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Saturday, December 29, 2012

7 7 7 Marmalade

Last Winter, I made marmalade and wrote about it. The marmalade was great, the recipe acceptable, and the writing kinda bad. 

Last week, I made another batch, because Cara Cara oranges were on sale for 88 cents a pound. A lucky double-eight smiles on fate in many cultures, so I took it as a sign that I should fill a couple bags and get to cooking. Even without mystical callings to make jam, cheapskates like me know that 88 cents is about half the usual sale price, and that it's a good bet the citrus is dead ripe and they're in a hurry to move it. Deal lapse and fruit rots, but every once in a whole fate smiles and if you're alert you can capture it in jars, preserving it til you need it.

With enough for a couple of batches, I had opportunity to improve on last year's operation. So here I am again, reporting, but this time not burdened with writerly pretensions.

It's called 7 7 7 Marmalade because there are 7 pounds of oranges, 7 cups of sugar, and it makes 7 pints. The amount of water isn't 7, but I'm gonna ignore that. Here's the recipe.

7 7 7 Marmalade

Get 7 pounds of oranges, (Cara Cara is what I use, but the main thing is to get something with an aromatic skin.)

Peel the zest from 3 oranges, and then halve and slice the whole batch. Make the first cut from naval to where the stem was, and the slices should be a half centimeter thick. (That's a skinny quarter inch, Americans.) Cut up the zest however you want. I go for a random chop that yields everything from slivers to uncut pinky-sized pieces (That's over 5 cm, everyone else in the world; in the US, "pinky" is your small finger, and is an acceptable unit of measure.) Put the zest aside.

If you're smart, lazy, or both, you'll be sliding the orange slices directly into a 12 quart stock pot, which will be about full when you finish.

Pour 4 cups of water into the pot and start cooking.

I start at the low end of Medium High on the stove, and once the boil begins, start to inch it up to high Medium High. (That's, uh, nobody really knows what temperature stove knob units correlate to. Sorry, citizens of earth.) Let some of the water evaporate, but the goal is not to boil off the liquid; go for a long low boil that dissolves the pulp and a lot of the pith. The end result will remain liquidy and most un-jamlike.

After the first boil.

Now, let it sit til the next day. It gives you a break, and I think it helps maximize the natural pectin. Yeah, that's right, don't add pectin to marmalade. It makes its own. 

When it's time, get your canning set-up in order, and be sure you're ready to stand at the stove and stir for a while. Put on "Blowout Comb" by Digable Planets, or some other hour-long album, and then put the pot back on a low Medium High stove. 

Add 7 cups of sugar and the zest and stir them in well. I also experimented by grating half a nutmeg into one batch at this point, and about an inch of ginger root into the other; not sure if I really taste it.  Watch and adjust the temp as necessary until you have a hearty simmer. No lid this time, because you do want to cook it down. At first, no need to stir constantly, but by about Track 7 (titled "Dial 7," see why this CD fits this recipe?), you should see the marmalade beginning to emerge. I've been using a large metal spatula for the stirring, because it's long handle keeps my hands away from the sugary lava, and it's good for scraping the bottom so nothing sticks. 

There are all sorts of recipes that say the jam must reach specific temperatures, or recommend tests like dropping some jam on a cold plate to see if it is thick enough. But the risk of burning yourself to get thermometer readings or the hassle of another dish to wash are not necessary. Here's how you know it's ready:
  • You see the jam getting darker, and that more of it is sticking to the side of the pot.
  • You hear the boil change from simmer to thick ploppy bubbles, and finally to a rumble bubble that explodes each time you stir.
  • You feel your arm muscles burning as you stir through thickening glop.
Cut the heat and get the jars ready. Make sure your canner water is boiling before you put anything in the jars. I usually start that at the same time as the marmalade boil, dialing down once it reaches its own boil, and then crank it up again along with a smaller pot of water to sterilize the lids when the marmalade is ready.

Leave a centimeter or a skinny half inch of headspace as you fill half or whole pint jars. (I put a spoonful of bourbon in the bottom of two pints, but will wait a while to sample those.) Screw on the lids loosely and process for, you guess it, 7 minutes. 

For those of you who cannot abide stream-of-consciousness recipe format, here's the listy version:

  • 7 pounds oranges, sliced thin after removing the zest of three oranges.
  • 4 cups water
  • 7 cups sugar

Boil 1: oranges and water until pulp dissolves and skins soften
Wait overnight
Boil 2: and sugar and zest to the mix and slowly return to a boil, stirring increasinly often
Use your sense and the done-ness list above to know when to stop.
Boil 3: process half or one-pint jars in boiling water canner for 7 minutes.  

Yields 7 pints.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

In the Pantry, 2012

Last Fall, I made a list of what I had canned. Some of it remains on the shelf, testament to the facts that I do not particularly like pepper relish and that there are limited uses for rose hip syrup. 

This year, I have these things:
18 quarts - tomato
17 quarts - dill pickles (4 from last year)
5 quarts - sweet pickles
4 quarts - sour (fermented) dills
1 quart - dill pickled beans
1 quart - dill pickled red cabbage
9 pints - pickled beets
7 pints - plum syrup (to be re-processed into jam)
4 pints - pepper relish
5 pints - blackberry jam
2 pints - strawberry jam
2 pints - marmelade
2 pints - smokes salmon
1 pint - serviceberry
1 pint - sauerkraut
1 pint - "hot jam" marmelade
1 pint - pineapple-mandarin marmelade
1 pint - pickled pimento
3 half-pints - rose hip syrup
2 half-pints - serviceberry
2 half-pints - cranberry sauce
1 half-pint - hot jam
1 half-pint - cranberry-blood orange marmelade 

In the freezer:
2.5 quarts - nettle
2 quarts - spot shrimp
2 gallons - hops

Sitting in boxes in the garage:
A few pounds of homegrown taters
A year's supply of homegrown garlic
A grocery bag of black moss
A smaller bag of homegrown tomatillos

On the herb shelf:
2 gallons - dried mint
1 quart - dried oregano
1 pint - dried thyme
1 half-pint - tarragon
1 half-pint - poppy seeds

This is not so different form last year, except that I obviously did not get to freeze a salmon, and I got a deal on beets. Also, I moved into fermentation, which reminds me that the list should include:
>1 sesqui-gallon of sauerkraut in the works, bubbling desultorily until it's time to jar it up. 

If I can get some Chinese cabbage at the farmers market, I may add kimchi to the list by year's end.

This year was no good for mushrooms, and I still didn't get a fishing license, so I don't see the larder getting any fuller. Circumstances did not allow a real garden this year, so mostly I canned stuff that other people grew. I am about as far from being self-sufficient as ever (which is to say, for garlic and oregano alone), but once again I can look forward to pickles and tomatoes fairly regularly without exhausting my stash. And probably kraut. 

Not sure in which way I will expand or experiment next year, but there's plenty of Winter yet to figure that out...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kosher or not, Smoked Meat for Breakfast

With the warm dry summer this year, Northwest gardeners (or the people who buy from our farmers) got to have delicious tomatoes. Short days, cold nights, and wet marine air have shut down further ripening, but the memories are delicious. 

One of my flavorite reminisces has to do with the aroma of toasty bagel mixing with smoked salmon. The dance of cool tomato and warm bread on my tongue, of smooth cream cheese and poppy seeds vying to please, makes my mouth feel happy. The religion I was raised with is confusing enough, so figuring out whether mixing fish and cheese is kosher is way beyond my expertise; the fact that all my Jewish friends are fine with lox and bagels does not really convince me, since most of them are all about as devout as my own pagan, shiftless, skeptical self. 

Back East, I'd have lox and bagels now and then, but even in the '80s, tomatoes available in delis had begun shedding their flavor, and the lox was a cold damp minislab not so different from the other cold cuts. Here, I've finally been exposed to real smoked salmon, and as luck would have it I received a few jars of primo smoked salmon at a couple of tribal give-aways this Spring. Alder-smoked wild salmon crumbled over local cream cheese is to what I used to get in delis as a Northwest IPA is to a can of Bud...I'll take the latter over an egg mcmuffin or a coors light, but it ain't the same thing.

Not so Kosher, the Joy of Goy.
And then there's the other thing. Pork. At the Olympia Farmers Market, now and then you can get bacon made from organic pasture-raised piggies. No parev work-around on this, it's just straight-out not kosher. Damned delicious, I guess that's how I would describe it. Mix it with a bagel and cream cheese, or eggs, whatever. Blow the thin blue tendril of skillet-smoke out the kitchen window as an offering to whatever gods you want to please.

Too much of these good things may not be good for your body, never mind your spiritual health. But to deny yourself these deliciousnesses on the basis of archaic laws is a bit too much sufferation for this heathen, and maybe of other people with taste buds. But if an ancient law forbids you from eating this way, I wish you well, and will help dispose of your share. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cider Days

This week, I'll squeeze another batch of cider. I inherited a big press on my way out to Washington, an 1870s monument to cast iron and oaken framery that saved my life by weighing down the pickup bed across miles of Wyoming ice. 

Apples started dropping early and dry this year, but there are still trees laden with fruit still sweetening as the weather cools off. A neighbor let me pick from his tree, and I have two boxes sitting in the garage ready to go. Earlier, the first apple tree I ever planted yielded enough fruit for a half gallon of cider, and I got some more from a neighbor's windfall.

I'm not what you'd call real particular about the quality of fruit, but the windfall stuff has enough worms and incipient rancidity that it needs some surgery before making cider. Blemishes and outright ugliness don't matter, and old timers will tell you that some bruises are a good thing when it comes to cider. 

I wash all these pomological freaks in a galvanized tub, and then it's time to call in the help. Kids are perfect. I get the crank turning til the flywheel is spinning along nicely, and the little one starts tossing in apples to be crunchewed between teethy drums that spit bits drunkenly into and all around the bucket below. Immediately the air turns sweet, but for some reason this fall we were not beset by yellowjackets or bees.

A bucketful of chomped apples is now ready for the pressing. The long and increasingly difficult  turning of a giant iron screw that presses the apples while they sit in a slatted bucket on a slatted table. Juice flows out the sides and the bottom, hitting the drainboard and flowing into a container as the littler daughter makes sure nothing is lost. The bigger one uses a big ironwood stick to gain leverage, squeezing every last drop from the thinning wheel of apples crushed inside the bucket. Meanwhile, I sit back and enjoy a break. 

Someday, I'll get serious enough about hunting down apples (pay for them? perish the thought!) and gathering gear to make a big batch and ferment it. Or maybe not. But I'll always treasure fall afternoons with the girls doing cider alchemy, turning the ugliest apples into nectar, using brute force to craft delicate tastes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

That's It? (DIY Butter)

Shake it!
Yep. Get a jar o milk and shake it for a while. 20 minutes? I dunno, you just gotta commit that once you start, you don't quit until there's butter. It'll appear when it's good and ready, but when it does, it's pretty obvious (once the foam settles), like this: creamery cowagulant.
Simplicity may just be deviousness, though, and of course there are a few guaranteed ways to fail (and infinite opportunities to elaborate, but that's somebody else's blog). I shouldn't have to say so, but  since this is the internet, "No skim milk." Not even 2%. You need whole milk or else all the butter embryos have been stripped out and sold to the highest bidder. Better yet, get that old-school glass jug from a local organic dairy, the one that's already got cream adhereing to the head-space. 

Do this after they put the stuff on sale, because the stuff is expensive. Maybe you can snag them on cheap at the expiration date, which most milkologists will agree amounts to a discounted head start on buttermilk and sour cream. (Maybe I jest. Please to not consume what could be spoiled food on the basis of a  blog post. Let us now return to the proper focus of the internet, which is money:) But don't make butter to save money, because it's a hell of a lot cheaper to buy it than do this, unless you have a friend with a cow.

Which brings us to the matter of yield. A half pint turned into less than what a pancake restaurant plops on your flapjack stack. Which can still be a lot, but if you're planning to slather it on bread or melt it in a mountain of griddlecakes, you're gonna eat this butter in less time than it took to make it. 

You still have the de-buttered milk, though. Not being a calf, I don't drink milk, but cooking with it is fine. It's still got enough body to cream up a soup or a sauce. Seems like it would be good for baking, but again, don't take web-based musings as valid kitchen guidance. 

In fact, I've done this just twice. Some fluke may rank this page higher than some poor butter-churner who has labored for years. Based on my meager experience, I would say only that you should not go nuts with vigorous shaking, which actually leaves you with lots of small curds instead of the one big ball you get if you start to just swirl the liquid once they start appearing.

DIY Butter Recipe
  • Put less than a jar full of whole milk in a jar, and screw the lid on tight
  • Shake it until there is butter
  • Take the butter from the milk

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Punk? Not so much.

The new groups are not concerned
With what there is to be learned
They got Burton suits, ha you think it's funny
Turning rebellion into money

from "White Man in the Hammersmith Palais" by Joe Strummer (I presume)

The clogged blogosphere of foodies, locavores, urban homesteaders, DIYers, and OTHers* renders my offerings invisible. I could try to gain a wider audience by joining the pinterested, or by linking to one of the other sites that aggregates such blogs, but I am too lazy and egotistical, not to mention dis-inclined. The ramps to fame, or at least garnering large numbers of eyeballs, prove too steep for my shiftless self. Make a logo, develop a not-off-the-shelf design, pay for a domain, suck up to corporations so they'll give me some swag to review or re-gift, and most dangerous of all, fall into the pond of self-deception, in which this platform can somehow become a revenue generator or a stepping stone to a book contract. 

Among my bookmarks is one such site, where people turn in their recipes, DIY tips, and so on. There's actually some useful stuff there, and I do check it out fairly regularly. The name of it is "Punk Domestics," which appealed to me before I really began to understand what it is. The name, which rings oxymoronic to begin with in my book (I grew up in a time and place where "domestics" were servants, usually darker than the, uh, dare I say, masters?), also fails to live up to anything like the spirit of punks, much less the "hardcore" ethos their blurb claims they embody. 

For starters, to submit anything, you're supposed to log in, get your ID, join the queue. And yes, submission is the name of the game, oddly enough, for any posting must comply with a list of rules. You are then encouraged to get a Punk Domestics "badge" to display on your blog, so you can funnel eyeballs to their site, which has a lot of ads.

But not just ads. Entire blog posts that are plugs. Like the William Sonomas give-away. A post that waxes eloquent about how this upscale mall denizen is embracing the DIY movement with darling canning jars and such, marketed as the "Agrarian" line. [Clever name, I will admit, harkening to a simpler time, a garden-ey feeling, and of course for the  baby boomers with fuzzy memories and their kids with vague historical understandings, it evokes the rhyming Aquarian age.] All you have to do to win it is drive up the site's numbers with comments, or post something on twitter or pinterest, whatever it takes to increase revenue at Punk Domestics, which just happens to admit that they've "done some copywriting for Williams-Sonoma, including for the Agrarian line." If you can stomach it, visit the offending link 

I'd rather wallow in non-commercial, self-righteous, obscurity. Even if the readership consists mostly of myself, trying to recall how I made that meal or canned those things, it feels better than shilling for a company catering to privileged dilettantes. Those people have people to cook for them, and mostly only take it upon themselves when it will create a show. I'm more interested in food, basically.

*Other Things Homespun-ers

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Strawberry Jam. So simple you should learn some Hawaiian while you make it.

Mmmm...splattery goodness. Maika'i

Back by the Chesapeake where I grew up, strawberries have long since been picked or baked by the unrelenting sun, but here in the Northwest, they're going strong. This year, I was lucky enough to get enough from the home garden to make a batch of jam without curtailing my daughters' grazing. Like most foods I really love, jam is pretty simple to make. So simple, that maybe you can learn some Hawaiian while you do it. Here's a dictionary to help you.

Dump the following into a big steel stock pot:
  • 11 cups  of  berries (hap-hazardly & half-heartedly smash 'em down prior to measuring, but whole-heartedly ku'i da buggas with a potato masher once they’re into the kettle)
  • 4.5 cups of sugar

I brought this up to a low boil while distracted by other tasks, so it coulda been done faster, but longer only means more time for everything to come all miko (your dictionaries tend to speak of salt with this word, but I've heard it used to convey the idea of something marinating, sitting together while flavors blend and soak through), which I think for jam means a better chance of it coming pa’a, and not all he’e.

Speaking of which, it was around this time that I added 
  • Pectin (powder kind) - 1 regular and 1 of supposedly no-sugar-needed [given my results, maybe you should add another]

Then I let it boil quietly for a little while longer, until one time when I took out the spoon, the sugar-red clung well enough, and I began putting out the jars.
Did I mention that I was sterilizing jars in the canner this whole time? No? Well I was, but not to turn around and plop them back in the boiling bath for processing. My grandmothers sealed strawberry jam with molten paraffin, using a can with a bent-rim spout to pour the wax onto the jarred jam; the can sits in a small pot of hot water, so that drips won’t burst into flame.

The yield is 7 pints, maybe a little less. There was not all that much foam to scrape off the post-pectin boil, and some jam managed to find its way onto the kettle, the jam-pouring big measuring cup, the spoon, the counter, my sweatshirt, and some other place that I will only discover weeks from today. So the yield would be a solid 7 pints to a cook whose frugality extends to actually being neat.

Now, 7 pints of jam is a pretty small amount, but it came from a 3rd-year patch of my own planting, so I’m pretty happy. A day’s easy picking from 27 square feet, give or take, mellowing and softening in the fridge for a couple of days, working toward miko, and now it’s jam. Not a bad small side project for a weekend.

How was this jam? A little he'e, to be honest, but I couldn’t be bothered to do more than throw in whatever pectin was at hand, and it didn’t end up as syrup, at least. A day in the fridge before serving helps, and it’s possible to make a sandwich with it, which satisfies the kids’ main criterion. If your own requirement is to have a thicker jam, the  find another recipe, or throw in another pack o pectin, and maybe more sugar,...whatever works.

The flavor, on the other hand, is ono. I have no idea what variety the berries are, but they are medium sized, and red to the core, no pulp, all juicy. Mmmm. If you’ve been comparing recipes, you’ve noticed that I don’t use as much sugar as some people, because my tongue likes a tang, but it’s plenty sweet.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Nice Slice

Has the quality of Hass improved, or is it the shipping time, or could it have just been so long since I've lived in Kona that my avocado aficionado qualifications have expired? Regardlessly, happy am I over the state of grocery store avocados in the northwest in this year of faux-Mayan doom, 2012. Is the Thriftway avo as fine as a mayan? Mebbe not, but it's a slippery treat of a slice, that tastes mighty nice.

Say you're a working person. It's the pen-penultimate day to Cinco de Julio, and you forgot to put the puerco in the crock-pot this morning. You've jammed at work to make your holiday free of worries, and you come home later than usual to no supper. You could steam some rice, saute something to go with it, or maybe go the noodle route...Or, you could skip carbs and remember that jumbo avo sitting behind the onions in the bread bowl, further obscured by tomatoes and a half of a demi-baguette. 

Your thumb flips the stem-nub off with just enough resistance to tell you that this alligator pear is  nott en-rotten, the  your other hand sinks knife through skin and down-to the ridiculous testiculous seed of this most cyclopian scrotumly of fruit-packets. Cut the Greenwich and it's opposite longitude, pull half the fruit off and swack the blade into said seed, then twisting to remove it from remaining half. Fling it wherever suits you.

Then you cut slices onto a plate. Splash some hot sauce (Ingredients: water, chiles, salt, vinegar--anything more is an abomination), and squeeze some lime (from a fruit, dammit! Not an abominalous plastic thingy). Yumm. Hot-tangy slipperyous goodness. Healthier than pork-fat, and nearly as tasty.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Salish Sea Salt

One of our most basic ingredients has made the passage from salt of the earth to gourmet accoutrement. Sea salt has even fallen to what I call the Chipotle Effect, a food once considered exotic, known primarily to epicures (who do not credit masses of Mexicans that knew first), that jumps into the mainstream and becomes commoditized to the point that it is featured in Applebees and the snack aisle at Walmart. When sea salt becomes commonplace among the lumpen-pretentious, sending gourmands to ever more specialized and expensive salts. If you have a connection, you can now season your food with salt from all over the world, seasoned with everything from alder to Veruca.

Ironically, some of this amounts to a return to days gone by, when salt was dug and dried from various sources, each with its own texture and flavor and character. Once, all things were artisinal.

But even long ago, salt's fundamentality in the human diet and its non-perishability made it a commodity (and money...thank the Romans for your "salary," working stiff). Saltworks seasoned trade before the other spices, I would bet, even though I'm a pepper man in my soul. Squeezed from the ocean, dug from old seas, alchemied from ashes, salt favors every cuisine, but in many places it is not available, despite the creative ways hominid cooks procure it. It was inevitable that something so unevenly distributed and valuable would become an article of commerce, and as societies became industrial, so too did salt production, and no place more than where it could be dug from geological domes and layers, thus the doleful workingman's epithet for a hard job: "working in the salt mines."

Throughout my childhood, salt flowed fine and easy from cylindrical canisters decorated with a MidCentury OldFashioned girl with an umbrella, distractedly wandering around in a salt downpour. Salt mines were bad and Soviet, we were told, while ours was delivered by kindly capitalists. It was iodized (For Health!), and it was pretty much your only choice other than pickling salt (Kosher!), which decent people did not put in the shaker. Now, afflicted with hardship and unaffected by outmoded (Modern!) prejudices against homespuntineity, we can make our own salt again.

For a sun-drenched six months that I spent mapping a Kona village, I made salt. The people of old had hollowed out bowls all over the pahoehoe, mostly a foot or two across, not deep like the bait-pounding cups. There was salt in them when we arrived, as well as kiawe twigs, crab bits and various other crap you don't want to eat, not to mention the hefty deposit of saltish-looking sand, which hurts to eat. So we swept out a few and poured in some fresh kai (ocean water). Then some more, and then again, because the thirsty lava, parched since the previous Winter's storms, drank til all the vesicles were full and the water could finally pool.

Then we'd wait. The top would dry, and at lunch we'd flip flakes to the edge to expose thicker brine, and then come back the next day to do it again. Sometimes, rain would come in during the night, drunk, reeling up the coast, ruining days of the sun's work, pissing away the salt. Or a bird would drop a carapace or a crap. But eventually, I ended up with a couple of mason jars full of beautiful salt and only a few pieces of sea urchin.

But there's an easier way for you to make salt, and it goes a little something like this:

Salish Sea Salt
  1. Go get some Salish Sea Water (unless there's another kai close by)
  2. Boil it in a stainless steel or enamel pot, stirring occasionally once salt starts sticking to the bottom.
  3. When it gets thick, and the popping bubbles burn your arm, put the brine into a glass or ceramic baking pan, or even a plate. Put it in a 150-200 degree oven and then turn the oven off. You're going for evaporation, not boiling heat.
  4. Go do something else for an hour.
  5. Repeat, scraping any crust (Yum!) that forms to the edge each round, until there's no water. 
  6. Honing your new scraping skills (and maybe your new Solingen steel salt-scraping tool), scrape the salt into something suitably pretentious or functional, depending on your needs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Locavore Granola Bars

As the sun returns, so too do the hippies come out of hibernation, and it seems like Oly has more than the average population. If you add the vegan tribe, macrobioticians, locavores, organicists, and other groovy eaters, we are what the rest of the country often calls "crunchy," or "granola." I guess I fit in there somewhere. So when I had to make a bunch of stuff for a bake sale, it only made sense to a basic guy like myself to make granola bars. Take the label, bake it, make it something useful. The world needs a little de-meta-fication now and then. 

Another thing the world needs is to stop eating globally so much. If every meal makes an epic journey from field to table, then our food is overly seasoned with petroleum. And that ain't good.

This concludes my sermon. You've heard it before and are either a member of the choir I'm preaching to or have already left this post, grabbed the keys, and headed for Applebeast. 

A locavore recipe on the world wide web is oxymoronic, I guess, but there are a couple of local readers, and maybe Olyblog will send more, so I'll continue. But if you're not in the Northwest, don't follow this recipe faithfully and call it 'local,' or you will be a fool or a fraud, relentlessly mocked, and the keys to your hybrid confiscated. With any luck, my having stretched the concept to include flax seed and canola oil from a few states away won't earn me the same treatment; I'm growing flax to make amends, and the rest of the ingredients are from Washington or Oregon.

NW Locavore Granola (makes 50 granola bars)

5    cups        Oatmeal (from eastern Washington)
3    cups        Flax seed (from North Dakota, this time)

6    cups        Chopped nuts (I used a ix of hazel and walnuts from Burnt Ridge orchard)
1    tsp          Salt (fresh-squeezed from the Salish Sea)
3    cups        Berries (I used saskatoon--aka serviceberries--picked near the Columbia)
2    cups        Choco (OK. Obviously grown elsewhere, but made in Seattle)

Mix all of the above in a big bowl. Then warm up the following:

5    cups        Honey (Pixie honey from the farmers market)
1    cup         Water (Olympia!)

Pour this in the big bowl and work it over until everything is coated, the mixture is stiff, and your arms hurt. Maybe add some organic canola oil. I did, but don't recall exactly how much. Just a little.

Spread to about one finger thick on parchment onto the big cookie sheet. Cook at 350 for 15 minutes or so (until top is browning), then turn off oven and remove promptly. Slide parchment onto bread board, cut bars and spread out, and return to oven with door open to cool and consolidate.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rhubarb Poppyseed Bread

I'm headed toward bringing in the next batch of rhubarb, which reminds me that it's been a few weeks since the bake sale, when I MoGyvered up that rhubarb recipe. Maybe you just searched for "poppy seed rhubarb," and found yourself here, faced with this monstrosity. Scroll down if it's just the recipe you want, otherwise I return you not to a digression already in progress:

What the hell is that thing in the picture? Face like a pugnacious ninja kitty, or a morbidly obese viper,...whatever the case, it's got hair like Moe Stooge. 

But it's delicious. The photo is of the runt of the batter, the leftovers baked in the tiniest corningware. The better ones looked like this:

What? Another cartoony bake-face?

The challenge of baking in bulk led me to this recipe. I'd been planning on lemon poppy bars, but health regs (yes, there are rules for even bake sales, so we don't all die horrible deaths, poisoned by amateurs) don't like custardy stuff and demand a level of packaging that would be inconvenient or wasteful for something so delicate.

A quick bread would solve this dilemma, or maybe a lemon poundcake. But as it turned out, there weren't all that many lemons left in the house. But there was a ton of rhubarb ready to pull, and those red stems are tart, so lemon poppy bars became rhubarb poppy bread. Poppies? Yeah. I grew breadseed poppies last year, and had about 4 cups of seed. I'd been seeing a cars with small hubcaps parking nearby, two guys in dark glasses sitting in it pretending to read newspapers, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the dragnet closed around me and the raw uncut kugelach with a street value of dozens of dollars, maybe.

Not kugelach, actually, but another type of European poppy treat bastardized by an American. Something like Mohnkuchen, to use the Deutsch, a bread topped with a mixture of farina, poppyseed, sugar and vanilla. The bread I treated like I did banana bread when I grew them in Hawai'i: put way more fruit than any recipe calls for, and get something as close to bread pudding as to bread, dense instead of crumbly. So I substituted a bunch of rhubarb (cooked down to applesauce consistency) for the eggs and some of the milk, and put just enough sugar to take the edge off. The bread lacked the tart zing I'd been going for,  but it worked out fine.

And here it is:

First, mix up the bread, which requires:   
  • Flour         3 cups
  • Sugar        2/3 cups
  • Baking powder      1 1/4 tsp   
  • Baking soda    1/3 tsp
  • Salt         1/2 tsp
Mix all this in a big bowl, and then stir in:
  • Rhubarb sauce    1 1/2 cups
  • Milk       3/4 cup
Go ahead an plop it into a big greased loaf pan, and get going with the topping, which means you have to make cream of wheat with poppyseed in it (or, vice versa). So bring 2 cups of milk to a near boil and stir in:
  • Poppyseed     1 cup
  • Farina        1/3 cup
  • Sugar         1/2 cup
  • Vanilla       1 1/3 tsp
  • Butter       1 Tbs
This will thicken up quickly, and you need to make sure that you keep stirring so it does not get too lumpy. But there will be lumps. It is the essence of farina. Be at peace with it, and think about the egg. Because you need an egg. But if you dump it into this mix it will cook immediately, and what you want is to blend it evenly. 

So get a spoonful of the poppy farina and sit it on the counter. Now crack the egg in a bowl, beat it, and if the spoon has cooled off, stir it in. Keep adding small amounts of the poppy mix until you have a cup or two of the stuff, which you can now stir back into the main pot o poppy mix. 

Then pour this on top of the bread batter in the pans. I found that a slit down the middle of the bread batter seems to keep the poppy on top, unlike in the experimental first batch pictured in cross section above. 

Slide your fake mohnkucken into a 360 degree oven. I cooked for a while, but don't recall exactly how long, and I was doing a half dozen loaves at once, so it won't be the same for you anyway. A nice mahogany color on top seems to be about the stage where you should get it the heck out of the oven.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


The Salish Sea pulses with life, schools and shoals swarm forth each in their season. Americans have gotten used to suspending seasons, eating tomatoes year round, never fretting over dwindling root cellars, and forgetting for the most part about special treats summoned by a Spring rain or a Summer sun or a Fall run. 

A step removed from nature, we people have set what we call seasons when it is allowed to fish or hunt for most of the edible ones. Recently there was a season for Spot Shrimp (Pandalus platyceros, the largest species on the West Coast), and I happened to be a step removed from a fisherman who made a good haul. 

This was my first encounter with this bundle of marine protein, but a prawn is a prawn, and anything that you can prepare on the day it was caught will be at its novice-forgiving best. Better yet, Spots make it easier by not having that vein of poo running down the tail, needing to be laboriously cut out. The carapace stretching back from the eyes holds all the guts--you snap it off and get rid of it (skip over to the "Heads" post at Urban Greenstead for that and of this tale).

Easy. Done with 5 pounds in a few minutes. Tails in the fridge and ready to be dinner. 

This is where a food blog is supposed to have a beautiful picture of the prawns in prep, and another of plated sublimity. But I procrastinated, as usual, and when one of the shrimp-eaters bailed, and only one of my family likely to even try them, I found myself putting them in the freezer at 9 at night. So you get no photo spread, no great recipe, no companion dishes. The only thing of value this post really has to offer is that when you freeze these critters, cover them in water, or when they thaw, they'll be mushy. 

A few days later, I did get around to cooking up a batch, but again there is little to offer the reader. My sole method was to assume that melted butter full of garlic chives would fix any flaw.  I thought I'd steam them, but fat or something in the shrimp made the water boil a massive foam that forced me to lift post from burner and lid from pot. The daughter brave enough to try retreated before too long because the "feet-thingies creep me out." My shrimpficionado guest allowed that they were OK, but not spectacular. I felt about the same; the garlicky butter made it ok, but couldn't quite overcome the taint of failure to eat some that first day, or completely hide the mushiness I thought I sensed. 

But, no disaster, and no waste. Errors and lapses are alright if we learn from them. There will be another shrimp season, and I'll be ready.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blurred, and finally Procrastinated

Ersatz Mohnkuchen-machen, ein dizzying untertaking. (Focus on the center of the stir, and the dizziness may subside.)

So there was this bake sale, bloggers raising money for the food bank. Collateral benefits may have helped drive up traffic for some of the fine bakers who contributed, but I slacked off and put off until I had nothing to put in the packages: no cards nor stickers proclaiming the name of my bog.

And it's best I didn't, because there are some talented and committed folks cooking and writing about food in our town, and probably in yours, too. Read them regularly, procrastinate here intermittently.

My blog sleeps for weeks, and upon awaking may croak only some snore-snort rant with nary a recipe nor useful fact at hand, only to slip back unto comatosis. But now that I am comfortably in the next month, I can blog about the bake sale. 

I'd spent the week prior in a desultory/manic oscillation, and a test run on the granola bars had me confident about that recipe, so what remained was how to handle my obsession with using up a bunch of poppyseeds I had, a few cups from the past year or two Hungarian Breadseed popping up. The county health department seemed especially leery of custardey type stuff, so the lemon bar things I'd been thinking of were out. 

But hey, I had a bunch of rhubarb, and that's tart, right? So I decided that a quick bread, using rhubarb sauce (and as it turned out, winesap applesauce as well) in place of eggs and some of the liquids. Plenty of it, too, to make it a dense moist bread, atop which would be the farina-poppy-vanilla concoction that you find in Mohnkuchen, Poppycake, a European treat. 

A test batch on Bakesale's Eve turned out pretty well, and after finishing 4.5 dozen granola bars (another post, maybe) I went to bed satisfied and ready for the next day, which I had wisely taken off to devote my full energies to baking, and drinking coffee...and surfing without writing...and gardening. And then it was 2 hours before the bake sale and not only were a couple of loaves of fake mohnkuchen not done (crowded oven, and did I mention that the batter is dense and wet?) and none of it was sliced and packaged. "Probably too late to conceive, design, and print labels now," I procrastinatorily realized, and set my elder daughter to work on getting baked goods in ziplock bags.

And it turned out fine. I got to meet some other people willing to bake for a good cause (the Thurston County Food Bank, to be specific), not to mention Arts Walkers happy to happen upon a big table full of cookies, confections, and treats for a dollar a piece. Lots of them donated more. Generosity flowed, and swimming in that stream feels good. Us blogger-bakers agreed that we'd crammed well over a dollar for ingredients alone into these $1 delectables, but what we spent helped maintain jobs for farmers and millers, and it was fun. About half of my stuff sold, and the rest was headed for hungry people. To top it all off, I had a really nice time with my elderkid, who reacted to me making her help out at the bake sale with a stellar performance. 

Agreeing to deliver 100 pieces of baked goods, fresh at a certain hour, to raise money for a fundamental feeder of fellow people, is more cooking responsibility than I'm used to. Creative indecision (which is what I sometimes call "procrastination") made it more off-kilter and last-minute frantic than it needed to be, and the day leading up to the sale looks from this vantage like a blur, but a comfortable '70s warm-toned buzz of a blur, with none of the careening vertigo you might sense from that first photo. But then again, not the static clarity of the second, either. Motion all day--arms stirring and whipping and folding, mind pulling body from pantry to stove to counter. Too much to account for without criminal dullness, blurring together into a single simple goal: get the stuff ready by 4:00.

And at 4:00 my truck parked illegally and me hoping that the traffic cops were themselves procrastinating, I was delivering rhubarb-poppy bread and locavore granola bars to the bakesale tent. At 7:00 I was back with daughter in tow, and we sold til 10:00. Missed Arts Walk myself, but enjoyed the night, the people, and of course the bag o goodies I purchased for us. Drove home and fell asleep, glad there was nothing to do the next day til late afternoon and the Procession of the Species parade...which is yet another post I'll get to....some day.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bake Olympia!

Are you hungry?

I am. Always, more or less, feral neural nets omnivorously considering the surroundings for a quaff and a morsel, shoots and berries beaconing, "I'm ripe right now, eat me." Sirens less corporeal call too: what is the blog but an answer for the hunger to write? So I share a recipe or a way to simplify, throw in some nettles and a garden, and I'm full til I'm hungry again.

But some people are literally hungry, and it's a shame to say that I've been posting here for six months without saying anything about it. Among us are people out of work and out of luck, people with addiction hungers and people with the myriad of woes that converge on simple hunger. More South Sound kids suffer empty bellies than you want to believe, and become famished over breaks and ice storms when there's no school nutrition program. 

When that happens, and any other mundane day for that matter, the Food Banks feed people. Here in Olympia and everywhere else in our downtrodden economy, they need our help to help out the hungry. 

So when I got an email suggesting that Olympia food bloggers put on a bake sale during Arts Walk to raise money for the Thurston County Food Bank, I was really happy that somebody stood up and did something. Jenni Crain, who creates The Plum Palate with Chie, heard about a similar thing in Seattle, and organized it here. I'm just a willing contributor, but even that is a meal to sate my hunger for good karma. 

This will be happening during Arts Walk (on Friday April 27th), and is called Bake Olympia--link to the other blogger-bakers and get details at that site--look for us on Columbia Avenue, somewhere between 4th and 5th, within the Make Olympia area (Thanks for waiving the vendor fee, MO!). Come by and buy some tickets that you trade for delectable treats made by some talented cooks. The Food Bank will get all the proceeds, and you can pay with food, if you want. And it need not be canned; they can accept perishable food, too. 

Like some fresh produce from the Farmers Market just down the way; they close at 3:00 and we start at 5:00, but promenading about with a bag of broccolini and kale makes for a fine Olympia afternoon (and a farmer at closing time may give you a good deal if it's headed to the Food Bank). People will admire your healthy locavorism, and you can casually mention that you are supporting the Food Bank, as you sip coffee and snack on good vibes. 

Then later, you can feast on brownies and cookies. I'm thinking my contribution will be lemon-poppyseed bars and granola made with wild and local ingredients. What everyone else is bringing, I don't know, but there will be talented bakers there, and I'm looking forward to meeting my virtual community. And if you come by, in addition to the good feeling you get from supporting the Food Bank, you'll get that baked-good boost you need to Walk the Arts, and you won't be carrying around all that brocollini, or all those heavy cans and cash. 

We'll see you there!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In the Beantime

I usually take a photo, or drag one up from the archives, but today's subject is beans, and they're just not that photogenic. Sure, I could hunt down some pretty heirloom variety, dried orbs speckled with color, shot according to foodblog standards (set in an interesting bowl, viewed from 20 degrees above horizontal, depth of field centered on the most pleasing cluster, a utensil adding either haute or rustic flavor to the scene), but nah, I am not so inclined. And besides, the honest portrayal of a mess o beans ain't pretty.*

Pretty is not the point of beans. Maybe for a lithe young snap bean, but such things are daydreams at this time of year; if you're a globavore, I suppose you can find a limp old crone of a pod, worse the wear for its journey. No, I'm talking about dry beans, humble fare. Even the fancy ones that jump into the pot clad in cranberry tones or the height of black-and-white bovine fashion emerge somewhere along the brown-grey-black backwaters of the spectrum. 

Beans have gotten me and billions of others through hard times. Protein without the expense of meat, filling meals on the cheap. Campesino fare, but also a fair part of pencil factory heir Thoreau's back-to-the-earthedness. My sister survived years of brutal underemployment on red beans and rice blessed by the Cajun bean deity, Zatarain. 

Lately, even though personal finances have improved from my own economic nadir, I've been getting back to bean basics. Partly to get protein without pink slime and feed-lot meat. Partly to preserve funds for better purposes (better beer, book sales, and, uh, whatever else). Partly to simplify my life.

For years, I've been eating canned beans, especially after reading Skinny Legs and All, in which Can o Beans is a main character and minor deity (thanks, Tom Robbins, for lifting the veil). But cans these days have chemical linings (or cost a fortune), and are filled with beans cooked who-knows-where according to food safety standards weakened by successive corporate onslaughts. And besides, I figured I could save some money by cooking my own. The stew of autonomy and frugality has always been irresistible to me.

And so in recent months, I wait til bags of dried beans are on sale, and pick up a bunch. A pound of beans and some water put in the crock pot yields a couple meals worth of beans, salted and flavored however I want. Usually it's pintos or black beans, although today it was garbanzos made into hummus. Whatever is not eaten at the first meal goes into a jar in the fridge, ready to be doled out for lunches (yes, I am lucky enough to have a first grader who loves to bring a little container of beans to lunch), or another dinner. 

The economics are compelling. Every so often, beans are on sale for a buck a pound. A dollar buys the main protein for a couple of meals for a family of four. And of course they are good for your heart, and who can put a price on that?

* Are you not a Southerner? Then you may not be aware that the "mess" is the unit of bean-meals, like a hand of bananas or a murder of crows.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Garlic

Garlic pokes up through colder ground and shorter days than a lot of its garden compadres. Even in my yard's procrastinating Spring, only a day after Equinox, the vee-creased shoots are ankle high. This is in a new bed enriched with fireplace ash, maybe a hundred or so plants. There are a few odd rows here and there in the yard, and of course a few heads I missed last fall sprouting green tonsures.

Contrary to the Fall-planting orthodoxy, I pulled up and split up some of the volunteer knobs, replanting willy nilly just a couple of weeks ago. Others I let be until a hankering for scallions or scapes, maybe an autumnal bulbil, brings me back. Freebies for the rest of the year, with the extra spice only disorthodoxy can summon.

Meanwhile, inside the house, the cloves awaken. As soon as the mature heads are pulled from the soil, garlicians struggle to make them last as long as possible. A cool dry garage and some jars of olive oil did the trick this year. At least until the Solstice, when even under roof and Winter's cloudy grey, the cloves hear the call of the lengthening days and begin their six-month stretch. Either I've selected better keepers or I was lucky this time around, because by this time in previous years, all the dry stuff had long since decided to be a new plant.

The last of the dried cloves, just now sprouting, don't inspire foodies. They're yellowing and getting a little soft; the only crisp part is a green shoot through the heart of each one, reaching out the top for light. Meanwhile, at the other end, octopodic roots begin to reach out, hoping to get their tentacles into some soil. Some people would plant them, others (under the thrall of Autumnist dogma?) would waste them, or at best relegate them to the compost. 

But being frugal, I use them up. Sliced, each piece is an eye with a green pupil, a look I like. Then again, doing nothing more than peeling them (easy, at this late stage) and tossing them in whatever happens to be in the works works as well. A recent desire to cut out the chemicals and other afflictions of canned beans, I've been buying them dried, and cooking them in a crock pot. A head of past-prime garlick cloves added to this gestation is a fine and nearly effortless addition. I will end this entry with proof, in the form of another of my so-simple-it's-not-even-a-recipe recipes:

Crocked Garlic and Beans

  • Clean and rinse 1 pound of dried beans
  • Peel however much garlic you want
  • Put it all in a crock-pot with water
  • Turn it on
  • Wait

While you are waiting, decide whether you want to add anything else. You'll have hours to think of extra ingredients, such as: beer, salt, schmaltz, celery,... You should probably stop obsessing about bean cuisine right about now. It's unbecoming of simple staples, which have humble souls that are put off by high-falutingness (but tolerant of flatusness). Just let 'em cook until you are satisfied with their mushiness. And turn whatever epicurean inspiration that might strike toward something to go with your crock o beans. 


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Heavy Nettle

Tongue-stinging goodness
Last year, I noticed a blogorrific frenzy over nettles, and I guess I joined in. This year, I hit them a little earlier, and they came easier. The cool thing about foraging a stinging weed is that nobody complains, no naturaestheticians upset that you've removed the scourge from trailside, no wildlife defenders upset at loss of something precious.

Like many weeds, nettles are precious if you know the rules for using them: protect yourself while harvesting, harvest early and young, and cook the irritant out. The harvest season is brief--over already down at sea level even up here on the 47th parallel--and so unless you only want to eat them for a week or so, you have to face up to the next rule: put some away.

Picking isn't hard. Except on your back, and on any skin you may leave exposed. If you go out early, picking before they reach 6 inches or so, before they start to stretch out, way prior to flowering. I use the light-touch theory of picking, which mounts to reaching down from the top and snapping the tip off. If it does not snap easily, you're beyond the young tender leaves; usually, I reach just below the first set of leaves that stick out sideways, below the liko, the emerging leaves in their bud. If they're higher than your boots, let them grow; they'll turn into fiber (the stalk was broken down into fiber for fishing lines, nets etc), or just live out the season and come back next year.

 Processing doesn't amount to much. Boil some water, dump in some nettles for a dozen or two seconds, and pull them out. I use a steamer that fits in m stock pot, so I can life the whole thing out and move on to the next step: run them steamin' leaves under cold water to stop them from cooking into mush. Save the boil water, and drink it as tea, or wash your hair with it..good things happen either way.

More than a lifetime supply, for most Americans
From there, it's a matter of storage. I stuff them into quart-sized bags, squeeze out the air, and pop 'em into the freezer. Later on, I may not eat a whole bag, but I can cut off however much I want and steam or stew, pesto-fy or stir fry, or otherwise cook to perfection. Season to taste, repeat. Seriously, repeat, because nettles are damn good for you, and don't taste nearly as nasty or grassy as some greens. 

I'll head out again, at a higher elevation. So far, though, the numbers are this: roughly two hours of picking yields two grocery bags of raw shoots, which turns into 6 quarts of blanched, frozen nettles, which should last for 12-24 meals. Shamefully, I drove to the park several blocks from home, so there's the cost of maybe 0.03 gallons of gas, but there's no cost otherwise. No fertilizer, no pesticides, no nuthin. Just greens.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Scrap Mustard

Now and then, the plague of near-empty jars and their litters of ziplocks rattling with yet un-et dry goods just gets out of hand. Before they lure in some hungrier critter, it's time to clean out.

But not throw out, if you can help it. So it was that I assembled assorted packets of mustard and poppy seed, two jugs' last glugs of vinegar, and a bottle of beer into a big-ass jar of mustard. It's the same 'run what ya got' spirit that gets credit or blame for  lot of my efforts, and which animated stock car racing back when it was with stock cars. And like racing's bootlegging roots, this recipe sneaks in some alcohol.

 Saying that I 'made mustard' is incredibly pretentious. The fact is that I poured liquid on seeds and later smashed it up. It being late and me being lazy (Lord, when will the hillbilly stereotypes end?), instead of a mortar and pestle I used a wee food processor, which is also more practical for small batch production that doesn't merit a stompin' party (which is like with grapes, but wearing pointy cowboy boots). 

 Not rocket science. Give it a day to soak, and then mush it up. Add a little salt if you want. I have enough of the basic mustard and experiment with other flavors, maybe puree or pound some to a finer texture, maybe do something completely different. Then feed it to people. So I guess it is some kind of science. 

 There is also faith, that some permutation of this concoction will taste pretty good. If I were a proper food blogger, I'd have gotten fancy vinegar, maybe some wine, and definitely not have used that photo with the plastic jugs. But I'm just a son of a scientist and an Appalachian, a squatter in epicurean territory: no exquisite photography, no mustard lore, not even a great how-to or recipe. Even my blog layout is inexpertly tweaked prefabbery.

 But the mustard is good, and cheap, and will take up space in the fridge til it's gone. The recipe's right after one last photo, illustrating the finished product in all it's baby poopish glory.

Scrap Mustard
 Get a jar, and fill it a third of the way up with:
  • Mustard Seeds - as many colors as you have, living in harmony
  • Poppy Seeds - a couple of good fistfuls of the ones I grew a couple years ago
 Then, mix up some type of liquid, enough to pour into the jar til it's 2.3 full. For instance:
  • One  12 bottle of stout 
  • Several ounces of the leftovers from bottles of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar.
 You can probably do better than that last ingredient, and maybe you like some other kind of beer better. Pour it in the jar and let it sit for 24 hours. Check it in the meantime and add liquid if the seeds aren't covered. When the time is up (or, a day or two later when you pull it out of the fridge where you put it when you realized you weren't gonna get around to it), mush it until its reached your ideal smoothness. I like the way the whole seeds pop whe  you bite them, and even held some aside during the food processing, but the machine is small and weak, and I didn't have to worry about it ending up too homogenous.