Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Winding down........

The Victoria Salvia, Hydrangea Paniculatas and Autumn Sedum Joy (doesn't that just roll off your tongue)  are doing their thing and the bees could not be happier.  It should be Sedum, Autumn Joy but Autumn Sedum Joy is more fun to say; my garden my rules. The pollinator activity is frantic at the moment, a sure sign we should all be a little frantic getting ready for the impending whatever...... I have given up trying to expect regular weather patterns.   However all the signs are there, squirrels are in hyper-gather, the groundhog is so fat he doesn't fit in the trap and moonwalks out the door, the deer are BIG and growing antlers, bird traffic is changing, the dog is pretty springy in the mornings, the geese are honking and the Monarchs are migrating. 

I wake up one morning, do a garden walk about and say out loud........ "it's over" and where are the CARBS?!   

Time to drag the canning stuff out of the basement and get busy!  It takes about a month to get the shelves in the basement full.  It's not day in and day out because I am not that kind of girl.  This year I had a hard time getting my canning gene kicked into gear.  Normally there is a rhythm or cadence to this time of the year, especially in the kitchen.  I stalk the garden and farmers markets relentlessly, starting in early August.  I always, always, always kick off the season with dilly beans, this year no beans!  I drove, I called, I banged on the doors of all my old haunts and no beans when beans were supposed to be happening.  Gotta say it threw me off my game!  Luckily my tomatoes were gaining and corn was around the bend.  And then there were the cucumbers....... holy cucumber season, it was overwhelming this year.  I fermented and made enough relishes for 5 families, I donated, I did cucumber drive-bys and they are still coming on strong; although slowing down thankfully!  I tried to trap the groundhog with cucumbers but he just wasn't having it, he was over cucumbers too.  He did love the watermelon and grew so fat his butt kept the door wedged open while his front part ate watermelon, carrots, greens, and anything else I put in the Hav-a-Heart trap.  I no longer have a heart and thinking giant paint balls might be in his future. 

Finally the pots bubbled, the dog had tomato stains on his big yellow head and got stuck to the floor twice but licked his way out.  I had more than one vinegar facial this year and the compost pile grew from the cast offs.  

There are still a few jars that need to be filled but the majority of the canning is done for this year.   It's time to type up the inventory sheet, attach it to the clip board and hang it on the basement door.  When, He Who Shall Not Be Named, is rummaging through the cupboards or fridge, I hand him the clipboard and see if anything looks good in the basement without actually descending into the basement.  Now if the troll, giant spider or occasional mouse would hand up a basket of jars filled with goodness we could all live happily ever after. 

In other news...... the Peace Corps bowls were delivered!  Another order was delivered and the studio got cleaned!  

I also learned my super fantastic dog will lay on his bed while I use my rotary Dremel sander on his nails!  This is revolutionary over nail clippers and a game changer for both of us!  I am now the very pretty nail lady who sits on the floor for doggie pedicures.  A swim in the lake, a warm hose-down in the driveway, a Dremel pedicure and Doggie Spa Day is complete.   

What would Mrs. Swan say? 

And in the pottery world....... I cancelled a show, gained two shows and really need to get in the studio but I think I'll bake a loaf bread first because it is CARB season!  Bring on the sweaters, wool socks, backyard fires, bowls of hot steamy soup, cooler weather, pumpkins and wands, swirling leaves and a good glass of bourbon.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The great slog of 2019.......

I am missing my blog..... and as a dear friend is winging his way to Uganda and he likes news from the home front, it appears to be the perfect time to sit down and review this slog of a year.

The midwinter slogged into Spring, pretty wet.  I planted beans three times and finally gave up.  The local farmers had a little better luck:  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FARMER!  The planting never was fast and furious this year and the weather was just crazy! I saw bugs I have never seen before, so many pests and very few honey bees.  Beans tanked but cucumbers were the garden over achievers.  From 6 plants; 45 pounds donated to the Salvation Army, 3 1/2 gallons of pickles, cucumber salad every single day, neighbors feed, friends delivered too and they are still producing!

Wet, hot, a couple weeks of no rain and watering.  This must be the greenhouse effect that goes with climate change.

I applied to both weeks at Boston Mills in Peninsula, Ohio, back to back 4 day shows, now that is a real slog!  It’s a lovely art show and as I didn’t get accepted last year I applied to both weekends this year and got in both weekends.  What to do?  Thought about this long and hard and decided to do both.  The first weekend with the new functional transfer ware.  It’s pretty labor intensive with carving etc. The second weekend I got in with decorative work..... also labor intensive.  The grand plan, see what sells the best and start to wean myself off the other work.  This would simplify the studio and give me a little more sanity in my life.  I have never worked so many hours in the studio in an extended stretch of months.  There was no time to blog and it was pots, kilns and clay, 24/7.   Honestly, all the way to the stroke of midnight as I backed out of the driveway.  Both weekends were incredibly hot, over 100 degrees in the tents and then the biblical rain arrived.  Both weekends I had storage boxes floating in the back of my booth.  The first weekend my booth was on the outside edge of the tent and we had a tick invasion.  Ticks look great on white curtains ...... OMG!  I totaled out at then end of week two and my total sales were only $70 apart.  No decision was made, I will stay in the state of total confusion.

I off loaded everything in the studio, slammed the door and madly packed for my first ever trip to visit daughter #1 in Alaska.  It was a welcome break from studio burn out!  I came away gobsmacked by the opportunities available in Alaska. We toured the farmers markets, visited Rachael's college farm I have been hearing about forever, toured a musk ox farm, fished the Kenai and ocean, finally got some camping in and dragged 50 pounds of fish home and we canned Alaskan produce around Rachael's kitchen table and cleaned fish at her sink.  And somewhere in the wilds of Alaska I lost my wifi hotspot so I suspect there are bears ordering pizza.  If if you're a climate denier, get yourself to Alaska!  It is scary what is happening in Alaska.  I fished in a raging river with smoke all around us.  The river is raging from the melting glaciers and yet the fires are from little or no rain.  The spruce beetle, Dendroctonus rufipennis is leaving its devastating mark on the scenery too.

Missed my dog way too much and he apparently missed me.  It took two weeks to get him back to his happy self but we got there.  And yes, Alaska is as beautiful as everyone says........ it is a wonderful place to run away too.  

It has been hard getting back into the swing of the studio, even with the 200 bowl project for Peace Corps looming over my head. I have been making bowls for this project since 2006 and I am done.  It’s time consuming and this year truly has been a slog from the start.  The only reason I did it this year ...... they couldn’t find another potter interested.  I suppose if Rachael hadn’t been in Peace Corps and understanding the projects that are funded are pretty good endeavors I would not have stuck with it this long.

But wait!  It's canning season!!  All that stuff I canned last year is pretty much gone!  Time to replenish the shelves.  I learned a lot looking at what was left on the shelves as I started this years list.  We like food in jars that give you immediate gratification.  It's not your Grandma's fruit cellar anymore.  Now my shelves are filling with Bruschetta, Marinated Mushrooms, Dilly Beans, Peach Salsa, Cowboy Candy and  Eggplant Puttanesca but still rounded out with tomatoes, peaches, mincemeat, green beans and soups, lots of soups!  Canning is evolving and now that technology is catching up to canning it makes it much safer.  In fact the more I read the more I wonder how anybody lived through the early 20th century before mass grocery store feeding began.  If I didn't need to pay bills I would wander farmers markets, buying baskets of produce, come home and can away my life.  I just love this time of the year.  The colors, the vibrancy of all things coming from the garden!  It's an amazing way to say farewell to summer.  I love stuff socked away (specifically food) and this year with fish in the freezer too, well I am feeling pretty good.  The one place in my life I have a wee bit of control .  No added sodium, sugar or other things I can't pronounce, just pretty basic stuff.  Hmmmm maybe my next career I will be a canning coach....... I know I have a whistle around here somewhere.

And some things stay constant....... back to Craigslist and bought a bigger pressure canner! 
Another brand spank'n new canner that was used once maybe twice.  Now I can double stack jars!!  Saves me so much time.  Rachael will be getting the other canner.  

It's just been one hell of a slog this year. The year has not gone as planned, not even close and I don't see much changing.  I am contemplating cancelling a show but won't know until I see a couple shelves of mugs in the studio because if you don't have mugs, what's the point of setting up?  There has been so little time to blog and I have to say the state of the world has me left speechless.  I am just out of words on climate change, politics, human rights, stupidity on a scale I never thought we were capable of as a species.  We have the ability to do so much good and make this place a spectacular planet, spinning through time and space but we can't seem to stop fighting and tromping on one another.  Tread lightly....... 

Maybe not like this guy somewhere in Alaska who just couldn't manage to encounter the wilderness without.....

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Oh February........

Winter is slogging on around here.  

Polar Vortex? again..... 
How cold was it? 

Cracked my pond stone.

Then it thawed, seemingly overnight and the flooding began.

then the Hungarian pigs showed up.... 

With all the weird weather afoot I retreated to the safety of the kitchen.  
Remember all those beans I canned a few months back.  Garbanzo beans were in the mix.  
I have been reading about this stuff called, aquafaba and just could not figure out how it worked.  The gunk from the canned beans, which is quite thick if you can your own beans, is magical stuff and a substitute for egg whites.  How can that be? 
Without getting into aquafaba crazy land, here is link that will explain everything you ever wanted to know about bean gunk or that stuff you have been throwing down the drain for years.

I began with the drainings of one jar of bean gunk that I added; 1/4 tsp cream of tartar,  4 Tbsp sugar.

Pretty amazing, right?  and just like egg whites, you can hold it upside down over your head! 
or make meringues.....

Topped these with bourbon peaches and cherries and I think I heard angels singing.

My meringues deflated a bit during baking because I didn't add enough sugar.  So next time I will add more sugar until I find the right balance.  I had so much fun playing with this bean gunk I had garbanzo beans coming out my ears so I made salad!  Lots of salad.  I am gonna need another stomach to digest all this fiber.  February is such a great time to test all the plumbing, in all my houses. 

Butch had been accompanying me to the grocery store because it's winter.  I have to say it's like shopping with kids!  I get to the checkout belt and see unidentified things going down the belt and wonder how did those get in the cart?  He can't seem to say no to fruit.  He picked up two pints of blueberries, along with peanut butter stuffed pretzel bites, oyster crackers, canned clam chowder, dark chocolate candy bars because you know dark chocolate is good for your heart, a can of Pringles and maple flavored pepper.  I got home and said:  you do know there are 30 pounds of organic blueberries I picked last summer in the freezer.  He held up the pint of blueberries and said; But look at these!  They're HUGE!  I said: where are they from?  The plastic box says USA.  Look again.  Packaged in the USA, product of Peru.  Is Peru organic? he asked.  Who knows?  But they really were HUGE and I became suspicious.  We washed a few and tasted a delicious HUGE cardboard blueberry.  They went onto the top shelf of the fridge and sat there for a week.  And they never changed either.  They didn't wilt, wither or mold or anything; they just sat there.  But they were expensive and it kills me to toss stuff so I made a blueberry peach pie.  My canned peaches help immensely to add a bit of flavor to the pie. Yes and that is a lard crust; grass fed, happy pig lard because it's good for your heart!  And there is a bit of gingerbread biscotti too.   

He also can't stop buying bananas.  I finally said; Stop it!  I can't bake one more loaf of banana bread but I did because I could not toss three really ripe bananas.   The freezer is filling with a various assortment of banana breads.  I have also started shopping alone! 

When I finally exited the kitchen I started a new project.  I did this one for my kids, who are scattered to Colorado and Alaska.  I keep them up to speed on my kitchen adventures from time to time but as I am growing older I am having an alarming number of food memories.  Never thought too much about it but the Aquafaba meringues triggered a memory of these cookies called anise drops from Grandma Ptak.  As kid I thought these were a disgusting cookie.  They were hard enough to bounce off the floor and I wasn't crazy about the taste either.  But today I do like the flavor of anise and thought it would fun to try them again.  I inherited my Mom's recipe box, filled with treats from the 50's and started hunting. 

No anise drops, so guessing Mom wasn't crazy about them either.  However I did start laughing when I went through the beverage section.  Clearly this is how my Mom got through the 50's, 60's and most of the 70's.  And I do remember tubs of "Slushy" in the freezer with a skull and cross bones drawn on the top of every tub.  To keep the kids out I guess?  I never did taste the stuff although now seeing this recipe wish I had!  

I gave up and started surfing the internet and there on the King Arthur Flour site I found what I had been looking for:  Anise Drops!  They looked exactly like what I remembered so I made them.   They make that little meringue cap when you bake them.  They are softer than I remember too but I baked them an extra 7 minutes to dry them out and there they were!  I put them in my cookie crock and left them there for now going on two weeks and the longer they sit the better they get.  I have one or two with a cup of tea at night.  I love these cookies! 

I posted a picture on Instagram and potter friend Britta sent me her family recipe and it is a bit different than the King Arthur recipe so this weekend I will give those a try.  
If you would like to try the King Arthur Anise drops here is the link:  King Arthur Anise Drops

All this hunting around for recipes got me wondering if my kids will have any food memories?  I have pondered putting all these crumbs together for years and I finally sat down and put a book together.  This was a mind numbing experience.  I have a terrible time reading and thank the library gods for audio books or I would be completely illiterate.  If anybody had any idea how long it takes me write a blog post they would just shake their head and ask why?  I think it's to keep in touch with my kids.  If the first kid had never shipped off to Peace Corp Africa I would have never ever started writing anything!  There was no phone service and a letter could take 6 months to get to Guinagourou, just to the right Parakou.  But a blog post, she could read if and when she got to base camp.  

So on a cold January day while I was blowing my nose and taking another couple aspirin I downloaded the software from Blurb.  It is software that was the easiest for me and there were no page limits.  I used their bookwright software program (free).  I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and yup, I think I can do this.  Here is the link to their website:

and so it begins......

and here it is, all 150 pages! 

The book arrived just as Butch was pulling out of the driveway for his annual vacation to Florida.  I am banned from the state of Florida;  Kirby and I will be having a lovely candlelight dinner for Valentine's Day.  I tucked the book into his reading pile and said; READ THIS while you're on the beach.  He never reads the blog and is quite mystified at how I stay on the compound with little outside contact.  He asked repeatedly if I would be OK?  As he pulled out of the driveway in blizzard this morning I sipped my coffee and waved.  Then I closed the door and ran around accessing house projects to do in 7 days, without interruption!  Oh just color me giddy with excitement!  

In reality I need to get pots made for a show coming up fast!  And show entries are piling up too.  The house projects won't be too big but I am not going to make the bed for a week! 

As I batten down the hatches for yet another winter storm and watch Rufus scurry through the backyard looking for shelter.  

(not really Rufus but could be!) 

A news reporter blares the latest tweet from He Who Shall Not Be Named:
"What climate change, we could use a little global warming" I am just shaking my head and wondering whatever happened to that thing called; SCIENCE?  Can we please fund a scientific board who will sit in the White House and every time "faux facts" come out of the White House and/or the  merry band of idiots; the Science Board could press a little red button, filling the podium or microphone with a shot of carbon or methane gas, just to make them stop talking!  or maybe just slowly start filling the room with enough polar ice water so their polished leather shoes are squishy.

  Mentally speaking I have gone down the very dark hole of; Wake the Fuck Humans!  I have just about withdrawn from Facebook, the world news, the local news, all politics in general and yet is seeps through the cracks of my day to day life.  I don't seem to have enough putty to fill the cracks anymore. 
During the government shut down, I watched somewhat intelligent people, in somewhat fancy new cars pulling up to food banks, declaring they just didn't know what they were going to do.  I watched a Mom talk about giving plasma for food money while the pay checks stopped.  I was in utter disbelief at some of these stories.  When pasta is 10 bags for $10 buy it and store it away.  Bank accounts are empty, food shelves are empty, the White House is empty.  I can't watch anymore so I kept busy in the studio, kitchen and my desk and just wonder what would the Grandmothers do?  

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Carbo Warbo January......

It's winter, time for soup and what goes with soup? Bread!  I quit buying bread sometime around October.  The bread I love and my body seems to love is about $4-$6 a loaf depending where I buy it.   And this wasn't so much about the cost as it was about taste, freshness, carbon footprint.  The loaf got shipped in from California frozen, but it was sprouted and whole grain and easy for me to digest.

Since October I dropped down the sourdough rabbit hole and this post is not about sourdough and I do not ever see myself needing to go down that rabbit hole again, fill it in and plant a flower on that hole! Who has time and if I ever want anything in my life that kneady (pun intended) I will get another dog or a bird or hamster.  Sheesh! 

I've fooled around with bread making for the last 40 years on and off.  I think I finally came up with a system that is sustainable for my lifestyle.  Yup, there are a whole lot buzz words for you!  But this is working for me and maybe you too!  Best part; not a lot of rules! 

My life in bread; The Tassajara Bread Book by Ed Brown bought in 1970!  Then there were family recipes, library shelves of bread baking books, Martha Stewart, Breads of the World and my final book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoe Francois. 

So this is my version of all the wheat fields I waded through, countless bricks I fed my family declaring this was good for them,  just shut up and eat it.  After all this time, this is the system and recipe that floated to the top.

1. Buy yeast; buy a lot of yeast!  I take myself to GFS and buy the big bag of yeast, because it's cheap, $2.89 for a 1 pound bag or 32 Tablespoons.  You need 1 Tablespoon for every 3 loaves of bread. That is 96 loaves of bread.  Store it in the freezer and it will keep for years.  I have used 5 year old yeast with no problems. 

2. Buy flour.  I buy good flour usually organic because I am done eating RoundUp (a carcinogenic weed killer that your neighbor is probably spraying by the gallon).  I can only get flour by the 5 pound bag and I just bought a bag of Bob's Organic for $3.99.  There are 16 cups in a 5 pound bag of flour. 
You get about 9 - 10 loaves out of a bag of flour. 

2. Make enough dough for 3-4 loaves.  If your gonna make a mess go big!  I used to make a mess every other day to make bread; what a waste of time and energy!  Monday morning I make enough dough for a week and half of bread in this house. 

Here is the original recipe from the book:

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast or 2 packets
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1/2 cup rye 
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Here is my recipe: 

5 cups of water cold
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 tablespoon Kosher salt 
2 cups of unbleached flour (sometimes it's bread flour, sometimes all purpose)
1 cup of sprouted wheat flour
at least 1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup of bran soaked for 20 minutes.  (soak your bran or it turns into little knives cutting through the gluten.  Oat bran or wheat bran) 
leftover oatmeal, faro, quinoa, sprouted grains (chopped in the food processor or blender), seeds, nuts, whatever; anything but leftover rice. 

I really do wing the flour part, it's what I have on hand.  

Here is what it should look like.  (and you do not need a fancy mixer; for years and years I used a big bread bowl and a wooden spoon)   If you have a mixer I put it on the low speed with the bread hook while I dig my bread pan out, empty the oven of cast iron and cookie sheets, wash up the breakfast dishes and it's done ...... so maybe 5-10 minutes.   If it's a little loose after a couple minutes I add a half cup of flour until it comes away from the sides of the bowl.  I have also let it go on the wet side and that makes great bread too (not as dense either) 

After it's done mixing I dump the dough in my bread container.  If I am out of bread I pinch off a piece the size of a cantaloupe and get it ready for a second rise.  The rest goes in the fridge.  You will need to punch it down once or twice once it's in the fridge as it will continue to rise until cooled off. 

Once it's cooled down it stays pretty contained.  Cold dough is a lot easier to work with than fresh dough.  Thursday morning I'm usually down to a crust of bread so it's time to whack off a chunk of dough from the mother lode in the fridge.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour on the counter, form into a loaf and set to rise.  This will take less than 5 minutes, including cleanup.   I set the loaf to rise on a piece of parchment in a random bowl or colander. 

Score the top, otherwise it forms a skin and your will get a super dense loaf of bread.  Then you will need to say to your loving supportive family; Shut up and eat it, it's good for you!  The yeast needs an escape hatch.  Release the krack'n!!   At this point I go to the studio or garden or anywhere for 4-6 hours.  It's cold dough and it will take time to warm up and get that yeast excited again.  
The only thing you don't want it to do is collapse on itself.  If that happens, punch it down and start again.  It won't take as long for the yeast to work because it's finally warmed up and pretty excited, so maybe just an hour or two. 
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  and put a dutch oven in the cold oven while you preheat the oven.   I am using a 3.25 qt dutch oven, that is very cute. 

When the oven is hot and the dutch oven is hot.  Take the lid off the hot dutch oven, pick up your dough by the edges of the parchment paper and plop it down in the hot dutch oven. 

Slam the cover on the dutch and pop it back in the oven.  Set the timer for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes take the lid off and reset the timer for another 30 minutes.   At the end of the last 30 minutes .......
Ta Daaaaa . 
Wait an hour to cut into the loaf of bread! 

This bread runs me under $1 a loaf.  

Speaking of carbs ..... how about pasta?  
3 eggs, 3 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt and poof! 

Tip: don't hang your noodles over the back of chair if you have a big dog...... 
Tasted and approved by Kirby. 

The spaghetti sauce is from last summers roasted tomatoes.  
Meatless meatballs and homemade pasta; dinner is served! 

And back to fermenting water Kefir.  A wonderful person shared her water kefir grains with me and I cannot be more thankful for the kindness of strangers.  And she has big adopted dog and gardens too! 

And all these carbs........ well back to the bike! 

Happy baking everybody!!