Cooking Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag

I had no idea you could do this.

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Last week, I visited my friend, Nicole Maynard, author of a seductive new blog called, Our Year of Eating Local.  Nicole is a wife and the mother of two children. Together, their family of four is all in on a journey of eating locally sourced food every other week for one year. Her goals are “to raise awareness of the impact of our food choices on the environment, to better support local farmers and makers, and in so doing, to heal our planet.” She defines local as being within a 100-mile radius of 37215.

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While I sipped a cup of coffee at her kitchen table, Nicole prepared locally grown popcorn in the microwave. I was in the middle of asking her where she had sourced the popcorn when she opened a BROWN PAPER BAG full of popcorn, poured it into a serving bowl, and placed it on the table. I interrupted her mid-sentence: “Wait a sec. Did you just cook popcorn in a lunch bag?” I was incredulous.

“Yes.”

“Did you use oil?”

“No.”

So, no special type of non-flammable paper bag, no oil in the bag to make the corn pop, and no additives to season, improve the color or preserve the popcorn. As if to add an exclamation point to my surprise, Nicole nonchalantly drizzled a light California olive oil over it and a little salt. It was perfectly prepared popcorn, simply made, and at a fraction of the cost of store-bought microwave popcorn bags.

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I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up lunch bags.

How to cook popcorn in a brown paper bag.

Yield: 3½-4 cups popped corn (per 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce of corn)

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons popcorn kernels
1 brown paper lunch bag

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Instructions:

Place kernels in a paper bag. Fold bag top down three or four times. Do not use a staple. I recommend not using any oil, either; the kernels will pop perfectly well without it.

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Place bag upright in the microwave and use the “Time Cook” button to enter 1:50 seconds. This is the amount of time it takes to cook 2 tablespoons of popcorn in my microwave. Every microwave machine’s wattage is different so you may need to experiment with the cook time on yours.

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When you notice a slowdown of kernels popping, take the bag out. Don’t try to cook every last kernel or you will likely end up with a clump of muddy-colored, smoldering popped corn in the center of the bag. If it gets to this point, it might be best to toss the bag out, start over and cook for 15 seconds less the next time.

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You could add a little mild olive oil or melted butter and salt to the bag, shake it up, and have a “to go” single-serving snack. I tried the California extra virgin olive oil recommended by Nicole and liked it on the popcorn. It was much lighter in flavor than the Spanish olive oils I typically use.

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What Makes Corn Pop?

Popcorn kernels are seeds, and as seeds, each kernel has both water and carbohydrates in the form of starch to supply the seed with the energy needed to germinate. As the kernel heats up, the water turns to steam and the starch into a gelatinous consistency. As the temperature and pressure in the kernel rise further, the hull ruptures, the kernel explodes, the starch goo inflates, pours out, and expands like a balloon. The puffed-up goo retains its fluffy shape as it cools and you get popped corn.

Not all varieties of corn will pop. For most varieties, the outside shell is too thick. If you want to grow corn that will pop, make sure you buy “popcorn” seeds.

Meanwhile, Nicole and I did a little bartering during our visit. I gave her a bottle of locally made sorghum syrup (Cerulean, KY, 90 miles away) and she gave me a few bars of her homemade hand soap.

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Posts related to locally grown food:
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat
Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup
Growing Sweet Potatoes at Delvin Farms

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Eulogy for a Chicken

Treating our baby chicks like pets and naming them seemed like a good idea. At first. They were cute and cuddly like pets, and they kept us entertained with their constant chirping and the adorable way in which they climbed over one another to get to their food. We had fun choosing names for that first flock, too: the two brunette Plymouth Barred Rocks were named for my Sicilian grandmothers, Marion and Concetta, the blonde Buff Orpingtons for Hubby’s grandmothers, Alice and Mildred, and the Rhode Island Reds for my zany red-headed great aunts, Bridget and Josephine. Neighborhood children and adults visited every day. Life was good.

The chicks grew up to be a beautiful and sociable flock. They loved to climb the stairs to our back porch and hang outside the screen door while we humans visited inside. This was back in the Spring of 2012 when the Metropolitan Government of Nashville first passed the Domesticated Hen Ordinance allowing urban residents to keep up to six chickens in their fenced-in backyards.

Chickens at the Backdoor

In the beginning of our poultry husbandry, it was all cartoonish chickens running across the grass in their funky lopsided way, and chicken idioms come to life. After about five months, eggs started appearing in the nest box, and it seemed like a happy bonus rather than the original intent. A few years later, with the addition of blue-egger Ameracaunas to the flock, the variety of eggs became downright gorgeous.

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Eventually, the Circle of Life, Survival of the Fittest, Mother Nature, whatever, showed its hungry head and there was some attrition in the happy flock.

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I didn’t grow up on a circle of life farm, so when the hawk picked off the first few chickens, it took me a while to adjust. The chickens adapted to this menace better than I; they learned to run for cover whenever they heard the hawk’s whistling call or saw his shadow overhead. They also learned to make a beeline for the bushes when I let them out in the morning to avoid being out in the open where a hawk could easily spy them. They were smart chickens.

As there was more attrition to come, at some point, I had to stop naming the replacement chickens. Instead, I referred to them by their breed. That is, until last Spring, when I brought my newly acquired Golden Comet chicken to visit Glendale Elementary School in Nashville. There, a young girl in Ms. Meadors’ kindergarten class raised her hand and asked me the chicken’s name.  I hemmed and I hawed. How could I tell this darling child I didn’t name my chickens anymore because Mother Nature could be ruthless? “Comet,” I replied with a motherly smile. The name stuck.

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Last week, Comet, the only chicken in the flock who liked to be held, died. This is a tribute to her.

One Chicken’s Life

Comet was born on a rural farm in Kentucky that raised Golden Comets, a breed known for being good layers. Once the baby chicks were hatched, they were placed in an open field in movable cages known as “chicken tractors.” The chickens fed on the grass beneath their feet until it was all consumed and then the cages, with their big supporting wheels, were rolled to another area of the field.

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Once the chickens outgrew the tractors, they were moved to a fenced-in apple orchard for grazing. The canopy of apple tree branches helped protect the flock from hawks.

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I asked the farmer, whom I knew from previous visits to the farm to buy eggs, if he would sell me two of his young layers. He did so with some reluctance — I don’t think anyone had ever asked him that question before. He sent his son to fetch two chickens. The young boy, obviously adept at this task, snuck up on the chickens and grabbed them by the ankles.

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We brought the chickens home and waited until nightfall to introduce them to the established flock. This is a time-honored technique used to decrease the likelihood of new birds being hen-pecked by older girls in their society. The idea is that the birds all wake up together and are not as startled by the presence of the newbies among them. We’ve learned from experience this method doesn’t always work, so for added insurance, we bought a “flock block” and placed it in the enclosed run with them. We hoped it would give the birds something enjoyable to peck on rather than each other.

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It worked; the older ladies left the new girls alone. We have since discovered that as long as we keep a second food source in the run, the chickens have less reason to be territorial. There is now peace in our small chicken kingdom.

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Comet’s life gets interesting.

As I mentioned earlier, last spring, I started bringing Comet to visit children in elementary school classrooms.

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Comet got to visit many schools. There is no telling how many children stroked her golden-red feathers or touched her rubbery red comb.

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Here is Comet in Ms. Benson’s kindergarten classroom where children got to feed Comet leafy greens and pea shoots with their soft leaves and curly-cue tendrils.

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The Boy Scouts came to visit her.

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And, the Girl Scouts.

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The scouts all learned How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled. You can learn how, too, in the video located in that post.  

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Comet and I were featured in a photo shoot for a nationally known online knitting magazine called Mason Dixon Knitting. I adore this photo of Comet taken by my dear friend and neighbor, Ann Shayne. Ann later gifted me with the beautiful purple and raspberry colored handknit cowl.

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A few more remembrances of Comet.

Here she is eating her leafy greens and peas.

Tilling and munching in the compost pile.

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Visiting while I planted an asparagus bed.

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Taking in the scuttlebutt at the watercooler.

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Leading the charge as the flock followed me around the yard.

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Comet was one fantastic chicken.

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In Memory of Comet:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Freshly Cooked Tortillas

Related Stories:
Family Dirt
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Sometimes, you need a little color on the plate when planning a menu for a dinner party. Such was the case when my sewing group got together recently for our annual dinner party.

Fortunately, one of our friends excels at menu planning and volunteered to organize the meal and divvy up the jobs. I was tasked with making roasted tomatoes for twenty. While I have sautéed tomatoes for marinara sauce, puréed them for gazpachoand sliced them for salads, I have never cooked them as a side dish. The challenge was on.

I was a little worried about finding flavorful tomatoes in the middle of winter. I went to Whole Foods and asked an employee in the produce department which tomato she thought was the most flavorful. I loved her response: she pulled out her paring knife and said, “Let’s see.” We tried three different tomatoes, and the Romas won out.dsc_0209

After considering various ways to prepare them, I did what came naturally to me: I tossed them in olive oil, sea salt, and garlic pepper and roasted them. Clean and simple.

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Ingredients:

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30 Roma tomatoes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon McCormick’s Garlic Pepper
1½ teaspoons sea salt
7 or 8 stems Italian flat-leafed parsley or basil, stems removed
balsamic vinegar to drizzle

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425º
Line two roasting pans with parchment paper

Prep tomatoes: cut each tomato in half, lengthwise. Cut out the stem and use your index finger to remove the seeds.

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Place tomato halves inside a bowl, add the olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper. Toss well to coat evenly.

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Place each tomato half on baking sheet.

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Roast tomatoes for 1 to 1¼ hours. After 30 minutes, rotate pans in the oven. Cooking them this long will draw out their natural sweetness and flavor.

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Place tomatoes on a serving platter, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and snipped parsley or basil leaves, for garnish. Serve at room temperature.

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For a few other colorful sides, try these:
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Sautéed Collards (or Swiss Chard) with Cranberries and Toasted Pine Nuts
Roasted Acorn Squash with Applesauce and Cinnamon
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.