My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Stuffed Grape Leaves: Further Encounters with Weed-Eating 2

Posted on June 10, 2010 by crankycheryl

So at last I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the truth is that I’m liking it so much that I’m a little bit embarrassed.

I was sure that I was going to find it a total snoozer, and roll my eyes at all the stuff I already know.  Like I need to be taught how to eat locally and why it’s a good idea?  But reading it is like talking to another localvore friend, one who’s clever and funny and self-deprecating and good-hearted, and not as “preachy” as I’ve heard the book described.

Maybe that’s why I took it a little personally when I read the passage about how my new BFF’s year of eating locally was going to mean growing food and buying from local farmers.  And ABSOLUTELY NOT going to include gleaning weeds by the roadside because she didn’t want to fit some low-class stereotype.


I like collecting weeds, and I’m okay with knowing that my sons will grow up to be mortified by the habit.  It’s okay because one day they’ll appreciate my boundless creativity and thriftiness.  Of course by then I’ll be dead and my ghost will be hovering over the heads of their wives or husbands saying things like, “Really?  You’re too good for that?  You’re just going to throw out the peel and those greens and not even make soup out of it?  And what the hell is that thing you’re wearing?  You call that a shirt?”

But here and now my target is grape leaves (well, grape leaves plus eight uninterrupted hours of sleep and maybe paying my bills on time for once).  The vines are absolutely everywhere, and I’m gearing up for a big harvest and preservation.

And in the meantime, I’m preparing lots of dolmades with the fresh ones.  They’re a quick snack or meal, taste great, are gluten- and dairy-free, and easily made vegan.  Come on by and join me among the weeds.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
About 40 rolls

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over:

  • About 40 large grape leaves (or 2 small jars if you haven’t gotten the fresh wild ones around).

Let sit for 1 hour.

In the meantime mix well together in a large bowl:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (locally, humanely raised)
  • (if you want a vegetarian version substitute 2 cups dried lentils plus 1/3 cup of water for the meat)
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (your choice – I used oregano and thyme)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 T. salt (don’t skimp)
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Line a large saucepan with several leaves.  Then roll the remaining leaves by placing a leaf on a small plate or cutting board, vein-side up and with the stem facing you.  Put a heaping teaspoon of filling about an inch above the leaf’s bottom.  Fold over the left and right sides, then roll from bottom to top and place in the pan with the flap-side down.  Roll the rest of them and place in concentric circles in the pan, building to a second level as necessary.  Save a few smaller grape leaves aside.

Drizzle over the top:

  • 3-4 T. olive oil

Pour in:

  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 cups stock/broth or water,

Place remaining grape leaves on top, and cover with a small plate (this will ensure that all the stuffed leaves are sufficiently submerged).  Cover the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice and meat/lentils are cooked.  Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature – which is how much Mediterranean food tends to be eaten.

Braised Short Ribs with Bright Vegetables and Dark Beer 2

Posted on October 25, 2009 by crankycheryl

apple butter short ribs 009In the cool weather I rely on two basic cooking techniques: roasting and braising.  These are essentially opposite processes.  The former relies on high-temperature dry heat, creating caramelization and intensifying individual flavors of ingredients.  Braising is slow and moist, all about the slow exchange of flavors as liquid is drawn out of and then returns to the food being cooked, creating more complex flavors that keep recombining and enriching throughout the cooking time.

Molly Stevens points out in her excellent “All About Braising” that home cooks tend to think of braising as complicated and unfamiliar.  But many classic dishes are created this way (think coq au vin, osso buco) that it’s really not that far afield.

For vegetarian readers tempted to toss the idea aside because it seems so meat-focused, I’d point to the excellent braised root and winter vegetables and the transformation they undergo when treated to this slow and gentle process, like this cabbage.

But it’s true that braises transform the humblest cuts of meat into something delectable.  These too-often wasted “budget cuts” become simply wonderful.  And perhaps the very best thing about braising is that each dish’s leftovers are invariably better than the original.  Go ahead and double the amount you want to eat the first time around so you can take advantage.

All this is why my ears pricked up when I heard Erik from Wells Family Farm talking about how he had something that was “only” $4 a pound at our CSA pick-up a couple of weeks ago.  (The link to their Vermont farm is here, but the site is under construction).  Words like “only” and “economy” often mean “perfect for braising” when it comes to meat prices, as I was delighted to have confirmed.  So I picked up four pounds of short ribs, thinking of Stevens’s book and knowing I’d find something great to make.

When I got home with that week’s vegetables (the last of the mild and hot peppers, tomatoes, some potatoes, along with the rest), and the ribs, I put together this braise, using the cookbook’s clear steps.  It’s a warm and deeply flavored fall dish that’s perfect for cool evenings.

Short Ribs with Bright Vegetables and Dark Beer
Technique adapted from Molly Stevens
6 servings, depending on the ribs

  • 4 lbs. (more or less) beef short ribs
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 3 cloves (or more) garlic
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 green tomatoes (or substitute tomatillos or just more red ones), cored and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 4 medium waxy potatoes, peels left on, chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 poblano peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled and cooled, cut into 1″ squares (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 c. dark beer (I used Magic Hat’s Fall 2009 Odd Notion, a chocolate stout, which was delightful.  You can put the whole beer in if you like, or you can sip a little as you drink, like I did.)
  • 1 c. strong stock or water
  • 6 c. lacinato kale or Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 300.
  2. Trim any excess fat from the ribs.  The ones I bought were already trimmed, so I skipped this.  Be careful to leave the “silverskin” or connective tissue between the ribs.
  3. apple butter short ribs 002Salt the ribs and place on a plate.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot (it must have a tight-fitting lid and be completely ovenproof) until rippling.    Place one rack of ribs in pot and cook over medium heat until browned on the side that’s down, letting the meat stay still for 3 or 4 minutes, and then turning.  Repeat and then remove to plate, repeating for all the ribs.
  4. If there is more than enough fat in the pot than is needed to coat the bottom, drain the fat from the bottom of the fat and then add just enough back to provide that coating.
  5. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, then the chopped garlic.  Cook until lightly translucent.  Add the peppers, tomatoes/tomatillos, potatoes.  Saute until lightly browned.  Add salt and pepper, about 1/2 t. of each to start.  Add bay leaves.
  6. Place ribs on top, then pour beer and broth over.  Bring to a boil, then place the lid on top and put the pot in the oven.

Here’s a fascinating video of boiling vegetables, in which you’ll see that I brought said vegetables to a boil before returning the meat to the pot.

Vegetables for Braise, Boiling from crankycakes on Vimeo.

7.  Set a timer for two hours.  Cook for about 2 1/2 hours in total, gently turning the meat every 45 minutes or so.  If the liquid is boiling vigorously, turn down the heat 10 or 15 degrees.   When the timer goes off, add the kale or chard and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Replace the lid and place back in the oven to finish cooking.

8.  The last steps are up to you.  Molly Stevens might recommend that you remove the meat and vegetables to a plate while reducing the liquid and removing excess fat.  We didn’t end up with lots of fat on top and just wanted to eat, so I plated it up after just letting it sit for 10 or 15 minutes.  We opened up a bottle of East Shore Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc (since the last beer was in the food), which was a great fit.

The leftovers, predictably, were just wonderful a couple of nights later.  I cut the meat off the bones and cubed it before reheating, then wrapped the meat and vegetables in crepes with a little chevre.  Awfully good.  Z. ate two and didn’t seem to even notice how many vegetables he was eating.  His brother, after rejecting the cheese and apple butter crepe I had made for him, ended up with a smoothie.  Everyone was happy.

Apple Truckload Saturday 2

Posted on October 17, 2009 by crankycheryl

applepicking 006

Today was Shelburne Orchard‘s Truckload Saturday, and some neighbors and I went to load up – $50 for two carloads of Macs, Galas, Liberty’s, and Empires.  These neighbors, in fact:

applepicking 021

CrankyGreg says we looked like a bunch of hip, radical nuns, which I can live with.  We took our blessed selves and went and scavenged the “falls,” and jostled the last attached ones out of their branches.  And I’m wildly pleased to report that I climbed a tree to chase down some high-hanging Galas.

After a couple of hours we had two cars full of apples and were hungry, so we went up to the Orchard’s store and food area, where we found an enormous apple pie,

applepicking 019and these nice people frying up onion rings made with Ginger Jack in the batter,

applepicking 025

and sausages roasting inside their brick oven.

applepicking 028So now I’ve got 4 bags (about 2 bushels) of apples hanging around.  I’ve taken the first batch and started some Crock Pot Apple Butter.  With the rest, I’d like to can Apple Pie Filling, but can’t seem to find the Clear Jel I’d need.  Maybe more applesauce, maybe something else, whatever it is I’m sure E. & Z. will be tired of it long before it’s gone.

Local, and Good Enough 0

Posted on October 03, 2009 by crankycheryl

Butternut Squash Harvest from Burlington's Intervale Community Farm

I’m still ruminating on the EatLocalVT challenge.   And surprised by how much the whole prospect has made me think.

If you read along with me in recent weeks, you know I had some cynical twinges, some eye-rolling moments when I just wanted to throw in the towel, feeling like I ought to feel guilty because I didn’t do without something or other.

But, while true, there was something more.  Something more spiritual than the tangible goals of supporting  neighbor farmers, of keeping our dollars in the local economy, of reducing the environmental impact of getting our food to us.

I found honesty and depth in eating the food that comes from the very land under our own feet.  There’s a primal connection in eating from places we can walk in and breathe deeply of, in eating food grown by people we know and value.  It feels like real living, to be sustained by what is here and now.

And there’s something else that quietly whispers, “What is around you is enough.”  I’m far from pure, but I see more now how I’m confused by the constant presence of everything all the time.

What do you do with it?  It’s nearly impossible to ask the average person to eat local Vermont food all the time, all year long.  And should we  be asking that?  What about the new book that points to other problems in our food production and distribution system?  What about the cynics who find the whole proposition laughable in thge first place?

To choose to eat and enjoy the things that are from here and now is not to be deprived, but is a celebration of what is real.  And delicious, of course.  I’m closing this quickly so I can run down to the farmer’s market to get as many of the last of the great local plums as we can.  Then I get the boys and we’re off to Pumpkin Day at our CSA, then home for homemade localvore chicken soup, and a doubled-up dessert so I can bring a treat to a neighbor who’s recovering from surgery.

What could be better, in any sense of the word?

Blessed Silence Sunday: Plums 0

Posted on September 27, 2009 by crankycheryl


The quiet throngs around Plum Hill Farm’s stand at the Burlington Farmer’s Market.  Next week is the last one for their amazing fresh plums this year.

Brain Hurts, Mouth is Happy: Day 5 of Localvore Challenge 5

Posted on September 23, 2009 by crankycheryl

[originally posted at]

Well, “brain hurts” seems crazy on a day that includes this apple galette from August First (local flour from a Quebec miller and Canadian farmers, local Pippin apples).

But you know, it’s true.  And while eating this most excellent pastry was a ridiculously wonderful experience for the senses, there were worries like this:

“There are almonds in here.  They make it delicious.  I’m not supposed to be eating almonds this week.  What kind of phony faker am I?  Ooh, that was a good bite.  Oh hell.  I’m no good for this.  But the apples and flour are local and Jodi and Phil sure are doing what they can to support local farmers and businesses.  Mmmm.  I really love almonds.  How did my galette disappear already?”

There’s so much good food in Vermont, and such an incredible community of people who produce it.  Who can help wanting to be part of the localvore movement?  But I’m finding that trying to adhere to a strict dogma about it is just making me crabby.

I don’t want to be crabby.  I want to cook great food for the people I love, and I want as much of it as possible to come from people around me.  I want my food choices to reflect my caring for people near and far, and for this beautiful place we live.

Yesterday I had this wonderful moment.  I was out in the garden picking tomatoes to have on our pasta, walking past the giant yellow marigolds still going crazy out there.  Every flower seemed to have an ecstatic bumblebee in it, wiggling and searching for nectar and just dancing there in the late afternoon sun.   I want to be that, I thought, that pure and that present, right here and now, up to my elbows in all the bounty that Vermont can provide.  Not quibbling with myself over an almond or two when there’s so much to dig in to.

Tantrums, Steve Martin & Homemade Pasta: Midway Thru the Localvore Challenge 4

Posted on September 22, 2009 by crankycheryl


[originally posted at]

When people were first telling me about eating local, I liked when I heard about this concept of “wild cards,” which meant that, yes, the food would be essentially what was grown within 100 miles, but that I could make exceptions.  Like coffee.  Olive oil.  Bananas.  Chocolate. Maybe citrus.  Probably spices.

The list kept growing.  I began to get like Navin in The Jerk:

I don’t need anything except this.

[picks up an ashtray]

And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray.

And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure.

And this.   And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

[walking outside]

And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.

[dog barks]

I don’t need my dog.

There were just too many things I would have started to negotiate for, yes, even for just one week, so I tried to simplify.   We picked the most essential things: peanut butter (all of us), frosted shredded wheat (6 y.o.), canned peaches (4 y.o.) and coffee (me, but it really is for the greater good).  And the rest, to the best of our abilities, is food “grown by our neighbors.”

It’s providing limitless Fascinating Explanations and Interesting Facts, like:

I see from how you’re lying on the floor screaming that the butterscotch pudding isn’t what you wanted.  You probably wanted chocolate, right?  Well, did you know that chocolate comes from a big yellow fruit?  And that that fruit – it’s called cacao – only grows in very warm places?  Did Mommy ever tell you about when she went to live in a tent in a place called Belize and helped harvest chocolate in the jungle …

Riveting stuff, I assure you.

But for many of us, the food day was pretty darn good.  It was those yummy waffles with maple syrup for breakfast (mine was burnt and slathered with homemade jam before being wolfed down on the way to a.m. drop-offs), Does’ Leap goat Caprella, Plum Hill farm plums, and homemade-with-Gleason-Grains whole wheat sourdough bread for grown-up lunch.

Dinner was homemade-no-machine-needed whole wheat pasta for dinner, also made with Gleason Grains bread flour, cooked, drained, buttered, and tossed with Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre, wilted swiss chard, and halved grape tomatoes from the garden.  Some of us had the aforementioned butterscotch pudding for dessert, while others elected to have pure localvore temper tantrums instead.  We go on.

Monkey Menu Monday: Tiny Russian Pancakes 0

Posted on September 21, 2009 by crankycheryl

0921091302aSo here we are on Day 3 of the EatLocal 100 mile challenge.  And it’s Monday, the day I cajole the boys into picking a meal from the international cookbook I keep foisting on them.

Last night we flipped through and landed on the Russia page, which contained the tiny pancakes called Sirniki (SEER-nih-ki, according to the helpful pronunciation key).

So that plus a fruit shake (Adam’s blueberries, Strafford Creamery Smooth Maple Ice Cream, and milk) became tonight’s dinner.  I added some pureed baked butternut squash to the pancakes, which is what I nearly always do to unsuspecting pancakes and baked goods here in the CrankyHouse.

Reading the recipe over made me think that these must have been a traditional dairy farm meal, since they call for a veritable sampler of dairy ingredients.  (If any vegan friends stop by, please do let me know if you see a way to veganize this one.  I couldn’t figure it out.)  The results are very cheesy, light, and savory.  I also like that they have no added leavening, instead relying on the beaten egg whites for their lightness.  The boys just ate them – all of them, 17 each –  plain, though we could have had them with the traditional sour cream, and the one I actually got to try would have been heavenly with some homemade jam.

Butternut Squash Sirniki
Makes about 25 – 35 tiny pancakes

  • 1/2 c. soft cream cheese (I bought some local stuff – pricey but good)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin or butternut squash puree
  • 4 T. butter

For serving (optional):

  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 c. apricot or other preserves
  1. Mash the cream cheese with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth.
  2. Beat the yolks into the cream cheese, and add in the sugar, salt and squash puree.  Beat until very smooth.
  3. Stir in the cottage cheese, then add the flour.
  4. Beat egg whites until they’re white and stiff and hold a peak.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into the batter.
  6. Heat 2 T. butter in large frying pan just until lightly bubbling.
  7. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the frying pan, and cook until the bottoms are set and the top looks nearly dry, about 2 minutes.  Flip over and cook for another 2 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and keep warm while you cook the rest.
  9. Serve plain, with sour cream, jam, both, or whatever other kooky thing you come up with.

A Localvore Nod to National Butterscotch Pudding Day 1

Posted on September 19, 2009 by crankycheryl

With incredible good fortune and nearly incalculable odds, National Butterscotch Pudding Day and the EatLocalVT challenge have converged.   How better to celebrate than to make a Vermont version of this homey and comforting dessert, no?

Just do be sure to use everything local you can get your hands on, if you please.

This version is adapted from David Leibowitz, who melted my heart with this intro on his original post:

One decision I refuse to let you make is to be one of those people that wants to press plastic wrap on top of the puddings to avoid that delicious, chewy skin that forms on top.

If you don’t like pudding skin, why are you eating pudding in the first place? That’s the best part and you don’t want to be in the category of a big loser.

Now, do you?


Maple Butterscotch Pudding
Serves 4-6

  • 4 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 c. maple sugar, maple syrup, or brown sugar if you must
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 2½ c. whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons whiskey (optional, and I’m thinking about that apple brandy I hear that Shelburne Orchards has in its still once it’s ready)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream for serving.

1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add maple sugar and salt, then stir until the sugar is well-moistened. Remove from heat.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth (there should be no visible pills of cornstarch), then whisk in the eggs.

3. Gradually pour the remaining milk into the melted maple sugar, whisking constantly, then whisk in the cornstarch mixture as well.

4. Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Once it begins to bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer and continue to cook for one minute, whisking non-stop, until the pudding thickens to the consistency of hot fudge sauce.

5. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey (if using) and vanilla. If slightly-curdled looking, blend as indicated above.

6. Pour into 4-6 serving glasses or custard cups and chill thoroughly, at least four hours, before serving.  Top with whipped cream, if you like.

Photo from MyBakingHeart, Creative Commons license.

Green Mountain Salad Nicoise with Maple-Brined Chicken 0

Posted on September 17, 2009 by crankycheryl

0909091735(2)So we’re reading Charlotte’s Web and tonight I got to read this aloud while trying to maintain composure, thank you very much E.B. White:

… The sheds and buildings are empty and forlorn.  The infield was littered with bottles and trash.  Nobody, of all the hundreds of people who had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

What the hell?  That’s a chapter ending?  Like, “Night, night babies, give Mommy a smooch!  That’s right, the story’s hero died alone in a g.d. abandoned fairground!  Well, good night!”

Good gravy.  I was trying to gently introduce my kids to the circle of life, not send them into an existentialist depression.

Then, after some quality time with a few tissues and a review of my belief system, I hustled downstairs to get to work.  This Saturday is the launch of the EatLocalVT 100-mile challenge, and part of my blogging means bringing a signature dish to the potluck kick-off event.  This is a dinner salad I created just for the challenge, involving nearly 100% local ingredients and based on a few Nicoise-inspired salads I’ve had over the years.  There are a few steps, but they’re all simple, and the results are pretty delicious.

Note: The brining process does take 3 1/2 hours, so do get an early start.  If you must, you can skip it.  But try not to because it’s good.

Green Mountain Salad Nicoise with Maple-Brined Chicken (or maple-marinated tofu)
Serves 4

For chicken:

  • 1/4 c. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/2 t. lightly crushed fennel seeds or fresh fennel fronds
  • 1 tray ice cubes
  • 1 c. cold strong coffee
  • 2 c. cold water
  • 4 chicken legs or breast halves, bone in and skin on

Place all the brine ingredients in a bowl or pot large enough to accommodate them plus the chicken, and stir around well with your hand until well-mixed and the salt dissolves.  Add the chicken, then refrigerate for 3 hours.

(If you prefer tofu, take one pound of extra firm tofu, and press it for about an hour.  Marinate it in about 1 cup of vegetable broth, with 2 T. maple syrup, 2 T. coffee, and crushed fennel seeds or fronds, then bake it in a 350 oven for about 25 minutes, turning midway through.)

For the salad:

  • 10 cups salad greens (I used napa cabbage for the version depicted above)
  • 4 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ dice
  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into 1 1/2″ dice (you can peel if you want, but I don’t)
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped into 1″ dice, seeded if you prefer
  • 1/2 c. olive or safflower oil
  • 4 c. green beans, ends trimmed
  • 4 hardboiled eggs, cooled and peeled and cut into half lengthwise
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Rinse and dry the salad greens and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400.
  3. Toss the potatoes with a generous dollop of the oil and place on an oiled baking sheet.
  4. Repeat with the beets, keeping each vegetable in its own area.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove tray from oven, turn over with a spatula, and slide down to make room for green beans.
  7. Toss the green beans with a bit of oil and then roast them for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove vegetables from oven and let cool.


Whisk together until completely blended:

  • 1/2 c. olive or safflower oil
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt

Finish the chicken:

  1. Remove from brine and pat dry.
  2. Place on oiled baking sheet and bake in preheated 400 oven for 30 minutes or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the flesh is poked with a knife.
  3. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes while you:

Compose the salad

Place the salad greens on each of four plates.  Arrange beets, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and eggs however you like them.  Add the chicken (or tofu), drizzle with dressing and enjoy.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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