posts tagged with 'cooking'

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.

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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.

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winter eating

a slice of quiche on a plate

home-grown home cooking

I didn't grow enough for us to survive on all winter. Sure we have tomatoes left, canned and frozen both, but that's only because Leah hasn't been able to eat them. We did alright with garlic and haven't bought any since the harvest, but we're down to our last clove now. And never mind the rest of the stuff: all long gone. Thank heavens for civilization. I did, though manage to grow us some parsnips, which are wonderful storage crops, and while we're not eating them they're storing wonderfully down in the cellar. Yesterday evening I decided to bring some up and cook them into a quiche.

I didn't come up with the idea myself; I had seen a recipe somewhere, but couldn't find it when I went looking again. So I searched online and came up with this version, put online by the fine folks at a community garden in Dover, New Hampshire. It came out fine: parsnips are wonderful sweet addition to an egg pie. Of course, while the parsnips and the garlic for the quiche were ours, the eggs were from Chip-In, since our hens aren't laying in all this cold and dark. And the corn was from a can, boo.

Besides the parsnips, garlic, and tomatoes—oh, and some pickles too—we also still have lots of butternut squash. Here's a picture of how many we had around the middle of November, after eating a few and giving a few more away.

a bushel basket of butternut squash, with one big one in front

many pounds

Mostly we make soup with em. The night before last I made soup and used up the last big onion we grew (and by "big" I mean "regular-sized"), but that doesn't count because we've bought many many onions in between harvest and now... we just happen to have been all out of the store kind when I went to look for one. I also made one squash pizza, and some plain mashed squash. But with all that bounty sitting there on the counter, we really need to broaden the repertoire! Squash curry, maybe?

This afternoon I asked the boys, "If we had a farm, what would you like to have on it?" Harvey didn't take long at all to answer, "tomatoes!" Zion said, "animals," and when pressed for details offered, "chickens... and horses and cows." Harvey is the one who's on my side here, clearly! As a reward I told him I'd give him even more space to grow in But they both enjoyed posing with the squashes back in November: here's Harvey with the biggest one and Zion with the smallest. They were being very silly and the light was low; this is the best picture out of many.

Harvey and Zion posing holding squashes

the main problem was that Zion wouldn't hold his still; Harvey didn't have much choice!

Oh I know! What about a squash pie—like a pumpkin pie, but with squash? Any other ideas?

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tomatillo salsa

For the last two years I've grown tomatillos, so I figured it was about time to do something with them. Not that we had an overabundance. Last year I think I picked five or six, which I let rot on the counter; this year I didn't bring in more than 20 or so. The plants got big enough, and the flowers were pollinated fine, but most of the tomatillos stayed too little to pick. Next year will be better, always. But as it is we did have those few on the counter, and needed something to go with our rice and beans and tortillas, so green salsa seemed like just the thing.

I'd never made it before, but it turns out to be pretty easy. I cut the tomatillos in half and roasted them with a clove of garlic for about 15 minutes, then I pureed them in the food processor along with a jalapeño, about a quarter of an onion, some cilantro, and lime juice. That's all! Our tomatillo harvest for this year made enough for two meals, I reckon, counting on the boys' light consumption of what for them is a pretty spicy sauce. Besides the tomatillos, we also grew the garlic and the jalapeño; sadly we had neither yellow onions nor cilantro of our own this year. Something else to fix for next season.

As for the lime, I'm still working on how we could manage that one...

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I made a quiche today, oh boy

We have a lot of vegetables in the refrigerator these days, as well as a lot of eggs, so when Leah evinced a desire for an "egg pie"—something in a crust with eggs and veggies, as she described it—I knew right away that she was on to something. But before I got started I wanted to make sure I wasn't accidentally going to create an omelet in a pie dish, so I did a little research. Joy of Cooking, my default go-to-source, startled me a little with talk of custards and water-baths, and the internet went too far in the other direction with store-bought pie dough and just throw everything in there. So I kind of split the difference and made up my own recipe.

Of course, I owe a debt to both sources for leading me in the right direction. I didn't realize until I read the recipes in Joy how much of the egg filling in a quiche is actually milk or cream, so I made sure to add a fair amount (though not so much as they suggest: I did 3/4 cup for four eggs). Internet recipes reassured me that I could just toss in whatever vegetables and grated cheese I wanted and it would come out fine, despite Joy's warnings about negatively affecting the moisture level of the cooking eggs.

In the end I put in caramelized onions, swiss chard, and cheddar cheese, because onions seemed like a good idea, we had lots of chard, and we didn't have any other types of cheese. Goat cheese might have been better, but it came out fine anyways. Just one more thing that I never thought to make, and always kind of assumed it must be difficult... but it isn't at all. So hooray!

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essential camping preparations

Typically, I'm up late the night before camping cooking something or other. Tonight isn't even the night before this year's expedition (that'd be tomorrow night) but I still delayed bedtime for some very important food production: I had to get the marshmallows made, so we can have our home-made s'mores! I've been planning to bring a batch camping ever since I made that first one back in the winter, and while I did fail to make a single batch in between—despite best intentions to the contrary—I was determined to delay no longer.

So now they're done, and it turned out there was a bit of delay; from the first plan to do the thing on Tuesday (foiled by a lack of vanilla extract in the house) all the way up until 8:30 or so, when Harvey finally went to sleep (in my bed; it was a tough day in some respects so I don't begrudge him the chance to finally relax in comfort).

Now all I have to do to be ready to go Saturday morning is pack, do some grocery shopping, and cook all the other food we're going to need for the trip. Good thing I'm working this week, or I'd spend all day tomorrow running around in a panic. This way my panic will be confined to six or seven short hours!

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late nights

This time last year we were totally in tune with nature's rhythms, going to bed with sun and feeling very wholesome. Not so much lately. Partly because it's been so hot the last few days, the later part of the evening—when it finally cools down—feels too nice to waste on sleeping. After putting the boys to bed this evening (at around 9:00) I made scones and Leah made a batch of cookies, as well as finishing up her latest basket. It's so wonderful to have it cool enough that we feel like we can light the oven without dying!—77°F at 10:15 as I type these words.

We also have a house-guest staying with us, which contributes to our disinclination to be done with any particular day. Got to stay up and be social! It's all very nice, as long as my body holds out—too many 6-hour nights in a row is not good for us. But so far so good.

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cooking omnibus post

All kinds of things lately, including some good food. For example, we celebrated spring a couple days ago with the first asparagus, which I cooked in a little butter and served up with bulgur, lentils, and poached eggs (also because spring). Life can't be too terrible when you can get asparagus and eggs from the backyard and cook them within five minutes of bringing them inside. Not that it's all spring all the time around here; yesterday was cold and raw and Leah's roasted root vegetables were just what we wanted.

A couple weeks ago I wanted something to bring along on our first trip to the Stevenses new house where we were going to help paint, and I made up another muffin recipe. It came out tasty enough that I wanted to write it down here so as not to forget.

Applesauce Muffins

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

In another bowl, combine:

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used some very sour sauce made from Cortland apples)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten well
1/4 cup canola oil or melted butter
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for around 20 minutes at 375°F. Makes 12 regular sized muffins (or 30 little ones, as I did it the first batch).

Also on the baking front, I've been enjoying eating oatcakes made with this recipe from Orangette, which I was pointed to by this post on Soulemama. Oatcakes are a thing that, once I'd heard of their existence, I wanted to try, but in my research last year or thereabouts I didn't find a satisfactory recipe. This one is perfectly satisfactory and very tasty with jam (or Leah's chocolate-chip cookie dough dip).

A while ago Jo linked to a tortilla recipe that uses oil instead of shortening (and cooks in a skillet instead of the oven, as in the Joy of Cooking version), which I find delightfully easy and delicious. Homemade tortillas are wonderful and make rice and beans seem like something special. We're also putting immense quantities of cilantro on many things, when we have it around, which is also special.

The cilantro may be a side effect of reading Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace a couple months ago. Other signs we've internalized some of her messages in that inspiring book are our increased consumption of home-made croutons and breadcrumbs and the fact that when I cooked the lentils the other night I saved the water they cooked in—which is now a remarkable broth, how could I have ever thrown it away?!—in a jar in the fridge. A jar that is even labeled. (The poached eggs of the first paragraph are also Adler-related.)

This evening while the boys were being wonderful playing with playdough (Leah makes that—most recently a double batch of blue and yellow) I pulled out a recipe I hadn't made in a while: banana bread made entirely in the food processor (well, except for the part when it's in a pan in the oven). It's good stuff, but I come to doubt the efficiency of using the machine. Yes there are fewer things to clean up then there would have been if I'd used the two bowl "muffin method" (as Alton Brown calls it), but cleaning the Cuisinart is so aggravating that it carries as much mental weight as three or four bowls. Also I'm not sure I trust that spinning blade to mix things up properly. Oh well, every once and a while in the name of variety—and of using up those two brown bananas.

So, we have some food here. Come by if you're feeling hungry!

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the stickinessiest

a ball jar of mini marshmallows foreground, messy table background

end product and mess

I took advantage of a rainy day off yesterday to make marshmallows for the first time. I used this recipe from Alton Brown, which worked wonderfully except that the sugar mixture never got anywhere near 240°F, stalling out around 220°F. Worked anyways. Also, warm marshmallow is the stickiest substance I have ever worked with. Piping the mini marshmallows was something of a trial and I was really concerned I was going to end up like the non-Bartholomew characters in Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

Aside from the pint of minis pictured above (and several more that never made it into the jar) we also made about two quarts of big square marshmallows, some of which were subsequently dipped in chocolate. I wanted to take a picture of the chocolate ones for you, but the lighting was never right for a proper food-blog-type photo. Oh well, those things are totally unrealistic anyways; real cooking looks more like this:

Harvey at the kitchen table slicing marshmallows

looks totally safe, right?

And I'm not even going to show you the shots I took of the sink! But never mind the mess, the marshmallows are delicious and we'll definitely be making more another day.

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even our cookies are healthy now

two healthy-looking chocolate-chip cookies

bite to show texture

We're eating healthier than ever around here lately thanks to a new initiative from Leah that she might write about some day. She's also been cooking more than ever, so on the few occasions when I do manage to get into the kitchen I feel like I have to go all out—like, for example, making up a new cookie recipe. The new program also involves a lot of vegetable purees, so luckily there was plenty of sweet potato for me to experiment with.

And including sweet potato wasn't the only wild experimental step, either! Alternative sugars, whole grains, (relatively) low fat—these cookies are healthier than most of the breakfast food I make! Given my family's tastes, though, I just couldn't leave out the chocolate chips. Here's the recipe.

Sweet Potato-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 cup oat flour (made from chopping up rolled oats in the food processor)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup no-sugar-added dried coconut
1 teaspoon banking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In the stand mixer, cream together:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar

Add and mix until smooth:

1 egg
1/2 cup sweet potato puree
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix on low speed until combined. Add and mix until evenly distributed:

1 cup chocolate chips

Drop the dough on a greased cookie sheet—whatever size you like. Smush down each ball of dough, to about 1/2 inch tall, or else the middles won't get cooked. These cookies don't expand much during baking so you can get them fairly close together.

Bake at 350°F for 11 minutes or so.

Makes... um, not that many cookies. We didn't count, though, before a significant number of them were eaten, so I can't give you a solid number. Maybe the next batch!

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cold-weather decision-making

This time of year, my baking process often goes something like this: It's cold in here. Let me turn on the oven. So, what can I make to justify that? No butter—grocery store tomorrow. Lots of pumpkin. How about pumpkin bread?

And so it was.

pumpkin bread

poorly lit by the florescents

Clearly a good choice: you see how much has already disappeared since it came out of the oven only a few hours ago.

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home-made halloween treats

If we're still posting about Halloween, I guess it's not too late to mention my small part in our holiday observance: upsetting recent local practice by bringing home-made treats back to trick-or-treating. Yes, after two or three years of threatening to I managed to get organized enough to bake and package cookies for Halloween. I even made a web page about it! All that took so much energy I'm only just able to tell you about it now.

wrapped and labled cookies in a bowl

they almost look store-bought

Why did I do such a thing? We wrote about it at some length on the web page, but the short version is that I don't like candy, and I like baking. That should be enough, shouldn't it? There are probably some sustainability concerns in there too, but I would be able to play that angle up more if I hadn't used approximately 18 yards of plastic wrap to get the product to look like something kids could begin to think about putting in their goody-bags.

And I was pleased that most of the customers we saw responded quite well, either with indifference or, in a few instances, excitement at being offered something home-made. Except for one case where allergies were a concern, I think that everyone who went for the candy rather than cookies—yes, we had candy as well, thanks to Leah and my mother and their concern for social norms—was from out of the neighborhood. It must be that all the local kids already know we're crazy hippies and aren't surprised by anything we do.

To allay parental concerns I included our name, address, phone number, and email address on the label—as well as the web page I mentioned above. We didn't get any calls; either nobody saw any problem with cookies in the Halloween loot or they just tossed them without bothering to contact us. Either way, my conscience is clear, and I'm ready to do the same thing next year.

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three paragraphs, three different ideas

I'm kind of stacking up potential blog posts in my brain, so instead of picking just one this evening here's three, minus some of the usual development.

One
We got some lemongrass from the food pantry, so I needed to find out how to cook with it. Leah is feeling a little bit under the weather so I was happy to learn that it's just what you need to make some sustaining Thai comfort food. Zion and I enjoyed it as well, healthy as we are. My only complaint was that I couldn't taste the lemongrass enough: it smelled so delicious as I was chopping it! I saved one stalk and am trying to get it to root in some water, in hopes of having a personal supply next year.

Two
I don't like to comment too much on mainstream politics here, but I have an observation on this Romney "47 percent" thing that's too long to tweet or whatever. I don't think that it will matter as much as Democrats hope, not despite but because of the fact that, regardless of income tax status, nearly everyone pays taxes of some kind. The Republicans are actually targeting poor people with that rhetoric, because the last thing a disadvantaged social conservative wants to hear is that the government is doing something for anyone other than him. "I may be poor," the Romney campaign hopes such a voter will say, "but at least I'm doing my part, not like those 47 percent people." They don't even have to say that those 47 percent are probably mostly black! It's the classic American political tactic of getting poor whites to vote against their own economic interest by pitting them against an imaginary "underclass", employed by the Democrats from 1877 to 1964 and the Republicans thereafter.

Three
Leah's post about Harvey and kids' church, accurate as it was, missed a crucial piece of context. Harvey is now working his uncertainty about the whole setup into regular conversation with people who aren't us: Grandma, his friend Will, a random mom at the playground. All are nonplussed. The last conversation went something like this:

Random Mom: "How old are you?"
Harvey: "I'm three."
RM: "Wow, you're big for three!"
H: "Yeah, but I'm a little bit scared of kids' church. I went but now I'm a little bit scared."

I was sufficiently far away that I wasn't prompted to offer any clarification.

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home-grown is monotonous

We've long been looking forward to the bounty of summer, food-wise; the garden makes big promises. Now it's here. The problem is, however, that to be enjoyed to the fullest the bounty must be consumed immediately. So a few weeks ago we were eating a great many snap peas and strawberries (not to mention the lettuce), and then it was the turn of the raspberries—and now we've entered cucumber season. So cucumbers for dinner three nights in a row, but at least I vary the presentation a little bit. Tonight it was couscous with cucumber and artichoke hearts and basil, plus some cucumbers with hummus; last night rice and bean salad with cucumber.

The latter was actually so delicious I want to record it here—not as a recipe I suppose, since I didn't bother to make a note of the proportions, but as a general idea. It was short-grain brown rice, black beans, cucumber, purslane, early onions, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, and salt.

As well as the cucumbers we're also getting as much basil as ever we could want, so pesto is involved in many dinners and most lunches. The only problem with pesto—and I could have sworn I had written this before but I can't find it in the archives, so you'll forgive me if this is an old complaint—is that, while the basil is cheap or free, the other ingredients are pretty pricy. Extra virgin olive oil? Parmesan? Pine nuts?! But now that I have a moderate handle on the recipe I can go heavier or lighter on those various things depending on how my wallet feels, and sometimes almonds or even walnuts will do just as well standing in for pignolias. Also, I confess that we buy the cheap grated parmesan in the jar—not the Kraft kind, true, but no parmagiano reggiano or whatever either. But that's alright: the rest of our ingredients are top notch, this time of year.

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weeding and feeding

close-up of purslane growing in the garden

a weed...

Fingers crossed, weeds are pretty well under control in the garden so far this year. Sure, they're a bit out of control in the bed where I planted the root crops, but those were so devastated by rabbits that I was forced, for my sanity, to ignore them for several weeks. Now that bed is kind of an experimental zone with the surviving carrots and onions (and one parsnip!) sharing space with volunteer tomatoes and squashes and, yes, some weeds. Elsewhere, though, the on-purpose plants got a good start when it was still wet and now the dry heat means that the weeds are weak and easily removed with the hoe.

close-up of salad with purslane and tomatoes

... and a salad green

Besides removal there's another way to deal with weeds: reclassification! Where there was space I made sure to give the purslane a little time to grow and thrive; today I pulled some and served it up in a salad. It turns out that, while it'll grow just about everywhere, it also has all kinds of vitamins and omega-3s and who-knows-what, and is also pretty tasty, especially with tomatoes and garlic scapes and a little salt. Just the thing alongside pasta with the first home-grown pesto of the season. Summer is good eating.

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now we're cooking with gas!

A couple weeks ago we decided our oven was broken. We were forced to this conclusion by the fact that it couldn't get hot enough to cook anything. Warming, sure: with a good half-hour of preheating it could manage to reach as high as 200 or even 250°F. But bread was assuredly not being baked, nor vegetables roasted. The conclusion wasn't precipitous on our part; for the last few months we've felt like we're living in the pioneer days as we stick our hands in to see if we've made it up to a moderately slow oven. What on earth could we do, when faced with this calamitous situation?! We agonized for quite a while, and then on Wednesday Leah called an oven repairman—and everything was fixed up as good as new within an hour.

That's a pretty amazing turnaround, especially considering how long we waited to do anything about the problem. Now that the thing is once again working as it should we can see how far our standards slipped as it took its slow decline. It heats up to 350° in less than 10 minutes! I've got to break my habit of turning it on to preheat as I start making cookies—or as soon as I think about maybe wanting to make them. On Easter, the last day that it kind of worked before the repairs, I turned it on first thing in the morning: that was the only way to get any kind of useable heat.

But that's all done with now! And the very kind repair guy tells us that, with our new igniter, we should be good for another five to ten years. To celebrate, I baked bread (Harvey was pulling for chocolate-chip cookies—sorry boy, practicality wins out).

a loaf of bread on the kitchen table

bread

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another era's cookery

Since I love both books—not just reading, the actual physical books too—and cooking, it's only natural that I should be drawn to cookbooks. Obvious, right? Of course, I don't like just any cookbooks. No Rachel Ray quick-and-easy generic American food for me; give me the scientific, the ethnic, or the antique. Especially the antique. Not even to cook from necessarily, but to read and marvel at the recipes of yore. I only wish the ones I have went back further, but cooking in the 70s was plenty different enough to be of interest to a historian of culinary trends.

This evening I was perusing The Farmhouse Cookbook, by Yvonne Young Tarr, which was published in 1973. It's a really interesting mix of old-time recipes, alot of them of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction, with trendy modern dishes. Soy sauce is an ingredient in at least one recipe, for example, and glazed ham with pineapple makes an appearance. On the other hand, if you had access to 100 lbs of hams you could also follow the recipe for Farm-Cured Ham on page 140 and, "[l]ike the country folk of the past, ... enjoy this time-ripened delight." Time-ripened here refers both to the recipe and the product itself; I only wish I had room to store that much ham, carefully wrapped in brown paper and muslin bags, on the premises. Ditto the bacon, which also calls for 100 lbs of meat.

I was also fascinated by the recipe for Calf's Head Soup, which I read to Leah. Even though she joined me yesterday in vigorously defending, in principal if not in practice, the use of "mechanically separated meat"—doesn't it seem right to use all possible parts of the animal?—she thought the line could be drawn at brains. In her defense she's never been a fan of brains, but I don't think it's entirely a necessary conclusion that she would resist eating them when they were cooked unrecognizably into a soup. The point is moot, however, because I could no more easily get my hands on a calf's head than I could pig meat in three-digit weights. Although I bet if I asked around at the farmers market...

(David Walbert at Walbert's Compendium writes more knowledgeably than I'll ever manage on the topic of old recipes, and I recommend you check out his blog if you're at all interested in the subject.)

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apple-pecan muffins

We're about at the end of fresh apple season, sadly, but if you're anything like us you still have plenty of apples around and plans to get more. We never have enough applesauce made! Of course, we've also been eating our fair share, but even with our best efforts some of the eating apples have passed their prime, at least as far as crispness is concerned. Happily, apple muffins are a great way to use them up those mushy but still tasty Empires or Cortlands. Below is the recipe I made up over the last two-three times I tried to put apples in muffins; nothing special, but I like the results at least (Harvey complains about the nuts—sorry boy, not everything can have chocolate chips in it!).

If I were a real food blogger I'd have some awesome close-up pictures, but I'm obviously not. All the photogenic muffins were eaten long before anyone thought of getting a camera.

Apple-Pecan Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, combine and let sit for 15 minutes or so:

3 small apples or two large, peeled and grated
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

Add:

3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

To the apple mixture add:

6 Tpsp melted butter or canola oil

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold together just until all the flour is combined. Distribute evenly into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a mixture of:

3 parts white sugar
2 parts brown sugar

Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

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veggie dinner 5: black bean enchiladas

Alright, after this I'm done. For now.

I love these enchiladas because black beans and cream cheese, very prominent in the recipe, are two of my favorite foods. And they're especially good left over!

Black Bean Enchiladas

You can make the bean mixture and the sauce ahead of time and then assemble the enchiladas just before baking. At the appropriate time you'll need to preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large saute pan, heat

1 Tbsp oil

Saute until soft

1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce, minced
1 medium onion, minced

Add and simmer for 10 minutes

3 cans black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup orange juice

Mash about half the beans, stir, and simmer for a few more minutes.

While the beans are cooking, make the sauce. Mix

1 cup mild or medium salsa
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin

Divide the bean mixture evenly among

7 flour tortillas, soft taco size

Top each with an equal portion of

1 package (8oz) cream cheese

Lightly oil a 13x9 inch baking dish, then spoon some of the sauce onto the bottom. Roll the tortillas and put them into the dish. Top with the rest of the sauce and

2 cups grated monterey jack cheese

Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 25 minutes, then uncover it and bake a couple minutes more. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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veggie dinner 4: spinach pie

Events conspired to mess up my five dinners in five days plan. Should have written them all ahead of time and scheduled them to post, eh?

This is an old family favorite of the Lexington Archibalds; at least, it was a favorite of mine growing up. I make it with some frequency, especially in the winter. Once again the recipe is from my mother.

Spinach Pie

This is called spinach pie because it's totally not a quiche—it's much cooler than that. I imagine it would be pretty easy to make it with fresh spinach rather than frozen, but when I have fresh spinach I much prefer to just eat it.

Make or procure a pie crust for a nine-inch pie dish and refrigerate it until you're ready. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine:

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
pepper to taste
grated nutmeg to taste

Scrape the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 30-40 minutes (depending on how hungry you are and what time it is). Ideally, let the pie cool somewhat before serving, since it tends to fall apart if it's hot.

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veggie dinner 3: peanut noodles

All my good recipes come from my mother. Where she gets em, I have no idea. Maybe she can tell us in the comments. This one might be stretching the idea of "main dish" a little bit, but when we have it with a salad and some italian bread it's all the meal you could ever want.

Peanut Noodles

You can vary the spiciness of these noodles by adding or subtracting chile oil, as long as you have 7 tablespoons of oil all together. The sauce can be good on bread or vanilla ice cream (maybe) as well.

For the sauce, combine in the food processor:

1-3 cloves garlic
6 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon chile oil or other hot oil

In salted water, cook:

12 ounces linguini (more or less; or other similar noodles)

Drain the noodles, then mix with the sauce and (all optional):

scallions
diced cucumber
chopped peanuts

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veggie dinner 2: chili

When we go camping with other folks—as we have the past four years—we take turns cooking dinner. That way each tent grouping can focus on a single meal and pack just what's needed to prepare it, which makes things go much more smoothly: important when it's getting dark and everyone's hungry after hiking! Of course, we all help out with chopping and fire building and things, as is only right for a communal expedition. This past trip the Archibalds prepared a vegetarian chili according to my mother's recipe, and it was all very well prepared indeed—except I forgot to bring the recipe itself. Thank goodness for modern technology, since I could call Mom right from the campfire and ask her to remind me. The chili came out well enough that I even ate some of the leftovers once we got home! And made over a proper stove it's even better. Here's the recipe so I'll have it handy next time.

Mom's vegetarian chili

Good thing we live in the Northeast so we don't have to worry about the authenticity of our chili. The bulgur serves to thicken the chili up a bit, and substitutes for meat in texture if not in taste.

In a stock pot, heat

1/4 cup oil

Add and saute for 10 minutes

2 or 3 onions, diced fine
3 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
a green pepper, diced

Add and cook for 2 minutes to toast

1 1/2 Tbsp chili power
1 Tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup coarse bulgur

Add

3 cans kidney beans
1 28oz can tomatoes or puree
2 Tbsp soy sauce
4 cups water
3/4 tsp salt
pepper

Cook at a lively simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over rice and top with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and scallions.

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veggie dinner 1: cauliflower curry

a bowl of cauliflower curry

Even though I've never been a vegetarian myself, I didn't grow up eating a lot of meat; thanks to my mother's healthy multi-ethnic cooking I never felt like every meal had to be anchored by a big piece of animal. Good thing, since Leah was a vegan when we first started living together. Now that everyone is trying to eat locally and ethically and sustainably and realizing how expensive meat is supposed to be, we're all looking for vegetarian main dishes that will satisfy our families; this week I hope to post a few of mine. Leading off, cauliflower curry.

Cauliflower Curry

This is the all-season version of this recipe, one you can make any time with ingredients from the grocery store. But once you have the curry base made—up to adding tomatoes and coconut milk—you can throw whatever veggies you want in there. Recently we made a curry with zucchini and green beans from the garden, and it was as tasty as ever you could wish.

In a large saute pan, heat

some oil

Add

1 large yellow onion, chopped

Cook for a while, then add

1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped (seeded if you want)
about an inch of ginger, chopped
two cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp curry powder

Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, then add (deglazing the pan)

1 14oz can diced tomato (undrained)
1 5oz can coconut milk

Bring to a simmer and add

1 head cauliflower cut up into little florets
1 14oz can chick peas
1/2 c water if needed

Simmer, covered, until the cauliflower is as cooked as you want, then at some point add

frozen peas

Five minutes before serving, add

1 bunch chard or other greens

Serve over rice.

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vegetables

beans, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, a couple cherry tomatoes, and an eggplant

Sunday's bounty

It's summer vegetable season. I picked so much yesterday that we started up a CSA and sent half of it away in a box. We're all excited, especially Harvey. He's looking forward to unlimited cherry tomatoes, but until then he's pretty excited about corn. It's growing here now, and we picked some up at the farmers market. Harvey carried one ear proudly out to the stroller and was much remarked-upon by the folks there for his cuteness. I agree that he's pretty adorable: when we got home and I showed him how to husk them he exclaimed, "It's corn!!" each time we got one opened.

He wasn't as much a fan of last night's eggplant, but Leah and I enjoyed it. It was the first one we ever grew, so naturally we breaded it and fried it and ate it in sandwiches with pesto and cherry tomatoes (no big ones are ripe yet). Thanks for the plant, Ma! Here's to many more to come.

a sandwich with a bite out of it

now that's good eating.

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banana chocolate-chip muffins

I want to be cool enough to be able to make up my own recipes. For baked goods, that is; I make up my own recipes for things like stir-fries all the time, but that doesn't count. A while ago I spent some time experimenting with muffins and was some way towards feeling like I knew what I was doing—to the point where I'd be able to improvise a muffin recipe based on the ingredients at hand. Then I came up with this recipe and stopped experimenting, because this one is good enough. Banana and chocolate, plus whole wheat flour and wheat bran: you can eat them for desert and for breakfast the next day!

(In the name of fairness I must say that I didn't make this recipe up entirely from whole cloth; but it is very modified from the original in Joy of Cooking.)

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Combine in a medium bowl:

2 or 3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cups brown sugar
6 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff and fold together just until all the flour is combined. Distribute evenly into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a mixture of:

3 parts white sugar
2 parts brown sugar

Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in one of the muffins comes out clean.

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pancakes pancakes

a pile of pancakes

needs syrup

Nothing says Saturday morning like pancakes for breakfast. Here's our recipe, which I post mainly to have it actually written down somewhere: I'm constantly in danger of forgetting how to make them.

These pancakes are tender and fluffy, just the way we like em. The recipe is modified from the one in Joy of Cooking to be more tender and fluffier; if you want them more tender yet you can substitute melted butter for the oil (but then they're kind of hard to pick up with a fork, so soft do they become).

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon

In another bowl beat together:

1 1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp canola oil

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently with a whisk until they're well-combined and not too lumpy.

Put your skillet over medium-high heat and butter as required. Pour the batter (I use a quarter cup measure, not quite filled for each pancake) and cook until most of the bubbles on top have popped, then flip and cook the other side for about 30 seconds.

Serve with butter and slightly-warmed maple syrup or preserves.

[edit: For an unconscionably long time this recipe incorrectly called for baking soda, since I always get the two confused in name if not in form. My apologies if anyone produced a completely inedible batch of pancakes.]

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deprivation and dried fruit

I did alright this Lent. I say alright because, while I started off great, I didn't keep up the pace I set the first two-three weeks. Still, I do feel like my "prayer discipline"—and, more usefully, my appreciation for God's presence in my life—got stronger over the past six weeks. No job offers yet, though; must have gotten lost in the mail. Beyond the praying business, I also denied myself somewhat in the traditional fashion, except that instead of giving up meat I gave up Metafilter and Google News. And I did that 100%, even on Sundays. I feel much better for it.

I guess the main purpose of fasting is to bring yourself closer to God. Want to do whatever it is you're not doing for Lent? Oops, oh yeah, I'm fasting; so what's up, God? Some folks also use their fast to stop doing something they wished they didn't do anyways: Lent can be a little extra bit of motivation. Often, though, the things we give up aren't bad in and of themselves, so one bonus of passing on them for a month and a half is that they seem all the more awesome when we come back to them. My brother and his wife went vegan for Lent, and I can only imagine the ham-and-eggs blowout they're going to have tomorrow morning.

I like that kind of thing. In our modern society we're used to instant gratification: we want something, and we can go out and get it (or at least order it online). Don't get me wrong: I think it's pretty handy when you need exotic ingredients or a new raincoat or whatever. But it does have the side effect of dispersing a little bit of the enjoyment of things. Take fruit, for example. The first strawberry of the year—or the first peach, or the first apple—can be a truly amazing experience, but not so much if you've been eating imported vegetables all winter. Not that imported strawberries are all that tasty. I'd rather cycles of deprivation and delight than a constant diet of meh.

In that spirit, my new tradition is to end Lent with hot cross buns made with delicious candied fruit. I eat little enough fruit in the winter—little enough of anything exciting, these days!—that I can share some of the thrill our ancestors must have felt when they broke out the last of the dried apples for the Easter baking. We made it through another winter with treats to spare! Last year it was apricots and pineapple, this year papaya and dates. Yeah yeah, no ancestor of mine has preserved either of those for at least a couple thousand years, but you know what I mean. This year and last the buns had the added bonus of breaking the Passover leavened bread fast as well. Mmm, yeast.

Anyway, there's a glimpse into my twisted game of self-deprivation. What did you give up for Lent?

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honey whole wheat

I guess we're doing recipe Wednesday here! Wednesday is the day we host Bible study, and we don't really have time to blog because we're too busy cooking and cleaning. Cleaning mostly isn't very interesting to write about, but cooking has potential for subject matter. So recipes!

This is our daily bread. I make it most Saturdays and the two loaves usually lasts through the following Friday. So far, that is: as Harvey continues to grow that formula will need to be adjusted! Like all my best recipes this one comes from my mom, but I've adjusted it a little bit.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer whisk together:

5 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt

Combine and heat until quite warm, 115° to 125° F:

3 cups water
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil

With the mixer going (using the paddle attachment), slowly add the liquids to the flour mixture. Let it mix up for a minute or so, then switch to the dough hook. Add, in 1/2 cup portions every 4-5 minutes until not unbearably sticky:

1 - 2 cups all-purpose flour

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it briefly to make it roughly a ball, then dump it into an oiled container to rise (I use the stand mixer bowl). If it's too sticky you can just toss it back in the bowl without the kneading; that is sometimes necessary in the summer when humidity is high.

Let rise until doubled in volume, which takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hour depending on temperature. Remove from bowl, knead lightly and divide into two equal lumps. Form the lumps into balls by stretching the tops and turning the dough underside inwards, then let them sit for 10 minutes.

Grease two loaf pans well with butter, shape the dough into oblongs, and place one in each pan. Let rise until doubled, 30 minutes to 1 hour. In time to get it heated when the loaves are risen, preheat the over to 350°F or so. Position the loaves several inches apart in the middle of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately using a metal spatula, and let them cool on a rack. Don't bag them or cover them with plastic until they cool, or they'll get wet with condensation.

Repeat 1 to 2 times per week and you'll finally be free of the grasping clutches of "Big Bread"!

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oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip

Here, for your reading and baking pleasure, is my current favorite cookie recipe. It was originally published by Mazola margarine and Skippy peanut butter, and I've modified it only slightly beyond removing references to those brand-name products. I did add the chocolate chips, though. Can you imagine creating a cookie like this without including chocolate chips?! As it is now, these contain nearly all the elements of a perfect desert.

Grease your cookie sheets and preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cup rolled oats

In the stand mixer (or in another big bowl), cream together:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar

Beat in until well-blended and smooth:

1 cup chunky peanut butter

Beat in:

2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed or by hand until well combined. Stir in:

2 cups chocolate chips

Put scoops of dough about 1 1/2 inches in diameter on the cookie sheet and flatten them slightly. I do 8 to a sheet. Bake for 11 minutes. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two before you try and move them to the cooling rack, because otherwise they tend to break.

So there you go! And no, these are in no way health food. Well, I guess you do have the oats...

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bread photography

an acceptable-looking loaf of bread

something like that

It was kind of unfair to write about Fornicalia without including any pictures. Here's a post to remedy that lack. The problem is that usually my breads are either not very photogenic (a frequent issue), or they come out of the oven after dark and prime photographing time. Or they just get eaten.

Begun last night and left to rise in the fridge until the morning, this sourdough loaf avoided the latter two problems; and it's not bad-looking either, if you ask me. Harvey—an experienced model, to be sure—was very interested in the photo shoot. "Smile, bread!" he kept saying.

a closeup of the loaf

crusty

Now the only question is how does it taste. We had to finish the other bread first, which we did on our Drumlin Farm expedition. Even if it's only passable, though, I'll still be happy: I finally made something that looks like a real bread.

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Fornicalia

Today is apparently Fornicalia, a holiday—indeed, an entire tradition—of which I was completely unaware. It's not what you think: despite the name it's actually a celebration of bread and baking. I observed it all unknowing, baking this evening a couple sourdough baguettes (loosely defined) and some hamburger buns. How far I have come in a couple years.

baked goods

Today our household made bagels, chocolate-chip cookies, two kinds of scones (cranberry-oatmeal and lemon-ginger) and, um, one batch of rustic scones that were the result when I forgot to cut in the butter before adding the wet ingredients. Not really scones, but not entirely inedible either. Certainly healthier than they would have been otherwise! In the midst of this orgy of baking Leah spoke with her dad and told him she was baking bagels; he asked her why she didn't just get a dozen from the bagel store. Why indeed?

Possible reasons:

  • We like baking
  • Harvey likes baking
  • It's cheaper
  • Home-made tastes better
  • We're crazy people

I'm really not sure. But I know I'm looking forward to having one of those bagels for breakfast tomorrow!

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what I'm working on

With just a few days do go I'm feeling more confident than I have ever been about home-made Christmas. This year I made more nice gifts than I ever did before, on account of starting in June on some bigger projects. This means that not one, not two, but six members of my family will get hand knit somethings this year, several others hand sewn somethings, with lots of other mini projects here and there to fill in the gaps.

As always, there are set-backs, like finding out that the mice ate Harvey's handmade stocking from last year, finding out at the same time that Dan hates his current stocking, and running out to JoAnnes to confidently purchase $25 worth of wool that has yet to become 5 new stockings. Errr, that's a project for tomorrow night.

Today I'm finishing up the cuff of Harvey's sweater, and it looks like a real Christmas miracle will occur and my tiny ball of yarn will hold out another 20 rows. If that gets done before 10pm I'm going to finish binding the board book that started out as a whim and ended up in 20 plus hours of work. Harvey's nativity set has already taken about three billion hours from September to present, and as of yesterday I officially gave up on adding Wise Men. That set already contains six dolls and two sheep all painstakingly hand-stitched, so I'm ready to call it a day, or rather call it a Luke-version Nativity and leave it at that.

All of these projects are to be photographed and blogged about in time, but probably not before the holiday, so in the meantime I leave you with two short Christmas projects that I blatantly stole from someone else's blog. The first is Peppermint bark:

peppermint bark

not just the thought that counts

I made this on Sunday and when Dan tried a piece he said, "I demand you make more of this." This is good stuff, y'all. I would be making more at the moment but it only takes white chocolate chips with real coco butter in them, which only come from Trader Joe's, and after the JoAnnes run the other day I have refused to drive anywhere near Burlington until Christmas is over. But if you can find the ingredients (and can slog through a recipe the size of Moby Dick) I strongly suggest you try it.

peppermint bark

that shit is good

My other new obsession this year is making re-usable wrapping sacks. They're like wrapping paper except reusable and more time consuming and you need to get out your stupid iron and why aren't you making Christmas stockings what on earth is your problem?

cloth wrapping paper

getting there...

I've made three more bags since this photo, and I would so much like to do ALL my wrapping with cloth bags, even though it adds so much time to the already late evenings. I don't know, something about the idea that it might ease my time next year, that makes it justified in my mind.

If knitting and book binding and stocking sewing go smoothly (and why should they?) then I'm sure I'll find something else to do before Saturday. Ornaments? Another hat? I really love Christmas.

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if you can make it you can eat it

A while ago one of my coworkers was surprised to find me ordering tater-tots from the cafeteria to accompany my lunch. "I thought you were a healthy eater!" she told me. While I admit that my svelte figure may encourage the idea, health is in fact not my main priority in choosing what to eat. Leah and I were discussing this very subject this evening over our dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and french fries.

Actually, there are some aspects of healthy eating that I at least think about before I stuff myself. We stay away from processed food, from stuff with artificial preservatives, from high-fructose corn syrup—most of the time. And most importantly, we make most of what we eat from scratch. That, to me, is the way to make sure your diet is mostly good for you. Sure, have pizza (Wednesday dinner and all day yesterday) or fries or even tiramisu; if you have to make it yourself you probably won't have enough to be seriously unhealthy. Not that you can't manage to gorge yourself at a single meal, of course: I'm still recovering from the amount of fries I ate this evening. Maybe three potatoes for two-and-a-half eaters was a bit much? But I'm sure not making fries every night!

And then there are those times I don't even follow the home-made rule. The tomato soup, for example, was from a can and was full of HFCS. But it's a treat, and I can't yet bring myself to shell out the extra money for a hippy brand without unnecessary ingredients (or to learn to make tomato soup myself—it can't be that hard...). Or those tater tots. But not very often.

The bigger benefit of home-made food, though, is the reduction in waste and packaging and fuel and just plain industrial effort it takes to get prepared food to the consumer. Why ship potatoes to a factory and then to a grocery store, when I can just get them raw and do the french frying myself? In the summer I can even get them direct from the farmer—how's that for cutting out the middle man?!

Truth be told, that's what drives most of my food choices. The health aspect can take care of itself. I get some exercise, and I don't eat really a lot of food overall, so I'm not concerned about the amount of fat or carbs in one particular meal. I also never go to the doctor so I have no idea, say, what my blood pressure might be. So don't take my advice on any of this, just know that if I seem to be eating healthy it's just a coincidence.

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slower fast food

I have heard, in my life, people tell me that they don't eat at McDonald's; they tend to be proud of this fact. Certainly, there are reasons to dislike "the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants" [1]; you might object to how they source their food, how they treat their employees, or even how they prepare their burgers and fries. And then there's the packaging that comes with everything, even when you eat in the store. Terrible! But you know, I think that nearly everyone who's happy they never visit McDonald's mostly just doesn't care for the food. Oh, it's so easy then!

Our feelings about Micky D's are more mixed. Nuanced, if you will. And that nuance is heavily influenced by the fact that we in fact find certain of McDonald's offerings quite tasty indeed. Also cheap, which is a fact that should not be overlooked when considering the chain's merits. But mainly tasty and convenient. By some strange coincidence, cheap, tasty, and convenient happen to be McDonald's main selling points. What are the chances?!

Liking the food means that we're prepared to see good in other aspects of the company as well. Like, have you ever noticed how boldly post-racial their ads are? Or how they're making an effort to present healthier alternatives and more responsibly sourced ingredients? They're not doing much about the trash problem, which is actually the biggest issue I have with fast food generally—but overall, if you ask me it's not all bad. Arguments to the contrary welcome in the comments.

What inspired this post was not actually a trip to McD's, but a homemade alternative. The other day while unavoidably out and about Leah tried a snack wrap and found it good, though little (that's how they make it healthy). We took the snack wrap as the inspiration for our dinner this evening, and enjoyed our own combination of fried chicken strips, shredded cheddar, lettuce, and delicious honey-mustard sauce. All home-made and prepared with ingredients from the finest of hippy sources. Well, kind of: Whole Foods counts, I think, but I'm not sure about Costco. Now if only I could find out how to duplicate their cheeseburgers and fries we could stop going there at all and once again be welcome in the company of other, better, hippies.

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Updates

Second round bagels came out better than my first batch, despite rising for 15 minutes longer than indicated because SOMEONE needed to be put down for a nap an hour early.

Connected to this, Harvey is still teething.

made a pie, got a ribbon

the contest pie

not as attractive as I hoped it would be

I made the pie. Harvey and I brought it down to the contest and sat down to watch the judging. There was more than one pumpkin pie entry.

many pieces of pumpkin pie in front of the judges

the competition

All the pies (there were a fair number of apple, too) meant a whole lot of waiting while judges tasted, but we had fun playing with rocks and watching the crowd. Having reset my expectations to zero when I found I wasn't the only entrant (never mind when several things went wrong with the baking) I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my pie was one of three tied for first place after the initial judging! Shortly thereafter I was unpleasantly disappointed to come in last among those three in extra innings, but I will still display my third-place ribbon with pride—grubby as it may be from Harvey's dirty hands.

And that grubbiness was before he got his hands on some of the leftover pie, put out for the crowd when the judging was over. I think he'd be happy to do it all again next weekend... or maybe tomorrow!

Harvey finishing up the pie

two forks for maximum pie intake

[edit: A photo gallery is available on the BFM website; page through all the boring pics until you get to the ones of me and Harvey.]

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pie project

I just sent in my entry form for the big Bedford Farmers Market Pie Contest. It's official. Now I just have to find out how you make pumpkin pie from scratch! The contest has pumpkin and apple categories, and I chose to enter pumpkin because my apple pie, while undoubtedly delicious, is in no way remarkable; and also because last year there was only one pumpkin entry. If that's going to happen again I want that entry to be mine!

The catch is that the pies have to be made from local ingredients, which rules out my usual procedure of getting my pumpkin from a can. So this morning Harvey and I headed over to Chip-In to pick up a couple of pumpins, along with the usual milk and eggs. I cooked one of the gourds today, as a test model, and will pie it tomorrow after procuring some local cream; I am not, however, entirely sure I chose the best way to go about it. Anyone with experience on the subject want to offer their advice?

I also can't refrain from mentioning a little mishap we had at the store. Tired Harvey wanted to be carried, so with him in one arm I perhaps didn't grasp the bag of milk and eggs as securely as I should have and I dropped the whole thing onto the concrete floor right in front of the register. Three quarters of a gallon of milk and the glass from three bottles makes quite a mess, it turns out! I was pleased to note, though, that only one of the eggs broke: the result kind of validates my 6th-grade egg-drop strategy, conceived the morning the project was due, of just sticking the stupid egg in an egg carton and wrapping some bubble-wrap around it. See, it could have worked!

There were some bright spots from the disaster, besides the lucky eggs. Because we're such good customers Neil let us have three more milk bottles (and one more egg!) for free, and someone was there to tell us not to cry about it. Kept me from having to make the joke myself!

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Harvey in the kitchen

Harvey was a great help with making dinner tonight. He held the basket for me while I picked the herbs and then helped chop them, he squeezed some of the tomatoes, he stirred the sauce, and he helped taste both the sauce and the spaghetti. Tasted and tasted, in fact: my little assistant wasn't much good for stirring once he realized that tasting might be part of the process. He was pretty cute, standing on his high-chair for the necessary altitude to reach the counter, missing only an apron to be the perfect picture of the budding chef. Not that we tend to wear aprons around here; I just noticed the tomato stains on my shirt from when he splashed me with a little over-enthusiastic stirring.

As impressive as it is to have a 15-month-old who's that good in the kitchen, I think you should be even more in awe of us for growing almost all the ingredients for the spaghetti sauce. Admittedly, animals keep eating the roma tomatoes out of the garden just as they turn ripe, so even though it ought to be prime tomato season with us busy canning for the winter and making fresh sauce with the spares, I had to break open a can of California tomatoes. But the onion, I grew that! Not to mention the parsley, basil, oregano, and rosemary that I threw in. Why those four herbs? Um, because those are four of the five that we grow around here! (not counting chives, naturally). I only left out the sage because I didn't think it would go.

Alright, so the dinner production isn't actually that exciting. Still, it's nice to realize that even though I count this gardening year as yet another failure thanks to the drought and predation from small animals and under-fertilization, we still managed to produce plenty of edibles. If I'd thought of it, I could have grated some carrots for the sauce: there's still plenty of them left in the ground, of varying sizes and degrees of edibility. I just can't wait until next season when, in addition to doing all the cooking, Harvey is going to be able to do some of the grunt work in the garden. Time he pulled his own weight around here! I make a pretty good overseer, I think.

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unpreparations

This summer I've spent every evening before a vacation (n=2) up late cooking. This is not optimal, whether the criteria is getting enough sleep or being able to come back to a beautiful clean house. Tonight it was bread and zucchini relish. I have good excuses, naturally: we need bread to eat on the trip, and the vegetables for the relish were not likely to survive until next week without the preservative properties of vinegar and sugar. But it means there are now some pans soaking in the sink. I'm too tired to clean them all the way up now: I'd much rather blog about it.

Really, we've barely gotten over our last vacation—my wallet, especially, has not fully recovered—but we are venturing out once again, to Cape Cod this time. As I am now the proud owner of a new internet-capable mobile telephone, I expect to do some internet-related activities while away. I have in the past, I find. I expect any updates I manage this year will be at least as thrilling, so stay tuned.

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another opening, another... market

Lexington's Farmers Market started up a couple weeks ago, and even that was later than it could have been; our super-local (like, around the corner) market—which must be the last to get going in the entire commonwealth—finally opened today. It was worth the wait, though, because even though it may not be the biggest market around it's still ours, and as it begins its third season I think I'm starting to like it.

It helps that as part of the opening-day celebrations they were offering a $2.00-off coupon to the first 50 customers to show up on bikes. I would ordinarily walk down so the puppy could get an airing as well, but with money on the table Harvey and I saddled up and made the minute-and-a-half ride. The money thus earned we spent on a bunch of Asian broccoli, I believe it was, which was an adventure in itself: the wonderful salesgirl at the Busa Farm booth (who is sufficiently easy on the eyes to be featured on the front page of the Bedford Farmers Market website) is never particularly useful in providing detailed information about the wide variety of unusual produce they grow in suburban East Lexington, and in this case all she could offer was that the plants we were buying were "kind of like broccoli and kind of like asparagus." With that it mind, I steamed the stems and florets and sauteed the leaves, and the whole thing was eminently edible accompanied with some whole-wheat couscous. Especially since it was free.

Photos of the opening day are available here, but I don't know if you need to even bother looking: I'm not in a single one.

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we love earth

In honor of Earth Day today, Harvey and I played in the dirt. I planted out some of the onions I sowed indoors quite some time ago, and Harvey discovered that there was a surface such that every bit of it could be picked up without changing the overall appearance of it (it was a nice soft garden bed he was playing in). He was quite enthralled, and got very, shall we say, earthy, but he managed to avoid eating very much of the soil. Yes, pictures would have been wonderful, but you can't photograph absolutely everything that happens: sometimes you just have to live life!

Then for dinner we ate garlic mustard pesto, which might be considered a gift from the earth on account of garlic mustard being a totally invasive weed; so no cultivating required! I cleared out a big swathe of it from our "woods"—more than we needed for the food but still nowhere near the whole patch. It's a start, though: don't tell me I never do anything for you, Earth!

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passed over

In this Christian household we celebrate Passover a little less rigorously than we would if we were actually Jewish, but we make an effort (at least in the years when it falls earlier than Easter). Aside from hosting one seder and attending another, we also sort of kept the Passover fast, by refraining from any bread leavened with yeast. Hey, that's all it says in Exodus! It's a good thing we're flexible too, because it took tortillas and rice cakes to get us through dinner tonight, after the matza supply ran out.

Because that's the other thing: there's no way we're going to be off bread tomorrow! In preparation for the yeast feast to come, I baked 16+ cups of flour into two loaves of bread and two dozen hot cross buns. Hopefully they'll come out better than a couple years ago, although like I did then I forgot to add an ingredient—in this case, the egg—until probably too late and had to work extra hard to incorporate it into the dough. I think I need to review that recipe and make a couple changes. A couple more changes, that is: I already mixed things up a little by using some whole wheat flour and replacing the raisins with apricots and candied pineapple. Now that's properly festive.

hot cross buns just out of the oven

glowing with sugary goodness

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baby food

Since we've been hanging around with Harvey we've gotten to enjoy certain foods we otherwise would have denied ourselves. His Cheerios, for example, possess a certain appeal at breakfast time when we're too sleepy to consider more complicated alternatives (despite the fact that we invariably feel a little ill at the end of the bowl, we keep trying them). Leah is enjoying his rice cakes, which—even salt-less as they are—fill a crunchy-snack niche that would otherwise be mostly unoccupied in our household. I can't make crackers every day, you know.

We're trying to get him onto a wider variety of human foods—hippy human foods, I should say, since I have it on good authority that in the wider world Cheerios are not exclusively for infants—but we've been stymied by the advice presented in What to Expect: The First Year. I know, I know, but there it is in print! No eggs, even cooked in baked goods, until we first introduce egg yolks alone. Great, we can get him started on crème brulée. Since we're not really going to do that, we've stayed away from eggs altogether; and absent eggs, all the tastier sorts of baked goods are off limits. Our bread, too, is problematic because it has honey in it. I suppose I could make another recipe, but we like this one!

Still, we're looking forward to the day when he will be able to enjoy our foods as much as we do his. We're the parents here: we should be setting the food priorities! Although we probably won't complain if he starts bringing home McDonalds french fires for us to steal.

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unseasonable

Here at the squibix household we enjoy pumpkin bread, and Leah loves her some pumpkin pie, so we make those two delicacies as often as we can manage (and issues of health and waistline allow). There is a problem, though, in the fact that canned pumpkin is more difficult than it should be to procure. Last time I asked after it at the supermarket, I was told that they didn't carry it outside November because it "wasn't the season". Now I'm as excited as the next fellow (more, even!) by local, seasonable produce. But that's not what's happening here: the poor pumpkins I can't buy were probably canned in China two-three years ago and are sitting in a warehouse until such time as the marketers feel there is sufficient Thanksgiving-related demand for them to deserve shelf space in the grocery store.

That's just silly. Isn't the point of the modern American mega-grocery that you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it?! We have gross tomatoes and apples all year round, why not delicious canned pumpkin? At this point I'd even take squash.

Clearly, the solution is to bite the bullet and can our own pumpkin (or rather puree and freeze it), like Leah's dad can't believe we don't do already (does that phrase make any sense? It's late here). Then we'll be able to put up as much as we want, rather than buying eight cans of the commercial stuff when it's briefly in stores and hoarding them as long as we're able. Ah, who am I kidding: we'll probably do both. How else will we be able to eat pumpkin pie into July?!

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french toast

french toast with syrup

mmm

Every weekend (if all goes well) I make two loaves of bread. That usually lasts us through the week, but not always: it's awful tasty when its fresh. Certainly, it's not often that we make it to the following weekend with much left. Thanks to some extra baking (corn bread, pumpkin bread, and biscuits) this week, we managed to end the week with a whole loaf to spare. That means, of course, that we got a treat for breakfast!

It's a good thing that we don't often have extra bread; if we did, we'd go through a whole lot more eggs.

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neighhborhooding

We got some more snow this morning. I guess it was a pretty big storm: folks were certainly worried about it last night, to the extent that it led to our evening entertainment being stripped of its intermission in order to get us out of there before ten (no complaints here!). In the event the first flurries didn't start until after midnight, but by the time we work up things were well under way—well enough for us to decide to forgo church, even though church boldly decided to go ahead despite the weather. When our street's not plowed and snow is falling at a significant fraction of an inch an hour, we prefer not to go out. Which is good, because we had some fun things to do today in our very own neighborhood!

First, our neighbors—Mark, Mary, and their three kids—came over to make gingerbread houses. We had houses ready-made for the two bigger childrens, which they decorated under the supervision of Mary and Leah. Mark and I designed a luxurious gingerbread manse and began construction. The babies played.

There was then a brief period of down time, which I used to bake crackers for the first time ever: I was committed to bringing a dip to the next neighborhood event, but I had nothing for folks to dip in it. So, necessity is etc. Only this case the offspring was not invention, but just getting off my butt and making something I've wanted to try for quite some time. Leah says the things are tasty, so it looks like our long cracker fast may be over.

Then of course we had to bring the dip and crackers and our beautiful selves to the party, where we ate and visited to our heart's content and where Harvey got to sit on Santa's lap for a present and photo op. Santa looked very familiar, for some reason, like we had seen him somewhere else earlier today... Unfortunately, Daddy did not bring his camera due to trying to get out the door too fast, so we will have to rely on the kindness of others to send us some of the many photographs that did get taken of our little bundle of joy.

So a delightful day by all accounts. If only the vacation had already started, life would be perfect.

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'cake mixing

There was no milk in the house this morning, nor was there any bread that would be acceptable for breakfast consumption (pita and sesame rolls do not count). Naturally, then, I thought back to our pioneer ancestors: what would they do in this situation?! I actually have no idea—probably eat some deer steaks or pumpkin or something, who knows what passed for breakfast in those days—but when I was a young lad I visited Plimoth Plantation with my school class, and the most (only) memorable moment of that trip was tasting some sort of flat cakes made with corn meal and sweetened with maple syrup. I have cornmeal and maple syrup!

Unfortunately, the internet was no help in determining how I would go about preparing such a thing. I had some idea that what I wanted to make are known as johnny cakes, but most of the recipes I found called for milk and/or eggs—obviously not useful, and also a-historical according to Wikipedia's description of "dough, made of cornmeal, salt, and water". (I actually didn't think to check the wiki until right now, and I probably should have; then again, until this morning's experiments I don't think I would have noticed the contradictions in that article. But I get ahead of myself!)

The problem with making cakes out of cornmeal, water, and salt is that cornmeal alone isn't super eager to form a batter. It doesn't soak up water like flour, that's for sure. It doesn't, that is, unless the water is heated. First I tried hot (though not boiling) water, in a ratio of two parts water to one part cornmeal, as suggested by the only three-ingredient johnny cake recipe I could locate on the internet. The results didn't look anything like any batter I knew what to do with: far too much water would have been my opinion as an impartial observer. Still, I heated the griddle and tossed on a could spoonfulls, dipping down to get a full spoon of corn meal and letting the water drain off. This produced a reasonable pancake-looking thing, and tasty enough; but the dry cornmeal that lingered in the middle made me think that I was doing something wrong.

Since I knew the way to make corn meal take up water was to heat it, I did just that: dumped my "batter" into a saucepan and put it on the burner. Pretty soon, of course, I had some poorly-made polenta, which I spooned up and dumped on the griddle. These cakes (pictured above) were much more tender than the first batch, but they didn't brown up nearly as well; they also tasted mostly like fried polenta (naturally), which is good enough but which isn't what I was going for. Still and all, it was plenty of breakfast.

Then later I got some milk, so for lunch we had real pancakes. Some of em with chocolate chips, even. Mmm.

(And yes, that is the famous D cup in the first picture.)

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chefery

For Labor Day, our farmers market put on a special presentation to draw folks there rather than the beach or cookout: Iron Chef Bedford. Yes, chefs from two local bistros competed to make three courses using ingredients they got from the market, and naturally me and Harvey was there to watch and sleep, respectively. It was a pretty fun time. A few things, however, could have made it even better:

  • I could have remembered to bring my camera, so you would have some photographic evidence of the proceedings.
  • They could have hewn more closely to the real Iron Chef model and declared a secret ingredient that the chefs had to use, instead of letting them essentially plan their whole menus before even getting to the market.
  • They could have thrown away less food.

Especially the last one. Oh how I suffered, sitting behind the prep area watching so much deliciousness go to waste: extra steak, peaches, polenta, whipped cream, the outside of bread cut-outs, packaged shortcake biscuits... I drool just to think of it.

Though it was all for the best, because as hungry as watching the competition made me, I just had to go home and cook something myself. Since it is now getting into apple season, and I was filled with inspiration, I attempted my first ever apple pie. It was reasonably successful, I would say.

Before:

After:

As you can see, we found it to be edible. I will try another one someday.

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early macs and big carrots

There are apples, now, which sure makes it feel like fall. Just the thing to get me in the mood for getting back to work with those school children, which I will be doing a week from today. There are also carrots; well, there have been for some time, but now they are present in a quantity that demands to be dealt with seriously. So for dinner I combined these two fresh local ingredients in two ways, just like a half-assed episode of Iron Chef. Apple and carrot salad, and apple and carrot muffins. That's all I got. Awful tasty, though!

Besides being plentiful, the carrots we're growing are also, some of them, very large indeed. Not long; the two varieties I planted, "Little Finger" and "Danvers Half Long", are both bred to top out at six to eight inches, which I thought would be prudent in my uncertain soil. They make up for their lack of length, though, by expanding to a considerable girth, as you may see from the following picture.

That's my normal-sized hand there, too, not some midget hand! The only problem with carrots of this magnitude is, they are nearly triangular in shape, and as such very difficult to cut into traditional carrot sticks or coins. It's worth it, though, because each one can feed a family of four for a week.

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this stressful Eastertide

We are done with Lent and on to Easter, having said the first Alleluias of the new season at the Easter Vigil this evening. Oh, isn't Episcopalianism fun! We will not feel like we've arrived, however, until we get to brunch tomorrow, which has less to do with the ancient rhythms of the traditional church and more with our state of desperate busyness and sickness. Leah is sicker than I am, laid up with a cough and some sprained rib muscles that give her intense pains every time she coughs, but I'm busier this weekend, with a working Easter of two services of trumpet-playing tomorrow. We didn't even manage to decorate eggs this year! Not even after I bought the special selected-for-light-color dozen at the egg farm and blew out all the eggs we ate or cooked with over the last couple days (not counting the ones that smashed in my hands).

I did find time, at least, to make hot cross buns today. They were rather more successful than the last time I tried them, and they were just the thing when we got home from the multi-hour Vigil service. I was observing Passover the last couple days (yes, with delicious sandwiches) but Easter takes precedence! Maybe we'll get the eggs sometime next week... or this summer, after the baby's born.

Anyways, Happy Easter everyone!

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experimental cookery

I was just thinking, as I started to make chocolate chip cookies this evening, how it was a shame that I never experiment with the recipe. Not on purpose, at least. Here it is some ten years since I started making cookies for myself (though there was some overlap in that time with mother-provided examples), and I haven't varied the ingredients that go into the choc. chip for all that time. My thinking every time I want cookies is pretty much, why mess with a good thing?

Tonight, however, I soon found that some experimentation was perforce required, since we had only one egg rather than the two required by the recipe; even more so because all the other ingredients were already together when I made the discovery. So I made a few other modifications to try to at least keep the amount of liquid correct, and with some trepidation put the first batch in the oven.

Sadly, the experiment did not in any way produce better cookies, though I suppose it did have some utility in demonstrating that eggs make the end product soft and chewy. And I guess I'll probably manage to choke down this crispy batch anyways, somehow.

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winter bread

The weather surprisingly took a turn for the autumnal the past few days, perhaps to encourage us in our search for more fall-like employments. It's a little unfortunate considering that I have declared August The Month of Ice Cream and am experimenting vigorously with my new machine, but on the other hand it sure makes the bread-making easier. For the first time in months I was able to knead and shape my wheat bread rather than just smooshing a mass of sticky batter into the pans. I have to say, being able to form proper loaves really improves the final product!

not a full-height cake, but...

We've been eating the pretty strawberries out of the garden, but there were enough ugly ones left over that I had to think of something to do with them. Which didn't take long, since the solution is obvious: mash them up! And since I'd made biscuits this morning already, we were all set for some strawberry shortcake for our dinner desert. Now there's only one problem: what are we going to do with the rest of the whipped cream?!

(As I asked Leah, "Which is preferable: whipping the whole pint of cream and throwing out half of it, or whipping half and throwing out the leftover cream?" She voted for the later, since there is rather more chance she'll eat whipped cream out of the fridge than plain cream cream. Makes sense to me.)

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these aren't tears of sadness they're tears of joy

I started making dinner this evening by chopping an onion. As I was doing so I had a moment of confusion. "Wait! What I am making again? Does it even have an onion in it?" This momentary lapse was soon resolved, however, with the happy thought that every dinner preparation ought to start with chopping an onion. Nothing better!

To that end, I have read up on how to properly grow onions, and subsequently have replanted some of the thicket of semi-wild onions I have had in the garden to this point. At least, I think they're onions. They're clearly some variety of the genus allium in any case, so we'll see what comes up. And then we'll eat it!

the feeding of the twenty

Leah and I served dinner to the discussion group at church this evening. We're not big fans of the scene—we wouldn't have been discussing ourselves, that's for sure—but I can't say no when someone asks me to cook for them. Mine is a cooking ministry.

In the event, it was kind of miraculous, not unlike the loaves and the fishes. Although, as I recall in that story they started out with very little food, whereas we had a fair amount; so much, in fact, that at the end of the evening the amount was not noticeably diminished. At least, that was true of the main dish, salad, and bread. The assembled multitude made a pretty good dent in the two batches of cookies we baked for em. I'm sure that would have been the case if the disciples had come up with a couple oatmeal-raisins along with the loaves and fishes; there wouldn't have been any extra of them left at the end!

hot buns

I tried to make hot cross buns today, as is apparently the custom, but sadly they didn't come out quite as they were supposed to. I forgot to add the brown sugar at the appropriate moment, and when I realized my mistake it proved very difficult to incorporate it into the dough. Afterwards it didn't want to stick together properly, so when the buns were risen and ready for the oven I wasn't able to cut the cross into them. So they aren't really hot cross buns after all, more like sugar-glazed heathen lumps. Tasty, though! All I need to do is mix up some white icing tomorrow and I can sanctify them properly, like the ones at the grocery store.

famine

I did not eat well today. Because of my failure to go to the grocery store, there was no milk or orange juice for breakfast. No bread, because I didn't manage to bake any. Can't make biscuits because of no milk. I thought I'd come up with a perfect solution in oatmeal (made with water) and tea, but the oatmeal turned out to be infested with gross worms and their disgusting eggs, and when the tea was brewed I realized that there wasn't any milk to put in it. Disaster. Leah was very kind and patient with me, as she ate her yogurt and banana. Unfortunately, I can't manage eating plants that early in the morning. In the end, graham crackers and peanut butter with milkless tea made a surprisingly satisfactory breakfast.

Needless to say, I visited the store today and we are now well-stocked. No more oatmeal, however, until we can pick up some good solid bug-proof containers to keep it in.