Caponata – Queen of Condiments

Caponata that's been canned and processed in a pressure canner.

Caponata that’s been canned and processed in a pressure canner.

There’s that magical moment during the gardening season when the eggplants, onions, celery, peppers and tomatoes are ready for harvesting all at the same time and that’s the time to make Caponata, the exquisite Sicilian concoction that enlivens the palate with the rich flavors of late summer vegetables and the ‘agrodolce’ sparkle of vinegar, olives, capers and herbs.  Most of the ingredients come from my garden, however, this queen of condiments cannot be prepared without copious amounts of good olive oil, and, of course, the capers and olives. The real skill here is time, lots and lots of time. The dice of the eggplant must be  1/2″ to 3/4″. The eggplant must be salted and left to weep its water content for a few hours, and then wrung tightly in a towel to squeeze out every last drop of moisture. (It’s best to have two people do this), and when it’s fried, it must be evenly brown. Not burnt, not just golden, but BROWN.  The celery and peppers ( not all recipes include peppers) must be fried till they are almost brown. The onions must be brown, not golden, not wilted, BROWN. The tomatoes must be peeled and rid of their seeds. The whole process takes many hours, 6 at the minimum. The olive oil must be top quality, the capers and olives as well. The vinegar, well,  after all this work, why not use a good quality balsamic vinegar? I hedge my bets, using our own apple cider vinegar to ensure adequate acid when preparing the tomato sauce component, and then finish it off with a large dose of rich balsamic vinegar for flavor and color. Salt? A dear friend brought back some wonderful Sel de Guerantes which adds another layer of richness, but any old salt will do (you might not even need it since the eggplant’s been salted).

We preserve our Caponata by processing it in a pressure canner (25 minutes at 5 lbs. pressure), as this is really the only guaranteed safe way to preserve it.  (You could try the boiling water bath method but this is not recommended. If you decide to risk this, I suggest you double the amount of vinegar to ensure a higher acidity level).

Recipe. I follow the late Leslie Land’s recipe, which I’ve linked below. I alter the recipe somewhat by adding a dash of cinnamon, green bell peppers and sometimes raisins.

http://leslieland.com/2008/09/choosing-good-eggplants-and-making-them-into-caponata-the-ultimate-vegetable-preserve/

If you try making this let me know how it turns out. Cheers.

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Pizza Pop-Up Dinners at Stonewell Farm – Sept. 16th, 17th & 18th, 2016

Three Pop-Up Dinner Events at Stonewell Farm in Killingworth, Connecticut

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This just might be the highlight of the season as we head into Fall.  Chef Paul Barron and Weekend Kitchen team up with Stonewell Farm to host 3 evenings of farm-to-table dining that make for a memorable event. Gather some friends and enjoy delicious food featuring artisanal pizzas prepared in Stonewell Farm’s wood-fired oven, with wine pairings, and live acoustic guitar in a setting that will take your breath away. Your hosts, Andrew Pighills and Michelle Becker are award-winning garden designers and  will provide tours of the extensive gardens including perennial borders, an espaliered orchard and the organic kitchen and herb gardens from which much of your meal will be sourced.

Dates:

Friday, September 16th 2016,               6:00 pm

Saturday, September 17th, 2016          5:30 pm

Sunday, September 18th, 2016             5:30 pm

Cost:

$75.00 per person

The prix-fixe menu includes appetizers, organic salad from Stonewell Farm, unlimited artisanal wood-fired pizzas highlighting locally sourced ingredients with a glass of wine accompaniment, and a dessert made with local, seasonal fruits. To cap it off, the evening will conclude with a bonfire in the stone firepit (so bring your best ghost stories).

Guests are encouraged to BYOB.

Reservations:

To book a reservation, contact:

9/16, 17 &18 Wood fired Pizza Pop-Up Dinner with Chef Paul Barron

 

 

How to Build a Stone Wall

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

If you live in a place where there are a lot of stone walls you’ve probably admired them. Dry stone walls are timeless, classic, and stand as testimonies to historic and cultural traditions that have been usurped by strip malls and housing developments that hollow us of a sense of place and belonging.   Perhaps you’ve thought about having some built on your property, or, if you have stone at your place, you’ve thought of building some yourself. If you’d like to know more about the history ,the dynamics and details of constructing dry stone walls, that is, walls without mortar, you couldn’t do better than to sign on for a workshop with Andrew Pighills.

Andrew will be teaching a week-end long, dry stone wall building workshop on Saturday and Sunday, April 28th and 29th at Stonewell Farm in Killingworth, Connecticut. For more information please contact me at: mb@mbeckerco.com and I will send you registration materials.

Wall Building Workshop; more Rock Stars

 

A new wave of rock stars
A new wave of rock stars

This past weekend we hosted another successful dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm. The weather was perfect and the attendees were an amazing bunch. I’ve posted a photo album on the progress of the wall on Flickr. Here’s the link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stonewell_farm/sets/72157652366188335/

Below is the final shot of the tired Rock Stars at the end of the day, before we cracked open a few well-deserved beers. Well done!

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

The end of the final day of the workshop. Phew!

 

Tunic #1: Linnet Dress Pattern #99

The pattern was altered to tunic length.

The pattern was altered to tunic length.

picture of linen tunic sewn with a Linnet Sewing pattern

Detail of inverted front pleats at waistline.

Here is the completed garment, using Linnet Dress pattern No. 99, adapted to a tunic length. For such a seemingly simple garment, there’s been quite a learning curve, taking three times longer than I’d expected it to. (And I thought I’d be whipping these things out at a rate of one a day, passing the snowy, winter days, populating my wardrobe with a dozen lovely, well-made, linen tunics in gorgeous colors all hand-dyed by me, and in time to host garden parties this summer). Uhhhh. Time to re-think that one and set more modest goals, I suppose.

I’ve learned a lot from making this garment, and have a much greater respect for even poorly made garments, like this one, for instance.

I altered the pattern somewhat, eliminating the original shawl collar, which ended up looking rather matronly, and shortened the whole thing to tunic length. The next one I make will be for fall and winter, and the plan is to line it for extra warmth and opacity.

We’ll see how that goes. YouTube tutors seem to make entire garments come together, perfectly and professionally in 7.28 minutes, so…….anything is possible..

Japanese Sewing Patterns-Part II

Linnet sewing pattern fresh out of the airmail envelope.

Linnet sewing pattern fresh out of the airmail envelope.

Hmmm. Operation Japanese Sewing patterns isn’t going as swimmingly as I’d expected. Out of the envelope, what I loved about the uncluttered, clean, minimalist patterns has become a baneful sewing adventure. All that previously admired open space means there’s very little information to guide one in the construction/assembly process; no notches for matching seams, no markings for tailor tacks, no seam allowances.  Very minimal, indeed. I guess the Linnet people expect a more practiced sewist to be using their patterns. The written instructions that accompany the patterns are, at first glance, thorough enough, until you actually try following them. They’ve made a good effort but there’s just not enough direction for a beginning sewist, despite the simplicity of the garment silhouettes themselves.

Sigh. Well, on the bright side of things, I’m glad I’m not using wildly expensive or irreplaceable fabric, and, although I hadn’t really planned on any hand sewing, there is some of that involved, and thanks to YouTube and some generous and skillful tailors-sharers, I’m learning some great hand sewing techniques that I’d never known about.  I’m also keeping careful notes on the difficulties I encounter and how I’m resolving them so that I don’t have to tread this thorny path again. Lesson #1: Don’t try to adapt our measurement system of inches to metric. Just use the metric system. ( Weren’t we Americans supposed to have converted to the metric system sometime in the seventies of the last century? What happened with that perfectly reasonable idea?)

I’ve started this project with an off-white linen, and sewing linen is somewhat more challenging than the more tightly woven cotton fabrics. The next garment will be a cotton print. But while I’m on the subject, let me say something more about the garment I’m working on; Linnet Dress/Tunic #99. The good news is that there’s very little discernible difference between the ‘right-side’ and the ‘wrong-side’ of the off-white linen fabric that I’m using. That also happens to be the bad news as well. Lacking tailor’s marks or notches, it’s hard to tell what goes where and how in the construction. I’ve taken to sticking blue tape onto the fabric patterns pieces and writing RS (Right Side) and WS (Wrong Side) to keep myself sane-ish.

The first garment ought to be completed by tomorrow, and I’ll post the results here.

 

You Need a Garden Journal.

My preferred garden journal.

My preferred garden journal.

Anyone with a garden needs a garden journal. Why? Indulge me while I enumerate a few examples, in a Q & A format, of cocktail hour, garden observations that pose questions and present critical-ish thinking.

Questions/Observations:

  1. Hmm. I thought I’d put some peonies here but all I see is a huge catmint. How Odd.
  2. Geez, where did all these ugly orange daylilies come from?
  3. Wow, that catmint is *&^% huge. I must remember to divide it next year.
  4. I think that’s a weed but I’ll wait till it flowers to be sure.
  5. How great! These annuals that I put into this empty spot are glorious! I must remember that this space is reserved for iris divisions in the spring.
  6. This iris really needs to be divided. I wonder what color it is.
  7. Oh. That poor rose is really struggling there, getting swamped by the……………….I must remember to move it in the fall.

Answers/Observations:

  1. You DID put some peonies there. Three of them, fragrant ones, special ones, expensive ones, in early spring, when the ground was quite bare and there was no suggestion that the catmint would become Master of the Universe. You don’t remember? Hmmm.  Catmint is cheap; peonies aren’t. Fix this!
  2. Satan sent them.  Mark them with a 666 label, and move them to the Beelzebub Garden/Compost Pile in late fall or early spring.
  3. All the catmints will be HUGE, no matter where you put them. Lovely, yes, and the bees adore them. Commit to them. Treat them as the giant plants they will become, but not where they will shade out the other lovelies.
  4. It flowered. It’s a weed that’s now gone to seed, spreading its progeny throughout the garden. Next spring there will be a hundred of them. If you were clever enough to make a note of its leaf shape, you might have saved yourself a few hours of weeding next year.
  5. Oh sure! You’ll never remember that, and come next spring, you’ll be looking for locations for iris divisions and you’ll have long forgotten about this spot.
  6. Photos will answer that question. If you’d photographed the gardens you wouldn’t be perpetuating this hugely irritating,’ hit or miss’ garden design approach, which, by the way, you would never in a million years, permit for your clients!
  7. But, you won’t. Not without a garden journal ‘To-Do’ List, entitled Fall 2014. When fall begins to roll around, which is right around the corner, you’ll be busy harvesting winter squash and leeks, chopping and splitting wood, moving tender plants into the greenhouse, bringing in firewood, lifting dahlia tubers, cleaning out the henhouse,…forget it.

And this is why I recommend keeping a Garden Journal. I’m a Luddite, so I like to use one that I purchase from Lee Valley, which has a perpetual calender and allows for an index/table of contents to reference the numbered pages. Here, I can make journal entries with their correlative page numbers, which makes referencing information very simple. Of course you could use an electronic device to do this, and there’s probably even an app for garden journaling. The main objective here is to take control of your landscape and gardens, as much as one can do such a thing, so as to avoid disappointment next season. A Garden Journal is a wondrous thing! Over the years, when  questions arise over how things were performing in the garden in the past, I simply scroll through the entries and discover the answers. It’s great fun and hugely useful and enlightening! Gardeners!!!!  Get a garden journal going, if you don’t already have one, and you’ll be gratified to learn what you have control over and what you don’t. It’s a great thing to have.

Pesto

Pesto has always been a mainstay here. We process and freeze gallons of basil pesto in August.  When the frigid Persephone months of December, January, March, February arrive, we are warmed with woodfires and our dinners are perfumed with the promise of a future summer with abundant servings of linguine with pesto, washed down with Cotes du Rhone. Alas, Andrew’s diabetes diagnosis changes this, and we look for meals in which we can substitute the pasta. Not so hard, as it turns out. Pesto omelettes are delicious. Pesto mixed with greek yoghurt makes a nice sauce to braise chicken breasts in. Basmati rice is more diabetes friendly than brown rice (believe it or not), and so fried basmati rice with pesto and scrambled eggs makes a nice entree. Pesto, as a spread or dip, in lieu of mayonaisse, makes even a cucumber sandwich delicious. Similarly, pesto mixed with no-fat yoghurt, easily becomes the mortar for chicken salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, even egg salad.

For those without dietary restrictions, there’s still the classic. ( I will do this when Andrew is out of town, or asleep) ,linguine  dressed with pesto that’s been soothed and silkened with heavy cream (okay, or yoghurt……since there won’t be any cream in our pantry).

By the way, these days, I use toasted walnuts or almonds, in lieu of pine nuts.  I cannot justify the expense in regards to flavor.

My Pesto Recipe: Throw all of the following into the food processor.

3 cloves garlic

4 cups Basil leaves

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, your choice)

3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

 

Foodies will dissuade you from adding the cheese if you plan on freezing the goods. Follow your instinct. I, personally, notice no difference, and simply don’t have time to add another step of adding cheese after I’ve defrosted the pesto.  I’ve got stuff to do.

Upcoming Dry Stone Wall Building Workshop

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

It’s that time of year again! On Saturday, April 28th and Sunday, April 29th, 2018,  Andrew Pighills will be conducting another dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm.

This two-day, hands-on,  workshop instructs homeowners and tradespeople the structural techniques involved in building a dry stone wall. The outdoor classroom provides the setting for practicing proper dry stone walling methods including safety, batter, hearting, throughs, and capstones.  Knowledge gained will prepare students for their own projects and help train their eyes to identify proper walling techniques in all dry-stone walls. Registration is limited to 16 participants, who must be 18 years of age or older. Cost includes an evening “Pizza Rustica’ dinner, prepared on-site in a hand-built stone, wood-fired oven crafted by the instructor.
Cost: $350  Pre-registration is required.

To register: contact Michelle Becker, Workshop Administrator
tel. 860-810-8802

Email: stonewellcottage@gmail.com

The Beekeeper’s Garden

shirley poppiesIt seems a bit presumptuous, to be writing about gardens for honey bees, as I am no authority. However, we do keep bees here at Stonewell Farm, and aim to keep them as healthy and well provided for as we can. Our gardens were well in the making long before we began keeping bees.  For the sheer pleasure of having an abundance of blooms and color, we planted annual cutting gardens with cosmos, larkspur, china asters, sunflowers, zinnias, gladiolii, dahlias. In February’s dead of winter, I scattered millions of charcoal colored  poppy seeds upon the blank,white canvas of snow, as if making a sketch for a richly colored painting that would materialize four or five months later; for our pleasure and stimulation, not the bees.

Beehive

But now we’re gardening for the bees as well. Gone are the Plume Poppies (macleaya cordata), pretty, in fact striking, but also poisonous to honeybees. We’ve learned that the Agastache, which is invasive here, and which we’ve been trying to weed out, provides a great source of nectar and pollen for honeybees, and so we’ve adopted a cautious tolerance of it; leaving some for the bees, in gardens which are not so particularly “curated” (which just so happens to be in the environs of the hives), and tearing it out where it will create aesthetic and horticultural conflicts with us. We have never been ‘lawn’ people.  We do have large, expansive stretches of “grass”, which means a green groundcover, but anyone can see that it’s mostly weeds cut short. Since there’s an abundance of dandelions and clover, both of which provide significant sustenance to honey bees, we’ve adopted an attentively diplomatic laissez-faire policy of allowing these plants to flower….attempting to mow when we think we’ve struck a balance, or compromise, between satisfying the bees and our neighbors. That means mowing before the plants set seed, and keeping the blades at the highest setting, to allow for the emergence of more blooms.

It just so happens that the plants we love are also plants that the bees love, and so now, the wheels begin turning for future garden plans and where we’ll put all these bee-friendly plants. Here’s a short list of plants that honeybees love, for those who would like to contribute to their welfare.

  • Agastache
  • Cosmos
  • Mint
  • Poppies (papaver orientale, papaver rhoeas, escholzia. papaver nudicaule)
  • Nepeta
  • China Asters
  • Clover
  • Dandelions