Monday, December 28, 2009

Post-Holiday Salad Days

I am proud to say that I'm still eating local fruit that I picked myself at the end of December! Two kinds of persimmons and kiwis--if only I had an orange tree too.

I've been visiting my family for the past week, and resolved to eat salad every day to counteract my all-cookie meal plan of the past month or so. It's been great! If you haven't had salad with spicy greens, grapefruit, and avocado for a while, you should make it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cozy Chocolate

Who here knows agrees with the statement "Chocolate chip cookies DON'T COUNT. They are NOT holiday cookies!"?

It has only come to my attention over the past month that I, in fact, do not understand holiday cookies. But I'd better learn fast, because I'm going to a holiday cookie party this Saturday and I'm expected to bring NINE DOZEN cookies.

Some of my friends Ann and Alyssa's cookie recommendations:

Triple Layer Chocolate Mint Fudge
Andes Mints cookies
Dyed-green cornflake and marshmallow wreaths with red-hot decorations
Russian Tea Cakes
Chocolate-dipped mini pretzels

None of the cookies I was thinking of making got the Midwest thumbs-up (I wanted to make those powdered sugar covered chocolate cookies or biscotti, which are at least actually cookies, unlike SOME holiday "cookies" I could mention) so I thought I might make peppermint marshmallows, using this recipe that Theresa was really into a few years ago. That was back when we all thought that Emes Kosher-Jel gelatin was vegetarian. Turned out, it wasn't, but we still have a jar from the good old days, so I made a test batch. If you do make this recipe, please note that it will make about eighty 1-inch-square marshmallows. And don't try to double it or it won't fit in your stand mixer!

Oh, lovely homemade marshmallows! I want to eat all of them myself in twenty cups of hot chocolate.

Speaking of which, I have a new hot chocolate recipe. My girlfriend always complains that what I drink is not hot chocolate, it's DRINKING chocolate, because I like it to be noticeably thicker than milk and really chocolaty. My new method is to throw a small handful of bittersweet chocolate chips into a cup of milk, microwave for 1 minute, stir really well, microwave 30 seconds more, stir, then 20 seconds more (watching like a hawk so it doesn't boil over), and stir like crazy until it's perfectly smooth and a little bit thickened. It's not too sweet, it has a great texture and plenty of chocolate, plus it's easier and less messy than cocoa powder! I put my marshmallows on top for the final 20 seconds, because homemade marshmallows don't melt as easily as your supermarket varieties do.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Even though I usually think of cooking as a solo activity--something I do when I'm alone in the house, or to decompress for an hour after a stressful day--I also like to cook with friends. It's good for me, because I learn other people's tricks and favorite flavor combinations, and I end up making things I wouldn't come up with on my own. Case in point: cooking with Martin the other day. I had officially declared it "sandwich night" at my house, but also had a date to hang out with Martin all afternoon and cook, so we invented a sandwich filling. A crazy sandwich filling. Rutabacon!

Yes, it's bacon made from rutabaga. I can't give you a recipe, but I can tell you that we sliced all the root veggies we could find (carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, rutabaga, celeriac, etc) into thin, bacon-shaped strips, marinated them in a nice salty, oily sauce that was really a bit more like barbecue sauce than bacon flavoring, and cooked the strips on a cast-iron griddle until they were good and burnt the way bacon should be. They made a great rutabacon, arugula, tomato, and avocado sandwich that I wanted to take a picture of, but couldn't find my camera and I was too hungry to go searching for it!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Making things happen!

Do you ever have trouble getting up the activation energy to start a project? For me, a art project will roll along just fine for hours once I get started, but it takes somewhere in the days to months range for me to actually start on something I've been meaning to do. Luckily, there is a catalyst for these creative reactions: my friend Rob. Every time I see him we make and do dozens of things in a very short time. He came to visit me for less than 24 hours...and we made a delicious and beautiful vegetable pot pie complete with perfect pie crust from scratch; baked brownies; went on a walk wherein we talked and talked and also filled our pockets with persimmons, kiwi berries, and grapes; finished a knitted hat that I was 95% done with (a lot of my projects get to that stage and stay there forever); read Jip and Janneke out loud; and made one-bean salad with home-grown greens for breakfast (along with migas--southwestern scrambled eggs with tortilla chip crumbs).

Not only that, but I began to feel excited about giving hand-made Christmas presents, and then once Rob headed for home, I used my remaining motivation to print a ton of "I've Moved On" cards that have been on my to-do list for a month and to try taking pictures with my digital camera, which I was afraid was permanently broken. And now a blog post too! And I'm really feeling the urge to make a Christmas gift spreadsheet next.

Luckily, cooking seems immune to the activation energy problem. I can cook any time!

This lovely little lunch has fortified me for the afternoon and proved to me that my digital camera, although it is seven years old and takes the imperfect pictures to prove it, still works:

Toast with avocado, a few leftover salad greens, and fresh basil; one of my first Satsumas of the year; and a little pot of green tea. Yum.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catch Up

It's been so long, and I have so many pictures to share, that I'm going to make this post almost all pictures. Enjoy, and try making some Fromage Fort (pictured below in the little green crock) next time you find your cheese drawer full of little bits of all kinds of cheese. Also, do you see the spiral plate with kiwi berries and fresh figs in it? I found all of those on a walk around the neighborhood. Also, two of my cherry tomato plants are still producing good-tasting, uncracked tomatoes in the middle of November!

I have tons of this amazing apple cider in my new chest freezer! Remember when I went to Hood River for a super-fun cider squeeze? I never got to show off this picture.

Corn from my CSA--I turned some of it into DIY corn-nuts, and ground some to make cornmeal that got used in corn muffins and waffles.

We didn't find very many edible mushrooms during a recent mushroom hunt, but we did get to see these lovely fairy birdbaths and spend some time in the dripping, mossy woods. Also, there are a lot of things the color of a chanterelle: a glowing yellow-orange maple leaf; a wet chunk of Douglas Fir heartwood; an orange peel tossed out of a car window. I bet I'll still find a load of chanterelles before Thanksgiving.

Fall is really pretty. I don't have any pictures of the 17 pounds of big, crisp Fuyu persimmons I brought home last weekend after picking with the Portland Fruit Tree Project, so instead I will leave you with this Laurelhurst Park duck swimming with the fallen leaves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Harvest Continues...

Last weekend I got to harvest figs and grapes with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. I love picking fruit, obviously, and I love having fruit to cook with, but the other best part of the PFTP is having friends come to harvest parties with me so we can hang out and talk all morning while up a 15-foot orchard ladder picking figs or craning our necks and having grapes rain down all over us.

I made the best thing I've ever made with figs: Honey-Lemon-Fig Marmalade. It's a beautiful rosy color because I used black figs with red insides, and the lemon gives it a much needed tart and bitter counterpoint to the intense sweetness of the figs and honey. I can't wait to serve it at holiday parties with cream cheese and crackers.

I started with a recipe from, but made some changes based on how many figs I had and my own taste.

3 cups fresh figs (stems and a slice off the bottom removed), mashed into the measuring cups
1 1/2 cups mild honey
1 whole Meyer lemon plus juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
1 bay leaf

Chop figs or break them up with your hands until there are no pieces left that are bigger than a chunk you'd like to find in your jam (for me, this is about 1/2 inch pieces). Put the figs in a wide, non-reactive pot, and add the honey. Finely chop one whole Meyer lemon, including rind, and pick out the seeds. Add the lemon (but not the seeds) to the pot with the figs, along with the juice of an additional 1/2 lemon and the bay leaf.

Bring jam to a boil, then cook over low heat until thick and jamlike and reduced in volume by about half, stirring occasionally. This took me about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, fill up your canning pot with water and bring it to a boil and sterilize six 4-oz canning jars (this jam is intense, so I think the small jars are a good idea). I'm assuming that you know how to can or can look up the procedure on one of the many extension service sites, so I'll just say, once your jam is done, take out the bay leaf, ladle the jam into the jars with 1/4 inch headroom and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. For me, this recipe made six 4-ounce jars with a little left over to spread on toasted baguette slices with cream cheese.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tomato Marmalade and Apple Butter Angst

For the past few days I've been thinking about a bizarre recipe I found in an old Gourmet magazine...Tomato Marmalade. Yes, it's sweet. And yes, it's made with regular red tomatoes. Gross? But the person who sent in the recipe called it "superb"! So I made five jars. Here's the recipe I used, modified just a bit from the original (which was served to Calvin Coolidge while he was in the White House!):

2 pounds red tomatoes, peeled and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 juice orange, quartered, seeded, and very thinly sliced
1 tangelo (or another orange), quartered, seeded, and very thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, halved, seeded, and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Place a small plate in the freezer. Wrap the cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie up the bundle with cotton string. Combine all ingredients except cloves in a large pot and cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Add cloves and turn heat down to a simmer; simmer the mixture for about 30 more minutes, or until it's thickened. (To test, pull the plate out of the freezer and put a small dollop of marmalade on it. Put it back in the freezer for one minute. Get the plate back out and tip the plate to see if the marmalade runs. If it pretty much holds its shape and seems jamlike, it's done.) If marmalade isn't thick enough after 30 minutes, let it cook another ten minutes and test again.

Meanwhile, put your canning pot full of water on the stove and let it heat up to boiling. Wash 5 half-pint canning jars in hot soapy water and rinse them. Put the lids and rims of your canning jars in a small pot of water and heat to just below boiling; keep lids simmering until you're ready to use them.

Use a wide-mouth canning funnel to transfer the hot marmalade to 4 or 5 of your clean half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean damp cloth; put on lids and tighten rings finger-tight. Process jars immediately in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Let cool undisturbed for 24 hours; check seals. Store those with good seals in the cupboard; if any jars didn't seal well put them in the fridge to eat right away.

It's giveaway time for all the produce that's left now that harvest season is addition to the mountain of green tomatoes that I turned into green tomato chutney yesterday, I have quite a few apples and pears that I got on a brilliant trip to Hood River last weekend.

My friend Kelly took me to her friend's beautiful little farm where we squeezed cider, took pictures of maple leaves, jumped on a trampoline, and ate way too many caramel brownies. At the end, we each got to bring home 7 half-gallons of cider (!) and as many apples and pears as we could carry. It was so much fun. One day Kelly will have a farm just like that one and I'll just go to her house for the annual cider squeeze.

I've been making apple butter for the past...five years? A long time! And I think my apple butter is the best I've ever tried (no offense, everyone else). I don't like cinnamon much, so I go easy on the spices, and I have cut the sugar back more each year so now I use 1 cup sugar for 7 cups apples. My recipe has a little apple cider vinegar in it too, which I think balances the sweetness well. But no one in my family will eat apple butter! They won't even try it. This year I was getting all sulky about the fact that not one of my family members would appreciate a jar of apple butter under the Christmas tree and had decided not to make any. But them my girlfriend's mom asked me if I was making more, and so did Kelly, and so did my friend Rob...all unprompted. So I guess SOMEONE will appreciate a gift of apple butter! I made another five jars tonight.

I did try the chestnuts...soaking them overnight was a good idea, because it made the shells easier to cut. However, I still almost got a blister on my thumb from cutting slits in the shells of about 60 nuts. Not much fun. I boiled half and roasted the other half. The boiled ones were softer and somewhat easier to peel, but I couldn't really get the inner skins off of any of them without crumbling the nut meats! After all that, I started feeling sour grapes-y about the whole thing. Chestnuts have a weird sweetness that I don't love. After eating all the broken nuts, I think I've had my fill for the year. Next time I will serve hot roasted nuts and make my guests do the peeling themselves!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What It's Like To Be Me

I was walking down the street this afternoon noticing edible plants the way I usually do, and I started thinking about my stream of thoughts and how funny they would seem to most people.

"Hey, which way do I turn to walk past that chestnut tree? Those people's tomatoes are still looking good. Ooh, lots of chestnuts today, must be because of the wind! Look at those bright red apples up in the top of that tree, I wonder what kind they are? Is that mint? How is so much mint managing to grow out of cracks in the sidewalk?! I guess I'd better take some home. Is it too cold to make salad rolls tonight? Well, there's always mint tea..."

And that was a typical one minute in the life of my hunter-gatherer brain.

That's also how I always end up coming home with some weird edible things poking out of my pockets and rattling around in my school bag. Here's a picture of just some of the things I've brought home in the past 24 hours:

I admit that the parsley is from my own garden and the crazy corn was picked up from my CSA farm, but the rest was authentically gathered off the sidewalk, and there were also a bunch of apples and tomatoes and shelling beans that didn't make it into the pictures.

Who knows what to do with chestnuts? I keep picking them up, and I now have at least three pounds of them, but I've never been all that successful at cooking them. I'd appreciate advice! Aren't they beautiful though? Here's a picture of the chestnuts at the farmer's market today:

I'm going to try soaking them overnight, then roasting some and boiling some others to see which one tastes better. If only I had some sort of open fire...

Monday, October 5, 2009


Lately I've been having a problem with getting preserving projects completed. For example, I started making tomato sauce on Friday night. I ended up getting distracted and sticking the half-cooked tomatoes in the fridge for two days. Yesterday morning I used my food mill to get the seeds and skins out, then accidentally left the strained tomatoes simmering on the stove while I went grocery shopping for an hour and a half! Luckily when I got back home, the house was not on fire, and even more luckily, the tomato sauce was nicely thickened but not burned at all. It's now in my freezer.

Another half-finished project was yesterday's big batch of applesauce. Twelve cups of peeled, cored, and chopped apples spent the day bathing in a hot crock pot with just a hint of honey, but then I ran out of time. I utterly failed to put the applesauce through a food mill, put it in hot sterilized jars, and process the filled jars in a boiling water canner. Instead, there are far too many unsterilized and unsealed jars of applesauce in my fridge to be eaten in a week.

And even more disappointing: the five quarts of grape juice that I made this morning tastes like metal! How could my stainless steel pot do this to me? I transferred it to glass jars, but I think it's too late to undo the damage.

And to top it off...Gourmet Magazine is no more! And it is my favorite food magazine, the one I have a subscription too. Apparently, according to NPR, Bon Appetit is Gourmet's hip younger sibling, but I don't agree. I think it's tacky and shallow compared to Gourmet!

Here is one thing that went right though: my dinner on Sunday. I think the fact that other people did a lot of the cooking helped. Ann and Kelly made incredible fried green tomatoes with their own tomatoes, panko, and a gorgeous dark-brown egg from their Cuckoo Maran chicken. Martin busted out the juicer and turned an entire paper shopping bag full of free apples into apple cider. Theresa baked a pumpkin pie with the picture-perfect Long Island Cheese pumpkin that we'd been using as a centerpiece (served with cinnamon-maple whipped cream and honey ice cream). And I made a big salad and two pizzas, one with pesto, pears, beets, and walnuts; one with mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce, summer squash, red peppers, and onions.

I highly recommend tomato-on-tomato action--ketchup on fried green tomatoes is a winner. We also got the notion that crisp, crumb-coated fried green tomatoes would make a good veggie burger substitute, in a bun with burger toppings!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Fell

This afternoon I tried to go to the Eastbank Farmer's Market and it wasn't there! I can't believe that the season is already over. There are so many things still being harvested! Tomatoes and eggplants, winter squash, walnuts, mushrooms, grapes, apples, pears...and I was hoping for one last week of peaches. Did I tell you about the black peach that I got last week at the People's farmer's market? From the woman who has the unusual apples and also crazy things like medlars. I had never heard of black peaches, but she said that they are grown in France in the vineyards, as a sort of canary in the coal mine--when the peach tree starts showing signs of a disease, the grape farmer sprays the grapes. Anyway, my peche de vigne was delicious and beautiful, like the peach equivalent of a blood orange, with intensely wine-colored and flavorful flesh. I'm going to plant the seed and see if it grows.

My CSA has tomatoes aplenty and I'm making lots of sauce and dried tomatoes. It's almost time for green tomato chutney too...I can't accept that it's time to pull out the tomato plants already, but it's time to plant garlic, so the tomatoes have to go.

Is everyone else obsessed with chanterelles right now too? I modified a recipe from Gourmet for shrimp and "pearls" by substituting chanterelles for the shrimp and it was amazing. (I also tripled the recipe, added some onion and garlic, and left out the sugar and tarragon.) I also made some outstanding roasted potatoes and roasted chanterelles with a little bit of parsley vinaigrette. And corn-chanterelle chowder a few weeks back. And tonight I had pasta with chanterelles, fresh chopped heirloom tomatoes, garlic chives, and basil. They're so cheap at New Seasons right now, only $7.99 a pound! You have to get some.

The other thing it's time for is winter crafts. Today I did a little sewing and a little knitting, getting warmed up for long winter nights spent under a blanket on the couch with just my hands sticking out, knitting away.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I don't like eating leftovers, so sometimes I try to fool myself by putting things I've made away in reused deli containers. Then I can pretend I've bought myself something nice to eat. Like this really tasty bean salad I made yesterday...freshly cooked mixed dry beans from Sun Gold Farm, with onion, carrot, celery, radishes, and vinaigrette. I made the salad to take to a swifts-watching potluck and a lady from a neighboring potluck crashed our picnic blanket and sampled our vegetarian delights. The beans got a positive review.

Also, I got three surprise gifts of jam left on my porch today while I was at work! Awesome. Strawberry, raspberry, and crabapple-basil. And equally exciting, a friend let me pick a lot of seedless grapes and I'm going to make raisins tonight!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

That's not good. But THAT is.

Theresa and I were outside by Ophelia's enclosure at 6:45 this morning, three minute after sunrise, to see how she was receiving her new chicks. Not well, it turned out--the poor baby Brahma was making her high, loud alarm call and trying to get away from vicious pecking. We freaked out and kicked Ophelia out of her spot and brought the chicks back inside again. They are still doing fine, but I'm disappointed that we won't get to see Ophelia raising chicks.

When I looked in the fridge this morning, I noticed that the last cup of our milk from last week was looking a little borderline, so I made waffles. Whole wheat flour, white flour, baking powder, a little oil, pinch of salt, a spoonful of ground flaxseed and enough milk to make a batter. I let it sit for a minute to let the flaxseed do its sticky thing, and then waffled away in my "five of hearts" waffle maker. My mom got it for me because a childhood friend's mom had one and I LOVED to go to her house for waffles. I made enough waffles to use up the milk, so there are some leftover to be Theresa's toaster waffles tomorrow!

Monday, September 7, 2009

...uh oh.

Things aren't going well with the chicks. Ophelia did not believe that they were here own babies...this morning the poor little chicks were shivering in a corner while Ophelia continued brooding the the opposite corner. Then she bolted out of her little enclosure and left the chicks alone while she ate and ran around. We brought the chicks back inside to their heat lamp, and them Ophelia went back to brooding! We tried the whole slipping chicks under her thing again tonight, but I'm not too optimistic.

Today I went to the Oregon State Fair! We got to see rabbits and cavies, goats, pigs, quilts, and the prize-winning baked goods, jams, and jellies. We noticed that these two sisters, Katy and Lena, had won first and second prize in almost every category for junior division canning and preserving...and then we SAW THEM get their prizes! They both won a lot, but the younger sister, age 11, had the most points of anyone in the junior division and she was extremely excited to stand on stage and receive her fistfuls of ribbons and $200.

Next year I promise myself that I will enter something in the State Fair. I can totally win a ribbon for something! Especially if I choose a category without many entries, like dehydrated foods...right?

Although I always look forward to finding the best candy apple at the state fair, I packed a local-foods lunch and brought it with me. Roasted vegetables, pluots, pear, cheese. And I never did find a caramel apple that seemed worth eating. Also, after my ice cream cone from the Oregon Dairywomen, I couldn't really handle more sweets...

Tomorrow is the first day of school for Theresa, so I get to pack a lot of lunches this week! I hope some of them might be photo-worthy.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


My chicken, Ophelia, is supposed to be a good layer...a chicken who has been highly bred for egg production and therefore has little maternal instinct and rarely becomes broody. Yeah, right...she has become broody TWICE in one year! The first time was this spring, and Theresa and I decided that the next time it happened, we would get her a chick and let her raise it. we got two new chicks at the Urban Farm Store! We tried to get just one, but she started making such pathetic lonely sounds that we had to get a second one. We chose a Delaware and a buff Brahma. The Brahma is going to be enormous, I'm a little scared. Well, if she lives long enough. It is possible that tomorrow morning our little babies will be pecked to death or suffocated, although I am hoping for a better outcome!

We slipped the chicks under Ophelia tonight while she was half asleep, and a little while later they seemed to be alive and happily peeping under there, and we are hoping that tomorrow morning when Ophelia wakes up she will believe that these chicks are her very own little darlings. If this works, she will do all the work of raising them, including keeping them warm and making sure they are safe and well fed.

And by the way, the food at Biwa was very good last night. Really nice presentation and most of the dishes were great. Surprise fantastic item: kimchi kara-age...battered and deep fried pieces of radish and napa cabbage kimchi! They were highly reminiscent of spicy fried calamari, which is one of my favorite forbidden foods. The udon though...not so good. Noodles were obviously handmade, but tough and not supple, without much flavor, and the broth was flavorless too! The bowl of noodles was pretty, with grated radish on top and hot pepper flakes on the side, just like you'd want it, but it just didn't taste like anything. The ramen was much better. And the tsukemono plate was beautiful. Lots of kinds of pickled vegetables--carrot, paper-thin radish slices, tiny radish cubes with red shiso, eggplant, lotus root, takuwan, and one big juicy umeboshi.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Good Day for Rain Barrels

Not that I have rain barrels to get working on that. Also on gutter cleaning. Did anyone else forget what rain sounded like? I was so surprised to hear the sound of heavy, steady rain this morning! Summers in Portland spoil me--months at a time without more than a sprinkle of rain.
I'm happy that all my plants are finally getting a DEEP drink of water. Especially the potatoes. Their roots are so deep, I don't think I ever give them quite as much water as they'd like.

A friend from high school is coming to town tonight and we're going to eat at Biwa! I'm excited...I haven't been there in at least a year! As I recall from the last time I was there, they make the best ramen I've had in Portland (and no, it isn't vegetarian) but their veggie options left something to be desired. Mainly I was grumpy about how they slapped what tasted like just plain miso on slabs of tofu and called it dengaku. Dengaku has a couple more ingredients in it which balance its flavors between salty and sweet, and give it a silky texture...plain miso is not a good substitute! (However, I did appreciate that Biwa uses my favorite locally made miso.)

Dengaku recipes vary in their proportions, but they always include miso (red or white), sake, and sugar. Some include an egg yolk for a smooth and glossy texture. You might start with three tablespoons of miso, 2 of sake, and 1 of sugar (with or without an egg yolk)--place all of these in your smallest pot, and cook over low heat, stirring, until smooth and uniformly thick. (You can also use the microwave, especially if you're not using egg yolk.) Taste and adjust sugar and sake amounts if it is too salty or too thick. Then brush onto sliced sweet potatoes and cook on the grill until sauce bubbles and caramelizes. That's my personal favorite way to use this sauce, but it's also great as a topping for grilled tofu or pan-fried eggplant.

Although I'm getting all judgmental about how to make tofu dengaku, please don't get judgmental about the local-ness of the food I'm about to devour--it's in my personal set of rules that I can eat at any restaurant as long as I'm not doing it excessively or purposely to avoid the effort of preparing something local.

Speaking of Japanese food, did you know that spinach crowns are "the most delicious part of spinach", according to a favorite cookbook of mine, Good Food from a Japanese Temple? I always try and save them from the compost bin when another person at my house cooks spinach greens. The whole crown, including lower stems, tiny inner leaves, the rosy connection between stem and root, and the little bit of attached root are all not only edible, but delicious. I wash them, soak them in clean water overnight to loosen even more dirt, and then boil them in salted water for about three minutes. They are good with just a little soy sauce or with a miso, sesame, or nut dressing.

And now for a picture of my CSA garden, which is a place I love so much that I want to take out-of-town guests there to this picture you can see castor bean (no, we're not going to eat it), quinoa, and sunflowers.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Reuben Pizza

I have a day off work today, so I'm sort of puttering around doing things on my to-do list and making good food. I finally pulled out the giant tomatillo plant that hasn't made a single tomatillo yet, and transplated a few little tatsoi starts in its spot in the garden. We have a big vase full of tomatillo flowers now.

My loaf of honey-wheat bread turned out pretty well, but with a little of that homemade-bread heaviness. I had some for breakfast with homemade Hood strawberry freezer jam and with Ann & Kelly's tomatoes. I'm not going to run out and use that recipe again, but hopefully I won't be foolish enough to ever have 2 cups of leftover porridge again!

Yesterday I picked up an entire flat of imperfect peaches for free, as well as a big bag of free pears that Theresa spotted on a walk around the neighborhood.

I made a huge vat of peach sauce, and cut up the peaches that were firm enough to cut and froze them. I'm thinking that the peach sauce might be a good base for peach ice cream? Or just on top of vanilla ice cream! Or we can eat it like applesauce. Or put it on pancakes or shortcakes! Or put some in the freezer for later...oh wait, the freezer is completely full. I really want a deep freeze so I can keep all my stores in it! Since I can't stop myself from collecting piles of whatever is in season and trying to preserve it, I think I deserve a place to keep my goodies. Any tips on what kind I should get?

For lunch I invented a new recipe that may sound strange. Reuben pizza! I made pizza crust with the caraway rye bread dough I had in the fridge (you have to get Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day out of the library if you don't own it!) and put leftover tomato sauce from yesterday's breakfast, homemade sauerkraut, and cheddar on top. I sweetened the tomato sauce with a little honey to make it taste more like Russian dressing. Then baked for 15 minutes at 475, and the pie was beautiful and really tasty. The crust might have been the best part--light, with little crispy air pockets, and those caraway seeds to remind you that it was no ordinary pizza. Call me Eastern European, but I love the flavor of warm cooked sauerkraut, and I would definitely make this pizza again!

The last thing I want to talk about today is the creepy mystery tomatoes growing my backyard. It looks like we've had a visit from Bunnicula! Two of the three unidentified tomato plants that my housemates brought home turned out to make eerily WHITE tomatoes. One of them is a white Roma, which I've never seen or heard of before! Even Google returns no results for "white roma tomato" perhaps we have the only ones in the world? Doubtful. Further investigation turns up "Ivory Egg" plum tomatoes, so that's probably what we've got. But compared to the pictures I found, ours are much whiter!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To Do

I must bake bread today! But first I have to clean out the fridge and make room for the bowl of bread dough. Do you know about the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day? Well, I got it for Christmas last year after using one of the recipes from it obsessively for months beforehand. Guess what? It really works! Well, actually, I always found that I had to turn the oven heat down and cook the loaves for about 30 extra minutes at the end of baking, but once I did that, the bread turned out great, and it was very convenient to be able to make four loaves over a period of two weeks with all the prep done on the first day.

Also on the to-do list for today is to print burning bridge cards...another job involving the fridge. The cards are made with Print Gocco and I keep the screens with ink on them in the freezer between uses. That keeps the ink from drying out and makes the screens last longer--cleaning them makes them wear out pretty quickly. I have to get some more cards to Elsa & Sam!

For breakfast today I made an egg (from my chickens) poached in fresh tomato sauce with basil. It was good, but would have been better with a piece of fresh-baked bread!

I went a little overboard with the bread-making. In my fridge there is dough for two loaves of honey-wheat bread with (you're gonna love this) COOKED GRAINS, aka leftover porridge, and also dough for three loaves of caraway rye. I couldn't wait for the second rising, so I made myself a single roll for lunch. It was the honey wheat, and thankfully, the whole grain bits taste great in it. I hope that the final product has a lighter texture, but even with the rising rushed, the roll was pretty good. Slowly rising in the fridge is a sandwich loaf of honey wheat that I plan to bake tonight, and I have two weeks to make the rye bread.

The lump of mashed potatoes-looking-stuff on my plate is actually a special treat: soft and delicious Black Sheep Creamery rosemary-garlic cheese. Also impressively good: Reliant grapes. You can get them at New Seasons right now, and you probably should.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

There's a reason why gruel went out of style!

Yesterday my friend Serena came over to pick tomatoes with her two little girls. The girls brought their Easter baskets and filled them up with pretty, multicolored cherry tomatoes--it was so cute! Theresa gave them some eggs from our chickens to take home in their baskets too.

The porridge never did get to a point that I would call appetizing, but then, I really dislike oatmeal and all hot cereals, so I don't know what gave me the idea that I would start liking it now. However, I am determined, so I made pan-fried porridge-cakes with kinpira-style vegetables for breakfast. I won't give the recipe for the cakes, because they were not so good that they should be repeated. But Kinpira vegetables are delicious. When I lived in Japan, Kinpira Gobo was one of my favorite foods...and I was in love with the Kinpira Gobo Burger from Mos Burger. It had two toasted cakes of rice for a bun, and a pile of warm Kinpira Gobo in the middle.

Here is my simple formula for making Kinpira vegetables at home. The usual vegetables are gobo (burdock root) and carrots, but I like to add shiitake mushrooms too. And today I also included small batons of turnip and a handful of cauliflower florets. (And left out the can find it here, but it's not exactly readily available. I got some last spring from Winter Green Farm at the farmer's market.)

Stir-fry about three cups of mixed vegetables, preferably including burdock, carrot, and shiitake mushrooms, all cut into slivers or strips, over high heat, in 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, with a light sprinkle of salt. (The traditional way of cutting vegetables for kinpira is to cut the roots as if you are sharpening a pencil, so you get sort of diamond-shaped slivers.) Add a few shakes of hot red pepper flakes. When vegetables are nearly done, add a generous tablespoon each of sake and soy sauce, and cook until there is almost no liquid left. Serve with toasted sesame seeds on top. (If you don't have sake, that's ok, just leave it out; sometimes I also add a teaspoon of sugar; and sometimes I leave out the sugar and add a clove of garlic.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 1: Local Food Challenge

So far so good: multi-grain biscuits, cheese, and applesauce for breakfast. Yum. My porridge turned out kind of awful though--not thick enough and the rye berries give it a strange sourness. I'm cooking it down to get it thicker, and then I'll see if I can make it taste better.

So It Begins...

September 1st, the first day of my second annual Local Foods Challenge. I'm up late working on food for tomorrow...went to the Alberta Street Co-op tonight to look for a few more local things--I was hoping to find walnuts and black beans, but no such luck. It's pinto beans and hazelnuts for us until the Saturday Farmer's Market where I hope to find another source of vegetarian protein. (There's always the Tillamook Medium Cheddar Baby Loaf, but I'm trying not to count on cheese for ALL of my protein.)

These are the local grains I've found:

Rye, whole grain and flour
Wheat, whole grain and both white and whole wheat flours
Farro, whole grain (a favorite for soups and grain salads)
Wild rice

Local beans:

Only pinto so far, but I've found cranberry beans, white beans, "sulfur beans", black beans, and a few other varieties in the past so I'm hopeful that I'll track down some other legumes.

Local nuts and seeds:

Pumpkin seeds (shelled)
I hope to find walnuts too. They're all over the street, but I'd like for someone else to get the green shells off for me if possible.

Local dairy products:

This one's easy. I have a milkman from Noris Dairy who brings me milk and yogurt every week, and there are so many good local cheeses at the Farmer's Market and in stores. I'm a fan of Fraga Farms' creamy chevre and goat feta. Plus Tillamook and Bandon are both only about three hours' drive from here, so their cheap 2-pound blocks of cheddar are always a good option. There's also my favorite butter, Rose Valley Organic.

Local vegetables:

In season now we have just about everything, including good staples like potatoes, turnips, beets, cauliflower, and carrots. Winter and summer squash, all kinds of salad and cooking greens, mountains of tomatoes, onions, garlic, you name it, it's available.

Local fruits:

Prune plums are coming in and a couple of other late plum varieties, Bartlett pears are dropping off the trees, a lot of apples are getting ripe, local grapes are just showing up in the markets, some fig varieties are getting ripe now, and Asian pears are also ready to eat. I've also got some dried and frozen peaches and frozen blackberries that I'm excited to eat.

Prepared foods:

I'll be baking bread, biscuits, and so on starting tomorrow. We have some apple-pear sauce that I made tonight. And in honor of National Trail Mix Day, some cherry-hazelnut-pumpkin seed trail mix. Also a little bit of hazelnut butter that would be good on apple slices. And I've got the crock pot going with some very coarsely ground grains which I hope will turn into porridge by morning!

Wish us luck, and if anyone else is up for joining the September Local Food Challenge please comment with tips and your experiences!

Happy Trail Mix!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Road Trip!

Olympia, Washington--the only place other than Portland that I've seriously considered living. It hasn't lured me away from my beloved city yet, but it's still a possibility. Also home to my dear friend Rob, who used to be my neighbor in Japan! Rob and I share a love of edible plants and a love of making things, so when we're together, we always talk gardens, share seeds, cook a lot, and do an art project like letterpress printing or making paper.

This weekend was a perfect example. We made spectacular zucchini bread with squash from Rob's sister, and then we spent the day making beautiful paper from scraps and ends of art paper I'd been saving up, and then we planted a bed of salad greens, and then I got to look through Rob's seeds and take home some kale plants too.

My girlfriend Theresa and I also took a hike right in the city and found it amazingly forestlike, complete with red huckleberries, my new obsession! I only just learned to identify them and tried them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and so I am still enchanted by them. Here I am picking and eating!

And here is the recipe for the zucchini bread we made:

I adapted it from this recipe, making changes to suit each of our desires. I wanted nuts and no cinnamon. Rob wanted ginger, and Theresa likes whole wheat. And all of us wanted to use as much zucchini as possible.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread!

You will need:

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons more to sprinkle on top
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (see directions below)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped or broken walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil two loaf pans.

If your walnuts aren't toasted yet, you can toast them in the oven while you're getting everything else ready. About ten minutes should do it, on a baking sheet. Let your nose tell you...when they snell good, they're ready. Be careful not to let them burn, which can happen quickly! Then let them cool.

First, grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. You will need about half of a baseball-bat-sized zucchini or one to two medium sized ones. Once you have a good pile grated, start taking handfuls of it and squeeze them out over the sink, getting out as much liquid as possible. This is important, so please don't skip this step. Put the dry handfuls into a measuring cup. Keep grating, squeezing, and measuring until you have two packed cups of squeezed-dry zucchini.

You'll need two bowls, one for wet ingredients, one for dry. In one bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda, ginger, and pepper, and give this mixture a good stir to get everything evenly distributed. In the other, whisk together the 1 1/4 cups sugar, eggs, yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir gently until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir just a tiny bit more to distribute them evenly. Don't overmix or you will have tough bread!

Pour the batter into the two load pans, sprinkle each loaf with a tablespoon of the reserved sugar to make a crispy sweet topping (trust me, you will be glad you did this!) and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer poked into the middle of a loaf comes out with just a few moist crumbs on it. Start checking at 50 minutes and don't panic if it takes 70.

Let the bread cook in the pan for at least ten minutes before you try turning it out onto a cooking rack, seriously. If you try to do it instantly the loaf will break into pieces and you'll be sad.

You may want to make a double recipe, because even though this makes two loaves, five people managed to finish both of them between breakfast and dinner in one day. We could have used two more, plus we sure had enough zucchini.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eat More Salad

Remember Michael Pollan and how he said we should all eat more greens? Well, I'm doing my best, but I would really rather eat more ice cream. But anyway, my CSA is helping a lot by giving me weekly piles of non-lettuce greens (my dirty secret: I don't like lettuce much). The past two weeks we've had these mild, crisp mustards with juicy white stems. They look like giant mizuna. Here's a pretty salad I made with those greens, carrots, cucumbers from my trip to Hood River, marigold petals, and backyard tomatoes. I've got a lot of chervil and parsley right now too, so those are in there as well.

If you've come over in the past week, I've probably made you look at The HerbFarm Cookbook, which I have out from the library. In case I haven't seen you since I checked it out, I'll take this opportunity to shove it into your virtual hands. Here! Don't you want to try Marjoram Cornbread? How about Roasted Beet, Dill, and Frisee Salad? Black Bean Soup with Apple? Well, I do, and if you make any of these things, feel free to invite me over for dinner.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Being a Gardener

Hooray, I planted today! Theresa is concerned, I think, about my choices...she said "You just keep planting salad!". It's true. I know that greens are going to grow quickly and that they'll survive the first part of winter so that we can have fall salads. I don't have the same confidence about anything else--difficulties with the supposedly easy beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, and carrots in the past have made me wary. Next month I can start planting garlic, which is always successful, but it's not quite time yet.

So, today's plantings:
Small rows of mache, arugula, and swiss chard
A small patch of assorted carrots and radishes (wish me luck--our soil is heavy, plus it is probably too late for fall carrots)
A patch of mixed greens including red kale, spicy microgreens, and Asian vegetable salad mix

And today's harvest:
A big bowl of cherry tomatoes
A large bunch of parsley
Chives (they're getting scraggly so I'm trimming them way back)
The last few sad scallions from my spring planting, some of which turned into little bulb onions

I think it's about time to make Parsley Pesto Beetza, a good way to use up all the produce we have. It's a kind of involved recipe, but I'll try and post it when I have a picture of it to share.

Who has a good idea of what to do with chives? I usually chop a few in salads, and my friend Fionn taught me to make mashed potatoes with a whole bunch of scallions in them, and I bet they would be just as good with chives instead. But aside from that, I haven't been doing much with them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hood River Ho!

Last weekend I met a friend of a friend who I've been hearing about forever. He lives with his wife and two nearly grown daughters on 20 stunning acres of forest near Hood River, with a creek, using only solar and hydroelectric power. He's got a swimming hole, ahuge vegetable garden, and a couple of small orchards, using only an acre or two of the land for his house and food plants. He gave me lots of inspiration and this piece of advice: "If you're a gardener, you should be planting. If you're not planting something every few weeks, you can't call yourself a gardener." This year I've been doing pretty well with planting every few weeks, planning for parts of my garden to become open for new plants. Mainly what this means is that I've been well supplied with salad greens continuously since early summer! Right now I have insane amounts of chervil and a plentiful supply of mild and spicy mustards. Coming soon, Gai Lan, Tatsoi, and wild arugula. Plus my CSA share has lettuces and greens most weeks, so I'm required to eat as much salad as possible. The one pictured here was my breakfast a few days ago. Although really, if I had my way, I would eat an egg and a carbohydrate for breakfast every day.

Egg on toast, egg and cheese on a fresh-baked biscuit, fried rice, and egg-and-onion donburi over rice are some of my favorites. Here is Agatha, Theresa's chicken and a frequent provider of my breakfast egg. I'm making an effort to eat more vegetables at breakfast, and a recipe I've had my eye on for a while now is salad with hot cubes of roasted potatoes mixed in like croutons, and a poached egg on top. Doesn't that sound good?

It's peach season at Sauvie Island Farms and I've been a couple of times in the past two my boss went and brought me back some more peaches! I believe that this week is the last week for peaches, so if you haven't picked yours yet, get out there, now! Only $1.00 per pound, and each peach weighs about a pound, so the picking couldn't be easier. At this very moment Christine's food dehydrator is humming away making some sweet dried peach slices for me to enjoy in my winter oatmeal. And also some fruit far I've made blackberry, plum, and grape using the glut of apples and pears that I keep picking up off the street, not to mention the ones I brought home from volunteering with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. I also made a couple of kinds of summer fruit jam--the really good one is Five Stone Fruits, with peach, nectarine, apricot, pluot, and plum. Theresa made watercolor painted labels for them that I love. It's going to be hard to give them away (or even to eat them) when they're so pretty!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Harvest

I planted an incredible number of tomato plants this summer--a half-dozen cherry tomato plants that I bought, plus another eight or ten that came up on their own, and then three more plants that my housemates brought home. My hope was to grow more cherry tomatoes than I could use--pints every day! Well, we're not quite there yet, but I hope that the heaviest harvests are yet to come. For now we're getting a good handful or two every day.

I wanted to be able to make those pretty salads from the food magazines with many colors and shapes of tomato, so I'm growing red, orange, yellow, green, white, and black tomatoes in round, plum, grape, and pear shapes. Mexico Midget is the one with the least appropriate name, but it is great. I planted it last year and this year several babies came up on their own. They are very early, prolific producers of tiny round red tomatoes. Then there's Sungold, a hybrid orange cherry tomato of incredible, tropical tasting sweetness. Snow White is another hybrid, with pale peachy-yellow, mild flavored tomatoes. Then we have a couple of yellow currants, or at least that's what I think they are--neither of them came with a tag. Green Grape is kind of a disappointment, with only a few fruits, but they're pleasantly yellow-green, crisp, and tangy when ripe. Black Plum is having a little trouble with blossom-end rot but is still making tons of two-inch long, dark-colored and deep-flavored tomatoes. Sugar Snack is another red cherry, which makes 18-inch long trellises of the glossiest plump red tomatoes, like a perfect garden magazine photo. And then we have a yellow pear and a few unknown varieties of full sized tomatoes.

This is the first year that I've ever harvested more than one squash from my garden. Our yard is shady and so squash plants succumb to powdery mildew really quickly and get sick and die usually after producing one single squash. I credit Theresa because she planted the squash this year. These two crooknecks were picked on the same day--my largest ever squash harvest! That plus the many squash I've been getting in my farm share has pushed me to try new squash preparations...after I went through all my favorites. The best new recipe I've come up with is yellow squash pickles, which I like to call...


Enough yellow squash to fill a quart jar, about 2-3 medium crooknecks or small zucchini
1/2 medium sweet onion, white or red (red will make the pickles pinkish)
1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered

1 tablespoon pure salt (not iodized), such as pickling salt
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon each of yellow mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and celery seeds
a few whole peppercorns
a shake of red pepper flakes or a few rings of fresh hot pepper, optional

Special equipment:
A tempered glass quart jar with a lid (a canning jar)

Thinly slice the squash, about 1/8 inch thick. Leave the necks in rounds, but if the squash bodies are very fat, halve or quarter them before slicing. Thinly slice the onion as well. Toss the squash and onion together and pack the mixture into the quart jar, tucking the garlic in too.

Then, combine all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil in a saucepan or microwave, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Taste and add more salt or sugar if desired. Pour hot vinegar syrup over the squash in the jar, put the lid on, and press the squash down, making sure it's completely covered with the liquid. (If it isn't, let it sit and check again in an hour; the squash will release a lot of water. Just make sure the squash is covered in pickling liquid after the first hour, or any exposed parts will spoil.) Put the jar in the fridge for at least two hours or up to a month. The sweet, salty, sour, and spice-infused pickles are delicious on a veggie burger, with hot rice, or as a snack. These pickles keep decently in the fridge for quite a while, but do try to eat them all within a month, and if you ever see mold growing in the jar, throw the rest of the pickles away.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Local Food Challenge--September 2009!

My friend Dina told me yesterday that I should start a food blog. Maybe she just wants me to stop talking about food in other contexts. But this seemed like a good time to start, since it's harvest season like crazy in Portland, I am doing food preservation of some kind almost every day, AND I'm gearing up for my second annual personal Local Food Challenge. My girlfriend and I chose September, the easiest possible month to subsist entirely on locally produced and processed food. With a few exceptions (selected after doing a hard-core local diet last September that wasn't very much fun), all of our food will come from Oregon or Washington.

These are the exceptions: salt and spices, lemon and vinegar (although I did start a batch of homemade apple cider vinegar a week ago), cooking oils (we primarily use olive oil from California), chocolate, coffee (only for Theresa, not for me!), and sugar only for use in food preservation.

Want to join us? All you have to do is decide to eat only local foods next month! Pick out a few things you can't live without to make it easy. Then get all your groceries from the many Farmer's Markets, People's co-op, New Seasons, your backyard, and your CSA. Once you figure out the big stuff, like where to get your grains and protein, it takes no work at all. My hints to you, if you live in Portland, Oregon: Shepherd's Grain flour, which is outstandingly delicious, is grown and processed in Washington, and you can buy it at People's, Pastaworks, and the Sellwood farmer's market. People's also carries locally grown and fantastic black beans, farro, dried cranberries, dried Ranier cherries, and nuts. And Freddy Guy's has local hazelnuts and wild rice.

Coming soon: pictures.