Sunday, September 28, 2008

Canning with friends

A harmonious kitchen-mate is a hard thing to find. Yesterday, my neighbor Jen and I spent the day canning as if we'd spent every Saturday canning, our whole lives. I knew when to back off, she knew when to jump in with the tongs. We ate muffins with the bits of jam that were left in the bottoms of my jam pots last week. We played board games while we waited for the water to heat, the steam to start, the processing to run. She beat me at Othello, and I'll try not to hold it against her. When Corrine could spare a minute, she joined us too, and we'd sit at my table drinking tea and sharing easy conversation.

Altogether, it was a thoroughly fun, soul-filling afternoon.

And now I know how to pressure-can. (Insert evil laugh here.) Watch out world, I've got a whole month before the Farmers Market closes!

Homemade roasted red peppers.
Vegetable stock. Isn't that a beautiful color?

Pete, sleeping in my fabric. This is a typical level of cuteness for so-called Mr. Magical.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Girl time

We're three and a half years out of college, and we know that all of us being together for an evening warrants celebration:

A round of margaritas, a shocking pink Ithaca sunset, and blowing bubbles on our way home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A cellar full of food

It is baffling, and somewhat disturbing, to know that I did all this in just a little over two weeks. When I decide I want to master a skill, I go at it with a single-mindedness that first surprises and later worries those who don't know me well. Like the summer I decided I was going to learn how to do a cartwheel, and spent most of my time with my hands on the ground and my feet in the sky. This is just what I am, never gonna change. I will say, though, that this has been an extraordinarily efficient way to go from Novice to Grand Canning Diva in no time at all.

And I'm not done yet. On Saturday my venerable neighbor Jen is coming over to unravel for me the mysteries of steam-pressure canning. With boiling water you can do acidic things just fine: pickles, fruits, and tomatoes. But if you want to, say, can jars of roasted red bell peppers, you need steam pressure. Roasted peppers are on the docket for Saturday, along with homemade veggie stock. (Ooooo, aaaahhh.)

On a different note, I was really excited to reclaim these shelves in my basement, and start using them again. Lots of old houses have sturdy, narrow shelves in the basement, where the resourceful lady of the house used to keep her canned goods. The precedent resourceful lady of my house was Anna Waldron, who lived here with her husband Frank until 1936. I can't take jars down to my cellar without thinking about her, smiling to know even though we're separated by almost a hundred years, we have something in common. We both put our canning jars on those shelves.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still Life with Pumpkins and Elvis

Leave your gifts with the King. I couldn't help but crack up when I saw this, the gift table at our friends' wedding yesterday. It was a fun backyard shindig. The bride wore jeans. There were pumpkins everywhere, and homemade salsa from the garden. Jon and Teresa's backyard sits right on the banks of the Susquehanna, and they have the sort of garden I can only dream of, at the moment. It's huge. Long, wrinkled shell beans hang on their plants, squashes shine like gold dubloons among the leaves. I was all too happy to join the other guests in eating its exploits, drinking beer and making conversation among a comfortable, easy-going bunch.

Jon is the band's bassist. As such, all of the members of said band were in attendance, as well as some alumni. The predictable outcome of this situation was:

At some point, someone pulled the plug on the wedding music, rallied Band and Friends next door in the garage (their rehearsal space) opened the door, and dug in. Somehow this motley gang of guys was able to sound like they'd always played together. The cues were tacit, the solos were smokin'. There was a relaxed, enthusiastic crowd outside who knew all the words. It reminded me of why I love live music so much-- the chemistry, the energy, the sometimes just-barely-making-it immediacy of it all. You just can't get that from a CD. You can't even get it at a concert hall. Sometimes, you need to be sitting in a musty armchair drinking a cheap beer, watching your husband's band play a song they haven't done in five years, and hit every chord change, nail every verse.

Don't worry, tomorrow I'll be back to my regular scheduled topic: canning!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's beginning to jell...

Where have I been? In the kitchen, that's where. Canning my whazooty off. Did you really need to be told?

On Tuesday, I took a day-long sabbatical from canning and drove to see my folks. I don't see them nearly often enough. They recently returned from a two-week-long vacation in the Adirondacks, and were replete with tales of their grand adventures. I couldn't sit still for stories for long, because soon my ulterior motive surfaced: I wanted to raid their wild apple tree. I also wanted to scoot over to the West Branch Preserve for wild grapes.

Wild apples and grapes to can.

Well, scoot we did.

Goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, white asters... a typical Delaware County panorama.
Fabulous mushrooms on the roots of the (probably) bicentenarian white oak tree. They only show up every two years.

I found about seven wild grapes (boo), but I also found this elderberry bush:

It was so laden its branches brushed the ground. I'm no stranger to wild foods, so I made quick work of gathering the berries. When I was about eleven, my nature study rapidly expanded to include edible and medicinal plants. I read field guides voraciously, digested wild foods cookbooks and of course Stalking the Wild Asparagus. My parents were patiently indulgent, as all good parents are. In the course of my obsession, I learned a lot. And the beautiful thing about stuff you learn when you're a kid is, it sticks with you the rest of your life. I'd know an elderberry with my eyes closed. Thankfully, though, I was able to keep my eyes open to fill my bag with fruit.

Berries, sans stems. I ended up with a little over three pounds of fruit. That's a lot of berries. And now, on to jelly making...
Mash them...
Stew them...
Drain them overnight..

Enjoy them on your toast the next day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Queen of Tomatoes

Either my friend Kat or myself would've been completely deserving of this title after spending all day in my kitchen on Sunday. We had nearly fifty pounds between us, jars aplenty, and, well, maybe it's safe to say, a little too much ambition.

We were going to make salsa. And sauce. Oh, and chutney, relish, and sweet-and-sour sauce, and if we had any left over, we'd just do quarts of canned whole tomatoes in water. Just. The thing about canning, I've learned, is you need to be suspicious of any tendency your mind has to assume something will be quick and easy. With canning, it's never quick. It's wonderful work, meditative and slow. It's eternal and calming. But not quick.

The sink was full of tomatoes all morning. I think the water looks really cool in this shot:
Front burner: tomato sauce nearly boiling over. Back burner: salsa simmering down.
This is Kat, expertly applying the prescribed amount of salt to a huge vat filled with tomatoes, apples, and onions:
Said vat:
Here are some jars on my dining room table. This wasn't half of it, either. We ended up with seven quarts of sauce, four quarts of salsa, seven pints of relish, seven pints of sweet-and-sour sauce, eight half-pints of chutney, and five quarts of canned whole tomatoes.

My pal Kami over at G's Blue Eyes has a wonderful post about how autumn kicks domestic instincts into overdrive. Reading her blog, I couldn't help but think that's what must be at work in my head. I've hardly got my dishes from yesterday washed, and I'm already poring through the canning book, scheming up what I'll do with the rest of my week. Blueberry jam? Roasted peppers? Apple juice? The urge to provision the nest for winter is irresistable, joyous. Summer's sweet, hot days beg me to slack off, quit the house and go for a hike or a swim. But autumn calls me back, and I come, easily seduced by the temptations of a cozy house and a hot stove.

I've always been a sucker for a hot stove.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Canning fever

We've been getting reports of a mysterious illness sweeping the Southern Tier. The symptoms are varied but unmistakable, and seem strange and often baffling to all those not affected.

A telltale sign: hoarding vast quantities of fresh produce in one's car.

The desire to have a perpetually simmering kettle on the stove:

The legions of jars colonizing any horizontal surface available:
G's Blue Eyes seems to be suffering from a similar affliction. What can I say? It's September in Upstate New York. Everything is in season. If the Farmers Market was open every day, I'd probably be there everyday, lugging misshapen bags of vegetables back to my car like a deranged gerbil, obsessively stockpiling food for a famine that never comes.

Likely, I'll have the good fortune of never facing a real famine. But the end of the local produce season will come all too soon. By the time we hit Halloween, the tomato vines will be hanging from their cages like torn fishnet stockings, blackened by frost. The only thing still producing in the garden will be the venerable kale, all else will be dead or dormant. It's that stark vision that drives me, I think, motivating me to capture as much of the summer as I can before it's all gone. It's preserving the flavors and the colors of the growing season. Would it be going too far to say canning is like edible scrapbooking?

Ok, maybe. But that's what it felt like to me, today. Biting into a September pickled beet will bring me back my hazy summer afternoons, and hopefully make the winter a little more bearable.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Making progress

Armed with the gifts of a canning funnel and special mason-jar tongs, (thanks mom!) and The Joy of Cooking's All About Canning, (thanks Jen and Corrine!), my third canned food project went pretty smoothly. All it really is is a set of procedures to learn, and once you've repeated them enough they become habitual. Heat, fill, seal, repeat.
Getting the apple butter to the point where it was more than just brownish slurry was an adventure. I had two different recipes for oven-baked apple butter, one advising cooking at 200 degrees for 10 hours, and another advising cooking at 350 for two hours, with regular stirring. Two hundred degrees did not work. After eighteen hours of that (and leaving my oven on overnight, joys) I edged the temp up to 350 and was done after an hour. Aside from leaving me with an incredibly sticky, blackened baking pan, the whole thing was pretty easy. And tasty! I've been eating slices of Farmers Market wheat bread with butter and apple butter all week for lunch. Not the healthiest, maybe, but damn is it good!
These guys are probably going to be Christmas gifts, hence the labels and pretty fabric. I love giving food for Christmas. I've done Winter Squash Butter, Cilantro Almond Pesto, Irish Stout Gingerbread, Harvest Nuts & Seeds. Homemade Dog Biscuits. Raspberry Pear Preserves. Every year it's something a little different, always warmly received.
This weekend, my friend Kat is coming down, and we're going to turn my kitchen into a salsa factory. Tomorrow is the Farmer's Market. I'll probably purchase somewhere in the vicinity of thirty pounds of tomatoes, good lord, for our salsa-making exploits. After processing the pickles and applesauce I plan on making later, I think I can officially consider myself "over" my canning anxiety.
All it took was a crammed freezer to turn me into a canning addict. I'm hooked.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tulip planting

Today I went to Agway in pursuit of a kitchen scale (for canning, see, baby steps). I came home with a dozen quart jars, a dozen pint jars, some bargain-table sedums, and twenty tulip bulbs. Ten yellow, and ten "easter mix."

Kneeling in the scraggly grass of our front yard to plant them, I realized the best thing about tulips. The best thing is, I'm going to forget I ever planted them. I'm going to totally forget every detail of this halcyon mid-September day. The April morning I come outside to stand in a puddle of snowmelt, squinting and scowling at the pert green tips I can't identify, pushing themselves upwards where last year only lilies and peonies stood... frowning, perturbed... until it dawns on me, and everything comes flooding back. TULIPS! There's such distance between the outlay of money and effort and the reward of the flower, you forget there was any effort at all, and what you're left with on that April day is just goodness, goodness, goodness.

To close, a totally gratuitous shot of the Ginger Gold apples on my dining room table, looking about as Ginger and Gold as possible while still maintaining their appleness. And they smell fabulous.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Story of an evening

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Patrick has class from 6 to 8pm. This is how I like to fill that time:

Laying out all the colorful veggies, setting up my cutting board and chef's knife.

Putting the sexy blushed peppers into the oven to roast.
Spilling the little brown lentil coins onto a dinner plate, listening to the sound they make.

Shaping sweet potato biscuits, chopping carrots and beets.

Admiring the roasted peppers, all sweet and melty.
Thinking about the way Patrick will smile impishly and say, "You only made eleven?"

Lentil stew with roasted pepper cream, savoring the first night it's too chilly to eat on the porch.

Lentil Stew

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 tomatoes, cored and chopped

1 cup dried lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 bay leaves

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 carrots, sliced into half-moons

1 medium beet, peeled and diced

2 medium Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed and diced

1 cup chopped fresh kale

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

First, saute the onion and garlic in a drizzle of oil for about five minutes. Add the celery, and saute over medium heat for another ten minutes. Then, add the tomatoes, lentils, seasonings, and about two cups of water. Cover, and simmer about ten minutes. Add the carrots, beet, and potatoes, cover, and cook an additional ten minutes. Stir in the kale and parsley, and taste to adjust the seasonings.

Roasted Bell Pepper Cream

3 bell peppers, halved and seeded

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 tsp sugar

olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet, lay peppers face down on the sheet and brush the tops with more oil. Roast on the top rack of your oven for about 30 minutes, or until the skins are browned and blistered. Set them aside and let them cool, then gently peel the skins away from the flesh. Discard the skins. Place the flesh, along with the remaining ingredients, in a blender or food processor, and whir until combined. Serve the lentil stew with a dollop of cream on top.

The Omnivore's Hundred, courtesy of MadSilence

I owe my pal C over at MadSilence for this. It's a well known fact that memes are fun things, and in my mind, a food-related meme is about as good as it gets.

"Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life," says Andrew at Very Good Taste. Perusing the list, the items strike me as a weird and wonderful testament to omnivory, a list of foods only a culture as imaginative and bizarre as ours could've produced. By that, I mean general human culture, because the list contains foods from all parts of the world. If you want to play, here's how it works:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

Here's my list:

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison.

2. Nettle tea.
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding. On British Airways flight into Glasgow. Best airplane food ever!
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes. Ripe in my garden as we speak.
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters. Never again.
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects. Maybe if covered in chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut. Manna from heaven.
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV. That was a fun walk home.
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis. New Year's Eve, Glasgow, Scotland, 2001
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini. Peach is the best.
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers. Nasturtium, zucchini, pansies, marigolds, elderberry. I'm a floravore!
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Hmm, looks like I've got some work to do. I don't feel particularly bad about the stinky cheeses I've missed, or that I'm not well-rounded enough to have eaten horse. But a dirty gin martini? Isn't it about time?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wedding in a Hurricane

Hold onto your hats, folks, it's gonna be a long one. This weekend was Patrick's cousin Robyn's wedding, down in Kent Island, Maryland. It was also the weekend Hurricane Hanna hit the east coast. To wit:

The flooded creek and submerged pier outside the Inn where we stayed. (The chairs are bolted down).
The wedding party standing on the dock, trying not to get blown away.

Groomsmen standing on the aforementioned flooded pier, pretending to walk on water.

I got lucky with the weather for my own wedding. I'm thankful for that. But early on, I made up my mind that if the weather was going to be bad, I wanted it to be biblically bad. I wanted a plague of locusts, or a dust storm, or maybe a monsoon on the order of Noah's flood. Given that the fates delivered a hurricane on Robyn's wedding day, I can only hope she shared the same mindset: if the weather isn't good, at least it should be memorable.

What I liked most (aside from the wine) was how much local Maryland flavor was incorporated into the wedding. Crab cakes were on the menu. And this was the cake:

Fabulous, right? That's a bucket of crabs, mallet, corn on the cob (with butter) and can of Old Bay seasoning. And all the cupcakes have little marzipan crabs on top.

The food was great, the wine was plentiful, the bride was beaming and beautiful. I was able to coerce Patrick into dancing with me. That, to me, is a good wedding.

Sunday morning was mercifully sunny. Once I'd steadied myself with a hearty breakfast, we were able to take some time and explore the island.

Swan in a saltwater marsh pond.
Beach. I wonder where the waterline is when it isn't the day after a hurricane.

It took me awhile, but eventually I figured out that this is a persimmon tree. Something I'd never seen before, neat.
Pretty leaves. Are there any fabric designers out there who could turn this into a print?
A Patrick shadow and a Kristina shadow.
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