Stacking Functions Garden

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Signs of life

School bean plant gone crazy!Wonders never cease. Rowan brought home a kidney bean plant he’d started in a styrofoam cup at school. We re-potted it a few weeks ago, expecting it to die at any time. It flowered; I told him not to expect beans. IT GOT BEANS. Did our cat pollinate this thing? My best guess is that I brushed the flowers several times while opening and shutting the curtains and that must have been enough.

Playing by Minnehaha CreekCan you find two faces in this picture? I stayed home with the kids on Thursday, and before the snowstorm hit they spent some quality time in their tree stump fort by Minnehaha Creek. Who says city kids don’t get out in nature? This is only 4 blocks from our house!

Venison jerkyWe truly still have a ridiculous amount of venison left, so today Adam tried venison jerky. We used this recipe, minus the liquid smoke, and will again. This batch, from the buck he got on bowhunting opener, was delicious. I’m curious to see if jerky will make the doe that he got later in the season taste better. Everything we’ve made from the doe has been (to my palate) overly gamey, and we’ve tried A LOT of different things. So, we’ll see if jerky can kill the gamey flavor.

PieThe co-op has had frozen fruit on sale quite often lately, so we got treated to a mixed berry pie this weekend. I often wish Adam was on permanent spring break.

happyfrogThe tank was finally thawed out enough today to plant lettuce, yippee! We applied a nice layer of Happy Frog soil conditioner—this stuff is magical and the kids loved putting their hands in bat guano. We pick it up, like most of our gardening supplies, at Mother Earth Gardens.

Lettuce planted for Spring 2014!The kids helped me sow arugula, cilantro, kale, bull’s blood beets, and more lettuce seeds around the seedlings we put in today. We were all so excited to be out there working, we ended up stripping down to t-shirts. (Yes, t-shirts in the snow, that’s how we roll in Minnesota.) Of course I had to put the hoop house back on the tank for now, but the temperature is not supposed to dip below freezing for a few nights so these should settle in quite nicely.

Garden season is heating up in a major way. I got my Friends School Plant Sale catalog last week and the kids and I have been circling plants we want to try. I am SO impressed by their commitment to only offering plants that are neonicotinoid-free. I’m also teaching the first Spanish Gardening Class of the year at Sabathani community center next weekend. HERE WE GO!

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Raspberry jam with extras

A bit strange that with a 4 by 46 foot raspberry  hedge, I’ve never made jam. My mother-in-law makes so much jam that she supplies us year-round. Our dependency is so acute that Rowan once started crying inconsolably because we ran out and he didn’t know we could buy jam at the local grocery store.

Anyway, we’re in high raspberry season so I thought I’d give it a shot. Result: easy and delicious. I mostly followed this recipe, but cut back on the sugar and added the fresh herbs.

Raspberry jam with mint and/or basil
10 c. raspberries
7 c. sugar
~ 1 1/2 c. fresh basil or mint leaves

The ratio of sugar to berries here is roughly 3:4 so adjust your amounts according to how many fresh berries you pick. Next time I make this I am going to try for even less sugar, maybe more like 1:2.

Bring the berries to a boil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and mashing them as you go. Boil one minute, then add sugar. Return to the boil, turn down the heat a bit, and continue to boil, stirring relatively frequently.

Now. The recipe I was following said to heat up the sugar in the oven. I disagree; the sugar got really hard and difficult to handle.  The recipe also said that the jam would reach “gel” stage after 5 minutes of boiling. For me it was just shy of 20 minutes. I assume this was due to the lowered sugar amount.

While your jam is boiling away, chop your herbs.  I used a healthy 3/4 c. each of chocolate mint and basil.

When the jam reached gel stage — I followed the original recipe’s advice on how to tell — I poured half into each of the above bowls, gave it a stir, and ladled/poured it into clean, sterilized half-pint jars.

I found this to be easier with the mixing bowl that has a handle and spout, but a ladle works OK too.  I canned them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

There you have it. It set up even better after having a chance to sit out overnight. I’ve sampled both and can’t decide which I like better.  I will only say that the raspberry-mint seems like a good ice cream or chocolate zucchini cake topping while the raspberry-basil is going on either toast or polenta porridge.  Either way, good stuff and I’m glad I tried it!

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Christmas treat #4: Karova cookies

And now, my final Christmas baking project for 2009: these little double chocolate shortbread cookies, which won the annual Star Tribune Cookie Contest a couple years ago.  I like to call them “chocolate cookies for grown-ups” — the sea salt just makes the flavor so much more wonderfully complex than standard chocolate chip cookies.  Here’s the recipe.  One note: the recipe calls for “sel de guerende” sea salt, but I always use standard sea salt and it works just fine.


Christmas treat #3: vanilla sea salt caramels

This recipe was in the Star Tribune last year, but I couldn’t find it in the online recipe archive this year. Fortunately I had a copy saved.  Like the almond bark, this is not particularly healthy, sustainable, or local.  That’s what New Year’s is for, right?  At least these are relatively cheap to make, and are great for gifts.

Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels
– 3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
– 3 1/2 c. sugar
– 1 1/2 c. light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
– 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
– 3/4 c. water
– 3 1/3 tsp. sea salt
– 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out, or 1 1/2 T. vanilla extract

1. Generously butter the sides and bottom of an approx. 9 in. x 11 in. disposable foil cake pan.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, stir together butter, sugar, corn or rice syrup, cream, water, salt and the vanilla bean and seeds until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted (if using vanilla extract, don’t add yet).

3. Increase heat and bring the mixture to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches about 250 degrees on a candy or kitchen thermometer.  This takes around 20 minutes — it will get up to 220 really fast and then take seemingly forever to get from 220 to 250.  I have no idea why.

4. Remove from heat.  At this point, add the vanilla extract, if you are using that.  Remove the vanilla bean shell, if you went that route.

5. Pour caramel into prepared pan. Let stand at room temperature for a good 20 min., then refrigerate until firm, about 2 1/2 hours or overnight.

6. Get it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up to just under room temperature (about an hour), then turn it upside down and bend the sides of the pan to get it out.  Cut it up with a really sharp knife into whatever size caramels you like.  I think we got around 100, but I didn’t count them.

7. Wrap each piece in a 3 or 4-inch square of parchment paper, or plastic wrap, or old saved butter wrappers (these work especially well, and I really like how they look).  They keep best in the refrigerator.  The recipe says they only keep for up to two weeks, but when we made them last year we had a couple that we didn’t get to until mid-January and they were just fine.

Last year when we made these, we used the corn syrup and the vanilla extract.  This year, we used brown rice syrup and a real vanilla bean.  They turned out great both times, but I think this year was slightly better.  I also like that you can see the tiny specs of vanilla in the caramels.

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Christmas treat #2: Almond Bark

And now for a recipe that is not economical, healthy, or local.  Nor is it even from scratch.  There are only two ingredients: high quality white chocolate, and almonds.  You want 1 lb of almonds for every 4-5 lbs of chocolate.

Place the almonds in a glass 9×13 cake pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.  While they are roasting, cut up the block of chocolate into smaller chunks:

Turn off the oven.  Empty the toasted almonds out of the glass cake pan and put the white chocolate in the warm pan.  Place in the oven, and leave it in there for a good 15 minutes.  Stir to incorporate any remaining chunks.  Mix in the almonds, then pour onto either a table covered with wax paper, or cookie sheets covered with wax paper.  Spread to desired thickness.  Let sit a couple hours until set.

I was all out of waxed paper, so I just buttered my cookie sheets.  It worked OK, but not quite as slick as waxed paper.  It left a fine coating of white chocolate on the cookie sheets (we later scraped it off and put the shavings on waffles, so that worked out fine).  Here’s the finished product:

I split a 10 lb block of white chocolate with my mother-in-law, and used 1 lb almonds.  There is a huge difference between white chocolate almond bark that you can get in a regular grocery store and the real stuff from a candy supply store.  A huge difference in price as well:  this project cost me around $25.  But it made quite a bit, and we give these away as gifts.  I promise you, it’s worth the extra time and effort to get the good stuff.

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Recipe: chocolate zucchini cake with raspberry sauce


As long as we’re on the subject of my Grandma Rensenbrink, here is her recipe for zucchini cake, which I made tonight.  The raspberry sauce addition was Adam’s excellent idea.

Chocolate zucchini cake:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. coconut oil (or other neutral oil)
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 c. flour (I used a mixture of white and whole-grain barley)
4 T. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 (very generous) c. grated unpeeled zucchini (2-3 med. size ones)

Mix all ingredients together, pour into greased and floured 9×13 pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 min.  I reduced the sugar by quite a bit and substituted honey for part of it.  I also used freshly-ground barley flour for just under half of the flour it called for, but I think any mild-tasting whole grain would work fine (spelt, for example).

Raspberry sauce
3 c. fresh raspberries (or frozen, thawed)
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. water
1 tsp. corn starch

1. Press raspberries through a strainer with the back of a wooden spoon to remove (most of the) seeds.
2. Whisk corn starch into strained raspberries.
3. Combine sugar and water in a small sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.
4. Add raspberry/corn starch mixture and return to boil to thicken.
5. Allow to cool.  Makes about 2 cups… we should have leftovers for ice cream this week.

Optional variation: substitute 1/3 c. maple syrup for the sugar/water mixture if you like.

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Recipe: Strawberry popsicles

You might notice a running theme here as I add more recipes:  I absolutely love sweets.  And it looks like the kids are taking after me.  So, attempting to make healthy versions of dessert is a major occupation of my mind.  Adam came through today with these awesome homemade popsicles:

Strawberry Popsicles
2 c. fresh or frozen strawberries (about one bag of frozen, thawed out)
1 ripe banana
3/4 c. coconut milk (half a can)
1/4 c. agave nectar

Mix everything together in a blender or food processor and pour into 12 popsicle molds, depending on the size of your popsicle molds.  Ours are from Ikea and they are pretty small.  Freeze.

You could substitute pretty much any fruit you like, and you could also use sugar or honey instead of agave nectar.  We are trying out agave nectar as part of our ongoing efforts to cut back on sugar.  And what did our toughest critics think of this frozen concoction?


Happy campers all around!