wine, mushrooms and the water used to soak them, spice, Maggi and the salt. Another nice addition to this dish would have been tomato sauce -- which I had fully intended on putting in but forgot.

With the heavy lid on, put the dutch oven into a 300degree oven and leave for 2.5-3 hours. Serve with barley risotto, or rice, or boiled potatoes -- whatever strikes your fancy and some roasted root vegetables.  Will warm you up on any Fall day.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

The crust's the thing.....

It is a Thanksgiving tradition in my family as in many many others.....the homemade pumpkin pie. And as much as the rich, pudding quality of the spicy pumpkin mash is the star, the best supporting actor is the crust.

But it seems that crust can be an intimidating creation. It is crust that sends new cooks scurrying for the supermarket freezer aisle. It is crust that debates shortening or lard. And the camps don't seem in a hurry to declare a truce.

Shortening gained favour during the "all fat is bad for you" era and lard, being the rendered fat of pigs, was so declasse. However, shortening has its shortcomings. It melts quickly. And it is fussy. Work it too much and you get a tough, nearly inedible sheet of cardboard. Growing up, this trouble with shortening even made the small screen. I remember a commercial with a woman with a strong accent (French, I believe) saying when you use shortening, you get a "short" crust, which I believe means a crust that is finicky, demands as little working as necessary to get it combined. Crust made with shortening is a diva.

Now my Auntie Doreen could not abide a diva crust. She was more of a wham, bam cook and if the ingredients couldn't take it, she fired them to bring in the understudy. So in our family, we used lard.  Lard is generous, forgiving even. This pie crust recipe, handed down to me from Doreen through my mom, can stand a good mixing, either in the KitchenAid or by hand. It is a true supporting cast member, always letting the star shine while quietly holding up the scene. It sits happily in the refrigerator (sometimes as long as a couple months) just waiting to fill in in a moment of need.

It is neither sweet nor savory in itself so dessert or dinner pies are equally embraced. Once warmed a bit from its stasis in the fridge, it rolls out easily and allows even the thinnest of sheets to be used.

So to thank my Aunt, who was a force of nature in herself, I am sharing her crust recipe. Don't fret about the lard. It is a natural, earthy ingredient that requires very little in the way of processing to get it to a useable state. You can do it at home -- and if  you look through my blogs, you will see how easy and cheap it is. I doubt that shortening can say any of that. 


5 c flour                       2 tbsp white vinegar
1tsp salt                       2/3 c water
3 tbsp br. sugar            1 egg
1 lb. lard

Mix flour, salt, brown sugar and lard. Add vinegar to the water then beat in the egg. Add liquid mix to the dry mix and combine until it forms a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate at least overnight before use. Should last 2 weeks in fridge but I have had it there over a month.

Makes six double crust pies or countless tarts.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.