Flour Paste Resist and Canning Beets

I took a few days off from work and managed to get a few things done. Such as cook all those beets.

I decided to make pickled beets. My secret weapon was to be horseradish root (see above) but the recipe I used called for so much apple cider vinegar, there really is not much else to taste.

Good thing I have another 10# of beets to pickle. I can make a sweet-and-sour pickle next time. And yes, all the jars below went into a hot water bath and all sealed very nicely. That’s 2 1/2 gallons of beets!

I also managed to get some fabric dyed for my January 8th Shooting quilt.  I want to have a big piece of sunny-sky fabric; because, although the topic is not an upbeat one, the weather was really beautiful that day.

So here I have some cotton sateen clipped to a padded piece of big plywood. I’ve brushed flour paste in the shape of clouds on to the fabric; it dries yellow. I think I like flour paste resist so much because of my affinity for baking and cooking. I mean, how convenient, right?

After I sponged on the dye, and after the flour paste complete dried, this is what my dyed and puckered fabric looked like.

The first dye application is light; you can hardly see anything in the fabric below, but this is how it looked after the first application of dye, and with the cloud-shapes once again painted with flour resist.

This is how the fabric looks after 2 applications of dye. It’s getting better….

Once again, I dried the fabric, clipped it to the plywood and brushed on the flour resist. I put some soda ash water in a sprayer bottle and misted the fabric as I sponged on the dye; this seemed to fix the dye better than soaking the fabric in soda ash water and then letting it dry. That’s what I did the first time, which is why I think the initial dye application was so faint.

Here is the fabric, mostly dry (any gray is from dampness, not dye!); it’s almost done. I think it needs one more bit of dye and I need to tone down the yellow a bit.

Mac and Cheese and Mom

My mom is in the hospital, hopefully will go home tomorrow; she went in with chest pain, and I was afraid it was another heart attack. But, it’s pneumonia. There must be a pleurisy element to it; because it’s been very painful.

I made macaroni and cheese and brought her some for dinner tonight. No generic elbows for me, though: this dish had Vita Spelt penne pasta, Welsh cheddar with shallots, shitake mushrooms and a generous dollop of butter and milk.

If you’re stuck in a hospital, home cooked food tastes pretty darn good! I had some myself.

Where’s the Blog?

Yes, well, I’ve been having lumbar disc-related pain the last 3 weeks, aggravated by sitting (which puts the most pressure on the lumbar spine) so I haven’t been sitting much, hence not sitting and updating my blog.

But I’ve done plenty of non-sitting things recently; and I’m feeling better enough, and optimistic enough, to park myself here to get back my good blogging habits.

First off, I had one particularly sore night and went–I must say–for the Screech (OK just one drink); and then I made preparations for sausage rolls:

Above, you can see the sausage on the left. I got it from the University of Arizona Collegiate Cattle Growers weekly meat sale; it was too salty I thought, but, I wasn’t about to taste-test raw pork ahead of time to check, so I didn’t know until the rolls were done.

Below, the rolled out pastry. Made with lard. I mean, the sausage is already there, right? Crisco would hardly make any difference.

Here’s the actual sausage roll before being cut and baked…

…and here’s the finished product. I took these to work for a potluck.

A few days later, I had the women in my art quilt over for an afternoon of fabric dyeing. Here is everyone having a go at scrunching wet fabric and pouring dye on top. Even my mom made it!

After all the work, a well-deserved break while we wait for the dye to work for an hour.

Here’s Bearbear, clearly intent on learning how to knit. It’s about time he started making some sort of contribution around here so I’m completely in support; perhaps he could learn how to spin during the 8 months a year he sheds.

The next week I had an Octoberfest dinner at my house for friends from work and their kin. I made bratwurst and sauerkraut, german potato salad and a single-layer black forest cake. It was superb. As you can see, there was plenty of dopplebock:

And then yesterday was Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession; here’s a shot of a couple of skeletons at sunset:

Also, during this blog hiatus I started the steps for a bathroom remodel….and….I ordered a new Juki straight-stitch sewing machine for machine quilting. More on that later.

Yummy Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday today to my mom and my sister, both of whom share the same birthday! They got to spend a lovely day together. Roberta and her husband and son came from Portland, OR to spend some birthday time with mom.

The only decent restaurant (now that the Grasslands is closed) near Sonoita is a pizza place in nearby Patagonia; but they are closed Monday, today, so we had dinner there yesterday. Here we are at the Velvet Elvis Pizza restaurant in Patagonia, AZ:

And afterwards at home we ate the cake I made, my favorite chocolate cake recipe which I got from the Vancouver Sun in 1986:

It’s simply called Fudgy Layer Cake. Next time I make it I’ll post the recipe. There simply is no better chocolate cake!

Backyard Coleslaw

You know, cabbage never really appealed much to me; but that’s because the pale, giant globes in the grocery store have no taste. This winter I planted cabbage to give my lettuce bed a break, and I’m surprised at how good it tastes. Something has chewed holes in the outer leaves, but so far the heads of cabbage remain untouched by any hungry insects.

I had just one day off this weekend, and it’s been a long week; spending time in the garden is always restorative. Here’s the humble beginning of my coleslaw:

Who would’ve thought cabbage could look so yummy?

My slaw recipe is simple: finely chopped/shredded cabbage, a small bit of grated carrot, mayonaise (as little as possible to get a creamy taste), a bit of sour cream (less fat than mayo), vinegar, organic sugar, salt, pepper.

Here are the ingredients together in a bowl; after I took this photo, I tossed it all together and let it sit in the fridge to marinate a few hours, then before eating I drained off most (but not all) of the liquid:

Coleslaw on top of some chicken or turkey on sourdough bread makes the best sandwich!

Summer Cooking Frenzy

I had a shaman come to my house (a real shaman–as opposed to a faux shaman– and, a good one) last weekend for a ceremony. It was very positive. I know it probably sounds a bit woo woo for many of you readers; but I’m sure you’re none the worse for reading this.

For several days after the shaman came I didn’t feel like doing much, though I did some good cooking and for some odd reason had a craving for…..tzadziki sauce.

So, I was compelled to make it; and something to go with it, too. A pretty good recipe for tzadziki sauce is here; I followed it, mostly, though I added fresh mint to mine and substituted dried dill. The steps are pretty simple, you strain some regular yogurt (I prefer full-fat organic) overnight in the fridge; just put a few cups in a coffee filter and set it in a sieve over a cup:

The next morning I took the strained yogurt out of the fridge; it was crazy, there was 1 cup of liquid for 2 cups of yogurt!

Then I peeled and seeded cucumbers my mom gave me from her garden, yum, and pureed them w/garlic; the fresh mint is on the side:

This appears to be the consistency you want for your cucumbers once they’re chopped:

Then I added the yogurt, mint and dill: this is how it looked, in the end:

I have a book from the library which is very good, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I’m sure the author would prefer that I say I bought it; but, I’m saving for Newfoundland, so, the library is my new friend.

I made a recipe called Ground Turkey or Chicken with Peas; it’s very yummy in pita bread, with homemade tzadziki sauce and chopped fresh tomatoes. It’s a bit cross-cultural but I got 4 dinners out of this:

I then had some fresh apricots that were quickly taking a turn for the worse; I made an apricot upside-down gingerbread cake, the idea and the recipe are sort-of based on this recipe I found online, which I slightly modified (I used less sugar, for example).  Kind of an odd combination of flavors, you’d think; I made it for the nurses at work, and the reviews were good.

Kombucha? Youbetcha!

Kombucha tea is quite hip these days, and for something faddish, it’s quite ancient. It’s basically fermented green tea. And as fermentation often has alcohol as it’s byproduct, there’s been some recent fuss at  Whole Foods and other organic/health foods retailers about the scant alcohol in these bottled-to-go-teas, and they’ve been pulled from the shelves until some new labeling regulations go into effect.

As usual, when it comes to the more esoteric trends in popular culture, I’m ahead of the curve and started brewing my own kombucha at home several weeks ago: I won’t be affected by any retail shortages.

I got my first kombucha “mushroom” from my cousin Therese when I was visiting Washington D.C. earlier this month; she gave me one, and I managed to get it home in my carry-on bag. This is what it looks like:

Yes, I know. It looks like a slab of uncooked pork. Or some other raw meat. Definitely something you wouldn’t want to eat. But, it’s really just a big saucer-shaped SCOBY, which is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.

There are lots of kombucha recipes online. The basic recipe calls for bringing 2 litres of water to a boil, and then adding green tea and/or some flavored green tea (such as pomegranate) and 1 1/2 cups of sugar (organic, preferably). The tea and sugar mixture is put in a large glass bowl or jar, all tea bags or tea leaves removed, and the kombucha culture is placed on top:

Then the bowl is covered w/cheesecloth, and secured with elastic to keep the cheesecloth in place; the bowl then sits undisturbed in a quiet corner of the kitchen for 7–10 days, during which time the culture grows another duplicate SCOBY. That culture can be stored away, given away (as Therese did with her extra culture) or used to make more kombucha.

The amount of sugar in the recipe may seem high, but, it’s enough to prevent the fermentation from going bad. There is quite a bit of alarmist noise online about how kombucha can make you sick or kill you, but as with just about anything, making  kombucha involves common sense, as well as some basic awareness of what a healthy fermented food product looks and tastes like.

I’m brewing my second batch now; my first batch turned out really good! It’s strong, and I add one part kombucha tea to about 3–4 parts water for a yummy, refreshing drink.

Aunt Mary’s Biscuit Recipe (from Newfoundland

When I came home from Boston last April, my insufferably long and cramped flight (and I had an aisle seat!) was made infinitely more bearable because I had half a dozen of my Aunt Mary’s super-fresh biscuits in a Ziploc bag.

Recently I tried making these biscuits. Now, I’m a competent cook, but a good biscuit is not easy to make and I think I’ll need some more practice after this.

The recipe is: 2 cups white flour, 2 cups whole-wheat flour, 2 Tbsp (yes) baking powder, 2 sticks butter, and about 1 3/4 cups milk (exactly how much milk will depend on the type and grind of flour) and 3 Tbsp sugar. Mary said the recipe calls for some salt, but she never adds it. There’s probably enough sodium in the leavening.

Here’s how you start: flour, sugar and leavening a bowl with the butter cut in:

I used my pastry cutter and my fingers to get the butter/flour mixture to have the consistency of coarse crumbs, then made a small “well” in the middle, where the milk went:

The secret to biscuits, scones or pie pastry is simple: hardly mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones, just barely toss dry and wet together to combine, and handle the dough as little as possible. In this case, I poured the milk in the well, and just “folded” the ingredients together (this is my aunt’s word); I then turned the (sticky) dough out on the lightly floured counter top and kneaded just 8 times (this exact number is per my aunt); after that, I rolled out the dough; you can see the pale bits of butter in the dough, evidence of the dough being handled minimally:

I rolled it too thin, though; I guess I was instinctively thinking I was making pie crust. Anyway, I cut biscuit-shapes with a mason jar lid, and slid them onto a greased cookie sheet, not realizing the biscuits were too thin until they were done:

The biscuits bake for 12 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 425; though my 1978 model electric oven runs hot and I set my oven to 375 and baked for 12 minutes. Every oven is different, so…..Know thine oven!

My biscuits tasted good, but since I rolled out the dough too thin, I wound up with a shape more reminiscent of Eucharist than biscuit; flat, but tastier than any religious wafer (thankfully!).  Next time I’ll make my biscuits twice as thick and resist the urge to roll out the dough much. One day I’ll have this recipe down!

Rainy Day Minutiae

Rainy days are rare here in Tucson. Last year was a drought. So far this year, there’s been lots of rain due to an El Nino weather pattern; it’s been unusually wet.

I started my rainy day by making some yummy chocolate chip/dried cherry/walnut scones:

Then I swam laps in the rain, something I don’t get to do too often; and as it was cold, no one was in the pool.

Then I learned a new fiddle tune. I wrote it down, not because I’m note-dependent, but because I’m making myself a tune-book of super tunes I’ve gotten from friends, it’s a tribute I suppose: I’m very lucky in that some great players have shared tunes with me over the years. Plus, some of these tunes I really don’t get to play with anyone around here. So, this helps me remember them. Maybe one day I’ll live in a place where I can play these tunes with someone, or play them at a session. How cool would that be?

Today’s tune is the Leitrim Lilter by Charlie Lennon. This blog is in the public domain, and while it’s unlikely Charlie would ever see it, I just want to apologize to him anyway for my transcription. There’s a tune-book of his that goes with his CD Musical Memories, in which he’s transcribed his tunes, and it’s a given he’d do a much much better job than me in writing down his own compositions! Now that I think about it, I’d like to get Charlie’s CD and book. I’d like to know the story behind the tune.

Then…the day just disappeared. Why does time go so fast? Suddenly it was dinner time. I cooked up some polenta; one part water to one part organic polenta. I brought the water to a boil, slowly poured in the polenta, and stirred at a boil for 3 minutes. Then, off the burner:

I added chopped scallions, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil and turned it into that pyrex dish above, which I’d brushed w/olive oil:

That baked for 30 minutes at 350. I then washed yesterday’s kale and beet greens from the River Gardens farm stand:

The greens in the colander got dumped into a pot of boiling water, and they cooked on medium-high for 5 minutes. I saved the water the greens were cooked in; I’ll use it for soup or just drink it–it’s not that disgusting sounding, it actually tastes pretty good with a dash of salt and it’s good for you, too! I’ve always done this, but then I heard Michael Pollan talking on CSPAN (yes, I am a dork) about his new food book and apparently this is one of his recommendations, too; so maybe more people are now doing what I’ve always done.

Anyway. The cooked greens I rinsed w/cool water, squeezed a bit, and then tossed them in the wok with a bit of bacon schmalz. Just a tablespoon. But even that was too rich; I think I’ll stick with plant-based fats next time. Here is my rainy day meal: polenta, beet greens and salmon:

Canning Rhubarb: Like I Don’t Have Enough to Do

Well, there it is: all the frozen rhubarb from the Grasslands freezer (see my last post) with nowhere to go once the Grasslands shut down. I took  it home with me Thursday; I couldn’t really stop myself, because I love rhubarb and in Arizona, rhubarb is rare. I know it’s a weed for so many of you out there, but not here.

Luckily, since my freezer at home is small, there were some left-over canning jars at the Grasslands as well:

So I took the rhubarb  home….to can and save for later.  Even though a day of canning cuts into my fiddling and art quilting. And even though it’s been a long time since I did any canning. In fact, I’ve never canned on my own, it was always something I did with my mom supervising me.

I also took 2 big steel pots from the Grasslands. When I got home Thursday night, I put the rhubarb in a big bowl and mixed it with several cups of (organic) sugar and let it sit over night to draw out the juice; Friday morning, I quickly cooked it down, juice and all  (in batches) in a small steel pot. Then I put all the cooked rhubarb in a big steel pot, and set that in an even bigger steel pot with hot water to make a double-boiler, and I let the rhubarb cook down for about 3 hours.

I adjusted the sugar a few times until I liked the taste. Hint: rhubarb needs a lot of sugar, though I don’t like things really sweet so I probably use less sugar than the average person.  I think I had about 50 cups chopped rhubarb and I probably used 10 cups of sugar. I was aiming for the consistency of a rhubarb sauce, which I will use in cakes or even in my morning oatmeal. This is what the end product looked like, after 3 hours:

Then I rinsed the canning jars in hot water (with a little bleach) and then rinsed again in plain hot water, and then let dry in the dish rack:

I packed the hot rhubarb sauce into the clean jars, here’s the first jar:

Then I wiped the tops of the jars off with a damp clean dish cloth, and placed the rubber-coated lids on top–I keep the lids in a pan of water while I work so that they’re wet when I put them on the jar, that helps increase the rate of seal. I learned that trick from my mom. Then I screwed on the ring.  Here’s the hot water bath:

I didn’t have a wire rack for the pot. The jars rested on the bottom of the pot, and were covered in water almost up to the rim of each jar, as you can see above. I brought the water to a boil slowly, never going higher than medium-high to get the temperature up.  I used a Calphalon heat diffuser plate which my mom gave me years ago; it’s very handy for keeping a protective surface between your heating element and your pot bottom: here it is on the front left burner:

When I remodeled my kitchen last year (thanks to an art quilt that I sold; and, yes, it sold for enough to remodel my kitchen) I deliberately avoided getting a smooth-top ceramic stove.  There’s a lot of cookware you can’t use on that surface (such as cast iron) and it’s hard to can on it as well. Although electric isn’t as good as gas, old-fashioned electric is better than ceramic-top electric.

But I digress.

I let the jars gently simmer for 30 minutes, then took one pot (9 jars)  off the burner and put the second pot (6 jars) on. I let the jars cool in their respective pots for several hours, and I listened with a great deal of satisfaction as I heard the gentle, solitary “thunk” as each jar sealed. If you’ve never done any home canning you don’t know what I’m talking about. Trust me when I say it’s satisfying to hear the thunk. Because if you don’t hear it, something went wrong and you have to start the hot-water bath all over again because you have a failed seal.

Here are my 15 pints of rhubarb sauce. YUM!