31 July 2013

Proud to support

Last week, our friends Alex and Sarah hosted a delicious dinner of homemade tamales in support of an important cause here in Washington.  Mid-July, nearly 200 berry pickers walked off the job in the Skagit Valley strawberry fields to demand higher wages, protection for their fellow workers, and an end to harassment and insults on the job.

I was glad Alex highlighted this issue by holding his impromptu fundraiser.  I find it too easy to become so engrossed in my own little world that I neglect to notice how others need my help or how I can affect justice in my community.  But it matters to me how workers who help to grow and harvest the food I buy are treated.  One of the reasons I buy organic produce is because I know that those who grew and handled it were not exposed to as many hazardous chemicals.  For me it's more than just about my family's health.

Unfortunately, I find it more difficult to learn how the workers who handle and harvest one's food are treated financially.  Although I could only make a small difference, I would like to be able spend my grocery budget to always support the farms that share my principles.  I'm able to do this in part by buying a CSA each year from this farm

Kudos to Alex for highlighting this local struggle and the important issues it raises.  I was glad to put some money into Alex's money jar -- support that was going to Community to Community Development -- a group in Bellingham that is providing local support to strikers.  You can read more about C2C and the workers continued struggle here.  A quick read might change your mind about which flat of berries you'll buy at the grocery store.

As for Alex's dinner, it featured THE pumpkin and chard tamales with rojas sauce that Sarah and Alex are known for (one of these days I'm hoping for a tamale tutorial from them).  Plus black beans, quinoa salad, and of course, great drinks such as the lime-rhubarb-vodka-bitters thingy Alex kept pouring over ice. 

29 July 2013

Chair season 2013

I have a soft spot for dilapidated chairs.  Whether it's at Goodwill or a garage sale, I can't seem to pass up an old chair with potential.

This means, much to my spouse's dislike, that we must work around, move, and store these (often) useless and (almost always) ugly chairs, sometimes for long periods of time, before we can find the time to restore them.  I say "we," but my part is really limited to the acquisition, the (sometimes dubious) vision for what we can do with it, and the upholstery (if there is any).

Byron is the restorer of chairs.  He takes them completely apart and then with sand paper, pocket screws, and epoxy he puts their pieces back together and patiently gives them an attractive finish.  And, le voilĂ !, a new piece of functional furniture appears.

Chair rehabilitation in Seattle occurs only during the time of year when it's warm enough to putter around in the unheated garage and when the Mariners can be listened to on the radio while doing chair work.  So, you can see, chair season is really April - September. (Of course there is always hope of a post season.)

This chair season has turned out to be a particularly productive one.

It began with a very sad chair that our friends Alex and Sarah discarded in their last move -- a molded plywood chair whose plywood was delaminating.  Although Byron had threatened to toss it a dozen times given its seriously compromised state, I somehow convinced him it was the right chair for our entry if it could be spiffed up a bit.  So . . . Byron tackled it.  He peeled off layers of wood and sanded down others, got some new hardware, and then sanded a lot more before finally painting it a shocking yellow color.  I think it's exactly right.

After that chair, Byron was reenergized.  Mostly, I think he just wanted to use the new paint sprayer again.  But whatever.  Next he next tackled two very broken chairs that we had claimed from his dad's basement before he moved in with us several years ago.  Byron remembers the chairs being used in their home when he was a kid.  Turns out, the chairs have been in his dad's family as long as anyone can remember (and Herman's 89, so that's a long time).  He thinks one of them belonged to his father, Gottlieb, before he married Ageneta Siemens sometime before 1920.  That puts them roughly in the neighborhood of 100 years old.

The chairs had different issues -- one had a split down the middle of the seat; the other couldn't hold any weight.  But after Byron worked his magic, which generally involves a lot of epoxy, he had them back together and ready for use.  Their original robin's egg blue color (which I really liked) was in bad shape and had to go, so they received a coat of the jolting yellow paint we had a gallon of.  Somehow Byron managed to fix them up while retaining much of their antique character. They joined the dining room to be employed as extra seating when necessary and to just look pretty the rest of the time. 

The next task was to rehab our dining chairs.  It was about eight years ago that we decided to furnish our dining table with mismatched chairs from thrift shops.  That wasn't our first choice, but the price was right and they were functional. All have center back rails, but that's about the extent of their sameness.  Initially, Byron touched up and tightened things so we could reliably invite people to sit on them without fear of collapse. Albeit quite ugly, they have served us well for many years.

This spring we finally gave them attention like sanding and applying some Tried & True, plus more tightening and shoring up.  Now they are super strong and the wood looks nicer.  AND, drum roll please, I finally upholstered all of the seats to match -- something I have wanted to do since 2005. My upholstery skills are limited a staple gun and scissors, and I used fabric I bought by the yard at IKEA a year ago.  Mismatched and all, I'm quite pleased with how they turned out.

Most recently, Byron also fixed up and painted two small chairs for Wyatt's room.  One of them was Byron's when he was a child.  The other we picked up at an charity auction a few years ago.  Both needed some structural attention and also needed to have all traces of the old paint removed and/or covered.  We went with a bold and deep blue color, which looks good with the white and blue and orange already in Wyatt's room.  

The chairs get constant use at his art table. Of course, they also get dragged across the room and put to use reaching the top shelf of the bookcase or climbing onto the hamper . . . or the dresser.  We occasionally pull them out on the deck when we need a kids' table for dinner, too.
(Gratuitous shot of cute kids.)

27 July 2013

Oats my way

Some people have a cookie jar.  We have a granola jar, and it's nearly always full of granola.  Occasionally muesli.  We eat a lot of oatmeal around here: raw, cooked on the stove top, or baked as granola.  And of course in these.  We go through about 100 pounds a year.  No joke.  I usually buy it 50 pounds at a time and keep it in a garbage can (a very clean one, of course) in the corner of the kitchen.

Granola is also one of my go-to gifts -- whether for the holidays, a house warming gift, or a new baby.  You can't go wrong with it.  

For many years, I made a fairly sweet-tasting holiday granola with butter, almonds, cranberries and a touch of cinnamon.  That combination was inspired by a recipe I clipped out of a magazine (I don't have a clue which one) many years ago.  While I don't make that granola too much any more, it still makes an appearance now and then -- almost always around the holidays. 

My Almond-Cranberry Granola
Makes about 12 cups 

6-7 cups old fashioned oats
3 c. sliced almonds (I often use a combination of slivered almonds and sliced almonds.  A mixture of pecan pieces and almonds is wonderful too)
2 c. sweetened flaked coconut
2 tsp. cinnamon 

Mix the above ingredients together in a large bowl.  Next, in a small bowl stir the next four ingredients together until smooth.

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2/3 c packed brown sugar
2/3 c. honey (I like mesquite honey for this)
1 Tb. vanilla extract

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until everything is evenly coated.  Divide the mixture between two half-sheet baking pans lined with parchment paper.  Bake in a 350-degree oven until golden and toasted (you may need to stir occasionally and rotate the trays to get even browning). Be sure not to let the sliced almonds and coconut burn or they will taste bitter.

When cool, break it apart and add 2 or 3 cups dried cranberries (or the equivalent)
I often use one cup each of cranberries, yellow raisins, and dried cherries.

Store in an airtight container.

Sometimes we need a break from toasted or cooked oats.  That's when we switch to muesli.  It's a bit healthier, too, since it contains less fat than granola.  We gave it away last holiday season to good reviews.  Our preferred way to eat it is simply with milk or almond milk, but sometimes we grate raw apple on it too.  We've been known to let it soak in the fridge overnight, but personally, that turns out a tad too mushy for my taste.

The House Muesli

Raw organic regular oats
Toasted sliced almonds
Toasted whole almonds, roughly chopped when cool
Toasted unsalted pumpkin seeds
Toasted sesame seeds or raw sunflower seeds
Dried fruit: yellow raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, raisins, dates
Chia seeds, optional

Mix some or all of the above ingredients together in proportions that appeal to you.  Store in an airtight container.

More often these days I make a more salty-sweet no-fruit granola, which is based on/inspired by this recipe developed by Nekisia Davis of Early Bird Foods.  I'm a big fan of the flavor combination that olive oil and maple syrup give granola.  If you've not tried it, don't delay!

My Sweet & Salty Olive Oil Granola
Makes enough to fill the granola jar and also give some away

6 cups organic regular rolled oats
2 cups raw unsalted pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 cups raw sesame seeds
2 cups coconut chips (the large unsweetened ones)
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups good quality organic maple syrup (I use Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup, Grade B)
1 cups good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour the maple syrup and oil on top and mix until everything is coated evenly.  Line two half-sheet size baking pans with parchment and spread the mixture evenly on the two pans.  Bake in a 325-degree oven until crispy and browned a bit.  Don't let the pecans burn.  When cool, store in an airtight container.

26 July 2013

Sweet tromboncino snack cake

I have a tromboncino squash taking over my front yard.  And like every type of summer squash seems to do, it's making LOTS of squash babies for us.  Trouble is, I have another tromboncino squash plant doing the same thing in the back-yard veggie garden.  This is why we have begun giving it away.  We have also been eating it in fritattas all week.  And now I've made cake.  Quite possibly one of the highest callings for a squash, I think.

You most likely already know of my fondness for snack cakes.  Well, here's a new one -- basically a moist and slightly sweet zucchini cake.  I was inspired by Sarah over at IPOL, whose blog I enjoy.  I used the recipe she linked to and added buttermilk as she did.  I also included some walnuts and sliced almonds.  Then I whipped out the bundt cake pan, buttered and floured it, poured in the batter, and baked it at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.  I flipped it out of the pan about five minutes out of the oven and let it cool.

Rather than hassle with the yummy cream cheese frosting in the recipe, I mixed up a bright-tasting lemon glaze (1 cup powdered sugar + juice of 1/2 large lemon) and drizzled it over the cooled cake.  A thin glaze seemed just right for this cake, and made eating out of hand a little neater.

It'll be gone by tomorrow night.

15 July 2013


Somehow I managed to get one of my orchids to rebloom this summer.  This is a first. 

I honestly have no idea how I did it.  All my other orchid plants (and there are four others) have gotten the same treatment (or neglect) and they aren't doing anything this fabulous.  Perhaps continuing my laissez-faire orchid tending will result in a few more new stalks and blooms.  I'll let you know how that works out.

03 July 2013

Ohanapecosh 2013

Last weekend took us into the woods for a weekend of sleeping in tents, campfires, hiking, and eating well in the company of friends.  We camped for two nights in the Mt. Rainier National Park at the Ohanapecosh campground, on the Eastern side of the mountain.

The weather was warm, almost warmer than we liked, but we had only a few mosquitos and no real inujries -- and that's saying something considering we had four children under the age of two and a half with us (and running amok at times).  Turns out that camping in a tent is so exciting that there is little need to sleep.  Luckily, by the second night, the excitement had mostly worn off.

Although we hiked a hilly three miles up to Silver Falls and back, I doubt we came out ahead in the calories department considering we enjoyed plenty of delicious camp cooking.  Homemade chili, a Canlis salad (seriously!), individual pizzas made to order, and plenty of beer and hot toddys.  We made s'mores, of course.  And breakfasts offered pancakes, fruit, yogurt, eggs, bacon, and even the obligatory instant oatmeal for those who needed a little nostalgia to start their day.  I think that was mostly me.

Each time we camp at Ohanapecosh I enjoy it. The huge trees and the din of the rushing river not far away make for a great outdoor experience.  We saw a deer or two, heard lots of bird calls, and even spotted and identified some interesting flora on our hike.  I will say, however, that we really missed being able to attend a campfire program this year, which we were told had been eliminated due to budget cuts.  Evenso, I'm looking forward to the next time we camp there, already.