Monday, June 25, 2012

Delicious Fox Grape Forage

Here in Virginia, and particularly in my part of Appalachia, it has become a popular venture to open up wineries in the sloping mountainsides. Many wineries that rely on European and North American grapes owe a debt to the Southern Muscadine or Fox Grape. This wild cultivar of the south is resistant to many of the diseases that plague most domestic grape stock. Considered a weed by most for its tenacity and ability to choke out other plants and over run fences and creek beds, many don't know the secrets of fox grape wine, jelly, and jam. I myself find it hard to gather enough grapes from our tough scrubby vines as they love to climb up high into the trees of dip into the creek in the back yard. I did however come to enjoy the leaves when I was trying to make Vietnamese leaf-wrapped rolls and found myself without the traditional Betel leaves. The recipe said "if you lack for Betel use Grape instead". I wondered if it would be okay to use the Fox Grape leaf. I know of the domestic varieties being used but never heard of anyone cooking with Muscadine Grape Leaves. I tried it out two years ago and Fox Grape Leaf Wraps have become one of our favorite harbingers of spring and summer and we look forward to it every year.

First recognize your quarry and grab your basket for the harvest!  I have a few different places that I gather on my property so I'm not taxing any one plant.  I doubt I could over harvest them as they really do grow like weeds but I try to be sustainable all the same.  Look for full leaves ideally the size of your palm but slightly smaller will do for tiny portions.  Try to get leaves that haven't been riddled with holes, splattered with bird poop, or had bug eggs laid on them.  Pretty obvious but . . . anyway, I look for leaves that have an attractive middle green color and have a flat, not shiny, color.  They are young enough to be savory but old enough not to fall apart during wrapping.  Brand new spring green leaves that still have a sheen on them will tear easily while wrapping.  Older leaves that are a dark green color can harbor tough strings in the veins that are not fun to eat.  I find that I can make 30 rolls from one pound of meat.

Gather your grape leaves, rinse them in the sink, and then soak them in a bath of water for 20 minutes to a few hours in the fridge.  I find I can gather the leaves in the morning when it's cool and not as buggy, mix the meat, and then stash it in the fridge and it is ready and waiting by the time dinner time rolls around.  For the meat filling, you will need:

*1 pound of ground pork
*2 cloves of garlic minced
*2 tablespoons of minced lemongrass
*2 shallots minced
*1 teaspoon of curry powder
*1 teaspoon of oyster sauce
*2 teaspoons of fish sauce
*1 tablespoon of corn starch
*2 teaspoons of sugar
*1/4 teaspoon of salt
*1/2 freshly ground black pepper

I mix all the seasonings together in a paste first and then kneed it into the pork like meatloaf.  If I don't have everything readily available, there are some suitable substitutes you can use.  I rarely have shallots just hanging around.  I went to the Spice Diva and scored some dried shallots.  (I adore their apothecary style storefront!)  I use a tablespoon per "shallot" called for in a recipe.  In the photo above, I substituted scallions.  If needed, I'm sure you could substitute hoisin for oyster without noticing too much.  Once your filling has been prepared, let it rest for an hour in the fridge.  Take this opportunity as well to toss 5 or 6 bamboo skewers into some water to soak.

While your leaves and filling rest in the fridge you can whip up some delicious dipping sauce!  You will need:

*1 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
*3 medium cloves of garlic
*1/4 cup of sugar
*3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*3 tablespoons of fish sauce
*1/2 cup of water
*1/2 teaspoon of salt

First, dissolve the sugar and salt in the lime juice, white vinegar, and fish sauce.  Next, mince the garlic and crush with the side of the knife to make a finely minced paste.  Add to sauce along with pepper flakes.  Add pepper flakes and set aside to wait for grape leaf rolls!

Now we are ready to start assembling!

Step 1:
Place your grape leaf on a flat surface and spoon a tablespoons worth of filling in the center.

Step 2:
Roll the bottom end near where stem was up.

Step 3:
Tuck sides of leaf into the roll as you would a little burrito.

Step 4:
Continue roll with sides enclosing meat filling.

Step 5:
Tah-Dah!  You've completed your grape leaf roll!

Step 6:
Now, skewer the little bugger on a bamboo skewer and keep trucking until the leaves run out or the filling runs out!

Now, your little green army is ready to cook.  Eeew!  That dirty hippy doesn't wash her pans!  No, my pan isn't dirty.  It's seasoned.  Stop judging.  I keep this one for things I know are going to make a mess.  Think of it as the battle ax veteran that holds your little green army together.

Go ahead and brush some oil on both sides of your grape leaf rolls.  I use olive oil.  These are fantastic on the grill but if you don't feel like firing up the briquettes you can fire up your oven to 400 degrees and cook for roughly 10 minutes until they look like this:

Trust me, it smells like heaven.  You might be inclined to say, Wow, that was a crap ton of work.  I don't know if I want to do all this again. and then you'll taste them and say, Wow, when are we going to have these again!!!  Later on during the winter when the snow flakes are drifting softly down you'll sit by the window and think, I wish I had a fox grape leaf roll right now.

I serve these up on a tray alongside fresh veggies like cucumbers, lettuce, carrots.  Most any vegetable that you like to consume raw will compliment these and taste great with the dipping sauce.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Odin & Vada

Remember those cute babies that I posted about earlier in April?  It is now time for a formal introduction.  I don't go to church anymore but that doesn't make me a less spiritual person.  In fact, (because I know everyone is just DYING for me to go into my own spirituality.  Enjoy this.  This is for you.) I have always felt more spiritually alive in the fields of my family farm, overgrown back roads forests, and scrambling blackberry thickets than any church I've had the opportunity to attend.  That said, it's no surprise that I've ended up with hobbies that require me to constantly be outside and in the brush.  I do hold to some habits that would be perceived as superstitions and introduction is one of them.

Many cultures have ceremonies and rituals that include a waiting period for giving a baby a name.  The Jewish ceremony of naming a baby occurs 8 days after or at the first Sabbath (for girls).  Ghana culture also dictates waiting for 8 days until naming a child.  Hmong have a ceremony called "Hu Plig" or soul calling which takes place 3 days after birth in which the name of the child is officially conferred.  Until then, "a baby was not considered to be fully a member of the human race," (Anne Fadiman, "The Spirit catches you and you fall down"1997)  All of these stem from the practical aspect that you "don't count chickens until they hatch" and even then some.  Infant mortalities these days in humans are not what they used to be, at least in this country.  Animal husbandry is still a tricky business so I am superstitious and usually keep quiet on any new venture until I'm satisfied that things have settled into a normal rhythm of existence.

Meet Odin!  He's the little brown boy who is going to knock around with Legend when we aren't there.  I wanted to keep his horns and they are growing at a much faster rate than his sister's.  At first, I chose his name because we had just seen the movie Thor and found Norse mythology that I know nothing about to be exotic and interesting.  I can't wait to start painting 8 legged horses.  Anyway, Odin is living up to his name sake because his cry is piercing and people in Waynesboro could probably identify Odin by now.  I think he will be known as "Odin Broketail" because his little tail is turned to the side.  It was probably broken at birth because the photos of him when he was a day old show his tail cocked to the side like that and I can feel a knot in the bones.  It doesn't seem to bother him and he'll wag it all the same. Though we left his horns intact other things were not to be . . .

Here's a picture of us hanging out on the porch swing after he got neutered.  He's a 20 lb. chunk and was still groggy when we got back from the vet.  I didn't have the heart to toss him back in the pasture while he was stumbling around so we sat on the porch for a while to sleep off the anesthesia.

The staff at the vet's office were intrigued by his little "horn-staches" as I call them.  He still has little tufts of hair growing from the tips of his horns.  They will fall off eventually but the staff said they've never seen that before.

Odin was so knocked out that he drooled on my arm on the way home.  After a while, he was back to his old springy self and was bouncing around in the pen with his sister.

His ears still turn up like little tacos and we call him "taco ear" sometimes.  He's growing fast and I'm sure soon we'll have trouble picking him up like this.  He never would drink the bottle after we got him.  His sister started off well but he didn't want to have a thing to do with the bottle.  It was frustrating and one of the reasons I didn't want to post about my new goats because if one wasn't eating there would be trouble fast.  He's gotten fat and growing tall and fighting with Legend over the grain bucket.  The vet said he was doing well too so my fears have subsided.

Meet Vada!  She looks very similar to her mama.  I chose my grandmother's middle name for her.  It is germanic for "ruler" in the feminine.  She is not as boisterous as her brother and not as big but she's proven to be more of a climber and jumper.  If I'm trying to keep Odin out of Legend's grain and vice versa, she'll try to hop up on my back or shoulders for attention.  It's really a goat rodeo.  Maybe it's the Kirin in her.

We initially started out with plastic soda bottles.  Because they were young we were starting out with Pritchard Nipples.  These had threads that you screw on to a plastic soda bottle.  I don't really like to use plastic anything very much but we wanted to give it a try.  Needless to say, we got milk everywhere but in the goats.  It was a mess.  I had gotten some black rubber nipples just in case and thank goodness for that.  Pat got some beer bottles down from out beer making kit and I laughed because they were Kirin beers.  They work great and heat up nicely in a water bath.  

Vada all but mows you down for her bottle now.  We usually have a towel around because she gets a milk foam around her mouth that she'll shake everywhere and wipe onto you.

She's gotten into the bad habit of running through the electric fence wires because she is small enough to fit through the gaps.  That is the only time she will try to get out of the fence.  If she sees the bright color striped bag we carry her bottle in coming down the path, all bets are off and out she'll pop through the fence.  Bad baby, Vada!

We will probably have to widen their area soon because the little (and big) munch machines have cleared their area out pretty well.  By next year it probably will be a pasture instead of an overgrown brush.  I thought we would end this story with a shot of everyone together but when everyone got lined up, of course, they were all facing me with the tail end.  Typical goat.