Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Digging Nightshades

There is something particularly rewarding about pulling a thing from the ground that you planted and that will subsequently offer you nourishment.  My garden is somewhat of a wild experiment (more on that here). There are staples I always rely on; tomatoes, asparagus, squash.  But once they are accounted for there is always room for something new, something I did not plan for.  This year it was potatoes.   I planted them for the first time this spring, on a whim, at the recommendation of my cousin who is brilliant with anything that carries roots and always willing to take a chance.  Try them she urged, its no big deal! 

I have been intimidated by the prospect of growing potatoes for years, but her words at last gave me the motivation to commit space in my garden to the project.  Last week my reward was discovered.  I had been watching the once supple greens begin to diminish; knowing the time to check them was coming near.  The first cluster pulled easily from the ground, and I have to admit, I have never been so excited about potatoes!  My young son joined the endeavor and we dug for potatoes as if they were treasure, dirt clinging to their soft skins.  He has never been so excited about potatoes. 

What felt like a risk just a few months ago now feels like an accomplishment.  And it reminded that each of my stables was at one time planted for the first time.  And at the start of each new season they are planted for the first time again, along side whatever variety holds the place of this year’s experiment.  All of it is unknown and rewarding. 

To finish the season I am taking a chance again.  That bag of fingerlings that had started to sprout in my pantry was cut up and sewn into the ground.  They may or may not have time to mature before our season fully turns the corner, but I am willing to give it a try.

So whatever it is that you have been wanting to try...Go for it, its no big deal!

With gratitude,


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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Wild Things {Crafted by the Seasons}

I learned to love wild things from my mother: mountains, forests, a late night unnecessarily rearranging household furniture and the manner of my gardening. 

I always plan to plan my garden.  Early in the season I have high expectations for how organized I will be, how much research I will do and how much more I will learn before the seeds and starts touch the soil.  I am sure I will be more ordered and more intentional than I was the year before.  But this is not the way of it. 

I often start well, I write down varieties and planting dates.  I plan for phase two.  And then slowly I drift from the plan, I spot a new variety at the garden center, I can’t help myself at the herb farm. Excitement takes over.  This year my cousin suggested potatoes and I thought, yes, at last I will try them!  And I did.  My garden becomes a mix of things I planned and those that planned for me.  And again we settle into the pattern that leads us every year, a relationship that begs me wonder, who is guiding who. 

For long periods, in Midwest garden years, my garden grows itself, watered on hot summer days by our neighbor’s daughter when we are away.  When I return my garden is wild in a new way.  It is a wild combination of things I planted and things I did not.  All of it is tall and lush and entangled.  I look at it and sigh, chiding myself a little, and then I climb inside and everything changes.  I pull and dig, my knees grow dirty and my fingernails worse.  I build big piles of things called weeds and then I stand back and look and I sigh again, this time with satisfaction.  Residing together are small weeds, previously unseen beneath the overgrowth, lush canopies shielding squash that should have been picked last week, and the first glimpse of red on a tomato.  The arugula is flowering, which means I missed its harvest, but I leave the blossoms to themselves, they are as lovely as their leaves are tasty. 

I will be a life long amateur gardener.   Maybe I enjoy the surprises too much to learn more about the details or maybe it is just not in my makeup to follow an organized plan.  I think both are true.  I have learned that my garden is a teacher, a place with more wisdom than I.  My garden has taught me that I love the freedom of process, of watching, of being a participant.  It has taught me to marvel at the power inside a tiny seed.  And it gives me a place where I reconcile with myself.  I love my garden wild.  It invites me to embrace and sometimes forgive my own wild places. 

With gratitude,


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Basil Ice Cream, a Recipe {Crafted by the Seasons}

Basil is a favorite herb for many of us.  Its sweet yet bold flavor and aroma can lend freshness to so many dishes.  It is in full abundance this time of year and this week we are using it to make ice cream.  Making ice cream is a fun and gratifying process that yields its own reward, that is, well, ice cream!  Chef Mike Hofmann at Hotel Washington is sharing his own recipe for a basil infused ice cream that is a full feast for the senses.  Whether making ice cream is a summer ritual for you or you are attempting it for the first time this is a recipe that is sure to delight. 

{ basil ice cream }

Total time: up to 12 hours (depending on chilling and ice cream machine)
Active time: 45 minutes
Enjoy: with a spoon and good company

1/2 quart heavy cream
1 ½  quart whole milk
1 ½ cup sugar
15 egg yolk
8 ounce whole fresh basil
1 pinch of salt
1 squosh vanilla 

{ you will also need }

medium saucepan
large stock pot (will be used to create a steam bath)
large mixing bowl
food processor
ice cream maker
measuring cups and spoons 

{ make }

Add ¾ cup of sugar and basil (leaves and stems) to food processor.  Pulse until just blended, pieces of basil will remain.  Set aside.

Separate egg white* and yolk, retain yolks in large mixing bowl.  By hand or in a stand mixer, whisk yolks until they are fully combined and begin to pale in color.

Add sugar and basil mixture and continue to whisk until fully incorporated.  Set aside.  

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk and remaining sugar; scold on high heat.  Remove from heat.

Add cream and milk mixture to egg mixture by a slow drizzle making sure to incorporate slowly so as not to cook yoke.  Stir until just combined.

In the mean time, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.  Place mixing bowl containing egg and dairy mixture onto the steaming pot to create a steam bath.  

Stir continuously with a rubber spatula until desired thickness is reached; reduce heat if granules start to appear.  Keep over heat until drips of custard create an outline when falling back into pot, approximately 15 minutes.

Pour mixture through a fine strainer to remove basil pieces.  You may need to strain multiple times to remove all basil bits.  

Place mixture in refrigerator uncovered until fully chilled, up to overnight.

Add chilled mixture to ice cream machine, and follow directions for ice cream machine.

Custard will spin for approximately 20 to 40 minutes depending on your machine.

{ Enjoy! }

And there you have it, you made ice cream! It will keep in your freezer for up to three months. 

Cheers and gratitude,

Mike and Jo

* A note on eggs: egg whites can be retained in the refrigerator for up to three days, use them in an additional recipe.  Egg shells can be added to compost or used a variety of ways in the garden, a resource we like here.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Refrigerator Pickling, a Recipe {Crafted by the Seasons}

It is that time of year when gardens, markets and farm stands are bursting with an abundance of veggies; sometimes leaving us with the feeling, if I ever eat another {green bean, cucumber, tomato or zucchini} again it will be too soon!  This plentiful offering is a sure sign that summer is in full swing and allows us to fully partake in the height of the season.  But this abundance can also leave us at a quandary and one question we hear often is, what do you do with all of your {fill in the blank with your favorite excess veggie} ?   So over the next several weeks we will be sharing simple recipes from Chef Mike Hofmann at Hotel Washington focused on helping you savor and preserve the bounty of the season.   First up, a zesty brine for refrigerator pickling.

Refrigerator pickling is a simple way to preserve a bounty of seasonal vegetables.  You can use this easy process to preserve excess veggies for three to six months in your refrigerator.  Pickled veggies are a delicious addition to salads, used as a side dish, a zesty companion to a cheese plate, or enjoyed on their own.  This brine can be used for a variety of vegetables, including; green beans, beats, carrots and asparagus. 

{ brine for refrigerator pickled vegetables }

Preparation time: approx. 30 minutes
Pickling time: 4 to 7 days
Enjoy: 3 to 6 months

3       bay leaf
3       whole allspice
2       dry chili
2       cloves fresh garlic
1       tsp. yellow mustard seed
1       tsp. brown
½       tsp. black pepper
½       bunch fresh parsley
½       bunch fresh thyme
1       cup white sugar
1 ½     cup white distilled vinegar
1 ½     cup white distilled balsamic vinegar
3       cups water
        salt to taste

{ you will also need }

approximately 1 pound of trimmed or sliced vegetable
3 24oz wide mouth glass canning jars with lids (sanitize by boiling)
1 medium size sauce pan
a variety of measuring spoons and cups

{ how to }

Measure and add all dry ingredients, herbs and garlic to sauce pan.  Add water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 2 minutes.

In the meantime add trimmed veggies to jars.  Total weight of veggies will vary depending on which ones used.  Fill jars to about half full so that liquid covers their tops when poured in. 

Remove brine from heat and taste, add salt. 

For clear pickling, strain liquid and pour evenly into jars.  For enhanced flavor, ladle liquid and herbs into jars together.  Make sure tops of veggies are covered, pack with a spoon if needed.

Place jars in refrigerator, lids off and allow to cool.  Once cooled place and tighten lids and let set for four to seven days.  Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for three to six months.

Note: Always observe sanitary kitchen practices; make sure brine comes to a full boil to remove any bacteria.

{ enjoy! }

Cheers and gratitude,

Mike and Jo

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The March of Mid-Summer {Crafted by the Seasons}


As I look over my shoulder I see July both near and distant. Standing firmly in August a sense of accomplishment, wonderment, and exhaustion fill the air. Where has the time gone? It feels as though May was only moments ago.  Continuing to look back I recall a flurry of memories; orders placed, and dishes plated; countless fish seared and pasta rolled; also the company of friends and the comradery that they provide.  One can not do work like this without depending on others. As I anticipated when our doors opened this season my team is capable of great things.  I feel fortunate to be working alongside such ambitious individuals. The phrase long days and quick weeks echoes in my mind. I continue to find rejuvenation in my craft. The space for creativity to exist is inspiring. 

The hotel's garden is now in full production. I still find visiting that place humbling. Twice a week a delivery is made. The contents are the fruits of many labors and endless hours of work. After they’re prepared they provide nutrition, and captivation. Wholesome food is a delight to the senses.

Much like the garden the restaurant is also in full swing. It would seem that they hit their strides simultaneously. Both entities are carried further into the season on the shoulders of those determined to feed the momentum.  Driven by inertia and fueled by creativity the collaboration in our operation is nothing shy of incredible. Surely something this inspiring will continue to be so.



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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Boone County {Crafted by the Seasons}

For nearly nine years I have called Boone County Illinois home.  We are a tiny county on the northern border of the state; a modest three hundred square miles of agrarian land.  But nestled here and there among the fields and modest forests are unexpected gems that make this land a special place to spend a day or a lifetime. 

I have written often about the Midwest as a place that consistently offers delightful and unexpected discovery.  I learned this from Boone County.  Its nestled places have made me curious and taught to not take open fields and unassuming land for granted.  And living here has taught me a mindful appreciation for the seasons, for a life molded dramatically by the path of the calendar; a calendar that guides our discovery and our experience of this place.

Please join me today for a tour of this lovely place.  You won’t find all of its gems among the following photos, but hopefully they will capture the essence of this land and invite you to be a curious resident of the land in which you dwell.  

Windridge Herb Farm, a certified Naturally Grown Farm in Caledonia; offering seasonal herbs, natural products, garden tours and events in an idyllic setting.

Angelic Organics, and organic Community Supported Agriculture farm in Caledonia.  This is just about one of the lovelies places I have ever been; an organic farm with a decidedly artistic flair.  The farm is also home to a serene community loft space, available for shareholders, and the Learning Center an educationally focused non-profit that offers activities and workshops for all ages.  More of my reflections, here.

The Rodger D. Gustafson Nature Center in Belvidere, a sweet little spot that also houses the offices of the Boone County Conservation District.  The surrounding grounds are home to a number of interpretive gardens and historic buildings.

Second Hand Rose, in Poplar Grove, features antiques, vintage decor and gift items inspired by both.  It is a lovely little spot that always offers a feast for the senses.  

Angelic Organics 

Poplar Grove Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum, located adjacent to the Poplar Grove Airport, is home to an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, artifacts and historic auto related buildings.  

The seasonal farm stands are my personal favorite, when they start popping up it is a sure sign of high summer and delicious eating.  I enjoy them so much I shared a post dedicated just to them, here.

The Brick Cafe and Gallery in Belvidere.  It is that local spot that offers the perfect balance of curiosity and comfort. More , here.

Dawson River Road School, a stop on the interpretive trail in the Spencer Conservation Area.  Located adjacent to the Kishwaukee Rover the grounds are home to more than three miles of nature trails and was the historic location of the first Boone County Fair Grounds.

Lisa's Farm Market in Poplar Grove, the goodness of a farm stand, spring through fall.

McEachran Homestead Winery is beautifully sited on a sesquicentennial farm in Caledonia.  The farm and winery are owned by the great great grandson of John McEachran who homesteaded the land in 1857.  Nestled in the rolling countryside of northern Boone County, the winery is an idyllic spot not to be missed.

The Long Prairie Trail, fourteen miles of paved trail that follows the path of the old Kenosha Division Line railroad bed.  It traverses woodlands, farmlands and native prairie and passes through the towns of Capron, Poplar Grove and Caledonia.  Maintained by the Boone County Conservation District, it provides an immersive experience in the natural landscape.  And no motorized vehicles!

The Poplar Grove Airport (historically Belvidere Airport, C77), was founded in 1972 by pioneer decendent Dick Thomas on a tract of farmland.  The airport is now home to over 400 general aviation aircraft, a nationally recognized aircraft maintenance facility, a museum campus and a residential fly-in community.  You can learn to fly or just watch vintage airplanes soar overhead.

Rags to Vintage, more vintage goodness in Poplar Grove

Boone County Conservation District, operates and maintains twenty-five natural conservation areas, the Long Prairie Trail and the Rodger D. Gustafson Nature Center, providing public access to the beautiful natural landscape.

Edwards Apple Orchard, is that place that speaks the essence of autumn atmosphere and festivity.  Located in Poplar Grove and open late summer through Thanksgiving, they have been a gathering place for family and friends since 1964.  More reflection, here.

Windridge Herb Farm

Little Free Library at the Poplar Grove Village Hall, who doesn't love a little library!

Edwards Apple Orchard 

With gratitude,


P.S. If I missed your favorite please share it in the comments below, I would love to add it to the tour.

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