posts tagged with 'cooking'

hippy secret ingrediant

Today I made sourdough pancakes and laundry powder. What do those two things have in common? Baking soda!

Ok, so maybe what they actually have in common is that unless you're a crazy hippy you've probably never even thought about making either of them, much less on a Tuesday morning; but the baking soda made me notice that I am a crazy hippy, so I wanted to comment on it.

We've been making our own laundry powder for a long time—or to be more precise, Leah's been making it. But I took over the laundry duties a couple months ago when she started working some out of the house, so when we ran out the other day the responsibility for making more fell on me. We use the recipe from Making It, written by the couple behind the Root Simple blog—it's just one part laundry soap (Leah still makes that, by a process unknown to me), two parts borax, and two parts baking soda. It works fine, it's cheap, and best of all it doesn't stink.

The pancakes are newer; I started with them because once you have a sourdough starter you need to keep making more sourdough starter, and there's only so much bread that one family can eat (especially when 50% of the adults are gluten-free!). But I keep doing it because they come out light and crispy and delicious, even with all whole wheat flour and less sugar and much less fat than my regular pancake recipe. The two younger boys don't like them much; I can't decide if that's a feature or a bug.

I don't really have a recipe for sourdough pancakes besides whisking an egg into a cup of happy starter, fed the night before, along with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a little salt. Then I dissolve some baking soda in water and fold it into the batter. You'll notice it's a fat-free food at this point, but I fix that by cooking each pancake in plenty of butter: I make sure to add more to the griddle for each batch.

I don't know about everybody else, but baking soda doesn't much feature in my more conventional baking. Too unpredictable. Who knows if a particular ingredient has enough acid to activate it and remove that horrible metallic-salt taste? An ingredient other that lactic acid-laden sourdough starter, that is. I really feel a connection to my homesteading forebearers of, oh, the late 1800s when chemical leaveners became widely available.

We do lots of odd things in our household, and not all of them require purchasing baking soda in bulk. But some do. It is a signifier, of a sort.


productivity in one sphere

We had a great day today of visiting and hosting. And never mind my many failures and inadequacies, today I'm proud of one thing at least: beginning at 6:15 or so I baked the following foods:

  • Whole wheat sourdough bread
  • pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
  • banana chocolate chip muffins
  • white sourdough bread
  • sourdough pancakes

Plus I made potatoes and scrambled eggs and peanut noodles. And spaghetti with sauce from a jar. And a salad. That feels like enough for one day.

And even with all that, we'll start tomorrow with a clean kitchen!


self-deprecating bragging

With everything we're trying to do it's sometimes—often—hard to think about dinner before, oh, 4:30 on any given day. Combined with the somewhat limited palates of our boys, that means that the dinners we put on the table are not always inspired. Today, for example, I served spaghetti with sauce from a jar. But it's ok, because everything else on the table was totally representative of our awesome hippy credibility. Fresh sourdough bread; kale salad with homemade dressing (with local honey and homemade—though not by us—vinegar); and for desert a peach crisp made with home-canned peaches. See, we're still cool.

pie plant

It's no secret I love perennial crops. Rhubarb is another early season favorite, and after adding some new plantings of it last year we have plenty to go around.

rhubarb growing by the fence


I picked the first few stalks maybe ten days ago, and cooked them into syrup that I mixed with sparkling water to make a refreshing rhubarb soda; yesterday's harvest went into some muffins. Not till this morning, though, did this year's crop reach it's true purpose and perfection.

a pie on the table


This particular pie came with us to a lovely cookout, where we spent about six and a half enjoyable hours chatting with old and new friends and eating lots of food, but not much rhubarb pie—I had to taste it of course, but I limited myself to a thin slice to make sure there was enough for the rest of the crowd. But as I said, there's plenty of rhubarb in the garden to go round; there'll be lots more pies to come!


why listening to the internet is a mistake

I've had this article open in a browser tab for well over a week, so I need to write about it here to clear it off my computer and out of my mind. It's called "Why Adding Milk To Your Scrambled Eggs Is A Mistake", and in it the author states baldly that "[o]ne common mistake people make when cooking scrambled eggs is adding milk or cream. You may have been whisking your eggs with milk since you were a little kid, but we're telling you now: It's time to stop."


It may seem counterintuitive, but the addition of milk, cream or any other liquid for that matter, will actually make it more likely that your eggs will turn out dry. By thinning out the eggs, it's easier to overcook them. Most importantly, the milk dilutes the taste of the eggs. It also screws with the texture, leaving the eggs slightly rubbery — and no one wants rubbery eggs. If you're using good, farm fresh eggs, you don't need anything except maybe a little salt and pepper to make them taste delicious. A little butter never hurt anyone, either.

The author, Alison Spiegel, "is a Food Editor at the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, and she currently lives in Brooklyn." I don't know part of that qualifies her to to judge egg preparation, but I'm pretty sure that her main qualification to the bosses at HuffPo is the ability to draw traffic, and she hit the jackpot with that egg post (which I got to via google news); most of her posts have maybe two comments, but that particular gem pulled in 693 at current count. I didn't read any of them.

I only hope people aren't really following her advice and leaving milk out of their eggs. I've been making eggs with milk or cream for years and they're always really good; why on earth would I change at the unreferenced suggestion of a Middlebury grad living in Brooklyn?! But I bet there are people who will: the same people who can't resist the latest weird diet trick, or believe conspiracy theories. "I hadn't thought of that before, so it must be true!"

There's nothing wrong with changing your mind about things, certainly. I've done things one way for years before realizing I was "wrong": I used shaving cream like a chump until it occurred to me that plain old soap does a better job. But when I make a change you know it's based on my own experience, a trusted friend, or a well-reasoned argument. Not some handwaving about how milk "screws with the texture".

As for milk and cream in eggs specifically, I'm going to stick with what works for me. And if I want backup justification, I'll turn to the words of Tamar Adler, also a Brooklyn resident, but one who has cooked at Prune and Chez Panisse (as well as her own restaurant):

Beat two or three eggs in a bowl, adding a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of heavy cream if you want. This is not a trick, but an expression of the fact that things taste good with cream added.

And I'll do it a lot: I forgot to check our henhouse for eggs two days ago and yesterday there were ten to bring in. Scrambled eggs with cream every morning, and never mind about that dumb bossy internet!


historical reenactment homemaking

You probably know this about me, but I hate and fear many aspects of modern existence. Plastic wrap, for example. Who decided it would be a good idea to cover food with a 12.5 micrometer film of PVC? And yet it now seems indispensable for so many kitchen applications, from wrapping up leftovers to gift-wrapping decorative cookie plates. Me, I used it most in baking: wrapping balls of pie dough or gingerbread, or covering the bread as it rises. And then one day I got to wondering: how did folks handle those needs before the first half of the 20th century, when plastic wrap was invented?

The question led immediately to its answer, which was—I say without any research or actual knowledge, but also without doubt—that they covered things in cloth. Wet cloth, to keep the dough from drying out. So I started doing that instead. It feels so much nicer! I don't know that any chemicals from plastic actually leach out into food, but to me at least plastic wrap is just not pleasant stuff. Plus there's the issue of the energy and raw materials that go into making and transporting it, and then again into disposing of it (how many of you recycle your plastic wrap?). An old cotton napkin from the rag bin doesn't have any of those issues.

I can see why, even hearing my process, some people would totally still be into plastic wrap. Compared to its perceived sterility, a wet rag might seem distressingly permeable to germs, or even somehow dirty in its own right. But keeping our bread dough—or our leftovers—sterility is a pretty modern problem; and with all due respect to modern medicine is not one that should loom particularly large in our consciousness. Under cotton my bread can breathe as it rises, and I'm sure it's better for it. That I'm following the example of countless generations of homemakers before me only improves my appreciation of the method.


buttering me up

This afternoon the boys and I took a long cold walk, and when we got back I wanted to make them (and me!) some hot chocolate. In view of the success of our expedition I even thought to make whipped cream to glob on top—but not very much whipped cream, since it was just the three of us and not so far before dinner time. So instead of using the stand mixer as usual, I tried the whisk attachment on the stick blender. First in a bowl—which resulted in cream all over everything in a three-foot radius—and then in a tall drinking glass. Imagine my surprise when in maybe four seconds of mechanized whisking the cream in the glass turned not to whipped cream, but to butter! (then when I was taking the whisk out of the glass I accidentally hit the button to run the machine again and butter went everywhere; it was that kind of process).

I knew butter was easy to make (had I wanted to do it on purpose I would have used the Cuisinart) but I had no idea it could be done that quickly. We haven't made it before since we figured the cost of good cream would make it prohibitive—and bad cream wouldn't be worthwhile—but I was impressed by how much butter I got out of less than a quarter cup of cream. Further experiments may be in order! I know hippies usually make more yogurt than butter, but what can I say... butter appeals to me a whole lot more!

Oh, and naturally having made butter I had to serve some of it up on bread to go with our chocolate; the rest is in the fridge for tomorrow.


changing seasons

It turned cool here the last week or so, and I find myself wanting to make muffins. It's a noticeable switch, after three warm months of no particular baking desires; in the last three days I've already made two batches (pumpkin chocolate-chip and applesauce). I don't know exactly what's driving my muffin desires, but my enjoyment of the warm oven and the smell of cloves and allspice are probably big factors.

The only problem—besides that I don't have all the time in the world to bake—is that since muffin season is a fall phenomenon it hits at the same time our hens stop laying. It feels like the dropoff in egg production was a little earlier and steeper than last year, so we naturally wonder if our wonderful barred rocks might be reaching the end of their laying career. Good thing we have some understudies in the wings! In any case, we're out of eggs today for the first time since late February; I used the last one for the applesauce muffins. I guess it'll have to be bread baking tomorrow.


hippy progress

a pint jar of cooked black beans on the table

not canned, jarred

I often claim to be some kind of a hippy homesteader type—at least, that's how we have it in our blog description thingy—so it's to me great shame to admit that, for the vast majority of my life, whenever I wanted to make something with beans I'd just open a can. It's horrible, I know. Even many months after reading An Everlasting Meal (mentioned previously) I couldn't manage to get going on dried beans. Part of the problem was one failed recipe a couple years ago; those black beans were so disgusting I couldn't face trying again for quite a while.

But now I wonder what the problem ever could have been, because as most of you probably could tell me, dried beans aren't any hard. They take a long time, sure, but almost no effort or attention at all; just like I always tell people about bread, only more so. I am now converted, and will be working solely with dried beans from here on out (with the possible exception of a few cans of chick peas for any sudden hummus cravings). One key to avoiding canned beans will be saving some cooked beans in the fridge at all times against the inevitable moment when Zion asks for "beans and rice and cheese and tortilla and sour cream to dip", which he does just like that because his requests lately are more often than not rote recitations. You can't imagine how many times we've heard "a little bit of warm apple juice and a lot of warm cold water warmed up in a bottle with a top." Really you can't. And yes, he does (this week) say "warm cold water".

Last week I made pot of chili with dried beans, and I also used some of the tomatoes we canned in the summer. It felt pretty good: our chili recipe, which used to result in four or five tin cans headed to the recycle bin, was made without producing any landfill waste at all. With the recent seed order I'm ready to go even bigger next year; just ask Leah how excited she is about having even more tomatoes to put up! And I don't know what sort of yield we'll get on dried beans, but we'll have Black Turtle and Vermont Cranberry growing, along with Kentucky Wonder pole beans which, I learned recently, can also be used dry as soup beans. Just the thing for when the poles are so tall you can't pick the beans at the top until you take the whole thing down in the fall!

All that is to say: while while we're still struggling (or in some cases not struggling) with other marks of hippy shame, I can now report that, if nothing else, at least I know how to soak beans.


some cooking

I didn't work today, so besides taking the boys to the playground and skate park for some pre-snow sunny day fun, I also cooked some things. Since I believe I created a day's menu never before seen in the history of the world, I thought I'd share.

Breakfast wasn't very interesting: egg and cheese sandwiches. Well, that's what I had; Harvey and Zion didn't want cheese, and Zion took the egg out of his and just ate the toast. Oh well. Come to think of it, they weren't really eager participants in anything I made today, so I'll just leave them out of the rest of the story.

For lunch I made sushi, for the first time in years. It's because yesterday, as we did the grocery shopping, I was feeling quite hungry; seeing the sushi rice, it occurred to me how much I'd like to eat sushi. My hunger didn't acknowledge that there were several steps in between buying the rice and the finished product. But no worries, it came together quickly and Leah and I enjoyed our rolls of egg, carrot, and avocado. Zion ate the carrot out of one roll. Oh wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about that part.

Our dinner was motivated by the turnips in the crisper drawer—turnips that Leah hates, not least because they're sprouting and also even before that very large and taking up a lot of room. But I grew them, so I feel a certain tenderness towards them and don't want to throw them out. And now that the squashes are gone, turnips and parsnips are the only garden crops we have left, so I figure we have to at least pretend we'd be able to survive on them. But what do you do with giant turnips (beside feeding them to cattle)? Why, make bashed neeps of course! Which I had never done before, but will again, because it was a very tasty dish, with a couple carrots cooked with one of the giant turnips to provide some sweetness and color.

No one would forgive me for serving turnips as a main dish, of course (never mind that Laura and her family survived all winter on nothing but turnips in On the Banks of Plum Creek). So after a little internet research on the foodways of the British Isles I cooked some sausage and, to tie the meal together, made onion gravy (loosely from this recipe). With pretty-much caramelized onions and beef broth it's very much like thickened onion soup, and it was delicious all mushed together with sausage and mash. Or at least I thought so; the boys were both delighted to enjoy the sausage on its own, plain, accompanied by bread and butter. But never mind them.