Sunday, January 31, 2010

Did the pioneers eat sunflower seeds?

This week's bread is Pioneer Bread, from The Bread Book.

The loaves look a little lopsided because, per usual, I did not know what I was doing.  You bake these in cake or pie pans, and there is a certain skill to making the dough pear-shaped, then plopping it into the pan pointy end down in such a way as to produce a uniformly round loaf.  I have not quite mastered it yet.  The odd shape does not affect the flavor, which is wonderful.  And there are sunflower seeds in it as well.

I also made soup today, Caramelized Cabbage Soup, from Love Soup.  I have never caramelized cabbage before.  Like many things, it was not difficult, just time consuming.  I can't tell you if it made the soup any better because I did not realized two things:  1) the soup requires milk to finish it, and 2) the milk in my refrigerator has a distinctive odor that matches its sell-by date.  I will finish the soup tomorrow night and report back.

Friday I was home sick.  One problem with cooking from scratch using primarily fresh ingredients is that sometimes you want something quick and tasty but there is no such thing in your kitchen other than scrambled eggs.  Pie is not quick but it sure is tasty.

This is French apple pie, courtesy of Betty Crocker.  The crust got a little overdone, but it was great nonetheless.  I like the crumb topping better than crust.

While not cooking, I keep an eye out on the avian visitors in my backyard.  Yesterday I saw a rather large bird fly past the patio door.  Thinking it was a mourning dove, I tiptoed into the West Wing to get a better look.  Mourning doves are ground feeders but there was no mourning dove under the feeders.  Probably because there was a HAWK on top of the shepherd's hook the feeders are suspended from.  I didn't notice it until it flew away.  Hoping it had landed in a nearby tree, I crept up to the window to peek out.  Again, I did not see it, until it took off from the neighbor's swing set.  I think it was a Cooper's hawk.  Exciting stuff!

(FYI - The Bread Book is out of print.  If you are looking for a copy, don't stop with Amazon because their resellers are asking a small fortune.  I bought mine through a reseller at Barnes and Noble, and there are other online used book retailers to try as well.)

The Bread Book Love Soup: 160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes from the Author of The Vegetarian Epicure

Friday, January 29, 2010

Used books

I don't know if this is a misconception, but we seem to have a plethora of used bookstores in this town.  Some cater to college students, buying and selling primarily text books, but the rest have a wide variety of just about anything you might be interested in.  My SO and I spent a lazy afternoon perusing the offerings (do we know how to have fun or what?)  Here are my purchases:

I have the Tassajara Bread Book, the pages of which stick together (a sure sign of a successful cookbook), so I was willing to give the Tassajara Recipe Book a chance.  Haven't tried any of the recipes yet, though.

The Tassajara Recipe Book

I'm always looking for cheap and easy garden improvements.  That Newspapers, Pennies, Cardboard and Eggs for Growing a Better Garden is published by Rodale (think Organic Gardening) is a plus, too.

Newspapers, Pennies, Cardboard, and Eggs: For Growing a Better Garden

My son expressed an interest in woodworking.  I thought he could explore his interest by building bird houses, so I bought The Bird House Book for him.

The Bird House Book: How To Build Fanciful Birdhouses and Feeders, from the Purely Practical to the Absolutely Outrageous

The Solar Food Dryer Book is the final book I picked up.  It describes how to build your own solar food dryer and how to use it to dry just about anything, almost year round.  Stella Andrassy designed the device and experimented with it in New Jersey, which is about the same latitude as Indiana, so I'm anxious to give her dryer a try.  Once I find someone to help me build it.  Like maybe that son of mine who is interested in woodworking.

In other news, I tried assembling the cupboard that goes over the toilet in the laundry room, but the floor slants up a bit near the wall, threatening to topple said cupboard.  The legs need to be shimmed and the top fastened to the wall before it will be safe.

We had our January thaw last week, which melted all the snow and revealed this maze:

Something had been tunneling beneath the snow.  I'm guessing shrews or mice.  Which would dig this burrow?

On the indoor front, I finally put up the grow lights for the basil plants.

The poor little seedlings have not been doing well.  For one thing, I let the self-waterer dry out, which kind of defeats its purpose.  For another, the plants were sitting next to the patio door.  I was thinking they would get more light, but it is also very cold there.  Now they are off the floor and under the lights and the water problem has been remedied.  Maybe I will start the cilantro next.

(An aside:  if you live in a house long enough, especially one with a garage and/or basement, over the years you will accumulate enough stuff that when faced with a problem, like needing a grow light, you will find you have a light fixture, S hooks, pliers, a timer, and a grounded surge protector, all of which will be employed in the creation of a perfect environment for plants.  No duct tape required.  This time.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Green soup, no ham

They say one is more likely to cut oneself with a dull knife than a sharp one, but you can't prove it by me.

If one bleeds into a vegetarian soup, is it no longer vegetarian?  That's just a rhetorical question.  Really.  And besides, I used chicken stock instead of vegetable broth, so it wasn't vegetarian anyway.

Today's soup is Green Soup with Sweet Potato and Sage, from Love Soup.  Instead of waiting until late in the day to start cooking, I decided to get it all over with this morning.  And since I needed to eat lunch anyway, I sampled the soup.  Tres bien!  Except for the grit.  Apparently, I did not wash the kale well enough.

This recipe raised some interesting questions.  Ingredients include "one bunch of Russian kale (8 oz.)" and "one bunch of green chard (8 oz.)" and the instructions said to remove the woody stems.  Question number one is, is that 8 oz. before or after removing the stems?

I don't think my kale was Russian, but once the stems were removed, it did weigh around 8 oz.  I didn't weight the chard, but there was a lot less of it in its bunch.  Its stems were not woody.  In fact, they are like celery and I munched on them while I cooked.  So, should I have left them in?

The directions said to saute the onions for 30-40 minutes.  Sure this was a misprint, I searched the Web for errata, but could not find any, nor could I find anyone who questioned this instruction.  So, yes, I sauted the onions for 30 minutes.  This was step 3.  By the time I started step 3, steps 1 and 2 were complete and the soup was waiting for the onions, so shouldn't the onions have been step 1?

This is one of those soups that is pureed in a blender.  After I pureed soup all over the kitchen wall, I decided I need one of those immersion blenders Anna Thomas keeps mentioning as an alternative to a regular blender.  Anyone ever use one?

The soup is finished with lemon juice, which REALLY HURTS WHEN IT GETS IN A CUT, and a swirl of "fruity green olive oil".  I have searched high and low for this FGOO and cannot find any.  While in Fresh Market, I did identify a brand (California Olive Ranch Arbequina) that described itself as "a fruity and fragrant varietal", so that is what I went with.  Does anyone know what this FGOO is?

Somewhat exhausted by now, I decided against a yeast bread, and made the corn bread recipe from The Bread Book.  Also very good, but.  It has caraway seeds in it, which give it an odd flavor.  Not a bad flavor, just different from what one expects when one bites into a hunk of corn bread.

And now my tummy is full and I feel a nap coming on.  I think I deserve one, don't you?

P.S.  The owl was back last night, and it occurred to me that maybe my neighbor with the new puppy should be made aware of said owl, and the daytime hawks as well, just in case that dog looks too much like a meal to avian eyes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Last weekend I assembled the bookcase and put it in the West Wing.  Most of the stability is provided by the cardboard backing, so I anchored it with knitting books.

The clock was an xmas gift from my son.

And I did bake dog biscuits, but forgot to take good pictures of them.

These are Plaque Busting ones - extremely crunchy - and should last at least a month.

Tonight we went to Lowe's and I bought a cupboard thingy for over the toilet in the laundry.  More furniture to assemble - yay.  I also bought grow light bulbs.  Still looking for a retractable clothesline.

And I ordered some seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mysterious visitors

I'm not an animal tracker of any sort, but I enjoy creating stories to go with the tracks left in the snow by unidentified creatures.

This snow stitchery must be a bird, but what kind and what was it doing?

The marks in the middle look like tail-dragging, the side marks wing-dragging.  A snow dance?

Then this mark in the snow occurred all by its lonesome.

Did something (a hawk?  I've seen a couple hanging around) swoop down and snatch dinner right here?

From the house, these prints looked like they were made by a human trespasser.

But I'm guessing a squirrel was hopscotching across the yard to the bird feeders.

The past few days have been warm enough to feel springlike, but we all know that is a lie.  Yesterday seeds arrived, from Pinetree Garden Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange - that was quick!  Maybe today would be a good day to sort through leftovers and see what is still viable.

If I bake today, I am going to limit myself to dog biscuits.  Maybe.  That German Three-Grain sure was good.

And easy!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting spoiled

Last night's soup was Vegetarian Chili from Yoga Journal.  My SO brought Martha White's sweet corn bread (is that "sweet corn" bread or sweet "corn bread"?) and Kroger carrot cake.  The former was good, but I could not eat the latter.  The frosting was sickeningly sweet and the cake was, well, it did not taste like food to me.  Just thinking about it is making me feel queasy.  My SO wolfed his piece down and took mine home for later.  I traded him some German Three-Grain bread and banana bread for the rest of the corn bread, though.

A similar thing happened today when I ate a wrap from the cafeteria.  Turkey and cranberry sauce sounded good, and it even had broccoli sprouts on it, but I'm not used to eating deli meats - omg the SALT.  And it had a funny tang to it.  Ugh.  I think I will be bringing my own lunch tomorrow.  Like some of that chili, which while quite good, needs something.  Like chili powder and a little cheddar cheese.  How a chili recipe can omit chili powder is beyond me.

So, that is the danger of home cooking, especially from scratch and doubly especially with fresh ingredients.  Nothing else measures up.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And we have germination

Minuscule green spermatozoa (I'm sorry - that's what they look like) are rising above the planting medium.  According to my Super-Duper Garden Spreadsheet,  the germination of the basil took only eight days.  Now I need to worry about the little buggers getting enough light.

So I bought a bookcase.  The bookcase was actually for the West Wing, but I may put it behind my desk at Command Central so I can use the wire shelving that is there now for plant propagation.  But first, I need to get some bulbs for the fluorescent light fixture the building of the laundry room freed up.  See?  Everything is connected.

And speaking of the laundry room, it is getting kind of cramped in there.  Besides the previously mentioned litter box, it now contains a tall plasticky cupboard which in turn contains all the cleaning supplies that got scattered last year with the building of the West Wing and the subsequent loss of a big wooden cupboard.  Also, the vaccum, electric broom, and ironing board all have a new home.  I plan to hang a retractable clothesline over the washer/dryer so I will no longer have to drape bras over doorknobs and handwash over towel racks.  And I want one of those cupboards that fit over the toilet.  Then the room will be complete.  And completely full.

In other domestic news, the German Three-Grain bread I baked yesterday turned out WONDERFUL!  I don't know if it is the King Arthur bread flour or the flax seed or what, but I simply cannot believe how delicious it is.  To keep myself from wolfing down the entire loaf, I sliced up most of it and put it in the freezer, to be rationed out a piece or two at a time.  And I made some banana bread to help distract me.  Heh.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

When the smoke detector goes off, supper is ready

Sometimes I think recipes are unnecessarily complex.  Like the recipe for the baguettes from The Bread Book.  Do you really need to make a sponge and let it rise for FIVE hours?  And heat the pan in a 450 degree oven before putting the bread on it?  And spray down the sides of the oven every 10 minutes to produce steam?  Obviously not.

I tried to follow the directions, but managed to screw up right off the bat in that I mixed too much flour into the sponge so it was rather unspongelike.  And I didn't have any Crisco, so I greased the pan with butter, which scorched in the 450 oven (thus setting off the smoke alarm at the other end of the house).  And my stove is fairly new and has a self-cleaning oven and god knows what toxic fumes might be released if I sprayed down the sides while it was hot, so I simply placed a pan of water on the lower rack, a pan that warped in the extreme heat.  But despite all my shenanigans, the bread turned out fine.

The soup, Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes) from Love Soup, was not nearly so complex, but I was trying to finish it and the bread at the same time.

All the recipes in Love Soup are vegetarian, and this time I actually used (store-bought) vegetable broth, and while tasty, the soup seemed a little anemic.  Using chicken stock and maybe adding a few bacon bits would have done wonders.

Of those three loaves above, we ate one for supper and I gave one to my SO and the final one is destined to become French bread pizza, so today I am baking again, this time German Three-Grain, also from The Bread Book.  This recipe is much simpler.

While waiting on the non-sponge to rise yesterday, I place orders with Seed Savers Exchange, Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Totally Tomatoes.  I dropped the mushroom patch and the dye garden - the former felt too much like adopting another pet, the latter needs a little planning and forethought.  The basil has not yet germinated.  My house is a bit on the cool side; maybe I need to find a warm spot for the seedling tray.

Now that the laundry room is officially done (and I have already received an invoice for the final payment!), I am going to do some rearranging of cat boxes today.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The guys all say I have a nice crawl

The heating sub-contractors came today, crawled around under the house making noises that made the dog bark, and now there is a little bit more heat in the laundry room.  Each time the furnace runs, the temperature in the laundry room goes up a  fraction of a degree, so now it is 5-6 degrees colder than the family room instead of 8 or more.  Maybe by the end of the weekend, it will be closer to even.  Otherwise, I may have to get a heated toilet seat out there.

The overall contractor was supposed to visit today as well and deliver my floor tile, but he was a no-show.  No surprise there.

Meanwhile, we received more snow, about four inches, I'm guessing.  Many years ago I bought my dad a snow gauge.  I think I need one, too.  I'm a little tired of shoveling, despite help from my neighbor and his blower, but this weekend I get to go cross country skiing.  Yay!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I get stuff

My order from Lee Valley arrived today. Here is what I got:
  • Corn forks - every time I cook corn on the cob, we wish we had corn forks
  • Peasant chef's knife - lethal weapon!
  • Root knife - for dividing hostas next spring
  • Rasp and holder - for zesting
  • Syringes and needles - die, Canada thistle, die!
I haven't placed my orders for seeds and plants yet.  I keep debating about the dye garden and the mushroom patch.  Am I taking on too much?  Maybe I will put them off for another year.

When I ordered the Roma sauce maker from Gardener's Supply, I ordered some other things as well, one of which I used this week.

This is a self-watering Accelerated Propagation System (APS).  I was thinking this would fit on a window sill, but - HA - conveniently forgot that most of my windows do not have sills.  In the process of transforming the old workshop into a new laundry room, though, I recovered a fluorescent light fixture.  I think the bulbs need to be replaced and I would need to figure out somewhere to hang it, but it could provide the necessary light.  Oh, BTW, what I planted here was Genovese Sweet Basil.

Speaking of the laundry room, we are still working on getting heat out there.  The snag is it is cold outside and people in need of new furnaces or furnace repair take precedent.  The mildew smell seems to be gone, though (I ran bleach through the washer), and I have not heard the toilet gurgle lately, so maybe those are non-issues.  I still need the replacement floor tile, though.

On the domestic goddess front, I made Roasted Root Vegetable Soup from Love Soup last Saturday, substituting chicken stock for the vegetable broth.  Ingredients that came from my own garden included onions and the herbs.  I've never grown turnips, fennel, sweet potatoes, or rutabaga, but maybe I should consider adding those to my crops.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Blue Moon/The Birds/Baby, it's cold outside!/Feels like Sunday

I couldn't decide what to title this post, so I used all the titles I was considering.

First up, this isn't really THE blue moon - the skies were overcast last night - but I did think to take a picture on the last clear night we had.

For some reason, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of starlings hanging around this winter.

They descended on my yard this afternoon, but my feeders are such that they can't get much of a foothold (talonhold?)  I'm glad I haven't put out the suet yet because they would clean that up in a New York minute.

The curled up leaves on my rhododendron tell me that it is a bit cold outside today. Could be - and probably will get - worse before winter is over.

And even though it is not Sunday, I baked some Corny Banana Oat Bread today. The recipe is from Whole Foods for the Whole Family. Since I was running low on honey, I substituted agave nectar. I'm not sure whether that helped cause the charring, but the bread is still perfectly edible.

And here is one of my xmas gifts from my son:

The birds already like it.