Vanilla Wedding Cake with Mocha Filling

 

Vanilla Mocha Cake - exteriorOur friends Joe and Sarah recently got married, and one of the highlights of the celebration was their amazing wedding cake. I wanted to shove a few illicit pieces in a napkin and bring them home, but good manners got the better of me, so I decided to try to recreate it at home while it was fresh in my mind. The key elements were: a light, slightly chewy white cake, a rich layer of mocha frosting inside, topped with light and tangy vanilla frosting.

This was a new form of cake construction for me as I’d never made a true white cake before, and I found it’s easier and faster than I’d expected. I love the way the plain white frosting hides the decadent mocha layer inside.

Serves 12

Ingredients

Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
6 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

Mocha Filling
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3 oz. milk chocolate (I used a Fair Trade chocolate bar)
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cold-brewed coffee concentrate OR equvalent from instant espresso powder
1/4 cup milk, warmed (may not need all – see instructions)
8 oz. powdered sugar

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. powdered sugar

Preparation

For the Cake
Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.
Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans by first buttering, then flouring, and then lining them with parchment paper. Whisk together the milk, egg whites, and vanilla in a small bowl.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 20 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-low and beat in the butter, one piece at a time. Continue to beat for about a minute, or until the mixture looks like moist crumbs. Pour in the milk mixture, reserving 1/2 cup and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about a minute.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to pull up any un-mixed flour. Add the final bit of milk and stir again briefly, about 20 seconds. Scrape the batter into the cake pans, dividing evenly and spreading the mixture in each pan. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs attached.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a thin blade around the edge of each cake and turn them out onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment paper, and allow the layers to cool completely before assembly.

Mocha Filling
Vanilla Mocha Cake - InteriorIn a heat-proof or microwave-safe mixing bowl, melt the butter and milk chocolate together using a double boiler, or by microwaving for short periods of time and stirring frequently. Sift in the cocoa powder and sugar and add the coffee, then begin whipping the mixture with a hand mixer or whisk. If the mixture is too stiff, slacken it a bit with some warmed milk, adding just a little at a time. Continue to whip until the filling is light and fluffy. Then refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to allow it to firm up a bit.

Frosting
Whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla together until smooth and some air is incorporated, then add the sugar a little at a time. Continue to whip until the frosting has doubled in volume.

Assemble
Make sure both of your cake layers are completely cooled before assembly. Otherwise you will, quite literally, have a “melt-down.”

Place one cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Using a flexible spatula, give the mocha filling a good stir before spooning it into the middle of the first cake layer. Gently spread the filling towards the edges, leaving a 1/2-inch margin all the way around the cake (this will prevent brown streaks in your outer frosting).

Gently place the second cake layer on top and center it. Frost the entire cake with the vanilla frosting. I find it easier to work from the top down, spreading the frosting around the top and down the sides of the cake with a thin metal spatula. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the filling and frosting to firm up before slicing. Serve with coffee.

Foraging in the Forrest

Renewing my interest in natural dyeing, I came across some techniques using lichens and mushrooms that look promising. For one thing, lichens don’t require mordanting the yarn first, eliminating a step in the process. And with patience and the right knowledge lichens can yield many interesting colors, from yellows to pinks and purples. Alissa Allen has written extensively on the subject.

Lichens grow very very slowly. It’s recommended not to harvest them in their growing state due to the risk of depopulating an entire area of this important ecological organism. But around here, it’s been very windy and rainy as the ground thaws, knocking down branches and old bark. Lichens on fallen limbs will eventually die and decompose so they are generally considered fair game.

So, this afternoon Leo-the-well-behaved dog and I headed out in the wind and cold for a gather. The snow has nearly melted but the ground is still somewhat frozen, good footing for lichen hunting. You can see all the branches on the ground.

We found trees and rocks covered with lichen, fallen bark, and a small grove of ground lichen.




I decided that the best fallen specimens were OK to keep. Since the ground lichen was abundant, I picked about 2% of it to keep as well and will wait several years before harvesting any more (this stuff spreads every year on the hill just behind our house so I’m not too concerned about over-harvesting).

Next, to sort and identify.

Identifying lichens is tricky for a novice like me. The internet is a great but also contradictory resource. For example, searching Google Images yields photos of at least three different types of lichens that are all labeled as “staghorn lichen”. Many lichens of different species look quite similar to the untrained eye. If you are good at this please chime in in the comments and help me out!

To my untrained eye I gathered 4 types of lichens today. From the upper left, clockwise, I think they are:

1. A large mass of Cladonia Rangiferina, known as caribou or reindeer lichen (also inaccurately referred to as reindeer “moss”). This one is the least well-documented as a dye source (though apparently it’s used medicinally in some cultures). So I’m unsure of the color potential but apparently it does contain acidic compounds, which are what you’re after in any lichen-derived dye. I’ll have to test some small samples and see if it will yield any color. I did find one site that hinted at oranges and browns perhaps.

2. A small quantity of (I hope!) staghorn lichen, Evernia Prunastri. This has the most promising dye potential, and is known for releasing a violet color if processed with ammonia. The fermentation period is ideally several months, so I’m looking forward to working with this over the summer.

3. In the lower right and center of the picture are a few specimens of what I believe to be common green shield lichen, Flavoparmelia Caperata, which (if that’s what it is) may not yield any dyestuff at all, or only a very faint color. Still worth investigating if only to know to avoid gathering it in future.

4. Finally, a mixed lot of what I think are one or more varieties of other shield lichens, possibly Parmelia Sulcata. While these don’t give a strong color they are supposed to yield a clear yellow (not tinged with green as is common with flower-derived yellows). The method for this one is simple – cook in warm water for a couple hours to extract the dye, then add your wool to the pot and simmer until the color uptakes.

So it’s time for more research and some testing to see what I can get once the weather warms up. For the time being I’ll be drying and storing these lichens for use in a few months.

Swatching: Not just for size

A few days ago my friend and I went to WEBS, the mecca for knitters and weavers in these parts, to stock up on supplies for upcoming projects. Jennifer weaves and knits designer garments, and I have recently volunteered to knit a few things for family members, so taking advantage of the annual sale was a good opportunity.

While at the store I decided to purchase a little treat for myself – 100% lace-weight alpaca at a ridiculously low sale price. This isn’t the type of yarn I’d usually purchase, but the thought of a light, elegant shawl in super-soft yarn really appealed to me. Jennifer decided she wanted a new, easy-knitting project for herself, so she bought a set of 3 colors in the same yarn to make one also (her swatching experience is here).

I’ll admit something: I don’t often swatch before starting a project. I find that I can generally read a pattern, look at the yarn and needles it calls for, and know if I’m going to get the designer’s gauge or not. Even for something larger that has to fit, like a sweater, I’ll often just start with a sleeve and use that as my gauge swatch. For a hat I can get a good sense just knitting the brim. Or mitten cuffs – you get the idea.

But for this project (the Color Affection shawl by Veera Välimäki), even though I’ve made one before, I wanted to check my gauge because the yarn is so radically different than what I usually knit with, and I wanted to test the look of the colors in the stripes. I also discovered that I didn’t have the size needle the designer called for in the lace-weight version, and I wanted to check my fabric before diving in.

Test swatch for the Color Affection shawl
Test swatch for the Color Affection shawl

So, I did a little swatch.

From the bottom, we have:
#3 needles, yarn held single section. I don’t like this at all. There’s no consistent rhythm to the stitches. Looks like it was woven by one of those LSD test spiders.

#3, yarn held double section – dense, consistent, and smooshy and soft.

Then I went down to #2 needles, with yarn held single for some color/stripe testing. The fabric is more consistent than the #3 section but still has a Swiss Cheese texture. And, by the time I finished the swatch I wanted to throw it across the room. The thinness of the yarn and the #2 needles made this un-fun to knit (I think it’s the first time I’ve knit with a fine lace-weight yarn, which may not be my gig).

So clearly, the yarn-held-double-on-Size-3-needles option is the winner here. Of course that means ordering another skein of each color, but fortunately the sale is still going and the yarn is cheap. And it really is worthwhile to spend a little extra time and money rather than struggling with and despising a project that’s supposed to be a fun treat resulting in a lux garment.

Unfortunately some of the yarn I need is now on backorder so it will be a couple of weeks until I can get started on this project. I should be able to get a jump on some gift knitting in the meantime.

Substituting Colors in Colorwork

You found it – that perfect color work pattern. But the colors shown in the sample garment aren’t exactly your favorites, or the intended recipient likes orange but the original doesn’t have any orange in it. What to do?

There’s a lot of debate about color and design, not just in knitting but in all the visual arts, so there are any number of approaches that one can take. (I was recently inspired by Ysolda’s post on using color combinations found in nature!) However, not being a color expert, I have found the following two rules of thumb useful for substituting colors in a pattern:  1. Select yarns with a similar color relationship as in the pattern, and 2. Choose yarns with the same contrast as the original garment.

For example, a sweater I knitted over the winter is a modern Lopapeysa called Asymptote. I likeAsymptote sweater - greensd the colors of the original but wanted more blue.

If we look at a color wheel we can see that the original sweater pallet ranges from yellow-green, to green, to blue-green, which are all adjacent colors. If I want my sweater to have a similar feel, I need to make similar choices for a tone-on-tone effect. So, I decided to choose from the blue-green and blue color families, which are also congruent.

Color Wheel

Next, and possibly even more important, is contrast (also referred to a color’s “tone” or “value”). The human eye has more rods, or light receptors, than cones, or color receptors. That means that when looking at colors together, we notice the contrast between the colors most. Asymptote sweater - color

So when choosing yarns, it’s the contrast, or black and white information, that will help us see the pattern. But seeing contrast in yarn can be difficult when you are accustomed to looking at the color of the yarn. The solution is to convert the colors to their black and white values, and the simplest way to do that is to take a picture.

In the sample sweater, you can see that there are several different shades. But it’s even easier to look at a black and white version of the same image. To convert the image, I used a photo editor to transform from color to greyscale. Some programs might have this feature under a “filter” setting, and some smartphones have a built-in black-and-white option.Asymptote green - grey

In the black and white version you can focus on the contrast or values of the different colors. We can clearly see that the grey body of the sweater and the lightest green have a similar value, the mossy green is a shade darker, and the bottle green is the darkest shade. So to substitute, we need 4 colors with 3 different values.

To choose yarn, it would be easiest to shop in a store so we can evaluate the colors with our own eyes, in natural light. But Iceland is a bit far for me to travel just to pick out yarn. Instead, I can shop online and “take pictures” using the screen shot function on my computer, then convert the images to greyscale as I did before.

There are several online stores that sell the Icelandic yarn I want, but the one with the clearest images that I found was The Wool Sweaters. First, I put the light grey (#56) called for in the pattern in my basket. Then, I know I have to have a very light shade of blue, so I choose the Glacier Blue – the lightest shade they make. Since I’m sticking with blue and blue/green shades, I can use the original dark shade from the pattern, Bottle Green Heather, because it’s a dark teal and looks good with the Glacier.

Now to choose the medium blue for the “background” section of the yoke. At first, I’m thinking about a dusty blue to substitute for the dusty green of the Celery Green in the original. But they don’t really have a slate blue that compliments the Glacier color – some of the medium blues have a purple tone, and that doesn’t work with my color wheel choices of staying with blue and blue-green. So, sticking with the teal theme, I decided on Lagoon Heather, which is a medium shade similar to the Celery Green.

To see these together and evaluate, I go to my basket and take a screenshot of all the colors together. The hues look pretty good I think – complimentary in the tone-on-tone I was going for.

Yarn colors with light grey main color

Next, convert the image to greyscale to evaluate the contrast. Will the pattern show with these choices?

 

Yarn colors with light grey

Look at that!  The light blue and light grey are about the same shade, with the Lagoon in a medium value and the Bottle Green a distinct darker value. The pattern will show nicely with this combination.

Finally, one last complication: I would prefer a darker shade of grey for the main part of the sweater. But how will that affect the pattern? Will it work?

Yarn colors with medium greyYarnColors_medgrey_bw

 

 

Interesting. There’s a shift here – instead of the lightest shade being equivalent to the sweater body, now the medium shade of blue is equivalent. This means that the bands on the bottom of the sweater body and sleeves will pop out more (higher contrast between Glacier and the medium grey), while the background of the yoke and the main part of the sweater will blend together a bit more. Is that good or bad? It’s really up to the knitter. I’m comfortable having the yoke background and sweater body blend a bit, knowing that the main part of the design – the elongated asymptote pattern – will stand out.

One other note about knitting stranded colorwork: There is a dominance in this type of knitting that can greatly affect the way that different colors interact in a pattern. Others have written on this in more detail. Check out this post at Paper Tiger for a how-to and another great example from Beth BrownReinsel. I appreciate that the designer of the Asymptote sweater, Lars Rains, has taken this into account and designates which colors should be held dominant at each stage of the charts – it really makes a huge difference in the final outcome.

Speaking of which, here’s my finished sweater!

Asymptote_colorAsymptote Sweater - Black & White

I’d call this a resounding success – the colors are much more to my taste and the pattern still stands out well.

Cold Oatmeal

Ah, winter. Time for hearty, sustaining foods that get us through long dark days. Ironically, it’s the time that I turn to one of my favorite breakfasts, cold oatmeal. I’ve never been a fan of hot cereal – something about the warm, gluey texture just puts me off. But I discovered I do like oatmeal served cold, with plenty of fruit.

By adding yogurt, the slimy/gluey texture is transformed into a thicker, richer yogurt taste. Making this ahead of time takes just a couple of minutes while I’m preparing dinner or waiting for my evening tea to steep. And in the morning I can grab it quickly on the way to work.

Make the day ahead. Serves 1.

Ingredients

1/4 cup Scottish oatmeal (more finely ground than steel cut oats)
1/2 cup milk (dairy, soy, almond, coconut…)
1/3 cup yogurt*
1/2 apple, cut into chunks (or fresh fruit of your choice)
Handful of dried, sweetened cranberries (raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, even dates would be nice)
Walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped (optional)

*I prefer a slightly sweetened yogurt such as Green Mountain Creamery maple or vanilla. Or use an unsweetened yogurt and sweetened milk, or add a little honey or maple syrup to taste.

Preparation

The night before, cut up the apple and place in a portable container with the other ingredients except the nuts. Stir thoroughly to make sure the oats are moistened with the milk. Place in the refrigerator.

The next morning, throw in a handful of nuts if you like, stir again and enjoy!

2015: The Year in Fiber

Elinya Shawl
Elinya Shawl

It doesn’t usually occur to me to look back on the year and summarize, but as I was updating my Ravelry project list I started scrolling to see what I’d completed and how that compared with 2014. Given that this was a crazy year (UK travel for training; Rick’s broken foot, surgery, and recovery; starting the new business), I was surprised by the output I’d managed.

By the end of the year I will have completed 17 projects, comprising:

  • 3 hats and 3 scarves (2 of each were sets)
  • 2 baby blankets
  • 2 baby sweaters
  • 2 cowls
  • 2 shawls
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 set “doll” accessories
  • 1 adult sweater (started 2013)
Striped Hat & Scarf Set
Striped Hat & Scarf Set

Not a bad haul, especially since the previous year saw 19 projects, most of which were small items. Clearly, knitting provides not just a creative outlet, but an avenue for stress relief and distraction during periods of intensity.

Another interesting comparison between 2014 and 2015 is my development in the craft of knitting itself. Last year there was a lot of experimentation going on. I developed 3 new patterns, tried a whole bunch of techniques for sock heels (some successful; some not). I tried my first set of mitered mittens; first sweater from a translated pattern; first (and possibly last) hat pattern from a drawing/cartoon. Many of these experiments turned out really well. A few projects I would go back and re-knit if I could, based on what I learned.

In 2015 there were a few new garment types (my first shawls!), but the sum looks mostly like comfort knitting: garter stitch or knit-purl patterns that were easy to power through in waiting rooms, in front of the TV with a glass of homebrew, or on planes and trains. Stripes were my new addiction, providing interest without a lot of complication. I also seem to have taken my knitting skill up a notch.

Striped Child's Sweater
Striped Child’s Sweater

My gauge looks more even and there is no mismatched symmetry between sets of sleeves or socks. Having knit a couple of pairs of badly mismatched socks, this is an area I’ve been trying to improve. Marking beginnings and endings of sections (the start of the decrease section on a sleeve; the end of the heel on a sock) helps a lot and is something I need to continue to do, and not abandon cavalierly when I think I know better.

Handspun blue yarn
Handspun blue yarn

And of course, there was the addition of the spinning wheel in the fall, and the resulting first skeins of yarn. I look forward to more home-made yarn (and a sweater knit from it!) in 2016.

Southwest Soft Tacos

Have I mentioned that Mother has been spoiling us with homemade dinner? Ever since Rick broke his foot earlier this year, and now that we’ve also been starting a new business, making dinner once a week has been Nancy’s way of helping out – and it really is a huge help.

This week, she made slow-cooked pork butt, which became pulled pork sandwiches at first. But what to do with 7 pounds of leftover meat? A few ideas came to mind, one of which was tacos.

This recipe is a (possibly odd) fusion of flavors from traditional beef tacos and fish tacos, but it worked, so I’m writing it up here. Makes 6 tacos – serves 2-3.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cooked tender meat, shredded or pulled (pork, chicken, or a meat substitute)
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Chili powder
  • 12 small corn tortillas
  • 1 cup Green or red cabbage, wilted
  • 2 oz. Sour cream
  • Chipotle in adobo OR chipotle hot sauce
  • Salsa – your choice (I used canned peach salsa for some sweetness, but any style is fine)
  • Freshly chopped cilantro (optional)

Preparation

Shred the cabbage and salt it generously. Let it stand for a couple of hours, then wash thoroughly in a bowl with cool water, to remove excess salt. Drain and spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water.

In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft, then add the shredded cooked meat and a couple of dashes of chili powder (to taste). Cook on medium heat until the meat is warmed through. Turn off the burner but leave the pan on the stove to keep the meat warm until serving time.

Combine the sour cream with one chipotle pepper OR 2 Tablespoons hot sauce (or to taste). If using a pepper I recommend pureeing in a food processor for even heat throughout the sauce.

Thoroughly wash the cilantro to remove grit, then chop roughly.

Just before serving, layer the corn tortillas on a microwave safe plate between damp (not soggy) paper towels, and heat on high for 20-30 seconds to gently steam them.

Serve buffet style. Use a doubled layer of corn tortillas per taco for structure and top with the meat. Lay out the cabbage, chipotle sour cream, salsa, and cilantro, and let everyone assemble their tacos with the toppings they like best.

 

Spinning: a new obsession

Some time ago, my mother took up spinning. She researched, practiced, took workshops, and tried to entangle me into her hobby too, by buying lovely hand-crafted spindles and eventually, my own spinning wheel. I tried spinning, off and on, for a couple of years, but it never really got hold of me, and eventually the wheel ended up in the back of the upstairs closet, along with a few bobbins of lumpily spun “beginner’s singles”.

Turns out, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy spinning, it’s that I had started with the wrong fiber (rough, slightly matted mill ends still coated with spinning oil) and, for me, the wrong wheel. Now, don’t get me wrong – the wheel I had was a top-of-the-line model and had many nice features. But it never felt right for me. Even as I’d practice and get more consistent at controlling my treadle speed and drafting technique, I always felt like I was fighting the wheel, teetering on the edge of calamity. It just wasn’t very enjoyable.

Then, my mother took a workshop with the esteemed and very experienced Maggie Casey (Maggie’s website), and got to try her new travel wheel, the Schacht Sidekick. Mom liked it so much, she decided to sell her old travel wheel and buy one. And then, one day at the Tunbridge World’s Fair, while we were demonstrating fiber crafts at the sheep barn, I asked the fateful question: “Hey Mom, can I try your new wheel?”

The effect was instant and powerful. Suddenly, I could spin easily, meditatively, calmly, and fairly consistently. Spinning was FUN! So, with mother’s generous approval, I sold my old wheel and bought a similar model, the Shacht Ladybug. It has made all the difference in my enjoyment of this new-to-me craft.

The main difference between the Schacht wheels and the Majacraft Little Gem that I started with, is that, because the Little Gem relies on a tiny drive wheel to turn the main wheel, you have to treadle very fast, even when using a larger ratio on the whorl. It was like trying to learn to ride a bike that wasn’t fitted properly, or that only had one high-speed gear. For me, the Schacht wheels just fit better, but it’s all a matter of personal experience. I tell friends and visitors at craft shows who are interested in spinning: the best thing to do is to try a lot of different wheels. The process is sort of like buying a car (spinning wheels are machines after all). You have to pick one that feels right, that’s comfortable to drive. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or fancy model, it just has to work for you.

Ladybug spinning wheel, blue yarn and a sheepskin
Ladybug spinning wheel, blue yarn and a sheepskin

Anyway, I’m happy to report that after only a few hours on my new wheel, I was able to finish spinning singles that I’d started on my mom’s Sidekick, and then to successfully ply my first yarn. I must say that watching instructional videos by Judith MacKinzey and Maggie Casey was also tremendously helpful. Judith especially has a bit of a rambling style as an instructor, but the amount of information that she packs into those videos is well worth the price, and a repeat viewing (or four).

So, incorporating these two crafts (spinning and knitting) together, my first goal is to finish spinning this lovely blue roving (Potluck Roving – going out of production, unfortunately) and knit it into some kind of set (probably a hat and cowl, depending on yardage). Then, for the ambitious beginner, I plan to spin two bags of natural brown Shetland roving that I got from a friend a few years ago. The goal is to spin a similar weight to Shelter, which the pattern calls for (but, you know, soft) and knit this wonderful, semi-reversible (or styleable?) sweater by Veronik Avery. It’s going to take a while, but the journey should be fun.

Meanwhile, I was looking up tools for winding and storing handspun yarn (Judith says one should amass 40 bobbins so that you can spin lots of singles and then mix and match them up before plying, for a more even yarn). This is not financially possible for me, at $20-$40 per bobbin from the company that made my wheel, but then I found the Bobbins Up!, a plastic storage bobbin that attaches to an electric drill (of which we already own several) for winding [video review & demo]. It even has a whorl on one side, for use on a tensioned kate. Spinning may be one of the oldest crafts in the world, but modern technology rocks!

Coconut Creme & Raspberry Cake

Coconut Creme Cake

It’s March in Vermont, and as much as I’ve been trying to deny it I’m in the mood for warmer weather. I’ve also been dreaming of the amazing coconut raspberry cake I had last summer while on vacation (in Edinburgh) at The Kitchin, a Michelin-star-rated restaurant that served the best meal I’ve ever had. While the chef, Tom Kitchin, does publish recipes, he doesn’t publish his method for this particular item, so I’ve been scouring cookbooks and websites, trying to find something that resembled what I ate.

I really couldn’t find anything that reminded me of that awesome cake, until I came across an overly-complicated version on the Food Network. The coconut custard seemed right to me, but the frosting and filling looked too heavy, so I cut back the butter and used the custard as-is without adding more heavy cream. My trusty Cook’s Illustrated book had an interesting recipe, but it called for “cream of coconut,” an ingredient I couldn’t find at any of my local markets.

My own attempt here is adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Coconut Layer Cake, Bobby Flay’s coconut cake with coconut filling, and my memory of Tom Kitchin’s delectable creation. It’s more formal than the Cook’s version, but less complicated than Flay’s, and I added back the raspberry element which was missing from both of those. The best part of making this is your house will smell like a tropical paradise!

Tools
Stand mixer, 2 9-inch cake pans, medium sauce pan

Coconut Custard
4 eggs, separated (see instructions)
1 14- oz can coconut milk, separated (see instructions)
3 T cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract

Cake
4 egg whites
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup coconut solids
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups filtered water
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract
3 cups pastry or cake flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 t salt
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

Frosting
3/4 cup coconut custard
1 stick butter (softened)
4 T cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Finishing Touches
Raspberry jam
Shredded sweetened coconut

PREPARATION

First, the Custard
Open the can of coconut milk and spoon out two generous dollops of the coconut cream (approx. 1/4 cup) from the top into a medium mixing bowl (this will be for the cake). Empty the remaining contents of the can into a medium saucepan, add the milk and extracts, and heat to a simmer.

Separate 4 eggs, placing the yolks into an empty mixing bowl and the whites into the bowl with the reserved coconut cream; set the egg white mixture aside (for the cake).

Whisk the egg yolks together with the corn starch and sugar until lighter in color and smooth. When the milk mixture has simmered, remove it from the heat and pour a few tablespoons into the egg yolks, then quickly whisk to temper the eggs. Add the warm milk a little at a time and continue whisking until about half the milk has been added, then pour the egg mixture back into the sauce pan with the rest of the milk, whisk again and return the pan to the heat. Heat the custard until it just starts to bubble, whisking as you go. When it boils the heat will activate the corn starch and thicken the custard. Remove from heat and pour the custard into a mixing bowl, stir to cool somewhat and set aside. When the custard has reached room temperature place it in the refrigerator to cool completely.

Make the Cake
Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Spray the cake pans with cooking spray, and add a circle of parchment paper to the bottom of each.

To the egg white/coconut creme mixture (reserved from the custard process) add two whole eggs, the milk, and the extracts, and whisk together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Beat on low speed and slowly add the butter, one piece at a time. Combine until the mixture looks like moist crumbs, about 1 minute. Pour in the egg/milk mixture and beat on low until combined, then turn off the mixer, scrape the sides and bottom, and resume mixing on medium speed until the batter is lighter and fluffy, about 1 minute more.

Distribute the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean, rotating once during baking. Allow the cakes to rest in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then flip the cakes out onto the racks, peel off the parchment paper, and allow to finish cooling completely, about 2 hours.

While the cakes and custard are cooling…

Make the Frosting
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese until very fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar a little at a time. Add 3/4 cup of the coconut custard and continue whipping until well-combined and fluffy. Chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.

The Grand Assembly
Remove the frosting from the refrigerator and let sit 5 minutes. Slice the two cakes horizontally, creating 4 layers. Reserve one of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Heat the raspberry jam in the microwave for a few seconds until warm, and stir to create a spreadable paste.

Place the first cake layer, cut side up, onto a serving plate. Spread this piece with a thin layer of jam, then dollop on 1/3 of the coconut custard and spread gently. Try not to mix the jam and custard layers; if the jam is too liquid you can pop the first jammed cake layer in the freezer for about 5 minutes to set up before applying the custard.

Place a cake layer on top and repeat: cake, jam (optional freeze), custard, until you get to the final cake layer. Finish the assembly by spreading the frosting over the top and all around the sides of the cake, and sprinkle on the shredded coconut. If you like a lot of shredded coconut you can press it on gently with your hand for a denser coating.

Put the whole cake back in the refrigerator and chill until time to serve.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos just aren’t something we can find in Vermont, so I developed my own take on these. The cooking method is adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Crunchy Oven-Fried Fish but the spice profile is decidedly more south-western. This is a great dish for two people to make together, one making the vegetables and the other preparing the fish. If cooking alone, make the vegetables and sauce first, then prepare the fish so that it’s not sitting around getting cold and soggy after coming out of the oven.

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients
For the fish…
2 large fillets firm-fleshed white fish (such as Tilapia, Cod, even Catfish)
3 cups breadcrumbs (home-made from stale bread, or large Panko-style)
2 eggs
1/2 cup + 4 T. all-purpose flour
3 T. mayonnaise
1 small can chilies in adobo (used for both fish and sauce)
1 T. chili powder
2 t. Old Bay seasoning

For the tacos…
Corn tortillas
Sour cream
1/2 head cabbage
2 onions
2 bell peppers
Olive oil

Procedure
For the fish…
Preheat the oven to 350F. Set two wire cooling racks into a baking sheet to create a raised cooking platform for the fish.

Prepare the dipping assembly line before dealing with the fillets. Spread 1/2 cup of the flour in a shallow dish, pie plate, or platter with a lip on it. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, mayonnaise, chili powder, Old Bay seasoning, and 2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce from the can (or to taste). When combined, whisk in 4 tablespoons of the flour until smooth, then pour this mixture into a second shallow dish. In a third shallow dish, spread 2 cups of the breadcrumbs.

Next, rinse the fish with cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Cut the fillets into taco-sized pieces about 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles (they won’t actually be rectangles since fish aren’t rectangular!).

Coat each piece of fish as follows: dredge in flour, then tap to shake off excess flour; place into egg/mayo mixture and coat; drop onto breadcrumbs, scoop breadcrumbs over the top and roll to coat, pressing lightly to pack the crumbs all around. Add more breadcrumbs to the dish as needed. (I find it easiest to use one hand for flour/egg steps and second hand for breadcrumb/wire rack steps.) Set each piece on the wire rack cooking platform as you go.

Bake the fish for 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, the person responsible for the filling will…
Core the cabbage and slice it into thin slivers. Similarly, sliver the bell peppers and onions. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the onions when the pan is hot. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the peppers and cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and cook for a few minutes more, until the cabbage is partially cooked but still a bit crunchy. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, make the taco sauce by whisking together some sour cream and more of the adobo sauce, to taste (you can even mash or blend these with a little milk if you like it hot!).

Just before the fish is ready, microwave the corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds, and cover with a damp paper towel to keep them warm and flexible.

To serve, place 2-3 pieces of fish in a tortilla, drizzle some of the spicy sour cream, and top with the sautéed veggies.

Yum!

Eggplant Casserole

While trying to figure out how to use up some vegetables from our weekly CSA basket, we improvised the following, which was inspired by a time-tested eggplant Parmesan recipe and a cheese-less savory tart that mom makes.

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
1 bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
8 medium tomatoes
1 jalapeno
olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 slices stale bread
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
1 egg
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
salt and pepper

Preparations
Preheat your oven to 425F. Slice the eggplant thinly and salt well. Place in a colander to drain. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Lay the tomato halves on a baking sheet or in a glass baking pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the oregano. Bake for 30 minutes or until the skins begin to brown and the juices caremalize. Place the tomatoes in a food processor, add the jalapeno and puree.

Rinse the eggplant slices to remove the salt and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange slices on baking sheets and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices once halfway through.

In a medium skillet, saute the onion and bell pepper in a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until tender.

Toast the stale bread. In a microwave-safe container, nuke the butter and the garlic for 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted. Brush the garlic butter onto the toast, then tear the bread into pieces. Spread these on a tray and bake them in the oven at 300F until they are dried. Remove, allow to cool a bit and then place in a paper or plastic bag and crush them into breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil, egg, and a quarter of a cup of the garlic breadcrumbs.

In a 9″ by 9″ baking pan, layer all of the ingredients as follows: One tablespoon of the tomato sauce spread around the bottom of the pan. One third of the eggplant slices, layered One third of the cheese mixture, dolloped around One quarter of the pepper and onion mixture, sprinkled on One quarter of the remaining tomato sauce, dolloped on Another third of the eggplant a third of the cheese mixture a quarter of the vegetable mixture one quarter of the sauce final third of the eggplant final third of the cheese one quarter of the veggies several dollops of sauce ultimate veggies breadcrumbs Bake covered at 350 for thirty minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing.

Moroccan Lamb with Rice

This dish is adapted from several different lamb-with-dried-fruits recipes I’ve found on Food Network. Most of the dishes I came across had a ton of ingredients and so many individual steps that it looked like one would spend an entire day preparing it and dirtying up every food prep implement in the kitchen. Complicated isn’t a way I like to cook, so I created this simpler approach to a classic. The rice with vegetables can be served separately and is completely vegan.

You’ll need an electric slow-cooker or a dutch oven for slowly braising the meat.

For the Lamb
3 lbs. lamb, cubed or small bone-in cuts like chops, trimmed of all fat.
2 cups dried fruits, pitted and chopped. Traditionally apricots and golden raisins are used, but figs, dates and even a handful of prunes or cherries would be tasty.
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 head fresh cilantro
1T honey
1T coriander
1T cumin
2t dried ginger
2t turmeric
1/4 t cinnamon
2t salt
1t freshly ground black pepper

Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Rinse the meat and pat dry, then coat with the spice mixture.

In the bottom of the slow cooker layer the onions and garlic, then the meat, and top with the dried fruits and drizzle the honey. Add the broth, place the lid on tightly, and set on high. Cook for 3 hours before testing the meat for tenderness. (If using a dutch oven layer the ingredients as above and place in a 275F oven.)

After cooking the meat should be very tender and pull apart easily with a fork. A total of 4 hours may be required depending on the size of the cuts used.

Meanwhile make…

Vegetable Rice
1 1/2 cups (dry measure) brown basmati rice
1 cup vegetable broth plus water to cover rice
2 zucchini
1 large or 2 small red bell peppers
2 medium carrots
1 onion
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
14 oz. can garbanzo beans (low sodium preferred)
1T olive oil
2t turmeric
1t cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In a rice cooker, cook the rice according to the machine directions, substituting the vegetable broth for part of the water required. On the stove, use a small sauce pan with tight-fitting lid, add the rice and broth and then cover with water by 1 inch, cook on low heat until water is absorbed.

While the rice is cooking, wash and dice the onion, zucchini, pepper, and carrot. In a large skillet or shallow enamel brasier, sauté the onion and spices in the oil for a few minutes, then add the zucchini, pepper and carrot. Cook for about 3 minutes until the vegetables begin to cook but are still firm.

Add the tomatoes (with juice). Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans and add them as well. Cook for a few minutes more until some of the excess liquid from the tomatoes evaporates, then turn off the heat and let stand uncovered until the rice is done.

A few minutes before serving, add the cooked rice to the vegetables and toss to combine. Cover with a lid and if the dish has cooled off to much put it on low to reheat for a few minutes.

Serving
Tear the leafy head of the cilantro bunch from the stems, wash thoroughly and spin to dry. Roughly chop the cilantro just before serving the dish.

On a large platter, place the rice to make a bed. Layer the lamb and pour all of the cooked fruit/onion mixture over the top, then sprinkle heavily with the cilantro and serve immediately.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant

Equipment
9-inch round cake pan
Sauce pan and stainless steel bowl OR microwave-safe dish

Cake
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup organic canola oil
1 cup brewed coffee, cooled
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Cooking spray or extra canola oil

Chocolate Glaze
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (Check the label on the package to make sure you’re getting a truly vegan product. Some semi-sweet chocolate contains milk solids.)
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk or vanilla rice milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375º. Spray the cake pan with cooking spray or wipe the inside liberally with oil.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. In a large measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk.

When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter, then quickly pour into the cake pan and place in the oven.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Turn the cake onto a wire cooling rack and set out to cool another 30 minutes before topping with glaze.

To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, microwave oven. Stir the soy or rice milk into the melted chocolate until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and smooth the top with a spoon.
Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Slow-Cooked BBQ Beans

I was inspired to make my own barbecue beans after receiving a gift of Saint Louis BBQ sauce from a former coworker. You can make these vegetarian or carnivorous.

It is important to wait until the beans are completely cooked before adding the BBQ sauce, as the acid in the sauce can halt the cooking process.

Ingredients
2 cups dried pinto beans
1 large ham hock or 2 lamb shanks (optional)
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic
1 cup (more or less) BBQ sauce
1/2 t. dried mustard (or 1 tsp Dijon)
1 T. maple syrup
1 t. salt, or to taste

Procedure
Rinse the beans thoroughly, put in the slow cooker and cover by 1/2 inch with boiling water, and turn the cooker on HIGH.

Peel and roughly chop the onions and garlic and add to the cooker. Cover with the lid and cook for 1 hour. The beans should start to get plump but will not be cooked yet. Top off with a little hot water if needed, enough to keep the beans just under the surface.

If adding meat, make sure it is completely defrosted first, then trim any excess fat from the outside and place on top of the beans. Cook an additional 3 hours, checking every hour to make sure the beans are still slightly covered with water.

Test the meat – it should be very tender and start to fall off the bone. When the meat is tender, lift it bone and all onto a cutting board and let cool slightly. Separate the lean bits of meat from the bone, fat, sinew etc, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add the meat pieces back to the cooker.

Add the BBQ sauce, mustard, and maple syrup, stir and let cook for 20 minutes. Taste, adding salt and/or more BBQ to your liking. If the mixture is too thin continue to cook it with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Cranberry & White Chocolate Holiday Bread

For years I’ve baked cookies for friends and neighbors for the winter holiday season. I enjoy it, but wanted to try something new this year, and decided to go with breads. This recipe is adapted from “Bread Machine Breads” for regular oven baking, and a little richer than the original. For gift-giving I’ve been doubling the recipe and baking two loaves at a time.

Equipment
10″ bread loaf pan
Stand mixer with dough hook (optional)

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
2 T. butter
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. salt
1 1/4 t. dry yeast (a little more if using fresh)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Procedure
Measure the flour into your mixing bowl or bowl of the stand mixer.

In a microwave-safe container, combine the milk, butter, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Heat the mixture until warm to the touch but not hot (about 80-90 degrees). Add the yeast and stir thoroughly.

Whisk the egg and pour into the center of the flour, then pour in the milk mixture. Mix the dough until all ingredients are combined, then work a little more to release the gluten in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise for about 45-60 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, grease a loaf pan and prepare a work surface dusted with flour. Measure out the cranberries and chocolate into a small bowl.

Dust your hands with flour and turn the dough out onto the work surface. Stretch the dough out into a flat shape and spread the cranberries and chocolate on the surface. Then roll the dough into a log shape to engulf the add-ins and knead for a few minutes, turning the dough 90 degrees after every few strokes, re-flouring as needed to prevent sticking on the work surface, and pushing any cranberries and chips that pop out firmly back into the dough. Pull the dough into a log shape and place in the loaf pan. Cover the dough again and let rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Remove the cover from the dough and bake for 45 minutes until the top of the bread is golden brown and makes a hollow sound when tapped.

Place the loaf pan on a wire rack to cool for 5-10 minutes before attempting to get the bread out. The loaf will shrink as it cools and should pop out of the pan but may need a tap or two. Transfer the loaf back to the cooling rack for 30 minutes before serving.

If this is a gift, you can wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for up to 4 days before giving it away, or use a seasonal colored plastic wrap to preserve freshness and make a festive presentation.

I like this toasted slightly with a little butter. It’s great for dessert, tea-time, or breakfast.

Cranberry Relish

My grandfather loved his cranberry jelly in a can; for me that stuff was the one part of Thanksgiving Dinner that was never touched. It wasn’t until I learned to make my own that I understood why this dish is traditional at all. I call this version of “cranberry sauce” a relish because it has discernible chunks of fruit in it. With the addition of some caramelized onions and apricot jelly this could become a lovely cranberry chutney.

Makes 2 pints of cranberry relish.

Ingredients
1 pound fresh cranberries
2 medium oranges (choose a juice variety with nice skin)
1 cup water
2 cups port
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp dried allspice
pinch salt

Procedure
Carefully wash and pick over the cranberries, discarding any that are squishy. In a large sauce pan cook the cranberries in the water and port over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You’ll hear them pop as the skins burst.

Meanwhile, zest and juice the oranges, finely chopping the zest. When the cranberries have started to break down (5-7 minutes) add the zest, juice and other ingredients and stir well. Continue cooking until the liquid has reduced and the pectin from the fruit is released. The mixture will take on a jam-like consistency. Taste for sweetness and seasoning, and adjust as necessary. Serve warm or at room-temperature with turkey.

Black Forest Stollen

For some time now I’ve been searching for a Stollen recipe that is authentically German and not overly sweet like the versions I’ve found in American cookbooks. As luck would have it, one of my coworkers is the son of a German baker. With a little pleading I was able to get a couple of authentic recipes.

This version is adapted from a recipe published in a modern German cooking magazine and the original version that my friend’s father made in his bakery. Without the marzipan center and the thick coating of powdered sugar, it is decidedly more bread-like and less sweet than American adaptations of this traditional recipe.

Measurements have been converted from weight to American volume and tweaked to my own tastes. You can adjust the amounts of the fruits and nuts to your liking.

Note: this recipe should be made at least one week before it is eaten, to allow the flavors to mature and blend together. Will keep for weeks unopened, so it’s great to make ahead of time for holiday gifts.

Makes 2 Stollen

Equipment
A large mixing bowl (at least 14-inch diameter) to mix and rise the dough
Stand mixer for first stage of the dough (optional)
Parchment paper
Aluminum foil

Ingredients
6 & 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2-3 T. fine sugar for dusting
2 packets dried bread yeast
1 pound unsalted butter plus extra for brushing
1 & 2/3 cups milk
2 cups whole almonds
4 cups golden raisins (sultanas)
1/2 cup (packed tight) candied lemon peel
1/2 cup (packed tight) candied orange peel
1/3 cup medium or dark rum (not spiced rum)
1/2 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg

Procedure
1. Roast and chop the almonds.

2. Chop the candied citrus and place into a bowl with the raisins. Toss all the fruit with the 1/2 cup flour to ensure they are not clumping together.

3. Melt the butter and warm the milk slightly. In the large mixing bowl combine the 6 &1/2 cups flour, salt, 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, yeast, nutmeg, melted butter and warmed milk and mix until thoroughly combined. (Optionally, mix this first dough stage in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, then transfer to the large mixing bowl.) Dough should be wet and sticky; if not add a little more milk. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen cloth and set in a warm place for 20 minutes to rise.

4. Add to the dough the dried fruit, almonds, rum and remaining granulated sugar, and knead together for 8-10 minutes or until thoroughly combined. If the dough is not wet enough it will be very difficult to work in all the fruit and nuts – add a little more milk if needed. Form the dough into a ball and let rise for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.

5. Divide the dough in half. Dust with flour and roll each half into a flat rectangle approximately 14 by 14 inches. Shape the loaf by making a crease in the dough lengthwise at 1/3 of the width, then fold this third over onto the remaining 2/3 of the loaf. Repeat the folding process with the second loaf and place both loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone baking mat. Set aside and allow to rise for a final 30 minutes.

6. Bake at 350F for 60 minutes. Remove the Stollen from the oven and allow to cool sightly. Brush each loaf with melted butter and dust with the fine grained sugar.

7. Wrap each loaf tightly first in parchment paper and then in a layer of aluminum foil. Store in a cool, dry place for at least one week before unwrapping and cutting. Stollen will keep for several weeks after cutting if kept wrapped between servings.

Fall Update

Terrapin Gardens Booth
Our booth at the Christmas in October Shoppe

It’s been a busy fall season here at Terrapin Gardens Farm. After taking most of the summer “off” (due to our decision not to breed last fall) we have been to a slew of fiber shows. The Tunbridge World’s Fair was a great success despite the impact of Hurricane Irene. We had more sheep entries than ever and a full barn for the first time since I’ve been the Superintendent. Our new goat judge was a hit with both exhibitors and spectators, and we also launched a new fiber and fleece competition in partnership with the Crafts department in Floral Hall. I’m hoping this competition will continue to grow in the next few years, and also inspire more entries in the hand-spun yarn category.

We sheared the flock on September 30, then packed off to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival for two days in the cold wind and rain. The weather was miserable and attendance was down, but we still managed to make enough sales and contacts to have a worthwhile event. I have a few ideas for advertising the Festival next year that I think would help draw both Vermonters and out-of-state visitors. The great thing about the show being held at the Tunbridge fairgrounds is that it’s close to us and also a more intimate venue that is easier for visitors to navigate.

Two weeks later we put in an appearance at a new event that is in its second year. The Christmas in October Shoppe is sponsored by the Tunbridge Women’s Group, and aims to raise money to support the restoration of historic buildings in Tunbridge. This year, a portion of the proceeds also went to flood relief for victims of Irene, so we were happy to participate as a new vendor. We saw a lot of our friends and neighbors but didn’t experience much traffic from tourists, although the event took place during peak foliage season. Hopefully with a little more advertising the Shoppe will become a fixture on the area’s fall calendar of must-see events.

Our fourth and final fiber event will be the Green Mountain Fiber Festival, hosted by White River Yarns at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction. If you haven’t had a chance to see us at one of the previous shows, please come by on the weekend of November 19-20. We’ll have new products this year including knit kits for some fun felted items that make great holiday gifts.

Navajo-Churro ram
Welcome, Tunbridge!

As if all of these events weren’t enough to keep us busy, we also had the challenge of locating and bringing in a new breeding ram. Because Navajo-Churro sheep are relatively rare in our area, many of the small farms share bloodlines between their flocks. After a great deal of searching we happened upon a ram owned by Betty Hauger at Log Cabin Lamb & Wool in Winterport, Maine. The one-day road trip to pick him up was exhausting, but we’re thrilled to welcome Tunbridge as the new flock sire. His deep brown color and large horns were exactly what we were looking for this year, as we try to introduce new color patterns into the flock and maintain a number of horned ewes. Lambs will be due in mid-March of 2012.

While we’re waiting for the lambs to come, I’ll be experimenting with dyeing and hand-spinning various fibers. We’re also expecting a fresh batch of roving from Hampton Fiber Mill in Richmond in the next month or so. And if you are interested in grease fleece now is the time to contact us – we have many different colors to choose from.

Winter into Spring

With pouring rain outside on a spring day it’s time for another infrequent farm update. After the fall shows and shearing were completed the farm settled in for winter. We had already decided not to breed this year, given the economy and a lack of interest in breeding stock, so there was no ram to bring in, no breeding program to manage. While we missed the excitement of breeding season, in fact this turned out to be a good decision for us for a number of reasons. The price of hay increased this year, and the extreme cold temperatures we had in December and January meant that the flock was eating more than usual to burn calories and keep warm. In addition, the two lambs that we decided to keep for our own breeding program will have a full year to mature before their first pregnancy. And, not having to purchase and manage a ram also meant we could focus on selling a few lambs of our own.

Chaleco ram lamb
Manta’s boy, Chaleco

Fortunately we have been able to sell a few lambs from 2010. First, we were contacted by a family who has been showing sheep in the state, and wanted to try Navajo-Churros. They purchased Riker, our first sheep born on the farm and our largest ewe lamb. I’m hoping to see them and Riker’s lamb at the Tunbridge Fair this year.

Next we were contacted by some established Churro breeders near St. Johnsbury, who were looking for a lighter-colored ram to introduce some new genetics into their flock. They bought Chaleco, the reverse badger ram from Manta. I’m looking forward to seeing photos of their lambs, which should be due in the next few weeks. Then in January we were contacted by a woman in Maine, also in search of a ram lamb. Fortunately we still had Louis, a fine black ram lamb with great fleece and amazing horns, just like his sire. It’s great to see some of our first lambs going to good homes.

Louis
Louis, Nina’s ram lamb

Meanwhile, we had to turn our attention to the remaining ewe lambs and make some decisions. We knew when we decided to breed that there was no guarantee all of the lambs would be of breeding-stock grade, and we would have to either sell these to non-breeding farms or use them for meat. We also knew that the latter choice would not be easy, but such decisions are part of raising livestock. In order to promote the breed, we have to make sound decisions for good genetics, and this means culling animals that do not have desirable traits. This could vary from horn deformities, poor fleece quality, too much wool on the face and legs, and even a nasty temperament – any of these undesirable traits can be passed down to offspring.

Fortunately, we got a recommendation on a slaughterhouse from a friend of ours who raises pigs: Brault’s Market in Troy, Vermont. It’s about a 2-hour drive from our house, but the peace of mind that comes when working with a reputable, ethical, and family-owned operation are more than worth the extra travel time. I called them back in October expecting to have to wait a couple of months for an appointment, but was surprised that they were already booked into February. So we took the first available date and marked it on our calendar.

sheepskin
Sheepskins make great chair covers, cushions, and lap blankets.

I must admit that when the time came, it was easier for me to cope with our decision than I thought it would be. I felt sympathy for the lambs we were culling, but also felt a sense of pride in being able to raise our own meat. Not many people can say that they’ve done this; most meat eaters consume anonymous cuts that are hermetically sealed in the grocery cooler, or dressed up and served at a restaurant. Our lambs were raised with care, allowed to remain with their mothers and run free on pasture, and when the end came they were treated with compassion and respect.

Even after death we have tried to honor their gift of life by using as much as we can. We’ll eat the organ meats rather than throw them out. And as it turns out, waiting the extra time for an appointment was beneficial. It allowed the lambs to grow a little larger, and since the butcher charges a flat rate per head this meant more meat for our money. It also meant that the lambs had more time to re-grow their wool after October shearing, and since we elected to save the hides for tanning, this will make for a much more luxurious sheepskin with a nice thick coat of wool. The hides are in the barn, salted and drying out before I send them to the tannery, and our freezer is full of delicious, healthy meat.

This winter has been an interesting chapter, providing important learning experiences for us. Spring is time for another shearing, and warmer weather means I can get back outside to skirt fleeces and dye some yarn. I just hope we can make it through mud season without another huge snowstorm.

English Trifle

When not traveling for the holidays, we like to host a traditional Boxing Day dinner party at our house. Of course, this being a British tradition, it requires such delights as pudding, brandy, and the pulling of Christmas Crackers. And after having the best and most decadent Christmas dinner in England a few years ago, I’ve added Trifle to the dessert offerings. You can pretend it’s healthy because it has fruits in!

This recipe is adapted from #291836 at Syllabub: Words on Food.

Tools
Large round or oval clear serving bowl with a wide flat bottom
Large heat-proof whisk
Sauce pan
Hand-mixer for whipping cream (optional)

For the Custard
Ingredients
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 T vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2 T cornstarch

Preparation
1. In a saucepan heat the milk and cream to boiling.
2. In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch until smooth and pale.
3. While constantly whisking the egg yolk mixture, slowly trickle in the hot milk/cream.
4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over gentle heat whisking frequently until the custard thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil – it will split.
5. After thickening, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

For the Trifle
Ingredients
6 cups assorted fruits*, washed, peeled, pitted & sliced as needed
36 ladyfingers, or enough to cover the bottom of your trifle bowl in two layers
4 cups custard (above)
1/4 cup brandy, sherry, or fine Marsala
1.5 cups heavy (whipping) cream
12 amaretti cookies

Preparation
1. Layer ladyfingers in two layers in the bottom of the bowl and sprinkle with brandy.
2. Layer fruits one at a time, with heavier varieties on the bottom and lighter fruits like raspberries on top.
3. Spread the cooled custard over the fruits, leaving about 1/4 inch of space from the custard layer to the edge of the bowl.
4. Crush the cookies and sprinkle the crumbs over the custard.
5. Finally, whip the cream until fluffy, adding the remaining tablespoons of brandy as you go, then dollop this over the top of the trifle.

*I prefer assorted berries but you can also use cherries, peaches, mangoes, etc

Keep the trifle chilled until served. Allow your guests a moment to admire the beautiful layered concoction before the first portion is served and the entire assemblage collapses into a bowl of delicious sloppy mush.