Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Should Just Start Numbering My Food Posts

This post should be called Summer Foods #2. This is a appealing to the same part of me that wouldn't mind wearing a uniform every day, but appalling to the part of me that can't eat a sweet potato and a tin of tuna for lunch day in and day out (yes, I knew someone with this diet). Coming up with the title for posts is the most tedious part of a blog.  I'm not sure what this says about me, and if I was sure, I probably wouldn't like it.

Steamed eggplant experiment

Eggplants are a tricky for me to cook without lots of oil. It's one of those vegetables that can be blissfully silky or disgusting and spongy depending on the preparation. My favorite Chinese braised eggplants involve deep frying eggplants in peanut oil, and then stir frying them with flavoring oils like chili and sesame. However, I like to use the slender Chinese and Japanese eggplants for that dish and the CSA keeps on sending me the globe eggplants. A Fuchsia Dunlop recipe for steamed eggplant had the potential to be a delicious and healthier way to cook the eggplant, so that was dinner last week. The dipping sauce, a combination of homemade chili oil, black vinegar, sugar, and light soy sauce, made me not miss the deep fried eggplant. However, it is questionable if this is actually healthier because I ended up mixing all of the dipping sauce with the steamed eggplant, which made a great room temperature salad.

Matcha mochi cupcakes are a win
This recipe for match mochi cupcakes was chewy and a good treat to bake up for someone who rarely bakes. I subbed out cashew milk for regular milk since I rarely have straight up milk around here.  Neither of us humans drink milk, although we are not technically dairy free because I usually have a tub of Strauss whole milk yogurt and the occasional pint of ice cream. If I make these again, I'd like them to be crispier on the outside with the aid of my convection oven. My oven, which I have had for almost 10 years now, has a convection setting, but I'm just now getting used to it. Crispy roasted potatoes in 15 minutes flat made me a convert.

Volunteer downspout mushrooms
I thought these mushrooms were porcinis, not that I'd dare eat them even after confirming that they have an olive brown spore print. They live in the backyard, a place where Mingus has free reign to do his bathroom business. Although I've never seen him pee on the downspout, I'm convinced everything back there is not fit for eating. Sure, now that I'm on the Bay Area Homesteader Hookup list, I've read about people much more extreme who use humanure from their compost toilets to grow food, but I admire that in a theoretical way and don't aspire to do that, not to mention that my backyard is small and the neighbors behind me can see into it.

My only productive zucchini plant

I still don't have zucchini coming out of my ears. One out of the three plants is producing one or two zucchinis a week although the plants take up quite a bit of valuable garden real estate. The other two plants are producing runty little 3-inch zucchinis that have blossom rot. Still, this is better than last year, and I know what now to do again next year. For example, no zucchini plant should grow in a pot. Although the raven zucchini seed package said it could be done, it is too hard to get the amount of water just right using our irrigation system.

Playing with my julienne tool yields zucchini noodles

I want zucchini coming out of my ears because I love cooking the nutty zucchini in my cast iron skillet with a bit of garlic and olive oil. Low and slow is how I prefer to cook this dish, although in time pinches I have only given it a quick shake in a hot pan. Both versions are good, and both versions take a boatload of zucchini for an adequate portion size (half our plate because we love it so).

Since I'm not crafting anything besides tiny hats and dishcloths, I've been catching up on Arrested Development (Season 4 was the best! Long live George Michael!) and reading. Since May, I've read Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan, Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar (interesting if you've ever pondered the questions of how the DIY revival and feminism can co-exist and if one cancels out the other), The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz (read this now!), and I'm almost done with Wild by Cheryl Strayed (a book I was reluctant to read due to its Oprah endorsement and my disdain for books about women overcoming obstacles, but so far I'm loving it). Most of these books came from my library's ebook lending program, which is the cat's meow. I'm almost done with Wild, so any recommendations on what I should read next? I have Lean In, Inferno (please don't give me crap for this one), Tiger Babies Strike Back, and Fairyland on my hold list.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Foods

The boy has been brewing again, and that means that the freezers (yes, plural) are full of spent grain. A few times, by the end of the brewing process, we were too tired to bag and freeze the grains, so we dumped the whole pile into the compost bin. Since we have a slow compost bin that is open, this was not the best idea because it was a critter free for all and I was sure that I was going to get hantavirus. On the bright side, the "compostable" plates we used for a party finally broke down thanks to the molds that the grains introduced to the bin. 

Last weekend, I wanted the grains out of our freezer pronto, so I posted on the Bay Area Homestead Hook-Up* on a lazy Sunday morning asking to swap our grain surplus for some eggs. I got loads of replies from people who live 10 miles away or less, so that was a bonus! Within two hours, I had space for my ice cream maker, a dozen of mixed chicken and duck eggs, and I got to see pictures of a frizzle chicken and duck who are co-parenting a batch of eggs.

One chicken egg yolk was immediately transformed into aioli. I used David Lebovitz's recipe, using my mortar and pestle to both crush the garlic with the salt and to whip up the aioli. It was a breeze! In the past, I've used my immersion blender to make mayo because I was convinced it was the only way I couldn't mess it up, but the clean-up and the power cord bugged me. That aioli didn't last long because although its intended destination was a flop (oven roasted potatoes akin to patatas bravas) due to my inexperience with the convention oven, we found plenty of other things to dip into the silky, garlicy sauce. I have another chicken egg resting on the counter destined to become aioli.

Two other eggs became one of my favorite breakfasts: ginger and tomato eggs. Since we have a surplus of yellow snow peas, I chopped some of those into the mix as well.

The key to good ginger and tomato eggs is to use plenty of oil and to blister the tomatoes and vegetables. That little bit of char from the breath of the wok (wok hay) is why I will never part with my wok. Ever. I've worked diligently to get a good seal on it, and now my wok can transform anything that enters it into some damn fine food.

After you char the sauté the tomatoes and peas with ginger, take them out, add more oil to the wok, and  pour in a few softly scrambled eggs. When the eggs are almost set, put the tomato mix back into the wok, turn off the heat, add some roasted sesame oil and salt, and gently mix everything together. It's my idea of a perfect meal anytime, but it is especially delicious with homegrown tomatoes.

Oh, I've also knit another carboy sweater. This time, it's more dapper with the stripes. My next carboy sweater will be crocheted. We have a few sour beers that sit around the house for up to a year, and I am tired of the looking at the cardboard boxes in which they are housed, so I need to sketch up something cool that I can stand to look at for that long.

All my little lovelies
Have I talked about my love affair with Hida Tool in Berkeley? They carry, among other goodies, Japanese knives and ceramic sharpening stones. I bought a 10-inch sword knife there, and it brings me great joy to sharpen it and my other knives. Until recently, I was outsourcing my knife sharpening, but since I only had one chef's knife, I was left in a lurch when it was gone. I solved that issue by two things: buying a longer, sharper chef's knife from Hida Tool and learning how to sharpen my own knife. When you buy a knife in person from Hida Tool, you get a free knife sharpening lesson in a their dimly-lit back room. At first, I was pretty nervous about sharpening a knife on my own, but my teacher was patient and reassuring. It helped my nerve to read on an online knife forum (there are forums for everything!) that anything I could do to screw it up I could undo later as my skills progressed. Plus, ceramic takes very little material off versus those scary mechanized sharpening wheels. Sure, it takes longer, but it is deeply satisfying. Plus, no one f*cks with you while you are sharpening a knife. You get instant respect. In addition to the ceramic block, I have a ceramic honer coming in from Edge Pro.

I also gave away most of my other knives that I rarely used and the accompanying knife block, and I have plans on replacing the cleaver and the bread knife. I'm ready to graduate to a real Chinese cleaver that I sharpen myself, and that bread knife is a mere 7-inches, so it's a little too short for my round loaves. Since I'm knife obsessed, I'm going to stop writing about them now because I can go on and on. The boy is genuinely terrified of my Japanese knife, and he refuses to use it. That's fine. All mine.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dog Meets Boy

Mingus has decided that kids are cool because they feed him animal crackers and they give him lots of pets. He even liked playing with the talking puzzle, although the talking part of the puzzle ended up frustrating him and I had to stop him from repeatedly pouncing on it. V is for violin! Y is for yak!

Kids even give him hugs and kisses (followed by some spitting out of fur). At first, Mingus was confused and a little alarmed.

Then, Mingus eased into the hug. He focused on the good things, like an endless supply of animal crackers.

The thought of animal crackers really warmed his heart, and he begin to enjoy the toddler version of a hug, which is more like a lean.

Mingus was showered with many more hugs that day, sometimes when he wasn't expecting them.  This visit is going into the books as a successful playdate!


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