29 October 2009

A Green Lake Morning

Early on Sunday mornings Byron and I often take our coffee and walk around Green Lake while he talks to his dad on the phone.  This week, I took my camera instead.

27 October 2009

Bread Fan

I watched a snippet of the Martha Stewart Show on TV not long ago.  That day, Martha had her daughter were talking about how they stay healthy and in shape while leading such busy and important lives.  The segment was so unbelievable. . . I mean, seriously, who but Martha Stewart would interview herself and her daughter, on her own show, and think the rest of the world was interested?  Martha's big piece of advice was to never ever put anything (including Q-tips and headphones) in your ears.  Seriously?

I almost turned it off, but before I could, they started talking about things they have given up, little sacrifices that have infinitely improved their lives.  Turns out, Martha and her daughter have given up bread -- for good.

I must admit that I find some of Martha's advice moderately helpful.  But this I cannot follow or condone.  I love bread, and I'm not giving it up.

To strengthen my resolve and to mourn for Martha and her daughter in a small way, I convinced Byron, the baker in our family, to whip up some homemade bread.

He started with several loaves of no-knead bread that he bakes in a cast iron casserole.  They turn out crispy on the outside and chewy inside.  Excellent with soup!

The one with rosemary mixed in and Maldon salt on top was my favorite.

The next weekend he baked the classics.  In short order, I was surrounded by six loaves of homemade honey whole wheat, cinnamon swirl (my favorite), and basic white bread.  He uses the recipes in Baking with Julia -- an outstanding cook book, by the way.  I love watching him put the loaves together.

I ate the equivalent of half a loaf of warm from the oven bread, all by myself.  And that's a conservative estimate.

For obvious reasons, my consumption rate has slowed a bit lately.  I'm the first to admit that bread can pack the pounds on a person.  But even if it means an extra work out or a smaller portion of another food, I'm still a bread devotee.  I could give it up.  But then I'd be sorry.

22 October 2009

Caramel Apples

I don't always find time to make caramel apples, but this year I had help. Thanks to my very capable friends, Ana and Elizabeth, we managed to whip up a dozen one afternoon last week.  Here are the how-tos:

Put sticks in your apples (we like to use trimmed bamboo skewers). Unwrap your caramels into a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Then pose with them.

After melting your caramels over low heat, carefully twirl your apples (just dipping them is too boring) in the hot caramel.  Be sure to lick off any caramel that gets on your fingers.

Decorate the bottoms by squishing them into sprinkles or mini chocolate chips.

Then let them rest and harden (yeah, right) before eating.

21 October 2009

The Easiest Cheese

Recently, my friend Sarah and I tried our hands at making cheese.  We started simple, with the ricotta cheese recipe from 101 Cookbooks blog, and it turned out great.  Honestly, I was totally surprised how simple it was to make this cheese.  At this rate, I'm not sure I will ever buy it again. 

These are the curds we pulled off the top when the mixture reached 175 degrees.

Rather than using layers of cheese cloth, we used a thin, cotton towel.  We drained the cheese for about an hour, which turned out fine, but I think next time I will drain it for more like 30-40 minutes to keep it a little wetter.  Our high-tech cheese draining contraption using a series of rubber bands was genius!

I used my share of the ricotta to make ravioli.  Inspired by some beautiful lacinato kale, I made up a filling of ricotta, finely chopped blanched kale, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  I cheated a bit and used gyoza wrappers rather than making or buying fresh pasta sheets.

It was a fun project that generated a surprising number of ravioli -- at least 40.  After boiling some for four minutes, I tossed them in a quick shallot and yellow tomato sauce and shaved some parmesan reggiano on top. Quite delicious.

Given how easy this is, I find myself already scheming about my next batch of ricotta -- I think it will go into a sage and butternut squash lasagne.  I'll keep you posted.

16 October 2009

Rainy Day Hues

It's pouring rain this morning, but I like days like this sometimes.  Especially in the fall when the water makes the reds, browns, and golds of my garden all the more vivid, and the gurgle of rain down my rain chain tells me what's going on outside.

Because fall doesn't last long in the Northwest, I took some photos to document this day.

Sodden leaves in the path.

A drippy silhouette of my diablo ninebark.

The chokeberry -- waiting to be found by a squirrel.

Forsythia over the back fence, turning red.

My little frog statue in the birdbath.  On a day like today, they almost seem like they are huddling to stay warm.

The river birch leaning heavily over the front bed.

Heuchera, lambs ear, and maple.

The remaining specimens in my back yard garden.

Oakleaf hydrangea and Japanese anemone -- fall garden beauties.

The rain chain.

12 October 2009

Lunch Alone Soup

In case you were wondering, my mug of curried carrot soup hit the spot.  And, no, I didn't eat the entire pot, myself.  Should you have occasion to lunch alone, I encourage you to give it a try.  It's satisfying enough that it almost feels like company.

Curried Carrot Soup
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
 1 generous teaspoon madras curry powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
a pinch of ground ginger
ground black pepper
10 medium/small carrots, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup light coconut milk

In a large sauce pan, saute the onion in butter.  When the onion begins to soften, add the curry powder, salt, ginger and pepper and carrots.  Saute until the onions are soft.  Don't worry if the curry powder is browning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Deglaze the pan with the broth, scraping all the bits of powder off the bottom.  Cover and simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 10 minutes or so.  Remove the pan from the heat and, using an immersion blender, blend the soup to your desired consistency.

Once you achieve the smoothness you want, add the coconut milk and reheat if necessary.

Makes at least three lunch-sized servings.

Missing Lunch Club

All this time off translates into eating lunch alone a lot more often.   And honestly, I am not so fond of this part of my new adventure.  

Undoubtedly, I have been spoiled by lunch club.  Every Tuesday and Thursday for the past two years, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with three interesting women colleagues. The ritual was that each of us made lunch for the others once every other week.  I miss that.

I miss the company, of course.  But I also miss the variety of our meals and the opportunity to try to new dishes.  And, believe it or not, I miss the carrots. 

Truth be told, I have never like carrots much.  But despite my aversion, my lunch friends seemed to add them to most of their dishes -- usually accompanied by an "Oh sorry, Amy, I forgot you don't like carrots do you?"  

Regardless, the food was always delicious.  I have especially fond memories of Sarah's grain salads (with carrots) on a bed a greens and her pumpkin and chard tamales.  There were also Jessie's curried lentil dishes (no doubt also with carrots) that she miraculously thought up the night before.  April whipped up some great noodle dishes -- cold and hot -- that also included carrots (admittedly often redeemed by some form of peanut sauce).  And of course, there was Erin's delicious marinated blue cheese pasta with carrots and veggies, and her gingered carrot soup.

Somewhere along the way, I got brave and stopped picking out the carrots.  Whether the carrots grew on me or my lunch friends just wore me down, I must admit that I now like carrots quite well.  

Maybe, as an homage to the lunch friends that I miss, I'll make some curried carrot soup for lunch today.  I suppose the upside to eating alone (if there is one) is that I can eat it all myself!

05 October 2009

A Summer Preserved

Much like a squirrel, I seem to be packing things away to eat later.  I can only hope that unlike the squirrels who constantly bury whole peanuts throughout my yard, I will remember where I put all this good stuff when I decide I want to eat it.

I started with blueberries.  I u-picked twice with friends; with Erin and Kajsa in Bellingham and with Sarah in Monroe.  Those not eaten have been squirreled away in the deep freeze.

Early summer brought an inundation of carrots and green beans, which meant pickling.  I made spicy carrot pickles with cider vinegar and red pepper flakes and tried Emeril's green bean pickles with lemon and rosemary.  Haven't tried the beans yet, but the carrots are pretty good.

Then came the deluge of plums, which you already know about.  I might add, however, that I could not have disposed of all of the plums had it not been for Janna and Darcy and the full day of jam making we did together.

After that, the peaches arrived -- 30 pounds from Tonnemaker farms, a vendor at my local farmers' market. The peaches were wonderful just to eat, and I also managed to preserve a few pints in light syrup and a few pints with vanilla bean and also tried some with kirsch.

Bartlet pears from a friend's tree made a brief appearance, allowing me to preserve a few jars of gingered pear compote.

Next came a heap of blackberries.  Some from my sister's yard, some from the farmers' market, and some from Walla Walla.  I mostly mixed them into things -- like blackberry-nectarine and plum-blackberry jams.

We also preserved them on our waistlines by eating large quantities on waffles.

And, because it is physically impossible to have too many peaches, we acquired another 25 pounds -- this time Redcrests -- on a visit to Walla Walla.  These we devoured, but not before I preserved some as brandied peaches. We have already opened a jar, for quality control purposes only I assure you, and tested them on shortcakes.  Quite edible! 

Along with the peaches from Walla Walla came 25 pounds of tomatoes.  Those mostly became tomato sauce, which I have stashed in the freezer for lasagna and the like in the coming months.  I am a huge fan of this basic tomato sauce, as it has a deep flavor from the long cooking time, and also has a mild sweetness to it from a small amount of shredded carrot.

Our trip to Walla Walla also yielded a haul of poblanos. After charring them to death and then freezing them, we are certain to have poblanos rajas to fill tortillas all winter long.

Lately, I have begun hoarding apples, and I am fairly certain it will continue throughout the month of October.  My first box of apples were akanes. This apple is quite possibly the perfect cooking apple.  If you're interested, it's a cross between Jonathan and Worcester Pearmin.

My akane apple crisp experiment was a resounding success.  The apples remained a beautiful white color and kept their shape even after baking.  They also had a nice sweet/tart flavor. (No disrespect to the akanes, but without doubt, the crisp was made nearly perfect by the scoop of brown suger ice cream I added on top.)  Akanes also get high marks in the applesauce catagory.  My 16 cups of applesauce turned out a brilliant pink, thanks to the skins.

This weekend, another box of apples came over the mountains to us from Walla Walla thanks to a visit from our friends Di and Allan. The apples, a cross between Macintosh and Red Delicious, are probably Empires. Turns out they are pretty much Byron's idea of a perfect apple.  I managed one batch of applesauce from them.  Not as pink but very tasty.  We'll probably store the rest for munching through the fall.

Our friends also brought us another box of tomatoes.  With those, I made more tomato sauce -- a spicy version this time -- and roasted some cut into wedges (at 225 degrees for about 5 hours).  I highly recommend the roasted version.

And finally, I "preserved" THE pumpkin.  Byron and I debated how to best preserve it (or at least the memory of it), given its favored status.  Should it become a jack o' lantern or a pumpkin pie?  The pie idea won out, and so last Thursday I got to it.  I baked THE pumpkin and then scraped out the flesh and pureed it. 

The sad news is that it yielded only a disappointing 1/4 cup of bright yellow pumpkin puree, which necessitated opening a can of pumpkin in order to actually make a pie.  Although I added THE pumpkin puree to the custard, I knew it would be virtually undetectable in the pie.  Little did I realize that THE pumpkin wasn't going to be forgotten so easily. 

To my great delight, when the pie came out of the oven, right on top was a smidgen of bright yellow pumpkin foam.  It seems some things preserve themselves.