Thursday, February 19, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

...squeeze the juice out of 'em!
Karen's parents just returned from a three-week driving trip through Sedona, Phoenix, and Tucson, Arizona, and they just couldn't resist bringing home a trunk full of lemons. Karen and Lily did most of the work with the able assistance of the mighty Samson juicer courtesy of the McDonalds. We didn't count the lemons before we started, but they yielded almost three gallons of juice. Anyone have any good recipes that use a lot of lemon juice?

I'll bet Midwesterners are good entertainment for the folks in Arizona that have more fruit than they know what to do with. My in-laws remarked about how, "All that fruit was just going to go to waste!" which is probably a line the Arizonans hear on a regular basis during tourist season. Funny, I don't recall seeing anyone from the southwest scooping up all the zucchini we usually have sitting around at the end of summer; or should you happen to catch an Arizonan in the Midwest in the winter, I doubt you'll find them scooping snow into their suitcase while muttering, "All this snow is just going to go to waste!"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do you want to own part of a dairy herd?

We do. Not that we have always dreamed of owning a dairy herd, on the contrary, we've known enough dairy families over the years to know that a dairy herd is a big commitment. Much bigger than what we are looking for. When your dairy farmer neighbor asks if you want to own part of a herd, now that's another matter.

Marjo Acres is the dairy farm a few hundred yards from our home run by the Todd and Mike Steiner families. In the last 60 years, at least four generations of Steiners have grown the dairy operation to the 150+ milker, pasture-fed, organic showcase that it is today. Now the farm is beginning a new chapter. Their herd share program will allow farmers and non-farmers alike to buy a fraction of the herd and pay for the boarding costs of that fraction in return for fresh milk. The deal sounds pretty good to us: fresh, organic, whole milk with plenty of real cream in each gallon while leaving the manure, cow wrangling, and milking to the Steiners.

We attended their first information meeting for the new venture on Saturday, and became the first official co-owners of the herd under this new program. Here are a few pictures from that event:

This must be the way to get there....

Here's Todd Steiner allaying the fears of potential buyer Dale Koch while Chad Plattner contemplates the investment in the background.

Mike Steiner explains the legal documents to a wary Bryan Evans. That's a tough decision when your family drinks 14 gallons of milk a week!

The Steiners gave us a clue about their views on fresh milk by leaving a copy of Nourishing Traditions sitting around. To the right is a good list of websites that extol the benefits of milk straight from the cow. If you can't read the list, let me know and I'll list the websites in a future post.

Fortunately for you, we didn't buy the entire herd, so you can own a share also. If you're really interested, let me know and we'll put you in touch with the Steiners.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Star Anise Beef with Leek and Hoisin-Chili Sauce

Karen found this recipe in the March 1987 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and we've been enjoying it ever since, preparing it from that original clipping. In fact, we still use the electric wok we received as a wedding present back in 1986. Since this recipe requires a good bit of preparation and one large leek (which we normally do not keep on hand), it is not prepared as often as we would like to enjoy it. We like it for its spicy sweet flavor with a hint of ginger and garlic. The dish was presented by the magazine in a section of Szechwan (or Szechuan or Sichuan) recipes, although we don't know enough about food in that part of the world to prove them right or wrong. Maybe Mr. Yen will help us identify which Szechwan style this dish represents.

10 ounces flank steak, cut into 1/8 x 2 inch shreds
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
3/4 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 large leek cut into 1/8 x 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 large red bell pepper cut into 1/8 x 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 small fresh red chili, seeded and cut into 1/8 x 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp + 1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tsp hot chili sauce
3/4 tsp sugar
1 star anise
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

Combine steak, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce, cornstarch and pepper in non-aluminum bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Heat wok over medium high heat 45 seconds. Add 1 tbsp oil and heat 1 minute. Add leek and stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add bell peppers, chili and salt and stir-fry 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate. Clean wok.

Blend hoisin, chili sauce and sugar.

Heat wok over high heat 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium. Add 2 tbsp oil and star anise and stir 2 minutes. Remove star anise. Increase heat to high and cook oil 30 seconds. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry 45 seconds. Add beef and stir-fry 1 minute. Add hoisin sauce mixture and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add vegetables and stir-fry 45 seconds. Serve immediately.

We usually double the recipe so the four of us can have a generous portion and still have leftovers. You may have noticed the picture above shows that we used one red bell pepper and one orange bell pepper instead of two red ones. Bon appetit!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I hate to tax your patience like this, but...

Since working through our income tax return has occupied a lot of spare time lately, that activity deserves a mention on the blog. Since photos of me studying records and spreadsheets may be even more tedious than the normal fare on this site, I'll only bother you with the logo below.

We've used eSmartTax to prepare and submit our tax returns since 2003 and have been very satisfied. We've used three different levels of their service over the years, from the free service to the premium level with the phone tax support last year. That was a weird experience: I filled out a form online requesting phone help, and within an hour a Liberty Tax employee from an office in Virginia called and answered any questions I had. Well worth $29.95 at the time. This year our return is simpler than last year, and we've come to the sobering point in life where Lily is too old to qualify for the Child Tax Credit. Ouch. There goes another $1,000. It seems like only yesterday that she first appeared as a dependent on our 1040. If you haven't found an online tax service you're happy with, I suggest you try eSmartTax. Since you don't pay until you submit your return, if you don't like it, you can just leave. Too bad they don't pay me for this advertisement.

Beautiful sunset #14

February 9, 5:29 PM