29 May 2013

Vin d'Orange

I have forever loved the European custom of an aperitif. If you're not familiar with it, you can read about it on my previous post. Most recently, I tried my hand at making Vin d'Orange. I researched a gazillion recipes and tried the one I thought seemed the most authentic. I waited the requisite month of aging and .....yuck. It was weirdly slimy and pulpy and murky, not what I had in mind for a tiny afternoon tipple or a lovely spring brunch I was planning. Generally, the recipes consisted of allowing whole oranges to soak in wine and sugar about a month, then boiling the mixture, straining and adding the brandy.

So, I put on my creative hat and began again. This recipe is not as traditional, but there are a few points I think you'll like better.

1.I didn't boil the entire bottle of wine, so I am assuming you keep the majority of the alcohol intact.
2.Much fresher flavor overall, less of a "baked" taste. I also think you could add some club soda to make it sparkle.
3.The long strand of orange zest looked really fabulous suspended in the wine.
4.We drank on days 4 and finished the bottle on day 10.....I hate waiting.

So very sorry, apparently I did not photograph.....please use imagination to visualize.


1 bottle (750ml) dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
Zest from 3 Oranges
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup Brandy or other spirits

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of wine, sugar and orange zest over medium heat. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine remaining wine and Brandy in a decorative pitcher or bottle.

Using a fine sieve or coffee filter, strain zest/sugar mixture and add to wine/brandy combination. Add a piece of zest if desired. Refrigerate. This will last up to 1 year in a cool place. Serve cold as an aperitif.

I packaged mine in a great, clear, flip top bottle for a bit of vintage flair, but you could also pour right back into the pinot grigio bottle and re-label!

20 May 2013

Build your own potting Bench

On of the greatest gifts I have ever received was a potting bench John made for me. It was a past life of growing my own seedlings, being a Master Gardener and creating massive perennial beds and vegetable gardens.....

I was upset this Spring to see a rotting leg on my old potting bench despite good care throughout the years, so it had to go. I briefly considered purchasing a new potting bench and then just realized we could copy the old because I loved it so much and it was a fraction of the cost of a cheaply built bench.

I also use my bench for outdoor entertaining with just some cute flour sack towels under the dishes or for a copper bucket with ice and wine bottles.

If you don't have a power saw, you can easily have your boards cut at the local hardware and haul it all home prepped. I used treated lumber because I don't want to bring my bench inside during winter weather, but it's a personal choice as treated lumber does have some environmental downsides.

The bench only took about an hour and a half to build and had I been smart, I would have stained all of the boards first, but (whatchgonnado), sometimes it takes me a little to catch on!

Here is what you need for construction;

Weatherproof screws 2 inches long

8-1X4 boards 48 inches long (top of bench, back support and top shelf)
5-1X4 boards 45 inches long (bottom shelf boards)

4-2X4 boards 24 inches long (bench supports)
2-2X4 boards 36 inches long (front legs)
2-2X4 boards 60 inches (back legs)

2 1X4 boards 10 inches long (top shelf supports)
(You could also replace these boards with some decorative iron brackets, it would look REALLY great)

Weatherproofing stain or paint of choice

This is mainly a 1 person project, however you may need a helping hand when putting the main frame work together as it becomes cumbersome for 1 person.

Put the sides together first, making sure that the leg bottoms are perfectly level to each other. Attach back support board to topmost back leg and level before screwing in. You want this even with top of leg boards. You may always add an additional 1X4 board here as well, for hooks or a decorative piece of wood (this will be your visible "back").

Measuring accurately, lay out bottom shelf boards and screw in with 2 screws on each side of board. You'll want 1 1/2 inches of space between each board. John and I didn't measure the bottom boards the same as my old bench for this step. On my old bench the boards were 45 inches for the bottom shelf and so they lined up perfectly with the 2X4 support and the most outer edge board of the shelf which is cut to fit between the 2X4 supports. While it looks ok with the 48 inch boards, I preferred the other look. (It was starting to rain and I said to hell with it, just put them on :))

Next start on the top shelf boards, measuring accurately and using 2 screws per side of board with 1 1/2 inch space between edges of boards.

Last we added the top most shelf lining up the board to be even with the entire back of the legs and support board across back. (NOTE; this is where we went a little jenky; Your 10 inch support pieces should be cut with 45 degree angles. As you can see, mine are not. RULE OF THUMB WHEN BUILDING Measure twice, cut once.)

Add your support beams on the inside, lining up with the back legs and put in just 1 screw. Line up your second shelf board and adjust to be level, then add additional screws to attach and secure.

After reading this, it's the most unprofessional builder advice ever, but it should be easy to understand and implement. Small imperfections don't bother me on a DIY project and gives things a bit of character. So don't get too bogged down in the small stuff. You should probably sand your boards ends, I didn't. And as I said before, it would have been much easier to stain the boards first....but I never seem to choose prepared or easy :)

Good luck and Happy Gardening for years to come!!

14 May 2013


Memories of beaches, children, sunny days, lakes, oceans, parenting, sunscreen, ice cream. It's a pile of shells, a flotsam of our summers with a tiny forget-me-not growing in the midst to remind me.

10 May 2013

Smoked & Pickled Green Onions

At our store, The Boulevard Market, I have hosted a seasonal series of Preserving Classes for the last few years. We create wonderful preserved foods using canning, freezing, smoking, pickling, fermenting, drying and occasionally "air exclusion" as a way to preserve the bounty of Michigan spring, summer and fall harvests. On my part, it's been fantastic to try lots of new preserving techniques and recipes, in small batches, that I might not otherwise have made. On the part of the attendees, you get to sample the finished recipes (so you know if it's to your liking) and we pair it up with other foods so you've got some serving ideas, we also keep the batches small.

Whew...all that being said, I'm forever purchasing new cookbooks/magazines/publications for inspiration and new techniques. I recently scooped up "The Preservation Kitchen" by Paul Virant with Katie Leahy as he included some really interesting recipes and is located in the midwest. I also love that fact he included many recipes to go with his preserves and that is a treasure, as creativity can often be missing with hunger.

The Smoked and Pickled Green Onion recipe was one I featured at last month's class and I have blown through the jar I made in less than 2 weeks! Here's the recipe, my way (sorry for the liberties Mr Virant):


30 green onions, cleaned and tossed with a teaspoon of vegetable oil
1 ¼ cup Champagne Vinegar
1 ¼ cup water
3 Tablespoons Honey
½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
6 Sprigs thyme

Bring vinegar, water, honey and salt to a boil, turn to low to keep hot.

You can use a traditional smoker to smoke onions, or the cheaters way, which I did. I filled the bottom of an old 9X13 pan with applewood chips to just cover bottom of pan. I put the pan on the grill racks of my gas grill and heated to very hot. As soon as the wood in the pan started to smoke, I place the green onions on the rack above the pan and cooked them about 12 minutes until a bit softened and slightly yellowed.

Sterilize a quart jar or 2 pint jars, warm lids. Pack hot onions into jars, add a few sprigs of washed thyme and fill with vinegar combination, leaving a ½ inch headspace.

Finger tighten rings and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes, or allow to cool to room temperature and refrigerate up to 2 months.

Here are some photos of my cheater smoker. There is no need to purchase any fancy smoker box. I routinely use an old 9X13 pan for light smoking grilled food. (Remember this is not the same technique for preserving food by smoking) Since I have plenty of fruit trees that I grow without pesticides, I save my apple, pear, plum trimmings and allow to dry in the shed or garage for use in the traditional smoker or on the grill.

I fell in love with Mr Virant's Salsa Verde for using these onions;

1 cup S&P Onions, chopped
1/2 cup fresh italian parsley
1/2 cup fresh tarragon, chervil or chives (or a combo)
2 Tablespoons capers, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

At the class I made a fresh chevre (goat cheese) quiche to pair with...delicious!!

I hope you take a bit of time to preserve your own harvest this year! There is nothing in the world like opening a jar of summer during the nastiest of January days!

07 May 2013

Easy-Peasy Pulled Pork & BBQ Sauce

We love pulled pork. We think about, drool over it, gorge ourselves on it and do it all over again. The odd thing about pulled pork is everyone's idea about how it should taste, be cooked and what sauce you eat it with is different. Which is great because there really is no wrong!

After hosting 3 high school graduation parties (in the Midwest we throw a huge party), John has found a way to make amazing pulled pork without a gargantuan pig roaster burning in the yard for 2 days. He makes at least 10 pounds, so we share the remains and stick a bag in the freezer for emergency BBQ gluttony.

Around our place everyone likes a different sauce too. Some like a North Carolina vinegar sauce, some like it sweet and some like it a little spicy. I'm going to share the sauce we all agree on even though it's unconventional. I think you'll love it! Happy BBQ-ing!

15 pounds of pork shoulder blades (bone in) or pork butt roast
plenty of salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic and we enjoy a little blackened seasoning and a dash of cayenne

We just sprinkle the spices right on the meat, never really measuring. I would say a Tablespoon of each if no measuring bothers you.

Place seasoned meat and 4 cups water in a large electric roaster pan. Set temperature at 250 degrees and allow to cook overnight or at least 12 hours. Remove meat from juices and allow to cool. Carefully shred all meat into a separate bowl, removing bones and fat. You may want to hang on to a cup or 2 of the juices so when reheating meat, it does not dry out.


1 cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup dark rum
1 tablespoon jerk seasoning blend
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced

Place all ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 10-15 minutes until desired thickness.
Allow to cool. Sauce can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long!)

01 May 2013

Non-traditional Paint Project

I almost always choose the classic style, the proven combination, the traditional, the button down cardigan in black. I like it that way. Season after season it looks "nice". I'm not exactly sure what just happened here. I chose non-traditional paint colors for the exterior doors and shed and mailbox.

Before; Mid-western white with Sage green trim. It was a nice color combo, that was just needing a paint job.

I like it. I think it has style....or at least more than it had before! I am excited to plant the windowbox with purple something or other and John has agreed to not mow over any perennials (or maybe sunflowers) I might plant along the bottom.

I didn't photograph the mailbox yet. I spray painted it with copper paint to see if I'd like a real copper mailbox. It's unusual and funky and fun. I think I owe the mailman a bonus since I'm almost positive he had copper smears of paint on his hands for a couple days! It also took the entire can of spray paint to cover evenly.

It feels good to do something a bit different. A bit uncomfortable at first, but hey, in my case, it is just paint!