Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lessons in Gratitude #3

We were having all the family over for Thanksgiving dinner. I was doing prep work and feeling kvetchy. Nothing was going right: dishes and countertops got dirty and cluttered immediately after I cleaned them. I couldn't get a moment's peace to create the gameplan for Thanksgiving day. I didn't know what time the turkey needed to go in the oven, what kind of stuffing I was making, or who was sitting where at the table.

I grabbed the camera. I needed to see things differently.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Homemade Grainy Mustard Two Ways

The more I try to simplify life, the more interested I become in simple foods. Foods with only a few ingredients. Meals that taste like what they are, not salt or sugar, transfats or MSG. The more I read the labels on food that comes in a box or a plastic container, the more motivated I become to make my own.

Mustard is super easy. Pick up some mustard seeds at the market or order them from amazon. You need a food processor if you like a uniform consistency, or a lot of elbow grease and a mortar and pestle (affiliate link).

With inspiration from Salt Sugar Smoke (affiliate link) and Kris at Attainable Sustainable, I created two different homemade mustards, one with honey and one without... and we love them!

Homemade Grainy Mustard Two Ways
makes about 1 cup total
keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks

2/3 cup mustard seeds
2/3 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 tsp turmeric
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tsp raw honey

 In a medium bowl, combine the mustard seeds and the apple cider vinegar. Cover and let sit overnight.

The next day, put the mustard seeds in a mortar (or food processor). They will have absorbed most of the apple cider vinegar. Add the turmeric and garlic and pound (or process) until it reaches the desired consistency. Add a bit more vinegar or water if it seems dry. Scoop out half the mustard and place in a sterilized half-pint jar

To the mustard still remaining in the mortar, add 1 tsp raw honey, and pound with the pestle until it is uniform. Taste and add more honey if you like. Spoon the honey mustard into a sterilized half-pint jar. Label them both. They will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Both these mustards are delicious with sausages and Cran-Apple Kraut.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cran-Apple Kraut

There's a new beer and sausage place in Oakland, Brotzeit Lokal. It's right on the San Francisco Bay, and serves up cold German beer and housemade sausages, fries, pickles, kraut, mustard, and mayo. You can sit outside, watch the sailboats bobbing on the water, and have a tasty lunch.

Have you visited Germany? They're serious about their beer gardens.There are lots of little wooded foot paths throughout the parks, and sometimes you round a bend and you've arrived at a biergarten. They appear out of nowhere like Hansel and Gretl's candy house. But for grown ups! They are a community gathering place where families can spend an afternoon, visit with friends and neighbors, the grown-ups can enjoy adult beverages, the kids can play together and eat sausages, and everyone leaves feeling satisfied and nourished. A beer garden is such a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon in Germany; I'm glad they're starting to sprout up in the states. This particular one, Brotzeit Lokal, is one of the things I miss about California.

We were eating there one sunny day, my husband, my son, and I, enjoying the food and the beer, planning our move to the Northwest, and imagining the restaurant we might open someday. Germany's climate is similar to ours, here in Washington State. We can learn a lot from their way of eating. With a short growing season, we must preserve our veggies to eat in the winter. This area of Washington is known for producing lots of cabbage, beets, and potatoes. And so, I'm learning to make sauerkraut.

Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation (affiliate link) is a great introduction to making your own fermented foods. You might also want to read up about the many health benefits of eating fermented foods.

Cabbage is so fresh. I love the crisp, icy sound it makes as you slice it with a sharp knife, like walking over snow or skiing down a mountain. As you slice, that heavenly green cabbage scent is released. Breathe in. Now is a good time to be in this moment.

Cran-Apple Kraut
Serves many. Keeps for weeks.

1 large head cabbage, shredded
3-4 apples, cored and grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt (about 3 tablespoons per 5 pounds of cabbage)
16 oz fresh cranberries

You need a large ceramic crock or some large mason jars in which to store the kraut as it ferments. I love these half-gallon mason jars (affiliate link). You also need something to fit inside the jar or crock to weigh down the cabbage and keep it beneath the brine. I use a bendy plastic lid. You can also use a scrubbed and boiled rock, a ziplock bag filled with water... be creative.  

Finely shred the cabbage. Place it in a large bowl and layer with salt as you go. (Go easy on the salt at first; you can always add more later.) Toss and massage the cabbage occasionally. Add the grated apples, sprinkle with lemon juice, add the fresh cranberries and toss again. Taste the mixture for salt. It should be quite salty, but not unpleasant, like well-salted broth or miso soup. 

Using your hands and a big wooden spoon, pack the kraut tightly in the crock. Use the spoon like a muddler (affiliate link) to pack and bruise the cabbage as you go. This will help the salt to draw the water out of the cabbage and apples to create a brine. When the jar is full, or you run out of room, put the lid and the weight on top. 

Cover the jar with a clean kitchen towel and place on the counter in an out-of-the-way place in the kitchen. Over the next 24 hours or so, check the kraut frequently. Press down on the lid to extract more water from the cabbage. If the kraut is not covered in brine after 24 hours, mix some up (1 teaspoon salt to 1 pint water) and add to the jar to cover. 

Allow to ferment at room temperature for one week or more. I like to taste it every couple of days to see how it changes. When it is done is up to you; I like mine still quite crisp. When the cran-apple kraut is done to your liking, remove the weight, cover the jar with a lid, and refrigerate.

We like to eat this with sausages, beer, and homemade mustard. It's a pleasing, quick, easy, and nutritious winter meal. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Afternoon Chai for Two

We've doubled our coffee consumption since moving north. It's dark and chilly in the afternoons. When the toddler takes his nap, we usually need a little pick-me-up. Coffee is our go-to choice, but sometimes, chai is better.

This is not the chai that you get at Starbucks. I learned to make it from a friend who is from India. Start with loose black tea leaves or tea bags will do. You need an assortment of warm spices: fennel seed, whole cloves, fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise, whole cardamom, peppercorns. A small strainer (affiliate link) is helpful.

We like our coffee in the morning, chai in the afternoon. But chai is good at any time of day. Like everything, chai is personal. Feel free to tweak the spice blend to your liking. It will only get better with practice. Happy brewing.

Afternoon Chai for Two

1 mug of water
2 tablespoons loose leaf or 2 tea bags black tea
2 slices fresh ginger root
3 whole cardamom pods, smashed with the side of a knife
3 teaspoons fennel seed
1 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
a few whole cloves
a few black peppercorns 
1 mug whole milk
2 teaspoons sugar or sweetener of your choice

Slowly heat the water, tea, and spices to boil. Boil briskly until the tea is quite strong, 3-5 minutes. Add 1 mug full of milk and slowly bring to a boil. Allow the chai to foam up, then remove from heat. Add sweetener to taste. Strain the chai into 2 mugs.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Boozy Berries

A few months back, I had some fresh berries and no plans. I didn't want to make jam. We had already eaten handfulls fresh. There was no room in the freezer. It was too hot to bake. I don't mean to complain. An abundance of berries is never a bad thing.

Have you heard of bachelor's jam? Apparently, in olden times, men couldn't use a stove to make their own fruit preserves, so they covered in-season fruit with booze and called it good. There are some lovely recipes for fruity alcohols in Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke (affiliate link) and a great tutorial from Erica at Northwest Edible Life.

With these ideas swirling in my head, one hot summer night my husband and I pulled some liquor from the cabinet, the berries from the fridge, some clean glass jars, and set to work. It's fun and simple to make boozy berries. You don't even need a recipe. Just fill the jars with ripe, clean berries, add a high-proof alcohol until the jar is about 3/4 full, then add herbal or fruity liqueur to top it off.

We made three jars:
Raspberry and blueberry vodka
Blackberries with spiced rum
Blueberries with vodka and St. Germain

Seal the jars and leave them in a cool dark place until the holidays.

I found our boozy berries in the pantry the other day. They are delicious. And they pack quite a kick. The blackberries and raspberries didn't hold up in the alcohol very well, so I strained them out. To a clean jar, I added the berry liqueur and a small amount super-fine baker's sugar (affiliate link) to taste.

The blueberries are still lovely. They look just as good as the day I drowned them in booze. That jar needed only a bit of sugar and a gentle shake to combine. We are enjoying our homemade berry liqueur in a cocktail with sparkling wine, a few of the soaked blueberries, and a twist. It will be excellent stirred into holiday punch, a hot toddy, wassail, or spooned over ice cream.

Store your boozy berries in a cool dark place. Use up during the holiday season.

Do you preserve fruit in alcohol? I'd love to hear about it and be inspired.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Canada's Food Rules

I visited an estate sale recently where I picked up several awesome old books: a few on canning and preserving from the 1950's, a few old nursing texts from the 1930's, and the British Columbia Women's Institutes Centennial Cook Book (affiliate link). This book is a real treasure.

Allow me to share with you Canada's Food Rules, lifted from the first few pages of this lovely book from 1958. Much of it is still good advice today.

Canada's Food Rules
These foods are good to eat. Eat them every day for health. Have at least three meals each day.

1. MILK-Children (up to about 12 years), at least 1 pint; adolescents, at least 1 1/2 pints; adults, at least 1/2 pint.
2. FRUIT-One serving of citrus fruit or tomatoes or their juices; and one serving of other fruit.
3. VEGETABLES-At least one serving of potatoes; and at least two servings of other vegetables, preferably leafy, green or yellow and frequently raw.
4. CEREALS AND BREAD-One serving of whole grain cereal; and at least four slices of bread (with butter or fortified margarine).
5. MEAT AND FISH-One serving of meat, fish,poultry, or meat alternates such as dried beans, eggs, and cheese. Use LIVER frequently. In addition: EGGS AND CHEESE at least three times a week each.
VITAMIN D: At least 400 international units daily for all growing persons and expectant and nursing mothers.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spiced Molasses Apple Butter

We are enjoying the perfect fall season here in Northwest Washington.

Today, I needed to meditate on the garden. It is an important garden chore, you know. The sun came out, lighting the sky all brilliant blue. The golden light glinted through the dancing red and yellow leaves. The wind scuttled the leaves across the grass and the seagulls and crows swooped through the air, calling calling. A glorious fall day. I went out, planning to just sit on the step with my coffee, staring at the soil with a soft, unfocused gaze and an empty, peaceful mind.

I pulled a weed. It came up easily, revealing beautiful, dark, soft soil. So I grabbed a shovel, moved around some heavy wooden beams left by the last owner, and formed a bed. I turned the soil over: full of earthworms. We will add leaves, our kitchen scraps, some manure and grass trimmings, and in the spring we will we ready to plant. This is satisfying work.

The waiting is delicious.

Then I came inside and ate toast with apple butter made from the apples from our tree. It is this apple butter I actually want to tell you about today. I am thinking about apples a lot lately: what I love about them, and what I love about fall. I love gingerbread, apple crisp, big soft molasses cookies, apple cake, wassail, mulled wine, and walking into a warm house full of these warm spicy scents.

I wanted this apple butter to taste like that. The apples from my tree are sweet, so I didn't add much sweetener: just a touch of molasses, for sweetness and body, and some spices, because it's fall. The resulting apple butter is full of apple flavor and not heavy on the molasses. It can easily be paired with savory dishes like pork chops or roast turkey. I'm enjoying it with peanut butter in sandwiches or on toast with labneh.

Spiced Molasses Apple Butter
makes about 6 cups 

First, make the apple puree:
 8 pounds apples, cored and quartered
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 cups apple cider

Peel the apples if desired. Remove the core, quarter them, and place in a large pot with the apple cider vinegar and the apple cider. Cook over moderate heat until the apples are very soft, 20-30 minutes. When cooled slightly, puree the soft apples using an immersion blender(affiliate link) or food processor.

Next, prepare the apple butter:
8 cups apple puree
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Measure the apple puree back into a heavy pot. I use a dutch oven. Add the molasses and spices and cook uncovered at a bare simmer for several hours, until the butter has thickened to your liking and mounds on a spoon. Stir occasionally. Do not allow to burn. When the apple butter has reached the desired consistency, taste for sweetness and adjust the spices, if you like. 

Prepare your water bath, jars, and lids. Fill sterilized 1/2 pint jars with the hot apple butter, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the rims with a damp cloth, affix the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

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