Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hope in a Pot

Here it is: 2011's first tomato! This year, thanks to last year's utter tomato crop failure, I started my plants in April. Also, no fancy pants heirlooms, although I love them dearly, but only proven producers get a place in my yard. And, they have to be cherry tomatoes because we live in the fog during the summer. Cherry tomatoes seem to be the most immune to fog, probably because they take so few days to mature in comparison to their larger counterparts. I am growing Sweet 100s and Sugar Golds.

In addition to growing my own tomatoes, I vow to can enough local tomatoes to last us until the next tomato season. If this means that our living room cabinet is full of only canned tomatoes, so be it.

I was also motivated to take care of my little herb plot, which meant weeding, weeding, weeding. I just read "Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet", and one of the authors, J.B. Mackinnon wrote that he was offended by the high price of herbs when he found out how easy they were to grow. I agree! I have a small patch of oregano, two types of thyme, and two types of mint growing in the front yard. I dared to plant the pineapple mint directly in the ground with the other herbs, but I'm keeping an eye on it and tearing out rouge mint patches when necessary.

Don't ask me about the rest of our yard. Anything I can't eat gets very little attention from me.

Do any of you live in the fog as well and have prolific vegetable plant recommendations? I'd love to plant more food crops for the summer, but the scant amount of summer sunshine here deters me. I'm resigned to not growing peppers or eggplants.

Greaseball continues to be Greaseball. He whines loudly for his breakfast or dinner, sits next to me on the bench during meals, and demands to sit in the boy's lap every evening. Spoiled.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Deadly Hot Sauce and Miso

After a long day at work, it was a treat to come home to a huge Yucatecan feast made entirely by the boy. He even made a habanero chili salsa, complete with a custom graphic of a skull that somehow still has eyeballs. Other delights were cochinita pibil (pork slow cooked with an annato paste and banana leaves), lemon pickled red onions, black beans, and a huge stack of corn tortillas.

The more we cook at home, the more picky we become about our dinners out. This, I've noticed, leads to us cooking in more often.

Surprisingly, we manged to use all but 10 lemons from the freaking huge bag. Not bad! Thanks again for all of your suggestions. Seriously, there is no way I could've thought of all those things myself.
 I spied this tub of koji in the refrigerator, noticed I had dried soybeans, and finally put the two together the other day. In 4 weeks, I should have a batch of homemade sweet miso. I bought the koji at Berkeley Bowl for about $5.
If it turns out good, I can use the excess to make more miso pickles. I think there is at least 2.5 pounds of miso here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ocean Beach Cardigan Sneak Peak

I finally sent out my Ocean Beach cardigan to be test knit. It's an open, top-down raglan with eyelet details. Oof, designing a sweater pattern in a non-me size has been a challenge because I have to believe in the size charts. I'm not so good at the blind faith thing!
 Hopefully, I can have the rest of the sizes written up and test knit in time for fall, although the thought of my summer being over and done with makes me weepy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Food Projects Galore

 Thank you so much for the lemon ideas! You are all so creative! So far, I've dehydrated lemons, made Indian lemon pickles, and have frozen lemon juice into ice cube trays.
Up next is lemon marmalade and lemon hard cider. I bought some ale yeast and yeast nutrient after doing a bit of research on what needs to be done to make yeast reproduce in an unfriendly (in this case,acidic) environment. Do you have any more ideas? Keep 'em coming! I love comments, especially because I discover more blogs to follow. Such a creative bunch!
After creating an ugly, dense loaf of bread using the no-knead method,  I went back to making pain au levain the way I outlined for the breadalong. I used rye, buckwheat, whole Sonoma wheat, and regular bread flour for this loaf, and it turned out beautiful! There are lots of pockets in this bread for jam, and it makes a lovely, chewy toast with lots of character. One of my favorite snacks lately is toast with a healthy smear of plain Greek yogurt and homemade guava jam.
Last weekend was a Chinese holiday that I only know as "Grave Sweeping" day, and this meant that I returned to my hometown to clean my grandmother and grandfather's cemetery plots. My grandmother made everything from scratch up until the day she died. Homemade noodles, though, are what her children remember the most. I was feeling a little reminiscent today, so I made a batch of noodles for tonight's dinner, a vegetarian chow mein. My crafty, creative aunts put together a book of Grandma's recipes a few years ago, so I can recreate the taste of her kitchen. Someday, I'm going to tackle some of her harder recipes, like a fermented brown soybean paste and salt pickled turnips.
After making two batches of Epsom salt tofu, I was sick of the grainy texture. I know some people can make tofu with Epsom salt as the coagulant with good results, but not me. My dad, upon hearing of my tofu failure, called his buddy who happens to own a noodle and tofu making manufacturing facility and asked what he used as the coagulant. The answer? Food grade calcium sulfate, otherwise known as gypsum. (When this tofu making guy heard that I was using Epsom salts, he decried my method by saying, "That's a laxative! It shouldn't be in tofu!" I never knew that Epsom salts were used for anything besides soaking sore body parts until recently.)
Anyway, by happy accident, I learned that the beer making supply store sold calcium sulfate, and it was cheap! 2-ounces for $1.50. Score! I immediately made some soymilk and turned it into tofu with out of this world results. The curds were big and creamy. This is what I was after! I think I'll eat this batch raw, sliced thinly with a scant amount of soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions.
I tried to capture Fifty-Fifty and Mingus resting peacefully together, but as soon as Fifty saw me, she scrambled over for some head scratches. She looks like she's about to attack Mingus. She should attack him. He totally deserves it for always stepping on her.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Life Gave Me Lemons

80-lbs of lemons are out on our deck. Why? You'll have to ask the boy what he was thinking when he filled up a bag (previously containing 50-lbs of Chandler walnuts) with lemons. He says he wanted to make hard lemonade since we had success with our hard apple cider, but I'm not sure how he's going to do this since the nothing I've fermented has had such high citric acid level. Various web searches come up with different solutions, and many require things like yeast energizers and nutrients. This picking frenzy is especially baffling since he hates lemonade. He's on his own for this one.


However, I've managed to use up 30 lemon peels for an infused vodka. My original plan was to make limoncello, but the amount of sugar that goes into limoncello is a little sickening, so I may make only a tiny bit of it. BTW, buying 100-proof vodka before noon at the store is going to earn you sideways glances, especially when you think you've swiped your credit card, but have not, and you have to stumble around to dig out your card again, then you don't know the correct phone number for the boy's discount card. At least I wasn't in my pajamas. The cashier strongly suggested I get my own discount card, hopefully because it's a company policy for him to ask and not because he thinks I like to take shots of 100-proof vodka before noon. At least I wasn't still wearing my pajamas.

10 lemons are also destined to be preserved lemons (pic at top of post). That only leaves me with, um, ONE MILLION LEMONS. Give or take a few.

I thumbed through my old school books, and one suggestion is that lemons can go whole into the freezer. That sounds a lot better to me than juicing one million lemons and freezing the juice in ice cube trays. Upon defrosting, the rind will be soft, but the pulp will still yield juice. One sacrificial lemon is in the freezer now to test this out.

So, taking into account that I'm not a sugar fiend (eliminating a lot of baking ideas), what else can I do with all these lemons? Anyone have any suggestions?

They Fit!

No muffin tops on these puppies! They sweaters fit! And in my opinion, they look much better on the dogs than on my cats. After all, they were custom knit for Moxie (blue) and Quinn (lavender).

It's a huge relief. Now, the puppies won't be cold. Just in time for the 100 degree temperatures of summer? It's a good thing the sweaters are cotton...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cats and Sweaters

So far as I can tell, my cats have no love for sweaters.

Luckily (for my cats), these sweaters are not for them. They are for their teeny, tiny dog counterparts who live with my brother.

Fierce Fifty is gunning for the title of America's Next Top Cat Model. Look at the intensity in her eyes!

Greaseball is just resigned. He doesn't really mind one way or the other about the sweater.

The other animals did come over to check out his new duds, though. They are always intensely interested in photo shoots. Plus, they like to get tips from Greaseball since he is the breakaway star of the cat modeling world, thanks to his dapper beret.

These sweaters were knit yet more Elann Sonata leftover from the Curve of Pursuit blanket. I'm down to the last ball of the stuff, and I'll be so happy to be rid of it! Nice yarn, good price, but way too much of it.

These sweaters were knit as top down raglans while sitting in a Jeep on an 8 hour drive to Arizona. I finished everything but the sleeves, so they sat in my WIP pile.  And I know I have project notes somewhere, but I seem to have misplaced one of my design notebooks. Doh!

I really hope they fit the dogs better than they fit the cats... Pictorial evidence hopefully provided in the near future.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Ugly Loaf

Last week, I started another Bertha  so I could experiment with no-knead breads. Breads that lack a starter have no soul, so as tempting as the original no-knead bread recipe is, I opted to follow this variation instead.I used 6oz white bread flour, 3oz rye, 1.5oz buckwheat, and 4oz of Full Belly Farm's Sonora whole wheat flour.

The long lead time turned out to be more annoying than a traditional pain au levain, mostly because I timed it wrong and started at 10 in the morning, meaning that phase 2 should have been started at 4 AM the next day. That wasn't going to happen! I banked on the fact that the kitchen temperature drops dramatically overnight, thus slowing fermentation. At best, I was expecting a bread more reminiscent of American sourdough instead of a pain au levain, but I carried through.

True to all the warnings, the bread dough, measured and mixed in 5 minutes, was really, really sticky due to the high water percentage. The theory behind the no-knead bread is that the high level of hydration combined with the long resting time results in the gluten aligning, which is the same thing achieved by kneading traditional bread dough. When I woke up at 6 AM to shape the loaf, bleary eyes and lack of coffee made for a comical bakery session. Well, comical to anyone watching (the dogs), but not to me at the time.

The boy and I tag teamed the process, so he was in charge of baking the bread, and he got the enjoyment of baking bread smells (my favorite part) and being the first one to cut into it. I was pestering him all day while I was at work, asking about the crumb structure, the flavor, and the overall baking process. He emailed me back with one word responses ("good", "fine"), and finally stopped responding to me at all. I had to wait until I arrived home to judge for myself.

The crumb structure was holey and beautiful. That much cannot be denied. However, loaf was the exact shape of the bottom of my Dutch oven, and there wasn't much oven spring. This is due in part to the heavy flours I incorporated into the dough, but I have made beautiful loaves with dense flours before. The crust was almost scorched on the bottom, too, so this was one f-u-g-l-y loaf.

But how did it taste, you ask? Lovely! Slightly tangy due to my starter, slightly sweet thanks to the honey, and slightly nutty due to the whole wheat and buckwheat.  The boy was stoked that he had baked his first loaf of bread, and I was able to coax a few more words out of him about it. He'd probably make it again, although he did complain that the instructions I sent him were "a novel".

My conclusion is this: if you are intimidated by bread making, try this! If you aren't intimidated, try it once and see what you think! It's so nontraditional that you have to try it at least once to see what all the buzz is about. Will I make it again? Probably not. This has gotten my bread making mojo back, though, so expect too many pictures of bread in the next few weeks...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Homemade Tofu and Eucalyptus Honey

Yesterday, after dropping off my cosmetically challenged cookies to Bakesale for Japan (which raised $1032.46 over $3,000 at the Berkeley location!!!), I kept myself amused by making tofu. I forgot how I came across using Epsom salt to coagulate soy milk, but knowing that fresh tofu could be in my belly in a matter of hours nagged at me. Dried organic soybeans are easy to come by, and cheap to boot.  A lifetime supply of Epsom salt is even cheaper. Why haven't I made my own tofu before?

My initial attempt was tasty, but the texture was grainy. More experimentation needs to be conducted before I can achieve the custardy tofu of my dreams. Once I can master that, the variations I can make are endless. And of course, I found another gadget I want: a stainless steel tofu press from Japan. Do I need it? No. Will this stop me from talking about it to the boy until he'll have no choice but to make me one? Definitely not. (That's how I got my swift!)
The boy's biking beekeeper buddy relayed a message to me: he'll trade me some local eucalyptus honey in exchange for some kimchi. I'm no dummy, so I gladly accepted and got to fermenting. Yesterday, we exchanged the goods - oh boy, I really hope he likes my kimchi because I adore his honey.

There is some thing smugly satisfying about bartering goods and skills with friends. Maybe because it's like dipping my pinky toe into being off-the-grid, or perhaps it reminds me fondly of trading stickers in the 1st grade? (Clearies were the best; even better than scratch and sniffs.)

I'm not doing so hot on keeping the dogs off the couch. Vespa looks just a little too cozy here, and it slays me that she is propped up on the pillow. All our pets seem to put their heads or shoulders on pillows! At least the couch is easy to wipe off and vacuum, unlike our last horrifically hairy couch. I still cannot believe that someone took that couch off our hands for free.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bakesale for Japan is Saturday 4/2

Bakesale for Japan is this Saturday 4/2! If you happen to see frosted sour cream cookies for sale at the Berkeley or Oakland locations, they may just be mine. Buy them! They're really good! The sour cream makes them really moist - they're almost like a mini cakes instead of cookies.

Since the bakers were asked to write out the ingredients, I was really tempted to write on the labels "these cookies were baked in a facility that processes kimchi", but I am the only one who would consider that a selling point.

The boy and I frosted them, and unfortunately our frosting skills are not as perfect as my mom's, so if anyone asks, I'll tell them my 6-year-old helped. It's not a flat out lie, since the boy does have the number "six" in his age.

So, if there's a Bakesale for Japan in your area, go get yourself some goodies for a good cause. Last year, a similar bakesale for Haiti raised $23,000, so let's quadruple that on Saturday!


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