raw honey

MISSING THE MIDWEST | CAST IRON CORNBREAD + HONEY BUTTER

 

At the heart of it all, we are but two Midwesterners who grew up driving by cornfields and eating cornbread made up from a box. Cornbread just may be the dish that most embodies the sprit of Americana. It is comfort food, not particularly good for you, but good for the soul. It is the kind of food that has its place at any old backyard barbecue and at Thanksgiving dinner, too. Both of us have memories of battling siblings for the last piece of sweet, sweet Jiffy cornbread. We won some; we lost some. Being that we are all grown up now, it goes without saying that we are still not above battling for the last piece. Cornbread continues to hold a place in our hearts and bellies because it reminds us of home. Comfort food has earned its name for a reason, and we are no strangers to the special power it holds as we lead our lives in a tiny camper many hundreds of miles from home. In the face of homesickness: we bake and we eat.

Last week, we wrote about how our forest shower is at the center of our camper life. What we did not say, which rings as true as ever before, is that the kitchen is at the center of our life anywhere. We have noticed a strong correlation over the years between our spiritual wellbeing and the amount of time we are spending in the kitchen cooking together, working with our hands together, and eating together. We have heard the same from several people that we admire and love. The wellness that we derive from being in the kitchen has its roots not only in the fruits of our labor, but also in the labor itself and the wares so lovingly used time and time again.

In consideration of a homesick heart, a fail-proof recipe is the best sort. Having been guilty of crying over spilled milk in the past, we knew that our day off needed to start with a well-worn recipe reminiscent of home. The sort you slice with a pocketknife and don’t bother to get your fancy dishes out for serving. We needed a recipe that, at best, can be eaten on its own en masse, and at worst can be wholly redeemed by dunking it in soup. Cornbread. We may have grown up loyal devotees to Jiffy, but these days we come back time and time again to Karen Mordechai’s cornbread recipe in Sunday Suppers: Recipes and Gatherings. She calls for high-quality cornmeal, and we call for cooking it in cast iron.

A love for cast iron is something of a learned trait, isn’t it? Your grandma used the same skillet every day for half a century, and she probably did not worry about every drop of condensation that touched it. Her skillet was an extension of her arm; an extension of her maternal nature. Best of all, the skillet probably was not Lodge or Griswold; it was just old.  (The other day, we scored a 9-inch cast iron skillet for five bucks at a garage sale, or “tag sale” as they call ‘em in the Northeast. We can’t find a brand anywhere on it, but it works significantly better than the Lodge we’ve been seasoning for years. Go figure.) We inherited the love of cast iron from our mothers, who learned it from theirs. In earnest we will spend our marriage seasoning our cast iron pans not with store-bought treatments, but with olive oil and butter and no-fail cornbread. 


CAST IRON BUTTERMILK CORNBREAD WITH HONEY BUTTER

from Karen Mordecai's cookbook Sunday Suppers: Recipes and Gatherings
A note on baking: We did not have light brown sugar, and instead used 1/8 cup white sugar and 1/2 tablespoon molasses. Use less honey if you want it slightly less sweet and a little more savory, as we did. 
We halved the recipe to fit our 9-inch skillet.

INGREDIENTS
cornbread
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. good honey
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt

honey butter
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 c. honey

STEPS
for cornbread
— preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with butter.
— melt butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. stir in brown sugar and honey + remove from heat. quickly add eggs and beat until combined.
— in a cup or small bowl, combine buttermilk with baking soda. add that to the egg mixture. in a larger bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
— pour the batter into the greased cast iron skillet and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
or honey butter
— 
mix butter and honey in a small bowl until well blended. add herbs if you'd like, or leave it as is. spread it on the warm cornbread and enjoy.


—M&S

LIVING WITH LESS | WHITE MISO + GINGER UDON SOUP

 

We just got word that our dad, my father-in-law, is administering medical aid to refugees currently living in tents at the port of Piraeus in Greece. He has said little else about it, but the thought of it has not been far from my mind. In a few weeks, we will be swimming in Greece's most beautiful waters, drinking coffee by the sea, and eating what we want, when we want. Not far from us will be refugees, forced from their homes and living in tents. It is a lot to reconcile, yes, but is it any different than living in comfort anywhere in the world? Does merely having oceans to safeguard us from disaster make us, somehow, more sympathetic? 

What a privilege to be able to choose less. Paring back—donating bags of clothing, dejunking your kitchen cupboards and throwing out expired food, selling your unwanted furniture—is a privilege of the comfortable. In fact, choice is a privilege of the comfortable, so often abused and misinterpreted as a right. Each of us lays claim to all manner of things. Mark and I are working ardently to cultivate our life according to an overarching philosophy that we do not own anything: nothing is ours outright, not even our blood lineage. All of us are of the Earth, belonging to no one absolutely. We have faith alone to call ours. If this is true of humanity, as I believe it is, then it is certainly true of stuff. Even the best of it — my pale pink Kitchenaid stand mixer, or Mark's ukulele that we bought from a craftsman in Greece, or the land we hope to one day heal and farm on — is for naught in the end. Genesis is echoed every year on Ash Wednesday, carrying with it the totality of existence: You are dust, and to dust you will return. What a relief. 

This need for less is something I have been wrestling with in Vermont, where we actually have "very little." I brought one Off Farm outfit, on account of being a chronic under-packer and believing I would not need many clothes. And I do not. My yellow sweater and black pants have held up perfectly well to daily wear. Yet I crave my clothes, of which I have many, that are currently living in my parents laundry room in Ohio. We are inhabiting someone else's space, equipped with all the necessities to get by quite comfortably: running water, electricity, a sharp knife, some cutting boards, books and blankets. We are blessed with the essentials, and still I miss Mark's and my things. The point is (I think) that when your accumulated goods are away from you, it becomes harder to claim you do not need them. Or it has been for me. Honesty in the name of the blog, I guess. Sharing this inner struggle embarrasses me, but in striving for improved humility and a more confident faith, I have set to sharing it.

So how does this tie in to photos of udon noodle soup? Ingredients have made this place feel like home. Having access to nourishing, cleansing, and comforting ingredients (hello, garlic) diminish the craving for anything else. I recently found a local jar of an ingredient on my Dream List of Ingredients: sweet white miso. Miso is fermented bean paste hailing from Japan, the addition of which makes everything taste better. This soup is focused on the miso + ginger broth and little else. It is wholesome, nutritive, and ready in no time.


WHITE MISO + GINGER UDON SOUP

INGREDIENTS

2 bundles udon noodles
salt + pepper to taste
2 tb. fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks bok choy
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 eggs
2 tbs. coconut oil
4 c. beef stock
1 1/2 c. water
1 tb. white miso
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tb. raw honey

STEPS
— warm coconut oil in a stock pot and sauté ginger and garlic until fragrant.
— add beef stock and water, cover and bring to simmer for five minutes.
— in a separate pot, bring water to a boil and then add udon noodles, cooking for five minutes. strain and set aside, saving the water to cook your eggs in (or don't, but it saves you a few minutes).
— in stock pot, add fish sauce*, carrots, and a dash or two of salt and pepper, simmering for five minutes. 
— cut the heat, and miso, honey, and bok choy. stir in and let the flavors marry while you soft boil your eggs.
— bring the noodle water back to a boil, and drop in eggs. hard boil for six minutes and then transfer to ice cold water. peel and slice the eggs in half.
— dish out the stock into bowls, add a handful of noodles, drop the eggs in, and top with a generous handful of scallions. lap it up with the bowl just beneath your chin, because it's fun that way.
*if you do not have fish sauce, i have read that you can sub soy sauce with a bit of worcestershire sauce.


—S

NEW ADVENTURES + NEW FLAVORS | GOAT CHEESE TWO WAYS

 
TableSetting

I started a new job last month at a wonderful place called Lucky Penny Creamery. The opening was for a part-time delivery gig, butlike most life things—reality has strayed far from the plan. After a few weeks of building websites, running donation drives, and campaigning against national food policy, among other things, I am beginning to question the point of making any specific life plans at all. It has been an exciting, challenging, and slightly scary start to a new adventure.

With a new job comes new perks, and one particular benefit of my affiliation with Lucky Penny makes my life feel much fancier than it really is. A few times now, I have come home toting several pounds of goat cheese (or chèvre). This past weekend, that comically oversized bag of cheese was accompanied by an assignment to craft a simple holiday recipe using Lucky Penny's chèvre.

We developed two different spreads. The first, a Honey + Balsamic chèvre, is moderately sweet and tempers the tanginess of the goat cheese while maintaining the earthy integrity. Using good honey is the key. The second, an anything-but-sweet Winter Spice chèvre, is perfect for dolloping on eggs or a whole grain cracker. It's a little bit Moroccan, a little bit Indian, and very holiday-centric.

BowlofChevre
PouringCarrotJuice
carrot-juice
spreads

WILDFLOWER HONEY + BALSAMIC CHÈVRE
2 tb. Down Home honey (hey, that's us! but any local honey will be good)
1 tb. balsamic vinegar
1 c. Lucky Penny Creamery Chèvre

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or by hand, mix the honey and balsamic vinegar. Then, incorporate the chèvre, mixing until the texture is nice & creamy. Garnish with herbs if you've got 'em. We used a couple sprigs of fresh thyme.


WINTER SPICE CHÈVRE
1/8 tsp. ground clove
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
dash carrot juice (optional)
1 c. Lucky Penny Creamery Chèvre

Mix all of the spices together in a small bowl. Then, in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or by hand, combine the spice mixture with the chèvre. Once mixed, you may add a dash of carrot juice. Or don't. It helps with the creaminess, but isn't critical.

Enjoy!


—M

BITTERSWEET | AN UNEXPECTED HONEY HARVEST

 
honey-jars

Our honeybees swarmed. That is to say, they left. We knew what we were getting into when we became beekeepers—we have read all about Colony Collapse Disorder, and we have heard our beekeeping mentor talk about how he continues to lose half of his hives each year. But none of that prevented our chests from tightening the way they did when we walked up to a silent hive early last week. It didn't change the feeling of sorrow we felt upon realizing what had happened. It didn't silence the persistent thoughts that we had failed as beekeepers in our mission to help save the bees.

Needless to say, our catchphrase "I can't wait to not be a first-year beekeeper" still rings true.

strainer-with-honey-dripping
cleaning-mason-jars
table-ready-for-honey
honey-from-tap
honey-in-progress

As it turns out, honey helps. It helps a lot. 

We had initially feared losing our bees after a long, cold Ohio winter—at which point, they could have already consumed most or all of the honey that they had stored from the previous season. However, since they chose to swarm during this unusually warm month of November, they left us with a bounty of liquid gold. How very bittersweet.

Harvesting raw honey is a very slow, very sticky processlike most things beekeeping. Our friends at The Wholesome Hive were kind enough to let me occupy their home for an entire morning & afternoon, uncapping honey comb & extracting honey using their hand-cranked centrifuge. After much straining & draining, I returned home with a very heavy bucketful of honey. 

After spending a small fortune on mason jars, the final, unexpected & bittersweet harvest of our first season as beekeepers is complete. We haven't finished weighing our product, but we estimate there is somewhere between 40 - 50 lbs of honey sitting on our kitchen table waiting to be gifted, bartered, and consumed. Thank you, honeybees, for your generosity. Though our hearts are broken, our coffers are full. And we know that we will be better beekeepers next year.

In the words of Jack Kerouac: "Praised be honey at the source."

holding-jar-of-honey

—M