Nature and Nurture

All winter, I wonder about the bees. There’s no way to check on them. No way to know if they’re safe in their warm cluster or if they’ve fallen lifeless to the bottom of the hive.  When I feel the weather begin to change it becomes an exercise in patience. As much as I might want to, I will not risk opening the hive to take a peek, as that could cause them to break cluster early. So every day I glance in their direction, hoping to see activity, and finally, on a day like today, they fly.

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I did a lot of research when we got the hive. Most of what I learned I decided to ignore completely. For our hive there are no ‘treatments’, no chemicals, and minimal intervention. My job, as I see it, is to be sure I’m providing enough space and enough food for them to do what they need to do, not to attempt to manipulate their development. This is anathema in parts of the beekeeping world, but it’s my belief that our interference is likely to do more harm than good, and that bees can manage themselves to maintain a strong colony. My mantra when making decisions about entering or manipulating the hive is, when in doubt, don’t.

This particular hive is now emerging for its third Spring. They have had plenty of honey to see them through each winter, and we have brought 30-35 pounds a year into the house ourselves. Seems they know what they’re doing.

Stocking the Shelves

Today: granola, cheese crackers, chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, yogurt, granola bars, and tomato cashew cream pasta.

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The crackers are from The Homemade Pantry, by Alana Chernila. I don’t own a lot of cookbooks, but this one is worth having.

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It’s eminently readable, and every recipe I’ve made from the book and Alana’s blog has been eminently eatable as well.

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Place Value

My late winter/early spring project is taming our basement. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, I’m sure, but I’m attacking it a little bit differently this time.

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I was thinking  about mise en place, like you do, and was inspired to think of the storage in the basement in a similar way. How can I best arrange things so that when Andrew wants to do woodworking, everything is handily available for him? When I want to can, all of my tools are quickly accessible? When it’s time to paint the hallway, supplies are ready to go? I know the value of this kind of thinking in our living spaces. It’s time to bring it to our dank and dusty spaces too.

Wrinkle In Time

Dagny and I have been sorting photos with my mom. We’re labeling and scanning them so the whole (big) family can access them and know who’s who. One part of this process I’m most excited about is Dagny’s using her Photoshop skills to repair some of the older, damaged photos, taking them from this:

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to this:

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A dimpled elbow like that needs to be preserved for future generations, wouldn’t you agree?

A Watched Pot

Every morning we set a giant pot of sap on the burner. It boils and roils and creates its own damp weather system above the stove. At the end of the day, we are left with golden sweet syrup.

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Unless, of course, we mistake the amount of time left to boil and step away from the kitchen, as I did today. Then we are left with billows of smoke and a pot lined with foul-smelling ash. Can’t say I recommend it on pancakes.

On the Mend

I can’t remember where this blanket came from or when I got it. It seems it’s always been here. Fireworks, meteor showers, picnics, drive-in movies, camping – it goes where we go.

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Its latest trip through the laundry reminded me that I had better do a bit of repair before it became more hole than blanket.  A podcast on permaculture provided background interest as I exercised my rudimentary sewing skills, and now both the blanket and I are better prepared for the coming Spring.

Milk It

Knowing we’d be entertaining vegan guests, Rowan and I spent some time tweaking and testing cupcake recipes before her birthday party. The one we settled on makes a rich, dense, chocolately cupcake that impressed even the vegan-skeptics among us.

rowan is 16 brownie cupcakes

Whether you prefer your milk come from cows, goats, almonds, soy, or rice, I’d recommend having a tall glass handy.

Vegan Brownie Cupcakes with Cacao Cookie Dough Frosting

2 cups sugar

1 cup brown sugar

Rounded cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups margarine, melted

4 Tablespoons ground flax seed

12 Tablespoons water

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons almond milk

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Before you begin mixing up the batter, you’ll need to prepare your flax egg-replacer. Mix flax with water and let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes. An hour’s better.

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder.

Add melted margarine.

Add flax mixture, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add dry ingredients.

Stir til just combined.

Fill cupcake cups completely. (Don’t fill three quarters of the way as you often do for muffins and cupcakes.)

Bake for 20 minutes.

Yield: 14 cupcakes

Vegan Cacao Nib Cookie Dough Frosting

10 Tablespoons margarine

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 Tablespoons almond milk

Cacao nibs (We love Taza Chocolate’s nibs. We took a free tour on a cold winter day a few years ago, and have been hooked on their bars and their baking and chocolate-covered nibs ever since. Well-played, Taza.)

Cream margarine.

Add brown sugar.

Add flour.

Add powdered sugar.

Add molasses, vanilla, and almond milk.

Add cacao nibs.

Pipe or spread on cupcakes. If piping, use a very large tip to avoid clogging. If it does clog, insert a chopstick into the tip and wiggle it around a bit.

Sprinkle with cacao nibs.

(Photo by Dagny.)

Calm Before the Storm

My younger sister makes incredible oatmeal cookies. Each bite crunches and chews and melts all at once. Every few years I would try to bake them myself according to the recipe she gave me, but my cookies were always a disappointment – cakey and soft and wrong. I tried every variation of the recipe I could think of. Cold butter, warm butter, light brown sugar, dark brown, longer cooking times, shorter cooking times. Each variation left me with a pile of cookies I didn’t particularly want to eat.

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I resigned myself to the fact that I would only have a truly good oatmeal cookie when Jeanne felt like making them for me. Then Dagny paid a visit to my older sister, Anna, and came home with a recipe Anna has apparently been using since high school that had somehow passed me by.  Finally, finally, I can make my own crunchy, chewy, melty oatmeal cookies.

If you’re on the east coast, you should have time to whip these up before the power goes out.

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Or am I the only one who equates storm prep with a marathon baking session?

Anna’s Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350.

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

2 1/2 cups oats

6 oz chocolate chips

Cream butter.

Add sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Anna’s instructions are to bake for 5-7 minutes. I think I make my cookies bigger than she does, but mine bake for 9-12 minutes. They’re ready when they’re golden and the edges are lightly browned.