Monday, November 14, 2011

Quince Paste (membrillo) Redux

I was recently blessed with seven pounds of quince from a neighbor's tree.   Beautiful, golden fruit that is almost inedible in its raw state as it is hard as a rock and full of mouth puckering tannins.  Cooking quince, however, will turn it into a luscious, melting fruit, sometimes turning a deep orange or rose color as the tannins oxidise.


Membrillo (the name of quince in Spanish) is what I've generally heard quince paste called when it is classically paired with manchego cheese, but I think that the term is really dulce de membrillo, meaning candied quince.  It's true, it takes a lot of sugar to make quince paste, and in some places people roll the paste in more sugar to eat as a dessert.

I have made membrillo before and shared the recipe here, but I think I've learned a few things by making it again.

1) Using a scale is the best way to figure out the fruit to sugar ratio.  Most recipes call for cooking the quince, using a sieve or food mill to make a sauce, and then figuring out how many cups of mushed fruit one has in order to figure out how many cups of sugar you need.  Total mess.   It's really just a one to one ratio of fruit to sugar in order to get the paste to set.  So just figure it out before you have to mess up measuring cups and spoons and you lose half the fruit.  Sometimes I've used less sugar, but I always worry that I'm pushing it on being able to form a good gel and the paste having a long enough shelf life.  The stuff is sweet, no doubt about it, so go ahead and use all the sugar.

2) Use no more than 6 pounds of fruit.  That's what they always say about jams, because the fruit and sugar both melt turn mostly into water that has to be driven off by heat before the jam can gel and set properly.  The more you have, the longer it will take to drive the water off and in the process the pectin can be lost, resulting in a bad set.  Plus, it will take forever to stir.  Believe me, six pounds of quince and six pounds of sugar results in more membrillo than most people ever want.  You'll end up begging people to take some even after the holidays are over.   Four pounds is probably more reasonable.

3) Give the fruit time to oxidize so that it will turn a deep orange or rose color.  My last batch was a pretty orange color after much cooking, but it could have been a deeper color if I'd let the cooked quince rest in the pot for eight hours or so, according to some cooks.   I've used a crockpot to cook the quince before, but it seems like a hassle to then turn it out into another pot for the rest of the cooking. I've also cooked the quince whole to get all of the pectin out of the seeds and then tried to sieve them out.  Not worth it; the quince gels just fine with only the skin on and that can be mixed in with a stick blender quite easily.

4) Be prepared to stay at the cooking pot for a long time- up to two hours.  Use an apron and have lots of towels around.  The jam cooks down and starts to pop like an active volcano spewing out some sort of napalm. It sticks and burns, so have a damp cloth around to wipe off the burning quince paste and be prepared to wrap your stirring hand in a cloth as the paste starts to pop.  I got some pretty bad burns from the popping paste and a blister from the wooden spoon I was using to stir.  Luckily Chris stepped in with his longer arms and took a turn stirring for a while.  Keep the burner turned as low as you can while still cooking the fruit and sugar mixture down.

5) When you can slide a spoon through the mixture and see the bottom of the pan, the membrillo is a deep orange or rose color and it has stopped popping so viciously in the pan, turn it out onto the prepared parchment paper and spread it around.  If it gets too sticky and cooked down, it can be hard to get out of the pan.

6) Leave the membrillo to cool completely in the pan before turning it out and cutting it into squares.  Wrap tightly in plain parchment paper, then in plastic and it will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 months.

Finally, the recipe!

Ingredients: 
Quince, sugar, lemon peel and juice.  Butter or vegetable oil and parchment paper.

Instructions:
1) Cut parchment paper to fit one or more flat bottomed pans.  Lightly grease parchment paper.  Some people grease molds for quince paste.  If you have trouble getting a thick portion of paste to set, try leaving it in warm oven or putting it a into food dehydrator until the middle is set.

2)  Gather quince, wash and rub all the fuzzy fur off.  Cut quince into quarters with a sharp knife and take out the seeds.  Determine how many pounds of quince you have.

2) Cook quince and lemon peel in enough water to cover it by half an inch or so until the fruit is tender (30-45 minutes).  Use a heavy bottomed pot to keep the jam from burning after sugar is added later.  Make sure the pan is large enough to give the jam space to bubble and be stirred.

3) Drain quince (some people keep the water for jelly, some highly energetic people).   Put quince and lemon peel back in pot and blend with a stick blender until a fine, applesauce like texture is formed.  Alternately, put softened quince through sieve or foodmill.

4) Add juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon (depending on how much quince you have).  Example- 2-4 pounds, half a lemon, 5- 6 pounds, a whole lemon.

5) Stir in sugar, a 1 to 1 ratio with quince.  If you don't know how many pounds you have, use the measuring cup method with the quince sauce you've just made.

6) Cook on medium high until the paste thickens, then turn down to low.  Stir constantly and vigilantly.  As the paste thickens it will burn easily. 

7) Watch for color changes and thickness. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in my experience. 

8) Turn paste out into prepared pan/pans.  Let cool thoroughly.  Turn out finished brick of dulce de membrillo and cut into squares or rectangles for storage.

9) Eat with cheese, put in a sandwich, or melt some in a pan with vermouth and ham after browning chicken in a pan with butter, garlic and onions.





Nocino- Italian green walnut cordial

Nocino, an Italian green walnut liqueur, is I am happy to say, worth the stained hands and the wait.


I have had about a liter of nocino waiting to fully age since September and today is the first day I've tried it, though it should steep for another month.  The flavor is already deep and a bit sweet and slightly winter spiced.  The idea is to sip tiny drams after a meal to aid digestion.  Green walnut hulls are also made into medicinal tinctures in much the same way to rid the body of parasites.  Soaking herbs, roots, bark or walnut hulls in alcohol is a way to extract and preserve their healing properties.  So, as with most European cordials, you get to double your pleasure- a tasty after dinner treat that's also medicinal. 

I was able to harvest the green walnuts in early September when they were about the size of a golf ball.  At this point the hard brown shell has not yet formed and the meat inside is still gelatinous.  Keep checking the walnut trees at the end of summer to see if they are ready.  One recipe I read said that the nuts are collected in late July, but here in Oregon, the nuts were not ready until September.   I got lucky because the electric company sent out a tree trimming crew to cut branches back so I was able to pounce on the walnuts on the ground without having to get a ladder out in the street.   A Portlandia episode was being filmed a few houses down and when I explained to the tree crew what I was doing with the nuts I was gleaning from the neighbor's trees, they sort of rolled their eyes and muttered that I should be in the next skit. 

Warning, green walnut hulls are also processed into ink.  Anything the walnuts or liqueur touch from beginning to end of the process will be stained a golden brown color since the walnuts almost immediately start to oxidize into a dark, almost black color.  Use plastic gloves to handle the walnuts and always have something that you don't care about staining to work on and keep under the jar- such as an old plastic cutting board.   I specified English walnuts because we also have Black Walnut trees on our block which are an indigenous American tree.  While the trees are beautiful and have many fine, but messy qualities, I think that the taste would be completely different than when using the much milder English walnuts.

Ingredients:

30 or so immature English walnuts
1 liter of vodka (or other high test clear alcohol such as Everclear) 
3 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
10 cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
zest of one lemon

Step one:  Gather about 30, or a colander's worth, of green English walnuts before their internal brown shells have hardened and the meat has solidified.  On a cutting board that you don't care about, while wearing plastic gloves, quarter the nuts with a sharp knife and toss them into a large widemouth glass container. You will be shaking the liqueur daily- or whenever you remember to, so leave a few inches of headspace.  I had to transfer mine to a larger container with a tighter fitting lid.

Step two: Add  water, sugar, spices and lemon zest. 

Step three:  Leave tightly covered jar in a dark place for 3 months.  Some recipes call for shaking or turning the jar every day.  I kept the jar in a place that I pass on my way to the basement and every once in a while, I'd give the jar a good shake or swirl to help the sugar dissolve. 

Step four: After 3 or 4 months, strain liqueur through a coffee filter into a pretty bottle.  Some recipes say you can steep the nuts again if you retain the hulls and spices.   Drink cold in tiny, dainty glasses during the cold winter months or whenever your children have come home from school with worms (again).



Saturday, July 9, 2011

Grab and go raw granola snacks

I keep these raw granola bars in the freezer for those times that we need a quick snack, especially if we're taking them on the road.  Perfect park snacks. 

There's really no recipe.  I know, you want measurements; cups, ounces, fluid ounces vs. dry.  Nope, I'm not doing it.   Just throw what you have together and feel when it's done.  Well, okay, I did start with about 5 cups of oats and then just went from there.


The first batch had rolled oats and puffed kamut cereal as a base, with sesame, hemp, flax and sunflower seeds for some crunch and minerals.  Coconut flakes and shredded nori adds some flavor along with a few pinches of cinnamon.  Honey and coconut oil were gently warmed and added to almond butter to bind the dry ingredients together.  After mixing thoroughly (I end up using my hands), pack it all into a shallow pan and press down with all of your strength to compress the disparate ingredients into a cake.  Freeze until firmed up.  Take out of the freezer and wait a few minutes before cutting into squares (if you don't wait, you risk breaking your knife like I did).  Wrap in foil and store in the freezer or fridge for snack time.

I forgot the puffed cereal for the second batch, had fewer seeds and used peanut butter instead of almond butter.  I also used Jen's 7 spice powder instead of cinnamon for a different flavor.  The bars were a bit softer and crumblier than the first batch. I like them both, but play around with it until you get the texture and sweetness you like.  I'll try baking them next time, I think, but they're pretty good as is, if a bit crumbly.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Snap pea and pickled beets salad-or what to do with those pickled beets

I pronounce the pickled baby beets and onions a success!   I'd eat 'em straight out of the jar, but since I had a bounty of snap peas from the garden, I figured I'd try a combo- and it works!


The beets and onions are sweet and sour and the peas add a nice snap.
Just add one half pint of pickled beets to a pound or so of blanched snap peas and you get a quick, colorful side salad. 

I blanched the peas for about 30 seconds in boiling water, drained them, and then ran cold water over them.  An ice water bath would have been even better, but I'm lazy.  I dried the peas on a towel after they cooled, gave them a good slug of olive oil and then spooned all of the beets and onions with most of the juice over the peas, avoiding the star anise and allspice.   The salad was a good side for chicken sausage, but I could eat a whole bowl of it alone for dinner and call it good.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I must not think bad thoughts- or should I?


I woke with a jerk tonight, sweat covered, cold fear spreading through my solar plexus.
     In my dream I’d been in some sort of hospital or public building; shiny waxed floors, tall doors, everything beige.  Someone was yelling at me not to run.  Start over. This time, don’t run when the men burst in with machine guns blazing.  I kept thinking, what the hell do I do then, just stand here and take it?  Do it again.  Of course, this being a dream, it happened over and over until I woke up queasy with terror.
     I lay awake for a while, calming down, trying to assess what the hell had just happened to my psyche.  It occurred to me at some point that I’d stopped protesting the wars that my country has been instigating for, let me see here, about 21 years.  The apathy must have gotten to me somewhere along the way as it seems to for most Americans.   
     I remember when I first started protesting in 1990. I was in college watching the first bombs go off on CNN,  my high school boyfriend's mother called me as her son had just deployed with a tank unit.  I remember exactly when I stopped actively protesting on the street, 2004, when my husband and I deemed it too dangerous to protest in a group.  We were living in L.A. with an infant, and neither one of us felt safe enough to take him to a protest where we might have to protect him from tear gas or police in riot gear. 
     That was, I realize, seven years ago.  In that time, I’ve often thought I should publicly protest these wars again, but I felt out of the loop about when the organized protests were happening in downtown Portland where I live again.  A fleeting thought goes by every now and again that I should just take a sign down to the corner of Hawthorne and stage my own protests, but the thought dissolves as quickly as it comes.  I have things to do and I’d only be preaching to the choir around here.  The apathy is quiet, but deep.
     It hits me, thinking about my son, that I heard the childish imitations of pistols and machine guns for hours today.  A playdate had culminated in shoot ‘em up games.  In the past, I’ve had a rule of no shooting each other, but after many friends have pointed out that they themselves had played shooting games as children and not ended up as gun wielding sociopaths, and that repressing those games are what could lead to a fascination with it, I decided to let it go.  So it was that I ignored the game, and even tried to assure my son that it was fine with me when he saw me come out to the yard.  Well then, there at least was my explanation for the dream.
     The wars that I quit marching and signing petitions against seven years ago have continued unabated since then, something that I never would have predicted.  They just keep rolling along, ruining people’s lives in what is now many countries, including ours, while emptying our coffers.  I am also selfishly astonished to discover that I have reason to be fearful for my son’s life.  Who would have thought that we’d be sending our young people into battle for this long?  Who’s to say that in 10 more years we won’t still be embroiled in battles for resources?  Will they be conscripting by then or will my son join up for the college money as education dollars are channeled to buy more weapons?                 
     Perhaps the selfishness of mothers is required for us to finally make the politicians stop.  I had my son at the start of a mini baby boom, so there are many of us that have children of our own to protect. Will that be the starting point for waking up and clearing away the lethargy that has overtaken us? 
     Guess I'll go listen to some X , start my letter writing to Congress and try to find out if anyone is still protesting downtown.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reduce/Reuse- Preserve Labels


Hmm, this blog is somehow becoming all about food and preserving.  Well, write about what you know, they say, and this is what is taking up my spare time these days.  Of course, with preserving, one has to make the spare time because when the produce is ripe, it's time to can, dry or freeze it.  Fresh food waits for no one.
So, here's my problem.  I get really into the production that is canning- choosing the recipe, gathering the jars, lids and implements of can-struction, and ultimately, making a terrible racket and mess in the kitchen.  When it's over and the jars are prettily resting and pinging, I'm done. Over it.  I figure I know what I put up and what year it was, so why bother with tags- plus, I hate trying to get the old glue off later.  However, it sometimes takes me a few minutes to remember- which summer did I can that, the last one or the summer before?  My husband goes down for a jar of raspberry jam and inevitably comes back with a jar of strawberry; he seems congenitally unable to tell the difference between any the canned fruits or pickles.  Lastly, if I'm giving them away, I will eventually have to deal with labeling anyhow.   In light of these truths, I solemnly swear to label my jars immediately after (or at least within a week) of canning my produce.  There, my pledge hath been written, and possibly read and witnessed by others.

So, what to do about the labels?  Recycled paper and string, something I always have lots of at hand.  My favorites are paint sample squares and security envelope linings.  While I have felt foolish and frivolous buying shaped cutters from craft stores, I've ended up using them for myriad labelling projects and have saved myself the hassle and money of running out to buy labels for presents and projects. This enables me so to mostly ignore the fact that I'm adding to Martha Stewart's Friesan horse fund or fifteenth manor house.  I've snapped up a few template cutters at thriftstores as well.

The pictures are pretty self-explanatory.  Cut out the shape, punch a hole in it and write on the tag.  Choose your favorite method of attaching them to the jars, leftover string or yarn, tape, or just trapping the edge of the label between the lid and the jar ring.   Sometimes the name of the paint sample serendipitously works with the jam for presents, which is fun.  "Sunporch" for grapefruit marmalade, etc.   Now, if my handwriting was just legible...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Depression Pickles


Whew, I've got a lot of posts lined up, but instead of getting one of those out, I've  gotten myself into another pickle.  Baby beet and onion pickles, green onion kimchee and Chinese pickled beet greens to be exact.  I really just meant to make some baby beet pickles after trying the awesome pickle plate at Olympic Provisions, but you know how it goes with produce and a canner.

I'm sure that my Grandpa Bill, who grew and pickled his own beets every year, would have laughed at my two bunches of baby beets and tiny clutch of baby onions- from the farmer's market no less.  However, when I thought of him, a child of the Depression,  I couldn't just compost the onion and beet greens, and we were all tired of sauteed beet greens, soI had to find a way to preserve them too.  

I remembered a recent reference from Food in Jars to an intriguing green onion kimchee recipe at Tigress in a Pickle.  I added tall onion greens from our overwintered garden onions to the baby onions from the market to make about 1/2 a pint.  A recipe for Chinese pickled mustard greens from Food Mayhem was then found, and I'm hoping that it will adapt well to the beet greens.

These fermented kimchee recipes would not have gone down well with Grandpa, as I remember him telling me about smelling and trying kimchee when he was stationed in Korea.  Spicy and long fermented in jars dug in to the frozen ground, kimchee was neither familiar nor comforting to his Arkansas palate.  However, I'm sure he would be happy to see nothing going to waste either then or now.

The baby beet and onion pickle recipe is mostly from the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, but I swapped out the spices for ones that I had on hand and flavors that I think I remember from Olympic Provisions pickle plate; star-anise, cloves, allspice and a pinch of my friend Jen's (Lambaste) five-spice powder.

The problem with pickles and kimchee, of course is that you don't know what they'll taste like for at least a week. Was it worth it to destroy the kitchen for these?  Did the beets die in vain?  The proof will be in the pickles next week, not such a long time to wait.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Muffins, not Vegan, Not Weston A. Price, but a strange combination


Here are some muffins that are crisp outside, while staying moist and bran muffin-like on the inside.  I started with a recipe for pre-cooked oatmeal and banana muffins from Kim Boyce's cookbook, Good To the Grain, Baking With Whole -Grain Flours, and then took off from there with things I had in my pantry. One item I had on hand was pre-soaked, pre-cooked 5 grain cracked cereal from local Gee Creek Farm.  Other things were raw goat's milk,  homemade unsweetened apple sauce and coconut oil.  I'm sure that the recipe would work using any kind of non-dairy or dairy milk, cooked whole grains and butter.

I've been looking into the Weston A. Price Foundation since I found an old book at a friend's house about Price's findings that indigenous people didn't have many, if any, cavities or need braces for cramming their teeth in to their mouths like those of us who eat refined foods do.  The book was an old one from a book exchange, and when I Googled Price, I was really surprised to find out that there is a huge movement in the natural foods world connected with his findings- I am so not on the cutting edge of food.  

Simplifying here, but Price found that by eating fewer grains (and those being whole grains, of course) and more fats and animal organs, people were healthier and able to remineralize teeth and bones, as well as regulate hormones. Of course, this is another controversial subject, and while I would be interested in trying out the diet, I realize that I would never be able to stick with a restricted regime of any kind, as I'm too much a product of my culture, and croissants, muffins and the like call my name. 

However, I have been willing to try a few things out.  One of these things is the notion of *'properly' soaking grains to neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors in grains and beans.  According to the Foundation folks, until fairly recently, most people fermented their grains or at least soaked them for a period of time in an acid to unlock the nutrients in them, so that the body can uptake minerals from the food.  This makes sense to me when I consider all of the starters, beers, nixtamals, etc. that people around the world have used.  Ahh, it's all making sense now- I always wondered why people of European descent have so many dental problems compared to all of the people with gorgeous teeth in the National Geographic magazines.  Some people say that an overnight soak is not enough to ferment and really do the job of neutralizing enzyme inhibitors, but I did notice that the sesame seeds in my grain mix sprouted a tail, so that's something.

The other thing I've been willing to try is raw goat's milk.  It is legal in Oregon to sell raw goat's milk, but not cow's milk.  That's fine with me, because as some people have pointed out, goats are easier to keep clean than cows which makes it easier to keep their milk clean.  Plus, they're smaller, and need less forage to provide the milk.  I found that I like the taste of it, it's a bit salty, then sweet, and then slightly goaty, but not as strong as many goat cheeses.  I've been giving my family rice milk for a long time because I didn't like the taste of cow's milk and didn't want to give my son estrogenic soy milk.  Now, I feel like it might have been beneficial to him to get more calcium and protein, but I'd just as soon not give him 'dead' milk.  The farm we've been getting the milk from through our local co-op is State certified, so I feel fairly confident that we can avoid listeria.  Apparently, one is more likely to get listeria from lunch meat and produce, anyway.

So, if anyone is still with me here, back to the muffins!  I was planning to make these with no milk because I wanted to share them with a friend who has a milk allergy. I started them with coconut oil instead of butter- but then I remembered that I'd soaked the five grain cereal with water and yogurt the night before I cooked them, so I decided to throw some goat's milk in as well.  If you have an extra coffee grinder (I just got one) to grind whole spices, it really makes a difference.  Next time I'll try to grind my own grains to get the most out of them, and that is going to take yet another lifestyle change, but maybe it'll offset the rest of the stuff I eat.

Here's the deal on the muffins in my non-professional style:

Makes medium sized muffins
Heat oven to 350 degrees

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rye flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom

In a stand mixer bowl, or mix very well by hand:

Cream together-
3/4 cup unrefined coconut oil
1/3 cup evaporated cane sugar
Add-
2 T molasses
1 egg
2/3 cup raw goat milk
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup cooked whole grain cereal
Add nuts, seeds, dates or raisins if you have some on hand. 

Spoon into coconut oil greased muffin tin.  Bake for 30- 40 minutes.  Kim had a great suggestion to twist the muffins out of the tins and cant them on their sides to cool after they are baked.  This way they keep their crisp outer layer.

*  To soak whole grains, add yogurt, kefir or lemon juice to soak water, leave over night, cook the next day.  There are many whole food sites on the net explaining the process in detail, and a few refuting it, so go check them out if you are interested.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring and Stinging Nettles

A few weeks ago, our small farmer's market had the first of the stinging nettles.  The farmers also had shitake mushrooms and kale to sell, so I picked up some of each to dry in the food dehydrator knowing that we couldn't eat them all quickly enough.

A few days after dehydrating the food, I heard about the compromised Fukushima nuclear plant.   I figured from the reports of a possible meltdown that we might be getting some radiation our way in Oregon- and now, of course, we know it has arrived everywhere in the rain.   While they say the amounts are small, ingesting the radiation, especially concentrated in milk, is something that I'd like to avoid.  Nettles, greens and shitake mushrooms are some of the best foods to have around when there is radiation and heavy metals to be gotten rid of in the body.  I picked up some miso and seaweeds as well.   Japanese researchers have suggested that regularly eaten,  seaweed is effective in blocking the radioactive iodine from our thyroids, and that miso can help the body to get rid of radioactive isotopes.  I can't say that we are normally daily eaters of any of these foods, but I figure that it can't hurt to get them in to our diets now, and we do love miso soup.

I thought that the nettles' stinging action would be stopped with the dehydrating, but they still retained a bit of their sting when touched by a soft part of the body, like the side of my finger or my husband's throat after I convinced him to eat one (oops, maybe I chewed mine more).  Once they are doused with boiling water or sauteed, they are definitely okay to eat.  They have a nutty, artichoke- like flavor,  a beautiful deep green color, are full of vitamins and minerals and are used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments.  I drink them as a tea and will try them in a pesto with the next fresh batch that I get. 

I've been making miso soup for years in a quick, simple way, just filling a tea strainer with bonito flakes and adding it with a 2 inch piece of rinsed kombu to a medium size pot of water, boiling gently for a few minutes.  Sometimes I add thinly sliced veggies and tofu near the end. When I take it off the heat, I add the miso.  Saveur has a recipe which sounds more authentic, involving soaking the kombu overnight which would probably give the soup a lot more minerals.

So make sure to eat your greens, miso and mushrooms for a while- it can't hurt.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Serious Seed Saving


The seeds are calling to me.  From the basement seed storage box to the grocery store aisles to a seed co-operative, I have a greedy yearning for more seeds.  Too many to use myself, really, so it’s just my squirrelly hoarding instinct kicking in with Spring.  


I’ve been trying to save seeds from my garden for the last two years.  I’ve taken it a bit seriously, learning to save tomato seeds by the fermentation method, letting the greens go to shabby seed in the garden beds, and drying the beans on the vine much to my neighbors’ consternation- she’s letting those beans go bad, we should pick them for her!

However, after attending a seed saving lecture by the Seed Ambassadors, Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still, of Adaptive Seeds, I am humbled by how much there is to know about real seed saving, and sad that I really don’t have the space to do a right proper job of it. 

I was inspired to attend a seed co-operative meeting with Grow Portland and the seed saving lecture hosted by our local Master Gardeners after listening to a talk by Vandana Shiva at PCC Cascade a few weeks ago.  The Indian physicist turned environmental and social justice leader got my blood boiling again about the tragedy of genetically modified seeds for farmers and the social impact of corporations controlling food sources and prices worldwide. 

While I knew that my backyard seed saving was little more than me being a rebel in my own mind, giving me a delusional sense of security that I could save non-GM seeds for the day that Monsanto wins the legal right to dictate what seeds backyard growers use, I didn’t realize that it is almost impossible for me to save ‘good’ seed in our tiny yard with a handful of raised beds.  The adorable and inspiring young couple who run Adaptive Seed are doing the real work of going around the world to find the seeds that haven’t been hybridized or lost. They have the acreage and know- how to save seed from plants that have been isolated to prevent accidental hybridization and to grow enough of each plant so that they don’t become inbred.  Now I realize that the seeds I’ve saved could come out as odd, bad tasting crosses or may have become genetically weakened because one needs to plant at least dozens of the same variety to ensure good stock.  Oops.

I’m still planning to save seed from things like bush beans that stay pretty true genetically, and I may still plant some of those saved seeds out for fun.  I am still interested in trying to grow one type of brassica at a time to save seed from, even if it takes two years and a lot of precious garden space.  After all, I don’t really feed my family off of our garden alone, even though that image is still frolicking around in my fantasy life.

My new plan is to buy seeds from small, local farms to support the people who might really be saving the world.  In doing so, I will be getting seeds that are already adapted to the area that I live in.  The plants are also more likely to be hardy since the small farmer is able to inspect the plants they grow for seed better than a large seed farm that harvests hundreds of acres of plants and doesn’t bother to rogue out inferior plants before saving the seed. 

If you’re interested in saving seed, or just the concept of how seed is saved and what is involved, check out the Seed Ambassador’s free downloadable ‘zine’.  They also have a seed saver’s reading list on their blog

Now, off to drool over my Oregonian small-farmed, much loved seeds, pray for sun, and finish reading Vandana Shiva’s book, “Earth Democracy”.  Here’s a link to a Yes! Magazine interview with Dr. Shiva.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pantry Rummaging- Tuna and Preserved Lemon Salad

Yes, it's that time of year (still) in the Pacific Northwest.  I don't want to go out in the weather to shop and I end up rummaging through the pantry like a squirrel digging up its cache of nuts.

One of the things in my cache is a jar of Moroccan preserved lemons that I made before Christmas. I gave some out as gifts even though I knew that they risked lingering uneaten in the backs of refrigerators all over Portland.  Preserved lemons add a wonderful citrusy spark to any dish and don't have to be saved for the occasional Moroccan stew.

The pantry inspection also yielded cans of tuna, butter beans, Hatch green chiles and some leftover pasta.   Some good, birthday present olive oil, and a sprinkling of bright red ground sumac that Chris brought back from Morocco,  finished off a satisfying, protein rich salad.  I didn't get to go to Morocco, sadly,  but I was easily consoled with some spices and an orange pouf from the souk.

For the salad:

1 can of solid chunk tuna, drained
1 can of butter beans*
2 or more tablespoons of green chiles **
1 tablespoon of chopped preserved lemons***
A couple of good glugs of olive oil.  Use less if you are using tuna in oil.
Leftover pasta if you've got it
Fresh ground pepper
Ground sumac if you have it. ****  Hungarian paprika is nice, too.

*Eden brand has no BPA (bisphenol A).  I buy a bunch when they go on sale.

**I wish I had a freezer full of frozen Hatch New Mexican chiles.  The canned chiles are convenient and easier to get in Oregon, but they retain their 'canned' taste more than I would like.  However, they are still surprisingly high in vitamin C, making them a good winter food.   To avoid having the leftovers taste even more tinned, make sure to store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

*** Preserved lemons are easy to make and very convenient to have on hand for any dish that needs to be 'brightened'.  Meyer lemons make the tastiest preserved lemons that I've tried.  Most people cut the lemons in quarters almost to the bottom of the lemon and then stuff them with salt and add lemon juice to fill the jar.  I decided this year to cut thin slices of lemons into quarters and layer them with salt to avoid the hassle of cutting up a whole lemon every time I wanted a bit of preserved lemon for a dish.   After pressing the salted lemon bits down with the back of a spoon, I filled the jar to the top with more squeezed lemon juice.  The lemons need to sit and ferment for a few days to a few weeks before use.  They end up a bit syrupy and the rinds become very soft.  Just chop them up rind and all to add to food.  Be wary of adding salt to the dish when using preserved lemons as they are essentially a brined food and very salty.  Most people say to rinse the lemons first and some say to remove the pith or rind.  Sometimes I rinse these and sometimes I don't, but I always use the rind for its wonderful flavor and texture.

**** Sumac can be found in Middle Eastern markets.  It is a small dark red berry that is usually ground and added to soups and stews.  It is a bit sour, astringent and earthy.  The first time I used it was in college when the owner of a Lebanese restaurant finally gave me her 'secret' ingredient for the lentil soup I was obsessed with.   I had made the simple soup at home over and over to no avail until she told me to add the ground sumac.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Preserving the last of the Hood Apples



 We went to the last winter farmer's market in the Montavilla neighborhood a few weeks ago intending to pick up a box of apples to dry for snacks.  For some reason I thought they'd be cheaper this late in the year, but of course, supply and demand usually works the other way.
I told the vendor that I was looking for apples to dry and asked what the best variety would be- and the cheapest.  She explained that all of the apples were $35.00 per box, but motioned over her shoulder to a big plastic sack of apples left by the truck.  I could have 25 pounds of 'ugly' apples for a mere five bucks- and she'd throw in another half sack to boot.  I bit, of course.
 Insert Portlandia dumpster diving skit here. When I got them home, I had to sort them by rank of most to least rotted.  The completely rotted ones went straight to the compost and I tried to work with the next worst load first.  To my surprise, even the ones that looked like they'd just gone three rounds with Mohammed Ali were pretty good inside.  In fact, it took us a week to dry them all and we made a few quarts of apple sauce.

We've managed to go through several jars of the apple snacks already.  They're like chips- hard to stop eating once you've started.  And really, you'd never know they were 'ugly' apples- some of them real ugly.  The best part is that Will is a champ at placing the apples on the screens. 
 You'll need a super sharp knife if you plan to cut them by hand like I did.  I had to cut off the bruised bits, so it made more sense for me to use a knife to slice them in to thin rounds than a food processor.  Also, there is only so much room on the trays, so it seemed like a bit of overkill to get out the machine, plus, I like the zen of slicing and trying not to cut my fingers off.  If you'd like apples with no browning at all, soak them in lemon juice while you are slicing more for the dehydrator.  A dash of cinnamon can make them even more irresistible.

We use an Excalibur food dehydrator, a real workhorse.   The square trays fit more on them than the smaller, circular dehydrators, and it has a bunch of different heat settings for everything from vegetables and fruits to jerky so that I don't have to look up the suggested settings every time I work with it.

What's the outlay of energy with procuring, handling and using electricity to dry the apples?  I'm not sure, but I do know that it keeps a six and a half year old awfully busy and makes them mighty proud of the snacks they eat.   If you want to know what your kitchen might look like after a week of drying apples and an evening of making marmalade, look no further:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Marmalicious

No, I'm not saying that Marmee from Little Women was hot.  I'm saying that using marmalade as a base for a hot toddy is delicious.




I made a few half pints of this tangerine based marmalade a few days ago and started using it on everything.  Piled on crackers with goat cheese- check.  On buttered breakfast toast-natch.   Hot toddy- oh yeah.

Lacking meyer lemons, I used a little more than half a grapefruit instead.  It made it more on the bitter side, more of a 'Vintage Oxford' style of British marmalade.  I also substituted honey for a quarter cup of white sugar to give it a richer flavor. 


For the toddy:  A spoonful of marmalade, hot water, a glug of bourbon.  Not an exact science for me, obviously. I do prefer bourbon to whiskey, though, because it rounds out the marmalade nicely- but I'm sure that whatever you've got on hand will work well on a cold night.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Year of the Kitchen

I've been all talk with the kitchen and no show.  I'll share a few before and after pictures so that you can see what we've been doing around here for the last year.   We have a tiny point and shoot camera, so don't go expecting Vogue Living pics, here.  As a matter of fact, I haven't gotten around to taking pictures of the pantry and other areas, mostly because we still need doors, trim and shelves in some spots. 
Before we moved in, during the 'house tour'. 

Today.  The stove is a story in itself.  Saved from an old bachelor logger in the wet hills of Oregon, rusty and filthy, it had a mouse skeleton embedded in grease inside.  Chris scrubbed it down and we had it re-chromed and converted back to gas from propane.  The stove really became the impetus to rip out the kitchen.  Once it was in everything else looked even darker and dingier.
 
The pictures we have taken don't show all of the cool schoolhouse lights we found at Goodwill and the Rebuilding Center.   The black stone surround on the sink is textured soapstone from the Rebuilding Center.  Our friend and amazing craftsman, Vincent, recut the stone for us to work with the twenty dollar single bowl stainless sink (also from the Rebuilding Center). We got the wooden counters at Ikea and sanded the heck out of them.  The wooden floor is the original doug fir flooring, sanded and finished by our friend Brian in exchange for the use of a car for the summer.  Doors from Rebuilding Center and garage sales.  Range hood from Ikea's As-Is section- over half off.  Lowe's subway tile installed by us.  It was a mad scramble to get the grout off before it dried- always do a small section at a time!  The doorway was widened by a few feet to let light in from the dining room. We saved the bottom cabinets since they were still functional, solid wood; but new sliding drawers would have been nice.  Chris did all of the millwork in the kitchen himself. The island is an old worktable we found for a dollar at a rummage sale with a stone top from the Rebuilding Center that Vincent cut for us.
  
So, here's a year of pictures. You might want to check them out before you get the sledgehammer out and go all DIY on your house.  I sincerely thought we'd be done in 3 months, but as they say, it always takes longer than you think. 
After we moved in.  Same kitchen, different hippies.  This is where the refrigerator will end up.  It lived in the Willster's room, the old breakfast room.  I'm glad we got it out of there before tried to get himself a beer in the middle of the night.


I ripped the faux wood panelling off the wall about a year or so before the kitchen remodel.  Who knew what was lurking under there?
Door was removed and doorway widened by several feet.  Right hand wall, cabinets removed and wall destroyed to make way for pantry and refrigerator (goes into weird bathroom closet space).
We found old knob and tube wiring in the wall by the sink-also an old hornets nest and ivy.  No insulation, of course.

Doug fir floor under the linoleum.
 
Before the tile, after the new drywall.
Wet sanding the soapstone with fine sandpaper.
Finished product minus a few doors.
Making ravioli with my dad and Will on my grandma Mary's old pasta machine.