The Wasp Apologia

An unknown to me species of wasp on Goldenrod.

In defense of the humble wasp, so hated and feared by most humans, I put forth the following argument: the wasp is better than the mosquito.

Every spring our old farmhouse is invaded by gentle brown paper wasps. They hibernate in the walls and roof through the winter, and a few become confused and make their way into the house, rather than outdoors, where they meant to emerge. I usually do kill them, because the children panic and make unappealing noises. But in the 20 years the family has been living here, there have been no cases of unprovoked brown paper wasp stings. We did have one summer when very aggressive Yellow Jackets came indoors and stung everyone at least once, so we kill those on sight.

As a scary sight, the yellow jacket is right up there for inducing screaming and running.

Wasps are interesting, intelligent (relative to an insect, mind you) little creatures. Most important to us, they are voracious insectivores. No doubt you were thinking that the wasp, like the honeybee, lived on nectar and pollen. While they do to some extent, as well as fruits and anything sweet they can find, small insects like mosquitoes form a large part of their diet.

Feared for their sting, most species won’t use it unless provoked by a swat. Our little brown invaders usually just fly into windows and stare disconsolately out at the unreachable fresh air. Last summer I picked berries in company with hungry little wasps that looked like tiny, fuzzy yellow jackets, and who moved aside with the gentle nudge of a fingertip. Generally, wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone, and it can be argued that they are good to have around. Mosquitoes carry disease, wasps don’t.

A wasp on the fingertip of my cleaning glove.

I’m not attempting proper identification of my wasp species, partly because I can’t. There are so many species of wasps, and they interbreed prolifically, that it’s almost impossible to be certain. Here in New Hampshire, we have several common ones.

  • Yellow Jackets, the bully of the wasp world
  • Brown Paper Wasps, the gentle ones
  • Bald-Faced Hornets, the giant wasps
  • Spider-Killers, the most fearsome predator I’ve ever watched in action.

Spider-Killers are well worth observing if you are lucky enough to have them in your area. Gorgeous creatures, metallic blue-black and with a long wasp waist, they even look lethal. When you realize that they hunt, paralyze, and then feed the still-living spiders to their larvae, you will respect them as well. Watching them fly nape of the earth, looking for all the world like a military helicopter on maneuvers is a fun thing to do on a warm summer day.

This is a honeybee, not a wasp. Their venom is also different, and a bee dies after one sting.

Advertisements

Slow Food With Juliet

Juliet, my eleven-year old daughter, bought a huge parsnip at the winter farmer’s market with her own money. She came back to me brandishing this white war club and hollering, “Look how big it is! It was only two dollars. I love parsnips, can we make soup?”

It came home with us, went in the crisper, and stayed there for a while. We were busy, I was sick, so it waited. Fortunately parsnips are great keepers, so this morning when she pulled it out and came into my room saying, “We’re making soup today!” it was still in perfect condition. On a cold, windy February day it was perfect to put a stew in the crock-pot for dinner. Polling the family and looking at the contents of the refrigerator led to an ad-hoc recipe, and a request for dumplings on top.

Juliet shows off her prize.

Once we had an idea of what we were doing, we started pulling ingredients together. Besides the parsnip, I had four large sausage links that needed used, four portobello mushrooms that were seriously overrripe, and some carrots lingering sadly in the crisper.

Sausage Parsnip Stew

4 parsnips (the equivalent to out monster)

4 carrots

1 large onion

4-5 garlic cloves

4 portobello mushrooms

sausage links

4 oz pesto (I used my handmade, frozen green goodness)

5 c chicken broth

1 can chickpeas

1 c red lentils

1 c frozen corn (optional. Juliet insisted, but I think it would have been fine without this)

Parsnips and carrots (and a little bit of apple).

We chopped the mushrooms up, cut the sausage into meatball-size pieces, and roughly chopped the onion before browning them all in the big cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. The garlic cloves, crushed, went in there as well. While I was doing this, Juliet cubed the parsnip and cut the carrots into 1/2 thick slices. I had put the pesto into the 7 qt crockpot to melt a little while we worked on this.

Once all the prep was done, I dumped everything in the crokpot with the broth, stirring it all up and putting a lid on it. We reserved the corn until we put the dumplings on top. We left this on high for about 4 hours. On low, at least 6 hours until done. Perfect slow food for an all-day cooking.

Red lentils, chickpeas, and sauteed goodies.

Dumplings

When I make dumplings, they are essentially biscuits, steamed on top of the stew. My Dad loves them, and since he broke his ankle yesterday, we wanted to cater to him a little.

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup milk

Mix together the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening until it is pea-sized. Finally, stir in the milk, stirring only until the dry materials are fully incorporated. Scoop by spoonfuls onto the top of the stew and cover. Cook for another 40 minutes on high. To test for doneness, break open a dumpling, it should not be gooey inside.

The kids sit down to slow food.

Six Loaves

Once the flour is added in, using a spoon won't cut it, time for hands-on!

 

I have been making bread since I was a girl, I can remember making it when I was nine or ten, and I can remember watching my mother make this particular recipe when I was even smaller. She would make a huge batch of bread, perfuming the whole house with the smell of baking, and we all looked forward to that first loaf out of the oven, which never had time to cool before it was eaten. Today, I usually make bread two loaves at a time, not six, but I made this recipe yesterday so I could give some to friends. I also made a batch of wild grape jelly, but that’s a recipe for another time.

Before I give you the recipe, you should know that this recipe is not for a beginner. Because you will be adding flour to the initial recipe without an exact amout given, you will need to know when it’s the right consistency. All flours, locations, altitudes differ, and your experience with dough will tell you when there’s enough flour in there. For a beginner, I will include my standard recipe below this one, which is my mothers, and which may even be older than that. I have an index card, yellowed and stained with oils, that this recipe is written on.

Bread: 6 loaves

6 c whole wheat flour

2 c powdered milk

2 tbsp + 2 tsp salt

4 tbsp yeast (rounded spoonsful)

Mix Well, then add liquid ingredients.

6 c lukewarm water

1 c honey

1/2 c cooking oil

Mix well, then add white flour, 2 cups at a time, until texture is right and then knead for 4-5 minutes, until two fingers pressed into the dough form a depression that quickly springs back.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise until double, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down, cut into 6 segments and form loaves or rolls as desired. Place into greased loaf pans and let rise again for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. I like to butter the loaf top as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Dough Ball in oiled bowl.

Basic Bread Recipe

4 1/2 c flour (any combination of white and whole wheat. The more whole wheat, the heavier the bread)

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 c water

Place wet ingredients in stand mixer bowl, start the dough hook at low, then slowly add the flour until it is fully incorporated and starts to ‘climb’ the hook. Allow to continue on low for another 3-4 minutes, then remove the dough and form into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turning your ball of dough over to fully coat with the oil. Allow to rise until doubled in a warm place. Punch down, cut in half, and place in two greased loaf pans. Allow to double again, and then place in an oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.

I like to add all kinds of goodies to this – sunflower seeds, oatmeal, dried fruit, herbs… you name it, if it’s not too juicy, it can go in there. Have fun!

Yummy! Golden brown, fragrant, and delicious.

Snacking Around the World

Salsa ingredients: tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro.

Salsa

Spanish for sauce, salsa has become american for “awesome chopped tomato-and-other-things dip”. My salsa recipe is very basic, but you can dress yours up. Salsa doesn’t need to be spicy, and the salsa I made for the summer reading program had no jalapenos in it at all.

Tomatoes

Onion

Jalapeno

Cilantro

Salt

Chop all the ingredients finely. I used a food processor to do this, but some say the best salsa is hand chopped. Mix them together and cover. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavor to fully develop. Before serving, drain if necessary, and add salt to taste.

Freshly made salsa!

We ground the cardamom seeds for the recipe.

Kashata

Kashata is an African treat, a coconut and cardamom candy.

2 c Grated unsweetened coconut

2 c sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

pinch salt

1/2 c cream

In a pan, combine the cream and sugar and heat until at the soft ball stage and slightly browned. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula to prevent sticking and burning. Stir in the cardamom and salt, then fold in the coconut and take off the heat. Stir until coconut is coated, then turn into a pan lined with wax paper. Press down and allow to cool for a few minutes, then score in squares while still warm.

Kashata was an instant hit with my family.

Fried Plantains

Plantains look like bananas, but are very starchy and not at all sweet.

To make plantain chips, slice the plantain thinly.

Deep fry in hot oil until golden brown and crisp.

Place on a rack to drain, salt, and let cool.

Fried Wonton Wrappers

Part of the Asian snacks, these will be served with duck sauce to dip in.

Deep fry the wonton wrappers until golden brown.

Plantains: Asia/Caribbean. Kashata: North African. Wonton skins: Asian/American.

Building and Popovers

Three walls up!

The part of the Barn that will be Mica’s forge is going up fast! We have three walls up, and since it will be 16′ tall at the front and 8′ at the back, they decked all of the upper story temporarily while they assemble and raise that front wall. The upper loft will only be 4′ wide when we are finished, and is slated to be hay storage the entire length of the barn, which should be enough! Even though we had sketches, and had planned much of this before we started, the guys still stop, talk about how it’s going up, how it will be used and so on as they go, tweaking the design as needed. The lumber that Peter cut for us is true to size. In other words, his 2×6’s are acutally two inches thick and so on. Comparing them to the lumber we’d gotten from regular sources makes us realize how puny a “2×4” from the big box store had gotten. We’d over designed based on puny lumber, and are getting along with less in some places because it’s so sturdy.

Dad under cover - temporary decking for second floor construction.

Glady found a recipe on my favorite kitchen blog, Smitten Kitchen, for corn chive popovers and wanted to try making them for lunch. I highly recommend you check out the blog for the recipe! This was Glady’s first attempt at popovers and they were delicious and pretty! She is becoming quite the little cook. She made pancakes for breakfast, and Leftover Quesadillas for dinner last night with all the odd stuff that accumulates in the frig. She was bummed that she isn’t going to be able to make dinner tonight, as she will be going up to her great-grandparent’s house tonight.

Popping nicely!

 

Serving Corn and Chive popovers

Cooking From the Garden II

I added fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and minced garlic to my dough.

 

Continuing the theme of cooking with what I harvested, I made Focaccia Bread for lunch. Fresh herbs, ripe tomatoes, and some shredded summer squash on herby-garlicky dough was delicious!

Fresh, really ripe tomatoes. The ones in the center are called Chocolate Drops, an heirloom plum variety.

 

Focaccia Bread

 

  • 5 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • 4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 c warm water (105-115 degrees)
Basic Toppings
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • parmesan cheese (grated, not the nasty powdered kind)
This is the most basic version of the dough, to which you can add things to your heart’s delight, and top with whatever floats your boat.
Put the warm water, sugar, and yeast together in a large measuring cup. In the bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, and add any herbs and spices you wan tat this point. Don’t add too much “wet” stuff, like tomatoes or vegetables, save those for the toppings as they will throw off the moisture content of the dough. Mix in the yeast liquid and knead for 4-5 minutes, either by hand or in the kitchen aid.
Cut the dough into thirds and grease cookie sheets with olive oil. Oil your hands, and squish and pat the dough out until it is about a quarter inch thick. drizzle on more olive oil and put toppings on as desired. I used sliced ripe tomatoes, more fresh herbs, shredded summer squash and pamesan cheese because that was what I had on hand. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 mintues, or until the cheese is golden brown. I don’t use the cheese with a heavy hand – they aren’t pizza!  Also, I don’t bother rising the dough for this recipe – this is a get-it-on-the -table recipe.

It looks so pretty it's almost a shame to bake it.

 

Crispy, savoury, and the tomatoes are incredibly sweet.

Cooking from the Garden

When I came in this morning from chores, I had a basket full of goodies. Eggs, blueberries, summer squash, basil, tomatoes and raspberries. I had a couple of very large zucchini, and that made me think of zucchini bread. I wanted to kick up the standard Zucchini bread recipe a little, so I threw in a cup of crushed pineapple and the blueberries (there were about a cup from my home bushes).

The morning's eggs. Four different colors, four hens.

Zucchini Bread

  • 6 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 c vegetable oil
  • 4 c white sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 c grated zucchini
  • 1 c crushed pineapple
  • 1 c fresh blueberries

Ready to go into the oven!

I put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then mixed in the wet ones until all the flour was wet and integrated into the batter. I worked gently to not break the blueberries. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease five loaf pans. Fill them about a third full and put in the oven for an hour. Test with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. When it comes out clean they are done. Cool on a rack before removing from pans to keep the loaves intact. Loaves may be double wrapped in saran wrap when cool, and frozen, where they will keep for months.

Golden brown and smelling so yummy!

 

The blueberries and pineapple added a nice tanginess.

Strawberry Jam

I went out for another hour this morning and picked strawberries with Johann. Actually, he chased butterflies and I picked. I seem to be averaging a cup of berries in an hour. When I came back in and took a look at my berries we had 6 cups total, 5 when mashed up a little. Perfect for a batch of jam. Strawberry jam is very easy to make, I did it in about a half hour today, with Johann’s help!

See where Johann is hiding?

 

Today's pick

 

Three days of picking for one batch of jam…

Wild Strawberry Jam

6-7 cups of berries (should be 5 cups when crushed slightly)

7 cups sugar

1 box pectin

Put the berries and pectin in a stockpot and set the stove to medium high. Stir frequently. When it comes to a boil, add the sugar gradually, stirring all the time. When the jam comes back up to a boil, let boil for 3 minutes and ladle into clean jars. Lid with dome lids that have been boiled and tighten the rings quickly. I use a canning funnel and don’t get jam on the rim of the jar, but if you do, wipe it off with a a paper towel before you put on the dome lid. Let them cool, and check for seal when cool. I am hearing my dome lids go “Tink!” every so often as I write this and they seal down. Even if a jar doesn’t seal, you can put it in the frig to eat soon. I made 7 half-pint jars today, the recipe will usually make 8.

a towel on the table, sterilized jars, and the book I get recipes from.

 

Jam on the boil. It will foam up, so keep an eye on it and stir often.

 

The finished product! Ruby red and so flavorful!

Power Outage Minestrone

We’d had a power outage the other day, the result of a particularly violent thunderstorm moving through. I came home from work in the middle of it, and made dinner in the dark. This is the reason I insist on always having a gas stove. I can light it even without the automatic starter. I’d planned to grill chicken, but between rain and lightning, decided soup was the way to go. I had very little potable water in the house, which I changed the next trip to the market with a couple jugs of distilled water, but decided to keep the water out of the soup. Looking around the pantry, I saw the tomato juice Dad had made the previous year and grabbed that. Now, I’d never made Minestrone from scratch, and didn’t have a recipe in any of my cookbooks. So I made it how I thought it tasted.

Power Outage Minestrone

1 qt tomato juice

2 small zucchini

2 carrots

1 onion, chopped fine

2-3 tbsp chopped garlic

little olive oil

handful of fresh thyme, oregano, and rosemary, chopped finely

2 can of beans (I used black-eyed peas and pinto beans because that’s what I had)

can of whole kernel corn

can of beef consomme

fresh ground pepper

I combined the sliced zucchini, carrots, onion, garlic, and herbs in the pan with the olive oil and sauteed them until they smelled really good and the onions were translucent. Then I poured in the tomato juice, consomme, and corn. I drained the beans before adding them. I let the whole thing simmer for about thirty minutes and served with bread (store bought that night, fresh by preference) and parmesan cheese sprinkles on top. Very filling and yummy! The lights came back on just as I was serving it.

Yum! It was hot, savory, and good.

Alaska Memories

I bought myself a treat yesterday. I found real Tang and came home with it. I was telling Mica this morning that it brought back memories of Alaska. We came to New Hampshire straight from the big state twenty years ago. My favorite thing to do with Tang up there was to make an Alaskan Slushie. Strange to look back now and think how much we enjoyed these cold treats when it must have been at least twenty below. I know I could use one today when it’s supposed to be in the 80s!

Alaskan Slushie

1/2 c Water

4 tbsp Tang mix

Mix in 16 oz glass and add clean snow to fill.

Oddly enough, we used snow for a lot of things. Except for the winter the volcano was active and there were layers of ash on the snow. Gray snow, like yellow snow, isn’t good to eat. Mom would make Eskimo Ice Cream which my sisters and I loved. Fresh snow is best for these recipes, as the older more compacted snow has larger ice crystals that give them a granular texture I never liked.

Eskimo Ice Cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2-3 tbsps cocoa powder

Large bowl of clean snow

Mix the powder and milk together first to prevent lumps and streaks of cocoa. Then mix into the bowl. It will shrink down, but should be enough to serve 4.

Dad took this picture the week before Moose season on the Taylor Highway somewhere near Chicken, AK

The Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau. We swam in the glacier lake there.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: