Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trickin' and Treatin'

Here's a little bit of Halloween fun for you, Coffee Mates. Punch lines are at the top and the forward, back and pause controls are on the little pumpkins at the bottom. The spooky sounds are NOT your computer dying.
The pictures are some that have been floating around for ages and seem to no longer come with attribution. I just want to thank whoever (whomever?) created them and then turned them loose for the rest of us.
Happy Halloween!
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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bacchanalian Biscuits

Okay, let's be fair. Those could just as easily be men waiting for the perfect woman. Sure, you can tell the sex if you know a bit about bones but I don't think that picture is going to give you the necessary clues.

Anyway (number one), it's just a photo that always gives me a chuckle because, truthfully, I think perfection would be not only a bit intimidating, it could become downright boring. A few flaws here and there add character and zest to a personality.

Anyway (number two), skeletons go with Halloween and Halloween is almost upon us so this seemed fitting. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Anyway (number three), I forgot to recharge the batteries for the digicam so I don't have a picture of the result of the kewl new biscuit recipe I found. Yeah. You had to know I'd get back to food, one way or the other.

It sort of started with John and his Winter Chicken stew because I only used part of the chicken for the stew. Some of it went into the stew, some into the freezer, but all the scrap meat went into a roasting pan and then the oven. This morning I dredged through the roaster mess, scooping out fat and bones and chunks of skin and gristle until I was left with only lovely bits of meat and jellied juices. Looked like chicken gravy material to me, that's what.

Then my friends, Jack and Nanley, allowed as how they'd stop in for lunch after they pulled a morning run up Floras Creek, looking for potential venison. Hooboy, I said to myself. Bet they'd appreciate a hot lunch of chicken gravy and biscuits because it's a bit on the nippy side out there. (By the way, Nanley is actually Nancy but I've always called her Nanley and I don't have a clue why. It works for us.)

The gravy was easy. In a small skillet, I caramelized half a Vidalia sweet onion with some pretty fair chardonnay and added it to the chicken and jellied juices in the roasting pan. Then a little sea salt and seasoned pepper, bring it to a mild boil and add some thickening persuasion via corn starch (I think you Brits call it corn flour?) and the chicken gravy was almost as good as chocolate.

Jack and Nanley didn't know it but they were about to become my official Taste Testers for the biscuits. I tried out the recipe yesterday (in halved proportions) and liked it okay but felt the buttermilk was a bit overwhelming. Today, my approach was to do the full recipe but substitute beer for part of the buttermilk.

I can hear you muttering, "Is the woman mad? Wine in the gravy. Beer in the biscuits. Next thing you know, she'll be putting whiskey in the coffee."

Heh! Yup. Yuppers. That's what we did. When I look at what I've just written, I have to admit it sounds like a bacchanalian orgy of truly decadent proportions. It wasn't. Honest. And anyway, the biscuit project was a success. The beer proved to be a perfect balance to the buttermilk. And the biscuits themselves are wonderfully light and moist, even after they get cold. That's the best part. The next-to-best part is how much fun they are to make. Here's how it goes:

First you preheat the oven to 475 degrees fairyheight and spray (or oil or butter) an 8" cake pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix well. Cut in 4 tablespoons butter until there are only pea-sized lumps.

Stir in 1 cup buttermilk and 2/3 cup beer. (If you don't want to use beer, milk, cream or water will work just fine.) Don't overmix, just blend everything good. Let stand a few minutes. The dough will be VERY wet, like cottage cheese. That's the way it's supposed to be. Now comes the fun part ...

Toss a cup of flour in another mixing bowl and line up that bowl, the bowl with the biscuit mixture and the greased pan. Grab a couple of soup spoons and use them to extract a lump of dough from the biscuit batter and dump it into the flour. Now, give the flour bowl a couple or three gentle tosses to spin the dough lump, covering it completely with flour. Dust your hands with some of the flour, pick up the dough ball, then toss it back and forth between your hands, shaking off the excess flour. It's like playing with a water balloon.

When the lump of dough is pretty well dusted off and more or less round (if you define "round" as squiggily-lumpy-funny), place it in the greased pan. Continue with dough ball after dough ball, tucking each one in snugly against the others. You want the biscuits to grow UP instead of out so crowding is a Good Thang.

Put the pan in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes. When the biscuits are done, pull them out of the oven and let them sit for a couple of minutes. Then dump them out of the pan, break them apart and serve immediately to the cheering multitudes. When split open and covered with chicken gravy -- or ANY righteous gravy -- these biscuits will fill your tummy, soothe your soul and cure the heartbreak of psoriasis. They'll make you smile, too. What more can you ask from a comfort food?

Monday, October 29, 2007

One-Liner Wisdom

A friend sent me a selection of these "old fart" bumper stickers. (Thanks, Kate H.!) and I was so tickled I had to go to the web site to read them all. Don't have liquids in your mouth when you browse. I'm just warning you.

Lord, you know this might not be a bad idea. As long as they give you enough vowels. They could make a bonus offer where you get a free case of soup if you can guess the mystery sentence in the contents of the can you open.


Okay. I don't want to hear any more grumbling about the calories in my recipes or I'm gonna wave this one at you. (Insert smile.)

In spite of what you may be thinking, this one has absolutely nothing to do with the previous one. The squirrel has obviously not been able to replace anything with food.

Now there is an attitude to admire. One can only hope it's the gift that keeps on giving. Well -- as long as it's giving good stuff. More or less. I'm not that hard to please, all things considered.

You realize, of course, we have become a society that reveals its innermost psyche in bumper stickers and tee shirts. Sometimes I have to wonder what the ancients would have thought of us. I have to believe they wouldn't approve of the way we blurt it all out on vehicles and bosoms. Look at the kazillions of yards of perfectly clean linen togas they had -- and not a single slogan among them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Think I "Get" It

I think I finally "get" it. Maybe. It really is a bit confusing, all things considered.

See, there is this relationship between our cocky high hat popovers and the Brit's traditional Yorkshire Pudding, in that they share pretty much the same ingredients and often even the same proportions, given the variations in the recipes for both. To make matters more confusing, a lot of people use the terms interchangeably. I would read the recipes and think, well, really -- they're the same breed of cat. Just raised in different litters, that's all.

For some time now, my buddy John has been trying to enlighten me but the essential difference between the two was hidden by the essential sameness. All I could see was, hey -- flour, milk and/or water, eggs, seasoning -- you will always end up with either popovers or Yorkie puds -- or Dutch Baby pancakes, fer cryin' out loud.

Then something John said the other day flipped a switch in my alleged mind. He was talking about making some of his famous Winter Chicken Stew with Yorkie Puds and he promised to share the recipe with his readers. (And he did -- if you follow the above link, you, too, can enjoy a truly fabulous dish.) What he said was something to the effect that one served the stew by ladling it into -- into -- the Yorkshire puddings and he recommended the 6-inchers.

Oh wait. Wait just a flippin' minute. My popovers are baked in muffin tins (no, I don't have the similar-but-deeper popover pan) and I split 'em and slather them with butter but I don't serve my meal IN them. They're not big enough for that.

Then a vision of past Dutch Babies floated across my mind's eye and I sighed. Of course. It isn't the ingredients. It isn't the name. It's how the thing is used. At least that was my working theory when I went googling for a proper Yorkie pud recipe. There is most definitely an abundance of those out there and I consider myself fortunate that I didn't get too far in before I found and chose to try a rough version offered on a cooking forum. The fellow said it came from a celebrity chef and always worked. (More about that in a minute.) The trick, he said, was to measure the ingredients in equal portions by volume.

For instance, take a cup. Any size cup, be it precision measuring cup, coffee mug or gallon whiskey jug. But be sure to use the same cup for all the ingredients. If you use 1 cup of flour, then you also use 1 cup of eggs and 1 cup of milk. (This recipe called for half milk and half water in that turn with the cup.)

Okay, fine. But I measured the eggs first because a whole cup of eggs sounds like a huge amount. I guess not. Three eggs gave me 2/3 of a cup and I decided that would be fine because I didn't want to make a big Yorkie. (Insert chilling background music and an ominous voice-over saying, "Little did she know.")

So I whupped up 2/3 cup of flour, 2/3 cup of eggs, and 2/3 cup of half milk and half water. To that I added, as instructed, a toss of salt and a toss of malt vinegar. Well, I didn't have any malt vinegar but the cider vinegar seemed to work. At least it didn't do any harm.

I did that early, before I'd properly started the chicken stew, and left it covered, at room temperature for a couple of hours. When it was finally time to cook it, all I had to do was give it a quick whisk and pour it in the pan. After looking over my pan supply, I decided to use the 10" casserole dish. Larger than the 6-incher John recommended but it's the best I could do.

Now, it's very important the batter is poured into a hot pan with sizzling oil (or meat drippings) of choice. I put in roughly 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter and put the pan in a 400 degree fairyheight oven for about 10 minutes. The butter was beginning to sputter. I think the idea behind pouring the batter into the hot oil is to let it hit the ground running when it's time to cook. Well, you'd move fast, too, if somebody sat you down in hot oil.

I don't know what I expected, really. Certainly I've never had a Dutch Baby behave so aggressively. When I peeked in the oven window somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes into the 30-minute baking span, I nearly fainted. The Yorkie was most visibly swelling up with a speed that made me think it must be on steroids. I knew I would have to defend myself with a chair and a whip if it ever got the oven door open.

Then I became utterly enchanted as I watched it form itself into the most wonderful edible bowl. And now I was pretty sure this was the kind of thing John had been talking about. Although he didn't mean for it to be this large. To give you an idea of scale, that's my 2-gallon kettle right beside the Yorkie.


I happily ladled the entire chicken stew into what turned out to be a perfect fit. It's a thick stew and, when I went for seconds a little while ago, it had cooled enough in the fridge that I could actually cut it like a piece of pie before I put it in the microwave for a quick nuke. Too kewl.

Here are some neat sites for you, should you care to explore a bit further. The celebrity chef who seems to be associated with my recipe is Brian Turner and you can see his version of the story here. I love his explanation for the presence of vinegar in the recipe. If you go to Recipezaar, you will be staggered by 44 recipes for the beastie, many of them with photos. It's a fun browse -- you'll get a chuckle out of the Swedish Yorkshire Pudding, I promise. Especially if you know any Norse drinking songs.

Finally, in trying to find a good site to illustrate the Dutch Baby pancake, I was delighted to find Orangette. Her writing knocks me out and I can't wait to click back to the page and read some more. But do read about her Dutch Baby morning. It's a delicious entry in more ways than one.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Waxing and Waning

See that cheap, tacky, plastic vase? It happened to be what was selected at the florist's when someone sent me some flowers. The bouquet was wonderful. I have never liked the vase. So the whole thing yesterday with waxing the leaves was just one step in the process of upgrading the vase from its commercial tacky state to a far more elegant homemade tacky state. A little serious decoupage seemed to be the solution.

A word about waxing the leaves -- okay, lots of words. I have already slipped an editorial warning into yesterday's post -- in red ink, no less -- that one should NOT skip the ironing step. It really didn't seem to be drawing out any moisture so I wrongly assumed there wasn't a significant amount to draw. So, yes, iron your leaves. What the heck. That's the most use my iron has had in years.

As for the waxing method itself, I guess it depends on what you want to do with the leaves. If one is going to mount them on some kind of display, I would suggest a bit of Tacky Glue to attach them, then at least two good coats of Mod Podge -- or some kind of clear sealer -- over them, letting them dry between coats. I'm not at all sure the results will be very durable unless protected behind glass or something. After 24 hours, the waxed leaves seemed a bit on the brittle side. Prettier than dry brittle but brittle is not a Good Thang.

I was able to use some of the leaves on the vase but it took some careful juking and jiving to get it done. If they had been just a bit more pliable, I could have attached them smoothly with just the Mod Podge. Had to use the Tacky Glue to hold them down, then go over them with the MP. When the surface was dry enough to touch without stickiness, I pressed the leaves flatter with my fingers, easing out air pockets and sealing edges.

I'm finding out I could have saved time in the long run -- with a better result -- if I'd just done the encasing procedure with Mod Podge in the first place, never mind the wax. You brush MP on one side of each leaf, let it dry, turn it over and brush the other side. (We're talking about well-ironed leaves here, she said with a rueful smile.) Do at least two coats. I have a few leaves I did that way today with just the two coats. I'll see how they look tomorrow. If all goes well, I'll add a couple more coats and then they should store nicely until I want to use them in a decoupage project down the road.

In fact, I slathered a thick layer of MP on one of the over-curled waxed leaves and hung it by its stem from a clip over the sink. It's magically gone from brittle to flexible. If that condition holds, perhaps I can rescue the other waxers that waned on me.

Oh! Kate, you were asking about the experiment with the hydrangea blossoms. The ones I had ironed were so delicate I couldn't wax them. The un-ironed ones waxed up great -- but had turned brown by this morning. So much for that idea. However, some blossoms I hadn't done anything with seem to have dried quite nicely on their own overnight and aren't quite as delicate as their ironed brethren. So I have a bunch more laid out on the paper and I'll see how they look in the morning. Will let you know.

As for the vase, well, first I covered it with Mod Podge and laid on torn pieces of green tissue paper, purposely encouraging wrinkling to achieve texture. Then another coat of MP. The leaves went over that after it had dried. There have been a couple more coats of MP and there really should be some kind of clear acrylic or varnish sealer before I pronounce it finished. In the meantime, I stuck a few sprigs of fresh rosemary in it and called the project Done-Almost-But-Not-Quite. And there you have it: homemade domestic tacky.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wax My WHAT?

There are an astonishing number of different ways to preserve leaves and flowers, most of which require items I don't have handy or more time than I want to spend. It's not that I'm impatient, it's that I'd rather not wait.

Then I tripped over a most enlightening article by artist Cynthia Padilla at Garden and Hearth. "How To Preserve Autumn Leaves in Liquid Wax," she tempted ever so fetchingly. It didn't take me long to figure out this was my kind of gig, especially when part of her instruction was to begin the process by pouring yourself a mug of your favorite steamy beverage. Obviously a woman of great good sense.

The instructions are brief and simple so I won't go into detail here. Please do click over to the above link and print off a copy of the page for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

Basically, once you've gathered your leaves, you need to fix your work area. Ms. Padilla suggests sheets of waxed paper for laying out the leaves but I find one gets a sturdier and broader work area by putting down a length of butcher paper, shiny side up, and duct taping the corners to keep it flat. Because I've seen the question asked at other sites, let me explain that butcher paper is also called freezer paper and rolls can be found in cutter boxes in either the canning section or paper goods section of your supermarket.

You need a shallow container for the wax -- either a pan or deep dish you don't care about or one of those handy formed foam trays in which your meat is packed. Luckily, I had saved a couple from when I got family packs of chicken breasts. Perfect, as it turns out.

The wax. She didn't specify any particular type, beyond that it be liquid. There just happened to be a jug of good ol' Mop 'n Glo under the sink so that's what I used. It seems to work fine. You will note in the picture below, the tray seems to be raised on one end. Truth is, that's just a result of the very uneven floor up here. And the tilt turned out to be a good idea. I could dip the leaf at the deep end and efficiently tap off excess wax at the high end.

She says to iron the leaves between a couple of sheets of newspaper to flatten them a bit. I did that with some, then skipped that step with the others. The leaves are easier to handle when they have a bit of curve. Although leaving out that step saves time, I don't know if it will cause any problems down the line. We'll see.

Update: Do NOT skip the ironing step! I really didn't see that the ironing took out much moisture, if any, so didn't worry about the flattening effect. Evidently, what little moisture there is needs to be gone. The leaves I'd ironed stayed mostly flat. The ones that escaped the iron, curled up overnight and looked like a bunch of little crabs walking across the paper. More about the process in the next post.

I found it was a good idea to have a slightly damp paper towel in hand when turning the leaves to enable them to dry on each side. A quick swipe with the towel on the butcher paper cleaned any lingering drips so the leaf could be set back down on a dry space.

Those fluffy mounds just past the work area are blossoms off the hydrangea bush. I'm also experimenting with waxing the individual blossoms from the big clusters. There must be all kinds of things I could be dipping in wax. Ralph should maybe keep a low profile for awhile.

And it's that simple, Coffee Mates. Iron first, dip and dry, then dip and dry a second time and have another cuppa. While you're sipping, admire the way the wax seems to intensify the color in the leaves. Wonderful. Now we'll just have to see how long they last with the wax treatment. At least I know I won't have to buff them.

(By the way, did you know if you click on the photos, you will see a bigger version? I mention that because the detail in the waxed leaves above shows more clearly in the large size.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cauliflower Out of Proportion

Usually I can look at a recipe and have a pretty good idea about the volume of the finished product. Usually. Sometimes my sense of proportion seems to have taken a vacation without leaving a forwarding address. The above picture is an illustration of what happens when I sail into something without a clear vision of the goal. It happened like this ...

There was this big head of cauliflower in the refrigerator. Cauliflower, I am learning, is a much more versatile vegetable than I had realized for far too many years. It's great fun to explore new and different ways of dealing with it. Then I ran across a recipe that sounded SO good. Something called Curried Cauliflower and Redskin Potatoes. Well sure. Why not? This is more or less the way it went:

You can skip this first step if you want to go strictly vegetarian. It wasn't in the recipe, just in my personal vision of nirvana. I diced up some sliced bacon and fried it in my big wok-style frying pan, then drained the bits on paper toweling and set them aside. Then I dumped one large, chopped Vidalia onion into the drippings and cooked it on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then, until the onion bits were soft and slightly browned. You can start the process with a tablespoon of olive oil for your onion and get to the same place I did.

Then I added a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic (or you can use two cloves, smashed or minced), 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and a bare teaspoon of red curry paste. The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of curry powder but I didn't have any. I was also supposed to add 1/2 teaspoon of coriander and I would have sworn I had some. Maybe I do but I still haven't located it. Ah well. I stirred all that around for about a minute and then added 3 small potatoes that had been cubed up while I was waiting for the onions to cook. They weren't redskin potatoes but, hey, that's a minor technicality. Then I added 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and 2 cups of liquid. The recipe called for the liquid to be water. Well, where's the fun in that? I opened a can of beer, added enough water to make 2 cups, and poured it in. Brought everything to a rolling boil, turned the heat to low, put a lid on it and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

While it was simmering away, I wrestled the cauliflower into submission, scoring a bowl of neat little flowerettes. It pretty much filled a bowl. I looked at the cauliflower and I looked at my big frying pan with its gently bubbling contents. Oops. All of this is not going to fit in there, even if I pray for a miracle. Time to make an adjustment and implement Plan B.

I hauled my BIG kettle out (I dunno -- I think it holds a couple of gallons.) and transferred the onion and tater mixture from the frying pan to the roomier accommodation. Then I dumped in the bowl of cauliflower and about a cup and a half of frozen peas. Oh -- I also dumped the bacon bits into the mix. Brought it back to a boil, stirred everything good, turned it back down to simmer, put a lid on it and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Well! I'm here to tell you, that is a wicked good meal. I was kicking myself for not having thought to whip up a little pot of rice because the cauliflower mixture would have been nice, ladled over a fluffy pile of, say, jasmine rice. Just as well I didn't. I had one small bowl and feel as though I've indulged in a seven-course dinner. Hooboy, that is some kind of fill'erup food.

Oh -- for a change, I found I'd under-estimated the amount of curry paste. Which is okay. I just sprinkled a healthy portion of my precious Mrs. Dash Southwestern Chipotle seasoning over my portion. Total perfection.

The fact that I have so much left is rather a bonus. I'm already planning on fixing a little bit of dill sauce to go with one serving. For another, I think I'll make a bit of beer/cheese sauce and bake it. Then I think I'll freeze the rest for another day. Who needs a sense of proportion?

Prayers and major mojo for our friends in the San Diego area. The fact of the fire is only part of their grief.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Faux For Fun

I don't know about all y'all but I'm always finding myself wanting to try a recipe, only to discover I'm lacking an essential ingredient or two. Or three. There was a time when, if that happened, one either did without or had to wait until the next foray into the aisles of one's friendly local supermarket. With the advent of the mighty Web, we can now sift and dredge for the cream of ingenuity in substitution genius. If we're lucky, the suitable substitution can be found on a pantry shelf or hidden in the refrigerator.

A 'for-instance" can be illustrated with my use, yesterday, of a slice of minced dill pickle for capers. Yes, darlin' Mage, I promise you, pickles are mentioned often in that role. I imagine the thinking there is that one pickled object can replace another pickled object. In small amounts, it surely couldn't hurt. Of course, never having actually tasted capers, I wouldn't know the difference. (insert smile) To be fair, the most often mentioned substitute for capers is a pickled portion of the nasturtium plant. Which portion depends on the source. Here you'll find a recipe for Poor Man's Capers, made with pickled nasturtium seed pods. Other sources say the pickled flowers and buds will serve that purpose. Pickled elder flowers also have been recommended for the job, as have the buds of marsh marigold, broom and some species of thistle. I guess what matters is what you have on hand ... and what I had on hand was a pickle.

Milk is such a universal ingredient, you just about have to have a supply on hand, in one form or another. Since I don't drink the stuff, if I want to keep it available, I need to store a supply of either powdered milk or evaporated milk. With a little bit of messing around, either of those forms can be pressed into service for something they aren't.

Evaporated milk, for instance, can be used to make a mock sour cream or even mayonnaise. Yes, that's the New Zealand mayo I was taunting you with yesterday. In the photo above, you see two measuring cups containing evaporated moo-juice. The one on the left is the faux sour cream, on the right is the NZ mayo. I only had one can of evap so had to halve the recipes. I'll give you the full version, though, just in case.

The sour cream was really quite simple. To 8 ounces of evaporated milk, add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let stand for 5 minutes. That's it. That's all there is. Okay, we all know adding vinegar or lemon juice to any milk will give you a substitute for sour milk or buttermilk for cooking. Adding it to the evap does the same thing but it doesn't get any thicker. I'm sorry but I expect sour cream to be thick, dammit. As for flavor, okay, it tasted like it lived in the same general neighborhood as the sour cream. Perhaps in the little house at the end of the road with the nasturtiums climbing the fence. (wink)

Scratch the sour cream experiment. That boat won't float. Although it did work just fine in a bread recipe so it wasn't wasted.

Now the other measuring cup. I ran across a discussion group talking about things like this and one lady swore, in New Zealand, they don't call it mayo unless it's made like this: 1 can evaporated milk, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and about 2 ounces of vinegar. Stir with a fork and let stand to thicken.

Now this is tasty. It doesn't get any thicker than, say, hand lotion, but it would serve very nicely as a salad dressing. In fact it's very like cole slaw dressing. It does make a nice spread on a slice of bread but you have to be careful you don't slather on so much it runs over the edge. I can imagine experimenting with different seasonings and using it pretty much anywhere you might put sauces. And if you need to be cautious about such things, you can take comfort in the fact that there is neither egg nor oil in the mixture.

I consider this a good change of pace from regular mayo. But New Zealand folks need to know (whispering) it ain't mayo!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thanks For All The Fish

Maybe I've been reading too much Douglas Adams. I look at that photo and have this overwhelming urge to say, "Thanks for all the fish!"

Nah. One cannot possibly read too much Douglas Adams. But I do thank ol' Poseidon for the gift of salmon, a key ingredient in the above. Just for the record, said above is Baked Potato Stuffed with Smoked Salmon Souffle. As you will see, there have been some slight variations in the core recipe but that only proves the basic premise is a highly flexible one. I'm going to give you the recipe as I found it on the everlovin' web, then I'll tell you how I tweaked it.

You'll need:

4 large baking potatoes
Sea salt flakes
3 ounces smoked salmon, cut into strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, diced
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
Salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Wash potatoes, dry, prick with fork or knife. Oil skin and sprinkle with sea salt.
2. Bake in 400 degree oven (205 C) for about 1 hour. Remove when done and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees (175 C).
3. In a bowl, combine salmon, chives, capers and sun-dried tomatoes and set aside.
4. While potatoes are still hot, cut off a 1/2 inch slice lengthwise and reserve those slices for another purpose. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving about a 1/4 inch shell. Push the scooped out flesh through a potato ricer, food mill, or sieve into a large bowl.
5. Place potato shells on a cookie sheet.
6. Add butter to the potato and mix well.
7. Heat milk to just below boiling, then beat into potato mixture. Beat the egg yolks and add to the potato mixture, blending well. Stir in the salmon mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
8. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold in a third of the whites to loosen the mixture, then gently fold in the rest.
9. Spoon the mixture into the potato shells, heaping the tops. Bake on cookie sheet in oven for 15 to 20 minutes until slightly risen and lightly browned on top.

Okay. Here's how I messed with it. First, I only had two bakers. I didn't have any smoked salmon but I had a 6-ounce can of salmon and some dry smoke seasoning. (If you have honest-to-goodness smoked salmon, for goodness sakes, USE it. Ain't nothing better!) I drained the salmon and dropped it in a bowl, sprinkled it with the smoke seasoning and forked it around a bit.

Didn't have any capers, either. I never have capers. But I'm told gherkins are a fine substitute. Didn't have any gherkins. (Insert shrug.) But I had some sandwich-sliced dill pickles so I grabbed one slice and minced it up good.

My "sun-dried" tomatoes were what I dehydrated and weren't stored in oil. Not a problem. I diced some up and rehydrated them with a bit of boiling water, then added them to the salmon.

Didn't have any fresh chives. (Do you see a pattern developing here?) But I have some great Vidalia sweets. Diced up about a quarter of one and threw it in the mix.

I had completely forgotten to eat today so my tummy was giving me fourteen kinds of nag-nag-nag. That's why I shaved about 45 minutes off the prep time by baking the spuds in the microwave. They really are better if done in the oven, though. I'm just saying ...

That stuff about running the potato flesh through a ricer or whatever is a hound that doesn't hunt in this house. I plopped in a lump of butter and had at the mess with my immersion blender. Zap! Zap! Perfectly smooth mashed spud. Didn't do the milk bit as per the recipe. I happen to have some New Zealand mayo (more about that later) so I spooned in an appropriate amount and hit it with the blender again. Added the egg yolk (since I only had the two potatoes, I only used one egg) and whipped it up good. Then the egg white went in and, just for laughs and giggles, I sprinkled in some of my beloved Mrs. Dash Southwestern Chipotle seasoning.

Into the oven for 20 minutes and -- be still my heart -- my dinner was perfectly done. Several dinners, in fact. As hungry as I was, there is still a hefty third of one potato left. That will be my midnight snack. The other one may or may not be consumed tomorrow. I might freeze it for later.

The slabs I set aside? That'll be perfect for football munching tomorrow. First I'll slather on some of that New Zealand mayo, then sprinkle on some of my McCormick's Dilly seasoning with onion, garlic, dill and lemon. On top of that I'll sprinkle shredded cheddar and on top of that I'll sprinkle some chipotle. Into the oven for a slow broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly and I'm ready for some football!

The New Zealand mayo? That's a teaser. I'll 'splain about it tomorrow, somewhere between football games.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Slip-slidin' Away

Remember Deborah Kerr, that elegant lady who really should be remembered for more than that beach scene with Burt Lancaster?
She died Tuesday, age 86.

Remember Teresa Brewer, that bouncy, brown-eyed tiny lady with the huge voice? (Bing Crosby called her the Sophie Tucker of the Girl Scouts.)
She died Wednesday, age 76.

Remember Joey Bishop, the "mouse" of the Rat Pack, top-flight comedian and excellent actor? (In recent times, he claimed a drug store where he lives has enabled him to "stay alive legally.")
He also died Wednesday, age 89.

In a manner of speaking, I grew up with these people and I really hate to see them go. Of the three, though, I miss Teresa Brewer the most. Her life was more remarkable than I had realized. Didn't know she was a musical prodigy who has been performing since the age of two. Didn't know she had never taken music lessons and was unable to read music. But you can, if interested, get a much fuller picture at her fan site, the Teresa Brewer Center.

What always impressed me about Teresa was that fantastic voice. She could go from Betty Boop to Bessie Smith without blinking a lash. Never a false note. No matter whether she was doing a ballad or a blowout, every note was under perfect control. She could sound like delicate liquid crystal and switch effortlessly to an earthy Harley-Davidson power rumble.

To illustrate that last statement, I'm going to share a video of Teresa doing a couple of Hank Williams songs. Even if you don't "do" country, listen to what she does with that voice. Personally, I think this is the most beautiful cover of "Your Cheatin' Heart" I've ever heard. Enjoy ... And thanks, Tessie.



Aw gee, I can't resist one more. I think this one was done in the seventies and, regretfully, can't find any information about the gentleman tickling the ivories. This was a single, released on RCA's Signature label. As often happens with these videos, the quality of the picture isn't great but you can certainly enjoy the sound!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Possible eBay Project

I'm calling this my Autumn Stew and filing it under All's Well That Ends Well -- I Think. It turned out to be scrump-diddly-icious -- which is Goddess-speak for "Hot dayum but that's good!" Which is only fair because I went through seventeen kinds of fresh hell to achieve it.

You know how I was figuring on sprouting those Cranberry beans? Yeah. Well, I must have done something wrong because when I checked them this morning, the damned things not only weren't showing even the slightest indication they were going to cooperate in the project, they were starting to get slimy! Bleech! I took that as a personal insult, given that I've been faithfully and frequently rinsing them since Friday evening. Nothing for it but to dump the whole batch in the garbage and start fresh.

Only this time I figured to do them the regular way. No more Ms. Plupatient. (If pluperfect means "more than perfect," I figure plupatient is a legitimate extrapolation.) Anyway, I brought them to a boil, let 'em bubble for 2 minutes, turned off the heat, put on the lid and let them soak for an hour. Then drain, rinse, cover with water, bring to a boil again, and turn heat down so they will cook nicely while my back is turned. Because I had other things to do.

Well, guess I didn't turn the heat down far enough. Seemed like no time at all had gone by when I walked into the kitchen for a refill of the sacred brew, only to realize there was an ominous stench of scorched beans in the air. I had let them burn dry! In my really good cookware, I might add.

A quick dose of hot water and baking soda and a lot of expletive deleteds later, the pot was like new again, another batch of beans hit the garbage and I had calmed down enough to say, "Okay, third time, etc." and started yet another pot of beans. I figure at that point I'd bollixed up about a buck-fifty in beans. Don't you just hate when that happens?

This time I made sure the heat was low enough and that there was plenty of water because those puppies sure soak up the moisture. Remember that nice squash I cooked and cubed and put up in quart-sized freezer bags? One of those turned out to be just right to add to the beans. Then half a Vidalia sweet onion sliced thin, two more cups of water and some chicken bullion, a sprinkle of cayenne and a handful of some of those pineapple chunks I was drying. As the squash broke down, it provided just the right amount of thickening for the stew, which I thought was considerate.

I could have put some bacon in it. Or, if I had it, some ham would have been good. But I was more than happy with the stew just the way it is. For a change, I managed exactly the right amount of cayenne -- enough to warm the cockles of my heart. Warm cockles are very important. And the pineapple provided a great accent. I've become quite fond of mixing fruit with savory dishes.

Maybe I should sell this service on eBay. Tell folks that for a reasonable bid -- which would be enough Yankee dollahs to cover possible emergency room expenses -- I would try out their culinary adventure of choice, thereby making all the awful mistakes so they don't have to. I haven't studied the demographics but I'll just bet there's a market out there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mahalo, Dole!


Mahalo. I believe that means "Thank you." in Hawaiian. I'm using that term because I just picked up my fresh pineapple from the market today -- and it's one of Dole's finest. Okay, maybe not the finest but it's a pretty fair-tasting pineapple, all the same.

Actually, my pineapple adventure comes in two parts -- maybe even three. First, the reason I got one is to try growing my very own personal pineapple. Toward that end, I have carefully prepared the crown according to directions I got online. That includes peeling off lower leaves until about an inch of the stem is bared. The roots, I'm told, will grow out from that nekkid portion. Now I'm supposed to let it air-dry for a few days until it develops a callous, then I stick it in some dirt and pray.

As for the flesh of the pineapple, I sectioned it in lots and lots of chunks and arranged them in three trays for the dehydrator, where they are beginning that gentle drying treatment as we speak. I had intended to save out some of the chunks for a shrimp stir fry tomorrow but I got so carried away filling the trays, I forgot.

Ooops! Ah well. I might do that anyway. Nothing says I can't hijack the contents of one of those trays for the stir fry. I'll see what kind of mood I'm in tomorrow. Maybe I should play some Hawaiian music for the ambiance, do you think? Hmmm -- I don't know if I even have any Hawaiian music, now that I think about it. And I don't know how that can be, when I enjoy it so much. Guess I'd better be for digging through my CDs, that's what.

In the meantime, my kitchen smells heavenly. One of the serendipitous benefits of fresh pineapple, as opposed to the canned stuff. Life is shweet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunshine on a Stick

You have to squint, I reckon, but there really is a rainbow there. It was gracing the northwestern view from one of the kitchen windows this morning so I grabbed a shot before it faded out.

Any weather reports that implied occasional sunshine were wildly optimistic. Or maybe they define occasional in a more minimalist fashion than I do. The fact is, the rainbow left the stage and the cloud cover became steadily more sullen and, finally, drippy. Just when I realized I needed to trot over to the post office, having not done that chore since last Monday.

Not a problem. Native Oregonians have had a lot of practice at doing outside stuff in between patches of excessive rain. Not that it's always possible. But native Oregonians also know they won't melt (although we've been known to rust and call it an Oregon tan) and one does dry after being drenched.

In any case, I managed to make the post office run during a stretch of light mist. Good thing, too, because both wind and rain intensified after that, putting outdoor excursions in the category of "You've got to be kidding."

Looking through the dining area window during one of the relatively dry moments, I was inspired to catch a shot of the growing accumulation of wind-scattered fall leaves. There are still a lot more to be blown free of the branches but, as you can see, a significant start has been made.


You may also notice the leaves are turning color in partial phases instead of all at once. It looks like the Autumn Elves have been flying about at night with buckets and brushes in hand, swiping bronze and gold and buttery highlights across the trees. The maple right outside the dining area window is a good example of the technique. One thing about it -- no matter how overcast it is outside, it will never get really drear until all the leaves are gone. All that bright glow is as good as sunshine on a stick.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Fine Kettle of ... Beans?

Yesterday I mentioned soaking some beans until they sprout and then cooking them. And Bonnie asked how one cooks sprouted beans and I said just like unsprouted beans. And then I cruised around in my Googlemobile, to find examples to share. The best site for that info seems to be the one at Walton Feed. If you scroll down just a little way, under Cooking Beans you will find the key paragraph on soaking, including the sprout-and-cook bit.

Mind you, I heard of this method many years ago, probably from some source like Organic Gardening or Prevention or maybe Mother Earth News. Never tried it, though, because I was always too impatient to wait that long.

In the process of hunting down the above details, I ran across some information that is totally new to me. Did you know there is a toxin in the common bean that can make you sick if you eat the bean raw or undercooked? Red kidney beans are supposed to be worst for that. Now, I remember we were always warned to be sure to boil home-canned green beans but I sure never heard any such scuttlebutt about dry beans.

Probably because there isn't a whole lot of likelihood that one is going to fall victim to the toxin. For one thing, the raw sprouts of kidney beans are supposed to taste so awful, you wouldn't ingest enough to get sick. Cooking changes the flavor to pleasant -- and gets rid of the toxin. However, undercooked beans can be more toxic than the raw ones. That, apparently, is most likely to happen if folks cook the beans in their crock pots at too low a temperature. It's important to be sure they boil for at least 10 minutes, according to the info I found.

For what it's worth. In any case, I'm still waiting for my Cranberry beans to sprout. Tonight is the end of the second day so I figure I'll see some action tomorrow or the next day. I'm curious to see if there is any particular difference in flavor. The sprouted beans are supposed to cook faster. Astray Recipes lists comparative cooking times for different kinds of beans. I think the Pinto beans are pretty close to my Cranberry beans. For Pintos, the timing is: "Unsoaked, 3 hours; soaked overnight, 2 hours; sprouted 2-3 days, 10 minutes." We'll see.

Oh! I keep forgetting to answer Jo's question from awhile back. Jo, you asked what the problem was with the sourdough gingerbread cake that I made a few days ago. I'm not sure exactly why it turned out the way it did. Perhaps my starter was of a thinner consistency than it should have been. All I can tell you is the outside of the cake looked fine. The inside was congealed pudding. It broke my heart because the flavor was wonderful. Ah well. The fellow who provided the recipe for the carrot cake also has one for gingerbread so I'll give his version a try somewhere down the road.

First, though, the sprouted beans. One culinary adventure at a time, thank you very much.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Timing Is Everything


I just read this great quote by that famous philosopher, Anonymous. He or She said, "Time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once."

It occurred to me today that I must be positioned at a critical juncture in one of Life's Lessons -- the one that has to do with Time. Or the use of same. Or learning to be patient with it. Or to appreciate it more. Or some damned thang. Haven't really got it figured out yet. But look at the evidence ...

We can start with the fact that I'm still stuck with a dial-up connection, which means it takes a lot more time to do fun stuff online. Like watching any video. Or downloading updates or programs or practically anything. That's not necessarily bad, you understand. It tends to make me more discriminating about what is worth the time it will take to access it.

Then there is my recent compulsion to revisit the world of sourdough bread making, this time focusing on the slower wild yeast methods instead of the quicker tame beasties. You know me. I'm always talking about how I like food that is fast, easy and delicious. The F.E.D. Principle, if you will. That's why I've been working the heck out of my bread machine. Suddenly the bread machine is gathering dust and I'm learning to plan ahead with whatever bread recipe I plan to use. I'm learning the longer "ripening" period rewards with better flavor. I'm learning the result out of the oven is enhanced by the longer anticipation of its arrival.

I probably wouldn't have thought all that much about the change of pace except there has been yet another addition to the timing switch pattern. It's the beans. I like to do the quick-soak method so I have the beans cooked presto-pronto. I haven't soaked a pot of beans overnight in -- oh -- a hundred years.

Until now. I put some Cranberry beans (also known as borlotti beans) in a bowl to soak last night. And every 12 hours or so, I'm going to drain and rinse them and cover them with water again -- for 2 or 3 days. Or for however many days it takes for the beans to sprout. And then I'll cook them like regular. Why? Well, for one thing, beans are more nutritious when they've sprouted. For another, once they've sprouted, most of their toot-power disappears. And, finally, I just felt like doing it the slow way.

From one viewpoint, this "slow down and smell the honeysuckle" approach seems a bit strange. Let's face it -- the closer we get to whatever happens to be our close-out day, the less time left for doing anything. So you'd think we'd be compelled to cram in as much as possible. So many [fill in the blank], so little time! Feeding frenzy! Don't miss anything!

But maybe we hit a wall doing it that way. Information overload. The more we cram in, the less we enjoy any of it. Quantity over quality. When you try to put a gallon into a quart-sized space, you tend to lose a lot.

So slowing down makes sense. It's impossible to do it all, so why not more thoroughly enjoy what you can do? I think the older traditional Japanese had the right idea. We fill our homes with pictures and knick-knacks and all kinds of stuff. And after awhile, we can look at it but we don't see it. In contrast, the Japanese had a special place in the room -- an inset into the wall or a table, for example -- and there they would display one piece of art. Perhaps a flower arrangement. Maybe a scroll. Or a painting. Or a still-life with pebbles and a small statue.

Maybe that particular display would be up for a week, or a month, or whatever was appropriate. During that time, all attention was focused on that object because there were no competing distractions. There was time for unhurried contemplation and enjoyment. And then the object would be put away and something new went up in its place.

Quality experience, rich with intensity and depth and ... oh my God. I just realized -- that's a description of eating chocolate!

[The artwork is by Carol Werner, called "Multiple Timepiece Faces" and can be found at art.com.]

Friday, October 12, 2007

What I Did With My Stuff

In case you thought I was just dilly-dallying around, get a load of that luscious cake fresh out of the oven this afternoon. Not just any old cake, Coffee Mates. That's a Sorta Carrot cake, made with the brand new batch of sourdough -- the starter that was built with pineapple juice.

At first I wasn't sure that starter was going to do anything. A few stray bubbles now and then would tease me and keep me from pronouncing it dead but it sure didn't act like it was going to develop any kind of muscle at all. Then, two days ago, when I gave it the next-to-last feeding, it began to bubble in earnest. Yesterday, with the final feed, it went into high gear and really began to show its stuff.

Well! I said. I do believe it's time to put this pony in the rodeo. I sorted through the various recipes on my To Try list and settled on what looked like a pretty good carrot cake. I do love carrot cake and there just happened to be some baby carrots in the refrigerator.

Okay, the first thing you have to do, when you decide to build a sourdough creation, is to set out your "fresh" starter. What I've been doing this past week is building up what we'll call the Mother starter. That's the working base that, when I'm not using it, will be kept in the refrigerator to slow it down so it won't require as many feedings. So when I want to bake something, I take from the Mother the amount I'll need for the recipe. In this case, I need 1 cup of fresh -- or baby -- starter. As it happens, since the starter is brand new, 1 cup was all I had. That's okay. Here's how it works.

To that 1 cup of starter, I added 1 cup of warm water and just over 1 cup of flour. Mixed it all up good, covered it loosely and set it out at room temperature. (By the way, I heartily recommend the use of a wire whisk when mixing in the flour. Not only gets out the lumps almost instantly, it aerates the batter quite nicely.) Now, if I had taken that 1 cup of starter from the refrigerator, I would probably have had to wait until tomorrow to use the baby, which means I'd have mixed it up in the evening and left it out overnight. As it was, that little rascal bubbled and puffed and doubled itself in about 2 hours flat!

While it was building up a head of steam, I was getting the other stuff ready. The recipe calls for 1 cup of shredded carrots, to be simmered for 20 minutes in a small pot, with just enough water to barely cover the carrots. I don't shred baby carrots. Nope. Critters that little tend to cause me to shred my knuckles right along with them so I hauled out my trusty chopper instead. A few pulses and my carrots were neatly minced and plopped into the measuring cup.

Uh oh. Only about half a cup of carrots. Hmmm. Okay. The fellow who provided the recipe said one could use applesauce instead of carrots if desired. And I just happened to have a snack pack of sliced apples I did up in the dehydrator this last summer. Cool. Whipped those puppies through the chopper and mixed them in with the carrots. Lookin' good.

Uh oh. I've still only got 3/4 of a cup of Stuff. Hmmm. Aha! I just happen to have some dried apricots. Tossed a handful of them into the chopper, mixed them with the carrots and apples and ta-dah! One cup of minced mixed Stuff. Perfect. I barely covered the mixture with water and what was left of the pineapple juice I had used to build the starter, set it on the burner and left it to simmer its little heart out.

When the baby starter looked to be at it's peak, I measured out the 1 cup I needed for the cake and put the remaining cup in its storage bowl. That is now my Mother, which will grow according to how much and how often I feed her.

In the KitchenAid bowl, I creamed 1/4 cup of butter with 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup white sugar. Added 1 egg and beat the bejaysus out of it. Added 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom, and 2 teaspoons baking soda and mixed it all in good.

In a separate bowl, I mixed together the 1 cup of baby starter, 1/4 cup of milk and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Started mixing it up. What the hell? It was the consistency of biscuit dough. That can't be right.

It wasn't. I'd forgotten to add the 1 cup of carrot-apple-apricot Stuff! Quickly tossed that in -- and it was probably actually more than a cup because the minced apples swelled up with the moisture they absorbed -- and mixed everything good. Much better. Dumped that lot into the sugar mixture and let the KitchenAid finish the job while I buttered a springform cake pan.

Now, the recipe calls for one of those rectangular baking dishes but I felt like using the spring form. Consequently, I had a thicker cake than I would have otherwise, which meant it had to cook longer. Set the oven at 350 degree fairyheight and slid the pan in. With the larger pan, 40 minutes would have been fine. The springform took an hour before the toothpick came out clean.

The cake is beautifully moist, as carrot cake should be, but not too sweet, as carrot cake sometimes is. After it cooled, I mixed up a quick frosting made with butter, powdered sugar, about a teaspoon of grated ginger and about 1/4 a cup of orange juice. You can see the result below. The piece that's sliced off is, of course, history.

Now I have to walk up to the market tomorrow and get some more flour. I'm out and my next project is going to be sourdough biscuits. Think I'll get some sausage, too. Biscuits and sausage gravy would be a pretty good football meal come Sunday.



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Singing Praises


Sometimes you run into something so neat, you just have to stop and sing praises -- even if you sound sort of funny. I'll try to keep the volume down because I have to sing the praises of two neat things tonight. Bear with me.

The first neat thing, some of you already know about. Thanks to all your helpful suggestions and thanks to Glo, who provided the final push, I signed up with Gmail earlier this evening. One of the reasons I'm late posting tonight is because I've been having so much fun getting acquainted with all the cool stuff Google has put into its email program.

Okay, I haven't had time to figure it ALL out yet. But I'm working on it.

The other neat thing took up the better part of my day and is destined to keep me entertained and informed for a lot more days in the future. I'm sure you've heard of Project Gutenberg. Some of you may use its services already. I've only just begun to use them myself because, until today, I didn't realize they had an index. Don't know how I missed it before but I must have. In any case, the index is there -- and it's very impressive!

The thing is, Project Gutenberg has been steadily amassing an enormous library consisting of literature and music that is no longer under copyright. What that means to us is, we can freely read (or listen) online or we can freely download to our own computers. I think most all the written material can be downloaded in plain text. Some can be downloaded as html. Some are in the form of audio files. And more.

What have they got? It would be easier to tell you what they don't have. There seems to be a little bit of everything there. Fiction. Nonfiction. Books. Poetry. How-To. Text books. Diaries. Speeches and songs. There are a whole series of Punch magazines from the 1800s. But there are plenty of selections from more recent years, too. At least well into the '50s.

The index is set up so you scroll through authors in alphabetical order. I skimmed through the A-section. Started moving slower in the B-section and downloaded two choices. Then I started making a list of authors I wanted to revisit after further exploration through the alphabet. I'm not going to run out any time soon!

The first book I downloaded was a hefty tome titled "The Book of Household Management" by Mrs. Isabella Beeton. I can hear you gasp in disbelief, "Why?" Well, because it was first published in a bound edition in 1861, having been published in 24 monthly installments the two years previous. That means it's a rather large window on another time, with its own unique customs and styles and attitudes. Mrs. Beeton covers the subject with encyclopedic thoroughness and impeccable English. She even tells us what was the proper pay scale for the servants (!!), both with or without livery and with or without allowance made for tea, sugar and beer. She must have a kajillion recipes listed, each carefully detailed with preparation time, what constitutes the season, how many it will serve and how much it costs to make.

Oh yeah. I'm gonna have fun with that one.

The other download is far less cumbersome but no less informative. "The Complete Book of Cheese" by Robert Carlton Brown was published in 1955 and can be downloaded in html, which lets you enjoy the artwork. Mr. Brown not only shares a tremendous amount of lore about cheese, he does it with such wit and charm, you keep finding yourself sitting there with a big silly grin on your face. The chapter about Rarebit, "Sixty-five Sizzling Rabbits," would be worth the price of admission even if you were paying for the book.

But don't take my word for it. You can read any of these selections online if you wish. I skim just enough to see if it's something I want to download, then I haul it in for serious reading later. My problem is going to be pacing myself. Good grief, there is a list that looks as though it includes everything written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, for cryin' out loud. And several by Sir Richard Francis Burton.

There seems to be a most remarkable range from "The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch" to John Campbell's "Islands of Space." There is classic poetry, presidential speeches and even juicy little items like "The Water Supply of the El Paso and Southwestern Railway from Carrizozo to Santa Rosa, N. Mex. American Society of Civil Engineers: Transactions, No. 1170." Be still my heart.

I haven't begun to explore in earnest but already it seems to me the people who put the wheels on this fantastic project are going a long way toward making up for the bad karma generated when the Library of Alexandria was burned. We're talking serious Good Karma, folks. Oh. So many books. So little time.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scraps

This picture really struck me as appropriate tonight. See, my mail program, Thunderbird, is acting really pissy and I'm at a loss as to why. I really suspect that for some reason the codes that make Thunderbird run do not play well with the codes that propel my ISP. I have no solid evidence to make my case. It's just that every time my ISP does an update, Thunderbird does something flaky. And I'm left feeling as though I'm dealing with the above setup.

Maybe it's just the weather. Which didn't turn out -- at least in this specific area -- to be anything like as bad as predicted. The wind didn't even start up until around 4 in the aye em and never got really heavy-duty over the course of the day. The rain finally started around 1:00 this afternoon and, at times, pelted down like it meant bidness.

There was one small leak. The skylight in the middle of the big hall area has never allowed itself to be well and truly sealed, much to the despair and disgust of my poor landlord. Billy stopped by today to see how his roof patching was holding up. I praised the job he did but he was terribly frustrated about the single glitch. Took it personally, he did.

One of the things he did downstairs today was to replace the burned out fluorescent lights in the laundry area. I was delighted because I'd been relying on the rather awkward use of a small flashlight when doing laundry. Couldn't even read the dials without it and the light fixtures were too far up in the high ceilings for me to do anything about them.

But the lights weren't all he took care of today. At one point I kept hearing strange noises down below. What on earth was he doing so earnestly down there? Finally, I couldn't stand it any more so I went truckin' down the stairs and popped through the door into the big back room. When he looked up, I said, "I think I'm becoming a nosy old lady but I had to come down and see what it was you were doing."

Then I did a double-take. There are several groups of odd lengths of scrap lumber, all different sizes, that have been leaning against a wall here and a wall there. Just sort of gathered together out of the way, patiently waiting for someone to figure out how they might be of use. Bill was vacuuming the scraps, piece by piece, with his handy-dandy, super-duper shop vac!

That might be carrying neatness too far.

But maybe he was just relieving his frustration at not being able to fix the skylight in the nasty weather. And he does love playing with his toys. He waved the vacuum hose around as he told me about the different things he wanted to do with the building and how he had to wait for one project until he could raise the money for a different project that would have to be completed first and, "What was I thinking?" he asked me. "Why did I think I could save an old building?"

"Ah, darlin'," I said. "Nowhere does it say you have to be thinking all the time. Where would be the fun in that?"

He'll manage it. It's just going to take more time and money than he'd originally thought. Not an uncommon occurrence, I'm afraid. But he's young and has the imagination and energy to follow through. He'll do fine.

And his scrap lumber will be in pristine condition if he ever figures out what to do with it.


Monday, October 8, 2007

A Matter of Faith

Brrrr! That art print makes me shiver just to look at it. It's called, appropriately enough, "Stormy Waters" and Anna Cohran is the artist. (Just one of the thousands of great prints that can be found if you pop in at art.com.)

The reason I pulled it up is because it's so illustrative of the current weather prognostication for my neck of the woods for the next 24-or-so hours. There is supposed to be a high-wind situation from just after midnight until late tomorrow afternoon.

You wouldn't know it by looking outside. In fact, it's been extremely quiet all day, mostly overcast and, occasionally, lightly breezy.

High wind warnings are normal here this time of year and, ordinarily, one pays minimum attention to them. Quite often the thrust of the storms will sweep north of this location so we don't necessarily get hit hard by all of them. But, in Oregon, when you mention high winds on Columbus Day, you bring back memories of the horrific Big Blow of 1962. If you Google "Columbus Day storm," you'll see what I mean.

No, I don't think we have anything even remotely like that coming in. I'm just saying there is the inevitable connection between weather and date, no matter what the current status may be. Even so, I made sure my flashlight and candles are handy.

Which raises an interesting philosophical question: by preparing for emergencies, do we create a situation ripe for self-fulfilling prophesies? I mean that jokingly, of course. I certainly don't believe preparation for disaster will cause the disaster. It's just that it made me think about the power of focused affirmation, which can be either negative or positive. How often are we warned about worrying so much we bring on the very thing we fear? And how often do we pray for a happy outcome?

One of my favorite stories about the importance of faith, or belief, goes like this: The countryside was suffering from serious drought so the pastor called everyone to the church to pray for rain. He stepped up to the pulpit and looked over the congregation. "We are gathered together to pray for rain," he said. "Why have none of you brought umbrellas?"

Funny thing about human nature and faith -- it's ever so much harder to believe in the good outcome over the bad outcome. Take the fellow who fell off the cliff and barely managed to grab a bush jutting out from the canyon wall. Looking down, he saw there was nothing but a straight drop to the rocks hundreds of feet below. Looking up, there was only bare rock, with no way of climbing it. Desperate, he began to scream, "Help! Help!"

To his surprise, the voice of God thundered out of the clouds and God said, "I will save you if you only have faith. Let go of the bush."

"You'll save me?"

"Yes."

"But I have to let go of the bush?"

"Yes."

There was a long silence. Then, "Help! Help!"

Well, I have to admit, I sympathize with the dangling guy. Perhaps we could all stand to exercise our faith muscles and make them stronger. In the meantime, I take comfort in something my Dad always said: "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and make the most of what you get." I think that just about covers all the bases.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hold That Hooch!

You know, I don't believe it ever occurred to me there might come a day when I would actually be showing, with button-busting pride, a photograph of ... bubbles?

Well, gee, it only seems fair. This is, after all, the first time I've ever tried to stalk and capture the wily wild yeasty beasty and, lo! There is the bubbly evidence, in front of my astonished eyeballs, on Day Two of the starter's existence. This is the traditional starter, you might recall, and this is what it looked like just before I added today's serving of flour and water. I keep climbing up on the step stool so I can check it again -- and again -- and it's still bubbling. What an eager little feller.

The pineapple starter doesn't seem to be doing much of anything, except smelling good. It's probably dreaming of balmy tropic breezes and not paying attention. Maybe I should play Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles," just as a suggestion. Do you remember how that goes? "Tiny bubbles in the wine ..." Very appropriate, that wine reference, since what we've got here is a bio-distillery of sorts.

Neat segue into the promised subject of hooch, eh?

Hooch, you will remember, is that liquid that floats on top of the starter and smells alcoholic -- because it is. The little yeast fellers and the little lactobacilli fellers have a team thing going in there. Together, they feast on the flour and produce a lot of carbon dioxide and alcohol. The more hooch that appears, the less food there is for the beasties.

Apparently there are those who are willing to drink this particular beverage when there isn't any properly distilled stuff left in the popskull jug and the white lightnin' jar is empty. I was going to taste the hooch on my domestic starter this morning, just to see what it was like, but I forgot. Guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow and try to remember before feeding time so I can report to you. You are dying to know, aren't you? Of course you are.

What is interesting to me is that the hooch can be used for other things as well as bread. For instance, there is one fellow really into fermenting pickles and hot sauce and he uses sourdough hooch in the process. In fact he makes his sourdough starter with the liquid/flour ratio just backward from what it would be for bread because he wants it strictly for the hooch.

Another possible use of hooch is, at this point, still a mystery to me. In Alaska they have something they call Sourdough Sauce. My understanding is that it's supposed to be sweet and tangy -- or maybe it's sweet and spicy. One of the railroad menus features a wild game dinner with the meat braised in sourdough sauce. But do you think I can find a recipe or even a pitiful clue as to what it is? Nooooooo. But you would think it's the hooch they're using, wouldn't you? Makes sense to me.

I don't know whether I can attribute this to the hooch or not but one web page, in discussing the long history of sourdough, mentioned it has been used to help heal burns and wounds. Hey! I sat right up when I read that because, as it happens, I burned the ring finger on my left hand today. Nothing serious, not even a blister -- just one of those burns that annoy you with a low-grade, persistent pissant pain. Well! I went right to the jar of domestic starter and dipped my forefinger into the top froth -- where the hooch begins to build -- and dabbed a bit of it right onto the burn.

Shazzam! It immediately cooled the heat. As it dried, it formed a thin skin over my finger and now, an hour later, the pain is still simply gone. Don't know if I'd want to do that with a serious burn but it's sure handy for the dinky annoying one. You may file that under Possibly Useful Trivia.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to take my lovely hula hands and go shake the daylights out of the pineapple starter again.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Great Sourdough Throwdown

There are several definitions for the term throwdown and not all of them are pleasant. In this instance, I'm using it as a verb: "To make something happen in a big way. To perform well, brilliantly, with virtuosity." I'm not only inviting y'all to join me, I'm going to do my best to make it absolutely as easy and muss 'n' fuss free as I can. Yes, you, too, can throwdown like a champ.

Why the focus on sourdough? Well, several reasons. For one thing, it's totally versatile and, in spite of its name, is not always "sour." In fact the term "sourdough" is actually fairly recent, stemming from our Gold Rush days. In the real world, the use of wild yeast to leaven breads has gone on for thousands of years, long before anybody came up with domestic yeast.

For another, wild yeast breads are healthier and more digestible than other breads. Quoting from an article at Notebook, sourdough is number one on a list of 20 Super Foods: "Naturally fermented sourdough starters produce a tremendous amount of enzymatic activity, breaking down starch and gluten in the flour. Because of this, sourdough bread is much easier to digest." Folks with assorted allergies and similar problems can often effortlessly assimilate wild yeast breads when they can't go near any other kind.

Still another reason: the built-in Zen of getting back to basics, of really noticing fundamentals and blissing out on them. Hey, it only looks complicated if you haven't done it. I promise, sourdough bread craft is not only hugely satisfying, methods have been discovered that make it happen almost like magic. While it will take longer to develop the rise and the flavor of a loaf, the actual time you have to spend doing anything is less -- and so is the effort expended. On the other hand, that is quality time. You get to have the fun without raising a sweat.

Sourdough lends itself so totally to artisan breads that you can't help but have fun exploring the different shapes and flavors. But it's not limited just to breads. You can do your pancakes and your waffles and your muffins and -- brace yourself -- you can even make sourdough chocolate brownies!

So come on, Coffee Mates. Just for the sheer fun of it, let's explore and discover. I don't want to alarm anybody but the holidays are pressing fast upon us. Wouldn't it be neat to learn how to effortlessly whip out a few gift baskets or bags or boxes with your very own perfectly baked artisan loaves of nirvana?

The usual suspects are all gathered in the lineup for your inspection. What we have here are three sourdough starter batches. The middle one is a flour and water mixture powered by domestic yeast and, though only two days old, has already produced two loaves of delicious bread and one batch of gingerbread cake that I'd rather not discuss. (But I'll explain later.) The bowl wearing the shower cap (just kidding) was started today and is geared to gather in wild yeast. It uses the same basic flour and water combo but because the proportions are different, it's a thicker mixture than the other two. The plastic container on the right is also a wild yeast trap and decidedly non-traditional, in that it uses pineapple juice as the liquid for the first couple of phases.

A couple of things you should know about the care and feeding of your yeasty beasties: you can keep them happy in plastic or crockery or glass but don't use metal unless it's stainless steel or enameled. As for lids, make sure they're loose-fitting unless you like the excitement of having stuff blow up all over your kitchen.

While you're waiting to see evidence that you have successfully lured a colony of yeasty beasties to live with you, you can safely keep the starter out at room temperature. Atop the refrigerator is good. The air is warmer up there and the container will be out of your way as well as undisturbed. Also, once you start actually making bread with it, as long as you are using it at least once a week, you can keep it out. Otherwise, it's best to store it in the refrigerator, where it will go into semi-dormancy and you won't have to feed it as often.

The art of sourdough can be as complicated or as simple as you choose it to be. There are countless sources of good information only a Google away. Don't let the quantity overwhelm you and don't let the contradictions confuse you. Browse for the big picture and keep in mind, whether they agree with each other or not, those methods all work for somebody. Half the fun is deciding which method you want to try. Speaking of which, our first choice is the starter.

ONE: This one will have you making bread the fastest because you're going to use domestic baker's yeast. Your flour-to-water ratio is a matter of preference. I keep it equal. One cup flour and one cup warm water and one package (2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast. Mix well. Keep at room temperature. It will bubble and froth and increase in volume when the yeast starts working. Then it will drop back down and will develop a layer of clear, yellowish liquid on top. If you lift the lid and inhale, it will smell just a bit like beer. That's because your little yeasty beasties are producing alcohol in there. This is, after all, a fermentation process.

The liquid is known as hooch and this is one of those things folks disagree about. Some say to pour it off and others say to stir it back in. I'm from the "stir it back in" school. All it is, is a signal from the yeasty beasties that they've cleaned their plates and would really appreciate it if you'd feed them again. Give them some more flour and water and they'll be perfectly happy.

TWO: This is a very basic, traditional starter that follows a schedule and starts off small. If you don't see any evidence of action after a week, toss it and start again. The first day, mix together 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 1/2 tablespoons of warm water. Loosely cover the container and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. On the second day, add more flour and water, in the same amounts, then cover and set out for another 24 hours. Do the same thing each day for six or seven days. You should start seeing little bubbles by the third day but don't give up if they haven't shown up yet. By the end of the week, you'll have about a cup-and-a-half of starter which you can now transfer to a permanent container and refrigerate. Assuming, of course, that it's bubbly and active.

THREE: This one takes just a bit more fussing but nothing serious. You just have to remember to give it a stir two or three times a day but I wouldn't worry about it if you happen to forget. This time you mix 3 1/2 tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours but give it a stir 2 or 3 times each day. On the third day, add 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons pineapple juice. Go for another 48 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times a day again. You should start to see some activity during this phase. On the fifth day, add 5 1/4 tablespoons flour and 3 tablespoons warm water. Mix, cover and set aside for 24 hours. On the sixth day, add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup warm water. The starter should be good to go at this point. You can see an excellent video about this at Breadtopia.

Your choice of flour in any starter is up to you. Whole wheat or rye is suggested in the very beginning because they are likely to have more of the desirable yeast spores and bacteria. I really would have liked to use the whole wheat myself but I'm out, at the moment. That's okay. The all-purpose flour will do fine.

So you choose which of the above starters you want to mess with. Tomorrow I'm gonna tell you more about the hootch. How's that for a cliffhanger?


Friday, October 5, 2007

Magic In A Jar

What you see here is your basic household magic jar. Not too big -- holds about a quart, I guess -- wooden lid with a rubber gasket so it will seal tight if you tamp it down -- bas relief basket weave and assorted fruits on the lower half. Altogether an attractive item.

Useful, too. See, this is just right for providing a safe home for my newest family member. What you see bubbling away behind that glass is a new batch of sourdough, a most magical substance, indeed.

We might as well think of it as a family member because sourdough is a living organism and one should care for it as carefully as any other pet. Different sourdough starters have personalities every bit as individual as the people who own them, believe me. I won't go so far as buying it shoes and sending it to school but, hey, I can give it a name.

Not right away, of course. This is a baby batch and we haven't hung out enough to know each other all that well yet. So far, though, we're getting along just swell. The kid has been really cooperative and, youngling though it is, even productive. It was only born yesterday and already has managed to produce two terrific loaves of bread. Bread so good, I might add, that I've already eaten half of one of the loaves.

Any of you who know anything about sourdough know that's awfully early in the cycle to be using a starter in any baking projects. I can get away with it because this is not a "wild yeast" starter. This is a regular baker's yeast starter. As such, it allows me to hit the ground running. The flavor of the bread, while wonderful, was not "sour." In fact, many sourdough breads are anything but sour. Herman, or Friendship, bread is, after all, nothing more than a variety of sourdough.

In fact, the term "sourdough" is really comparatively recent, starting with our Gold Rush. The starter itself has been around for thousands of years, in all different cultures. Some batches have been handed down through the generations for so long, they ought to be designated as National Treasures. What stories they could tell!

Although I will be building a wild yeast batch of starter, in the meantime it's great fun to use this more domestic one to learn new tricks. I just discovered, for instance, a method called "stretch and fold" which takes the place of kneading dough. The amazing thing is, the stretch and fold is gentle to both the bread baker and the dough -- and the finished bread is every bit as light and fluffy and fantastic as that which has had the daylights kneaded out of it. I was amazed.

If you Google "stretch and fold" you'll get all kinds of explanations and even YouTube videos that are very helpful, so I won't inflict my as-yet-imperfect understanding on you. There is a whole big sub-culture of sourdough enthusiasts online so there is certainly no difficulty in getting information about this hobby -- or obsession, as the case may be. In fact, there's so much information, it's a bit overwhelming at first.

That's okay. With my trusty starter at my side, I'll sort it out. In fact, tomorrow I think I'll check out that recipe for sourdough gingerbread. There's something special about gingerbread once the weather starts getting nippier, don't you think? Gingerbread and whupped cream. Manohman.