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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.